With Purim only a week away, preparations for this most joyous Yom Tov are in full swing in Jewish communities throughout the globe.
As younger children keep themselves busy thinking about and trying on their costumes, their older siblings are forming groups and planning their Purim schedules. As the various advertisements in this issue, and signs hung in many hundreds of shuls readily attest, numerous matanos la’evyonim campaigns are well underway. In batei medrashim, men can be seen learning maseches Megillah, as well as various other sefarim that teach about Purim.
In homes throughout the community, intensive planning is ongoing in regard to the mishloach manos that will be sent and exchanged on Purim day.
It would be worthwhile to take a moment and reflect upon the two primary reasons given for this unique mitzvah that we only get to perform once a year.
The Terumas HaDeshen teaches that it is to make certain that every Jew — regardless of his financial status — is able to have at least two foods to eat for his Purim seudah. As the Chasam Sofer explains, the reason this mitzvah is also performed when someone sends to a person who has an ample food supply is in order not to embarrass those who truly don’t have.
The Manos HaLevi, one of the most comprehensive meforshim on Megillas Esther — written by Harav Shlomo Alkabetz as a Purim gift for his father-in-law — gives a different reason: The purpose of mishloach manos, he teaches, is to increase unity, peace, feelings of friendship and ahavas Yisrael.
There are numerous relevant lessons we can learn from both explanations.
It is vital that the sending of mishloach manos serve the purpose of increasing good feelings, and if spending large sums of money or even exerting major effort into preparing a lavish package will make a recipient feel uncomfortable or pressured to reciprocate, it is contrary to what this mitzvah is all about.
Mishloach manos is meant to ensure that no one will be embarrassed, and that those who struggle financially will have a joyful Purim. The last thing we want is that the mishloach manos packages being sent should create peer pressure that would make some individuals feel tense and ashamed about what they are sending in return. There are many circumstances when less is actually more, and the simpler the mishloach manos being sent, the greater the feelings of friendship that are being created.
As we draw up the list of people to whom to send mishloach manos this year, let us not limit ourselves to those with whom we already enjoy excellent relationships.
Purim is a day when we recall that one of the ways Haman sought to speak ill against Klal Yisrael was by focusing on the lack of unity, and how later, a crucial part of the effort to abolish the decree were the famous words of Esther: “Go, assemble all the Jews… .”
Often, both sides in a conflict are eager to move on, but struggle to find the courage to do so. At a time when our brethren in Eretz Yisrael and throughout the Diaspora are in such desperate need of zechuyos, let us bear in mind that the merit of putting aside the pain of the past and bringing an end to a machlokes is immeasurable. Whether it is a long-estranged relative or a former business partner with whom one had a serious falling-out, Purim is an ideal time to try to break the ice and bring to an end a long-running feud. In many cases, sending mishloach manos — along with a carefully worded handwritten note — is a great way to try to bury the hatchet.
As we begin inviting guests to the Purim seudah, let us also remember all those who live alone. For those of us used to sitting at a crowded table partaking in a lively Purim meal, the thought that there are individuals out there sitting in silent, empty apartments is almost inconceivable.
Some of these are homebound or, for a variety of reasons, actually prefer to stay alone. Many of them would appreciate a short visit and a mishloach manos.
Others are eagerly hoping for an invitation for the seudah, and are still waiting for your call.
May we all merit to perform the mitzvos of Purim in the most exemplary manner possible.