For most of us, this year Purim begins on Saturday night, March 22, 1997. As
mentioned in vol. 1 # 77, one of the commandments we have on Purim is that of
"Mishloach Manos." We are required to send two items of food to one person
on Purim. A number of different reasons are put forth as to why we send gifts
of food to each other on Purim.
The Terumas HaDeshen explains that our happiness on Purim is to be expressed
through festive feasts. However, there unfortunately are many who are not
able to prepare feasts for Purim due to their financial circumstances.
Therefore, the Terumas HaDeshen writes, we all send gifts of food to each
other. This way, all will definitely have food with which a feast can be
conducted. Furthermore, the Chasam Sofer writes, as we do not want to
embarrass the poor, the rich give poor gifts, and the poor gives gifts to the
rich. All the members of the nation of Israel give indiscriminately to their
brothers and sisters so all can celebrate Purim properly, without any shame.
Another reason given is the one put forth by Rav Shlomo Alkabetz. Haman
described the nation of Israel to Achashverosh as a "people scattered abroad
and dispersed amongst the people." Some commentators explain that Haman was
pointing out that the Jewish nation was vulnerable because they did not all
get along: there were disagreements and disputes among them so that in their
hearts they were scattered and dispersed. In the end, when the Jews were
given the opportunity to attack their enemies before Haman's decree became
effective, they were a united force. To foster feelings of closeness,
kinship, and love, we send gifts to each other on Purim. This way, every
year, we show that we care for our fellow Jew and want to establish and
maintain unity throughout the Jewish nation.
A third reason is given by the Chasam Sofer and the Rebbe from Ostrovtza.
During the reign of Achashverosh and specifically during the grand party that
he threw, many Jews bowed and worshiped idols out of fear. Yet, no one Jew
knew if his co-religionist was acting like an idol worshiper solely out of
duress of if he or she had truly left the faith. Came the time when the
Jewish nation was saved from their destruction, and the picture was much
clearer. To illustrate that each Jew believed that the other was true to G-d
and to Judaism, everyone sent gifts of food. By accepting the gifts, each Jew
displayed his trust of his brother, thereby forging a new degree of trust,
understanding, and unity.
The common denominator of these reasons is that Mishloach Manos serves to
bring us closer as a people. This may occur by helping others celebrate as we
do. This may occur through random acts of kindness and gift giving. This may
occur through acceptance of our brethren. We must be sure to take advantage
of this fantastic opportunity we have to unite the Jewish people. Shalach
Manos is not a gift we should be giving exclusively to friends. We should be
giving this gift to the new person we noticed in shul last week who recently
moved into the neighborhood. We should give this gift to the people whom we
have had disagreements with. We should give this gift to the needy, the
widowed, divorced, orphaned - any person who deserves our help and
attention. Purim should be a time of joy for all, and a time when all
experience this joy together as one.