Mishloach Manot – Standing united!
It was just about a year ago when my husband and I received the names of the families whom we were assigned in the annual community Mishloach Manot lottery. Sometimes we receive names of close friends, and sometimes complete strangers. We are always happy to receive names of people we are not close with, as this is the ideal expression of the mitzvah. On Purim morning we arrived at an unfamiliar house to present our Mishloach Manot, and were greeted at the door by a woman in a mask (and not a Purim mask!). “Oh, we are in quarantine! Just leave it by the door.” It was our first exposure to what has been a full year of social distancing, lock-downs and being separated from our loved ones.
The mitzvah of Mishloach Manot was created to combat this reality. After the victory of the Jews who were saved on Purim, Mordechai and Esther chose several ways to celebrate, among them “the sending of gifts, one to his fellow” (Esther 9:19, 22). Rav Shlomo Alkabetz (in his work Manot HaLevi, which he wrote as a “spiritual Mishloach Manot” for his father-in-law) explains that the idea behind the Mishloach Manot is to foster unity as a direct answer to the statement by Haman that the Jews are “one nation dispersed and divided.” The giving of Mishloach Manot ensures that every year on Purim the Jews recreate the sense of unity that their salvation produced. This feeling of connection promotes a sense of responsibility for other Jews. Rav Israel Isserlin, the Terumat Hadeshen, links the mitzva of Mishloach Manot to the mitzva of Seudah and explains that by sending Mishloach Manot we ensure that no one will go hungry when it comes time for the Seudah. We see this as well in the Mishneh Torah of the Rambam, where the mitzvot of Seudah and Mishloach Manot appear together (Hilkhot Megilla 2:15), implying that the two are related.
The Sridei Eish (1:61), Rabbi Yehiel Yaakov Weinberg, was asked why one does not recite a bracha on the commandment to perform this mitzvah. In his answer he states that while the accepted rule regarding mitzvot is that it is greater to be commanded and do the mitzvah, than to do it without being commanded, when it comes to the mitzvah of Mishloach Manot this is not the case. In the mitzvah of Mishloach Manot, the very choice to give something of one’s own free will is what creates this feeling of connection and love. If people only give because they were commanded to, it minimizes that purpose.
The Sridei Aish concludes his responsa with this thought: “Another novel idea I have is that Mishloach Manot is fundamentally a mitzvah that applies throughout the entire year, and on Purim we are commanded to fulfill it actively in order to remember it throughout the year, as is the case with reading parshat zakhor, which we recite once so we remember throughout the year.” Purim is a time when we are reminded to reach out to our fellow Jew, to show our appreciation and love for them. This reminder is meant to reinforce a thought that should be present throughout the year.
This year we were “dispersed and divided”. Grandparents did not see grandchildren, smachot were celebrated in the absence of close family, aveilim sat shiva virtually. We focused inward. With the help of G-d, we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. It is time to return to the community, to the collective. May the Mishloach Manot we bring this year reunite us, and may we continue performing this mitzvah throughout the year with feelings of love and responsibility for one another.