Megillas Esther, which we read on Purim, states: “Al kein haYehudim ha’prazim ha’yoshvim b’arei ha’prazos osim es yom arbaah asar l’chodesh Adar simchah u’mishteh v’yom tov u’mishloach manos ish l’rei’eihu. – Therefore, the rural Jews who live in the unwalled towns make the 14th day of the month of Adar one of joy and feasting and celebration and sending portions to each other.” It is from this pasuk that we learn the mitzvah of Mishloach Manos. On the day of Purim, we are required to send at least two ready-to-eat food items to at least one friend.
Some of the reasons given for this mitzvah are to show the unity of the Jewish people and to ensure that all Jews, rich and poor alike, are able to fulfill the mitzvah of eating a proper s’udah on Purim day. Such a beautiful idea! But what on earth happened? We, the Jews, can’t do anything half-baked (pun intended). We have to go all the way. And then some. Why should we limit ourselves to giving two foods to one person when we can deliver a full course gourmet meal accompanied by a Viennese table to every person with whom we are acquainted?
And, of course, we would never send just a plain ol’ mouthwatering gourmet meal. It has to have a clever theme. Yes, a theme! Because no sincere and respectable display of Jewish unity could possibly be complete without a captivating theme reinforced with color-coordinated tissue paper, ribbons, cellophane, and props, along with a witty note. Never! Of course, the package must be at least as aesthetically pleasing to the eye as it is to the palate, perfectly wrapped so that the anticipation and excitement of the one opening it steadily increases as she noisily removes the crackling cellophane and opens the package, which took many hours of planning and preparation to assemble, in three seconds flat, all the while oohing and wowing. Then she tosses this magnificent work of art to the side and picks up the next gem. Yes. We are Jews. And this is what we do. All the way. It’s in our DNA.
Once, I bumped into my friend at the supermarket during the week leading up to Purim and noticed that the contents of our shopping carts were pretty much identical. Being practical as I am, I thought that since we will be giving each other the same stuff anyway, maybe we just make the exchange right there in the store and save ourselves a lot of precious time on Purim. But of course, that would be a terrible idea! It seems that Purim would not be the same if we didn’t spend the day in bumper-to-bumper traffic, delivering our meticulously designed creations to everyone we’ve ever met. Of course, there are the people we most definitely must deliver mishloach manos to, in order to show respect and gratitude, like our rabbis and our children’s teachers. Just as I am typing this sentence, I received a message from my block WhatsApp group asking for contributions towards a special mishloach manos for one of our neighbors who does so much for the neighborhood. Yes! I’m in! He absolutely deserves it. Clearly, we should show gratitude to those who extend themselves in order to help the community. And as we spend the day in the car delivering to all these important people, we also have to stop off at all of our friends, including those who gave us last year, who we didn’t expect would do so. We also have different standards for different categories of our relationships. It makes sense when you are giving more than one mishloach manos, as is the mitzvah if you recall. For those who think they will be unable to deliver to certain people (i.e., co-workers) on Purim itself, there is room to be lenient and bring them mishloach manos on the day before Purim.
Purim has officially become a children’s holiday here in Israel. In the US, I grew up singing, “Chag Purim. Chag Purim. Chag gadol hu laYehudim – Purim is a big holiday for the Jews.” But here in Israel they changed the words. They sing, “Chag Purim. Chag Purim. Chag gadol hu la’y’ladim – Purim is a big holiday for the children.” Indeed, it is. And we would not want to disappoint them in any way, so we drive them around all day delivering mishloach manos to all of their friends. (My kids are able to handle their friends independently at this point.)
In reality, it is impossible to deliver mishloach manos to everyone on the planet despite our desire to do so, and hear the Megillah, and also go through T’hilim on this auspicious day, and start the s’udah on time. So, in order to make sure that you don’t miss anyone due to distance, forgetfulness, lack of time, or any other valid or invalid reason, there are many initiatives at your service. There’s the shul mishloach manos, which takes care of a big group in one fell swoop. And there are many companies ready to deliver mishloach manos on your behalf to all of your people who live abroad. You can also send mishloach manos cards – it makes life much easier.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Purim (sans the drunkenness). I write this article in jest in keeping with the Purim spirit. I love the music, the dancing, the unity, and the overall happy atmosphere at home and on the street. I even appreciate the creativity and ingenuity that can be seen in mishloach manos and costumes. I value and respect our traditions. I just think that sometimes we go over the top and lose sight of what it is we are trying to accomplish. Each person must find his or her right sense of balance.
This year, we may have to take a few steps back in this area. At the time of this writing, the authorities are deliberating about Purim restrictions. We may be subject to a curfew and we may even be limited to remaining within 1 kilometer (.6 miles) of our homes. These limitations, born out of unfortunate circumstances, may actually prove to be beneficial and may enhance our Purim, which will be more time-limited this year since it falls on a Friday.
“Shiv’as yamim s’or lo yimatzei b’vateichem – During these seven days, no leaven may be found in your homes.” There’s a particular thing that we are not permitted to have in our homes during Pesach. But we are Jews. You know what’s coming…
Suzie (nee Schapiro) Steinberg grew up in Kew Gardens Hills. She works as a social worker and lives with her husband and children in Ramat Beit Shemesh.