More Mishloach Manot!

What is the first thing you think of when you hear the words Mishloach Manot (Purim gifts of food)?

I am flooded with memories of little bottles of grape juice, baskets in cellophane, Purim day delivery runs, and going through baskets looking for the “good stuff” while tossing aside whatever I didn’t like.  The Mishloach Manot operation (or as we call it – Shaloch Manos) was truly a highlight of Purim.  It’s not the same anymore to just check off names and receive one big basket (no matter how nice it is).

The Rambam teaches (Laws of Megillat Esther 2:15) that it is praiseworthy to send more Mishloach Manot than the obligatory gift to one friend.  At the same time, he writes (2:17):

One should rather spend more money on gifts to the poor than on the Purim banquet and presents to friends.  No joy is greater and more glorious than the joy of gladdening the hearts of the poor, the orphans, the widows, and the strangers…

While the Rambam is absolutely right that helping those in need far outweighs giving more food to friends, I am convinced that, today, we need more Mishloach Manot.

The source of the mitzvah of Mishloach Manot is Esther 9:19:

וּמִשְׁלוֹחַ מָנוֹת אִישׁ לְרֵעֵהוּ

Send portions of food from one friend to another.

The verse states that portions of food (plural) must be sent from one friend to another.  From here, we learn the familiar requirement of sending two kinds of food to, at least, one person.  (The need for the foods to be different blessings is actually not required.)

We might be done with this mitzvah except for the fact that there is an interesting halakhic debate whether the primary purpose of the mitzvah is on the “Mishloach Manot,” sending the food, or whether the mitzvah also requires “Ish L’Ray-ay-hoo,” the friendship between the sender and recipient.

What difference does it make?  Actually, quite a bit.

If the mitzvah is all about the food, what happens if the recipient doesn’t like the food in the package?  If it’s about friendship, does the food even matter?  Or my favorite technicality: If Mishloach Manot is all about the food, then if I receive food but don’t know who it’s from, the mitzvah is fulfilled.  If it’s about creating feelings of friendship, then there is no mitzvah if the sender cannot be identified.

Which is more important?

I like a nice Purim treat as much as the next person, but, today, we need much more focus on friendship.

The Rambam is correct.  We don’t need to go overboard on Mishloach Manot – sending gifts of food to friends.  Yet, we do need a lot more Ish L’Ray-ay-hoo – we need to increase as much as we possibly can the feelings of friendship between people.

It’s getting nasty out there.

A recent column quoted a study that found that just over 42% of the people in each party view the opposition as “downright evil.”  This suggests that 48.8 million voters out of the 136.7 million who cast ballots in 2016 believe that members of opposition party are in league with the devil.  Furthermore, some 20% of Democrats (12.6 million voters) and 16% of Republicans (7.9 million voters) do think on occasion that the country would be better off if large numbers of the opposition died.

It’s getting really nasty out there.

We need more Mishloach Manot.

We need more gestures of friendship, kindness, and civility.  We need more exchanges of ideas, opinions, and thoughts that don’t devolve into arguments.  We need more opportunities to tone down the very real differences that divide us and gather around a cup of coffee or a meal and find the many things that we do share.

Purim is all about our encounter with others.  We read the Megillah in public with others.  We gather around the table with others for the Seudah (festive meal).  We give gifts of food to others, and we share with others in need.

All of Purim is a timely reminder of the need to be strict about Ish L’Ray-ay-hoo – creating genuine bonds between people – even those with whom we have less in common or disagree.

Happy Purim!

About the Author
Rabbi Elie Weinstock is Rabbi of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York City. A believer in a Judaism that is accessible to all, he prefers "Just Judaism" to any denominational label.
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