Batya Hefter
Batya Hefter

The Gift of Giving: Mishlochei Manot

The Rabbis see an implicit (if unlikely) comparison between the holiday of Purim and High Holiday, Yom Kippurim, through their similar sounding names. The letter “kaf” in Kippur, meaning “like,” hints that Yom Kippurim is literally “a day like Purim”. And in fact, both holidays revolve around the similar theme of a “Pur”, a lottery, which in each case determines life and death. On Yom Kippur there is the lottery of the two goats who bear the sins of the Jewish people, and on Purim of course, there is the infamous lottery of Haman. Furthermore, Hazal understand both holidays to share the concept of receiving the Torah. According to this notion, on Yom Kippur Moses presented the Israelites with the second set of the Ten Commandments, whereas on Purim the Jewish people willingly accepted the Torah upon themselves, as the verse from the Megillah, ‘they took upon themselves and upon their descendants…’ (Esther 9:27), suggests.

In light of this comparison, let’s revisit the mitzvah of mishlochei manot on Purim. In the Megillah we are instructed to give gifts of food to our neighbors as part of the holiday celebration: “matanot ish l’re’ehu.”  Though the Hebrew word “re’ah” is usually translated as “friend,” it also can mean a colleague or even a competitor, as we see in the Megillah itself when we are told that the role of queen will be taken from Vashti and given to her “re’utah hatova mimenna”, to “her friend, who is better than she”.

In the High Holiday prayers, Yom Kippur is described as “a day of love and friendship, a day where we leave behind jealousy and competitiveness.”  We can’t ask for God’s forgiveness until we remove the barriers we have created between ourselves and others, therefore, we are obligated before Yom Kippur to apologize and to ask forgiveness of those we have offended or harmed in any way.

Using the same word ‘re’ah’, the Torah mandates us to “love our neighbor like ourselves” (Leviticus 19:18). Surprisingly, the verse can be read as a challenge; to love those who are most similar to ourselves with whom we may be in competition, a co-worker, an acquaintance or the friend with whom we vie for positions, for recognition, for love.

So, on Purim, we should seek out our ‘re’ah’ – the friends, colleagues, even those we may perceive as rivals and in an offering of friendship, break down the barriers, and rekindle authentic connection through mishlochei manot.

Alexander Rebbi (d.1848 Poland) has a more light-hearted and endearing vision of the mitzvah of mishlochai manot.  He  reminds us that when it comes to this mitzvah, less is more. Extravagant, expensive gifts may sometimes indicate the absence of the most essential ingredients: warmth, comradery, and the simple joy of giving. The purpose of mishlochei manot  he writes, is to “show the abundance of love which binds”, to increase our affection for each other, so that through the exchange of gifts we become closer , more caring and interconnected.  As we begin to  emerge from the isolation and disconnection of this pandemic, it seems this mitzvah of Purim is precisely what we need.

About the Author
Batya Hefter is founder and Rosh Beit Midrash of The Women’s Beit Midrash of Efrat and Gush Etzion and the founder of the Women’s Beit Midrash of Cleveland. She holds a Masters in Rabbinic Thought from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. After being the Executive Director of the Women’s Beit Midrash for 21 years, she is now the director of the newly emerging Transformative Torah Project whose focus is to transmit the teachings and spiritual path of the hasidic masters for the seeking modern Jew.
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