Question: Can a person eat the Purim se’udah at night if he will be traveling on Purim day?
Answer: The Mechaber (Orach Chayim 695:1) writes: “If a person makes a Purim feast (se’udah) at night, his obligation is not discharged.”
What is the source of the obligation to eat a se’udah on Purim? Megillat Esther (9:17-19, 22) mentions “yemei mishteh v’simcha – days of drink and rejoicing.” For festivals like Sukkot we are commanded: “vesamachta bechagecha – you shall rejoice in your festivals” (Deuteronomy 16:14). Our sages (Pesachim 109a) state, “Ein simcha elah be’basar…be’yayin – There is no real rejoicing without meat and wine.” It seems logical to say that the words “yemei mishteh v’simcha” in Megillat Esther also imply meals with meat and wine, but the Sages do not say so.
The Rema (Orach Chayim 695) writes: It is a mitzvah to make a festive meal on Purim, and one discharges this obligation with one meal. The Rema refers us to the Tur (Orach Chayim, ad loc.), who cites no Talmudic source for this requirement.
The Bach (Orach Chayim, ad loc.) notes that the Talmud (Megillah 7b) states that Rav Ashi was sitting before R. Kahana (others say Ameimar) on Purim and asked, “Where are the rabbis? How come they are not in the study hall?” The response he received was that perhaps they are eating the Purim se’udah.
From this incident, the Bach states, we see that one is permitted to eat the Purim se’udah at the expense of the mitzvah of talmud Torah. Eating the se’udah renders one as an osek b’mitzvah shepatur min hamitzvah – one who is busy with a mitzvah and is therefore free from having to perform another mitzvah. This incident is also the Talmudic source of the requirement to eat a se’udah on Purim.
The Gemara (Pesachim 68b) notes that Numbers 29:35 states, “Bayom ha’shemini atzeret t’hiyeh lachem – On the eighth day shall be [an assembly] for you” while Deuteronomy 16:8 states: “u’bayom ha’shevi’i atzeret laShem Elokecha – and on the seventh day shall be [an assembly] to Hashem your G-d.” Which one is it? Are we celebrating “lachem” or “laShem” – for us or for G-d? The Gemara answers that every festival should be divided – half in the service of Hashem (prayer and study) and half in rejoicing with feasts.
R. Yosef adds that everyone agrees that Purim also requires “lachem – for you” – i.e., a festive se’udah – since Esther 9:22 states: “yemei mishteh v’simcha – days of drink and joy.”
As we noted, the Rema states that one is only required to have one se’udah on Purim. The Mechaber (ad loc. 695:1) cites Rava (supra Megillah 7b) and rules that if a person ate a Purim se’udah at night, he has not discharged his obligation. The Rema adds that at night, there is somewhat of a mitzvah to eat a se’udat Purim.
The Mishnah Berurah (ad loc. sk3) writes that if Purim falls on Sunday, one should feast on Motzei Shabbat – even if one ate a full Se’udat Shlishit – although not as much as on the day of Purim.
The Rema (ad loc. Orach Chayim 695:2) states that our custom is to eat the se’udah after Minchah, and Ma’ariv should be prayed at night. In other words, one should eat the meal between Minchah and Ma’ariv – i.e., late afternoon, not when it is practically night as some people do. If one starts so late, the bulk of the se’udah winds up being eaten on Shushan Purim.
He also notes that when Purim falls on Friday, one should eat the Purim se’udah in the morning in deference to the Friday night Shabbat se’udah.
The Mishnah Berurah (ad loc.) writes that we don’t usually make the se’udah in the morning on a non-Friday because we are busy with the mitzvot of the day – Megillah, charity, mishlo’ach manot – and these can take until Minchah to complete.
The Rema cites the Terumat Hadeshen who writes that a person may eat the se’udah in the morning even if Purim doesn’t fall out on a Friday. Thus, if for some reason a person must travel on Purim afternoon and is not sure he will reach his destination in time to make the se’udah there, it would see that he may eat an elaborate meal of meat and wine, in the morning. (A simple breakfast of cereal and milk would obviously not suffice.)