Purim Gifts and Festive Meal
1. On Purim, each person is obligated to send (1) two gifts ("manos") [of
food (2)] to at least one other person, as [Esther 9:22] states: "sending
portions ("mishloach manos"), each person to his friend" (3). A person who
sends portions of food to many friends is considered praiseworthy ("Harei
Zeh Meshubach"). Nevertheless, it is preferable to give more gifts to the
poor ("Matanos Le'evyonim") (4) than to spend more on the festive meal of
Purim and on sending gifts of food to friends, for there is no greater and
more glorious joy ("simcha") before the Holy One, blessed be He, than to
gladden the hearts of the poor, the orphans, and the widows. A person who
gladdens the hearts of these unfortunate individuals resembles the Divine
Presence ("Sh'chinah") [which Isaiah 57:16 describes as] "enlivening those
with lowly spirits and invigorating those with broken hearts" (5).
(1) Since the Megillah expresses the obligation with the word "sending"
("mishloach"), rather than "giving," there are authorities who question
whether one must "send" the gifts through a representative ("shaliach") in
order to fulfill one's obligation (Mishna Berura 695:18). Therefore, many
have the custom to take someone else along with them when delivering the
gifts, thus enabling them to hand over the gifts through a third party.
(2) The criteria that define what type of food or drink is required will
be discussed in the next halacha (142:2).
(3) The purpose of the obligation to give a gift to a friend is to enhance
one's experience of joy on Purim (Aruch HaShulchan 695:13).
(4) As we shall see in 142:3, it is also an obligation on each individual
to give at least one gift of food or money to each of two poor people.
(5) According to the Rambam (Yad, Hilchos Megillah 2:17), the source of
the great joy one feels when giving to the poor is the fact that in doing
so, one is acting like the Divine Presence ("Sh'chinah"). It is
interesting to note that the reason it is better to give more to the poor
than to give more to one's friends, is not, as one would have expected,
because the poor need the gifts more, but rather because giving to the
poor is a greater joy for the giver, and thus a greater fulfillment of the
mitzvah to experience joy ("simcha") on Purim.