Gift Giving at Purim
One of the nicest traditions on Purim is that of giving a gift of food to friends. This is called Mishloach Manot (Mish-LO-ach Ma-NOTE) the sending of gifts. This phrase is often shortened to Shalach Manot (Sha-LACH Ma-NOTE) or Shalach Manos (SHA-lach MA-nos). According to Jewish law, one should give a gift of two different types of food, one of which is prepared (cooked or baked) to at least one person. This law is described in the Book of Esther (9:22) as part of the proper celebration of Purim.
The giving of gifts to one another helps to create a feeling of closeness and hope in the community at a time of the year when we are still burdened with the bleakness of winter. There is a rabbinic teaching that we should not only give gifts to friends, but to someone who is new in the community, to those who are needy, and to those whose spirits would be bolstered by knowing that someone cares.
Along with the mitzvah of Shalach Manot is the equally important mitzvah of giving tzedaka (tzeh-DAH-kah) to two different people or organizations on Purim. The giving of gifts to the poor is another one of the mandated celebrations of Purim detailed in the Megillat Esther — the Book of Esther. The rabbis teach that we are to gift a festive gift of food to
There are many different ways to actually give Shalach Manot. Some people create elaborate baskets and personally deliver them to friends and family. Others create simple gifts by putting a few hamantaschen and some candy into a plastic bag and tying it with ribbon.
It is also permitted to designate an agent like a store or company that specializes in this type of service to deliver your gift. Kosher Cornucopia is an excellent source for sending kosher Purim baskets to friends and family in the United States. You can reach them in a variety of ways:
You can fulfill the mitzvah of sending shalach manot to a stranger by arranging for a delivery of a gift basket to an Israeli soldier on active duty at the Lebanese border.
Along with the mitzvah of Shalach Manot is the equally important mitzvah of giving tzedaka (tzeh-DAH-kah) to two different people or organizations on Purim. The giving of gifts to the poor is another one of the mandated celebrations of Purim detailed in the Megillat Esther the Book of Esther. The rabbis teach that we are to gift a festive gift of food to one friend, but that we are to give tzedaka to twice as many people. This is to insure that no one in the community will be left out.
Some communities have the custom of having everyone contribute three half dollar coins or their equivalent to charity before the Megillah reading in the synagogue. These coins represent the half-shekel which every Jew used to give as dues to the Temple in Jerusalem. (Exodus 30:1116). The rabbis explain that the reason a half shekel, rather than a whole shekel was used, is to remind each of us that we are part of the community, not the whole community. We must always balance our own needs and wishes with those of the other members of the community.
The half shekel also reminds us that the community can never be complete unless all Jews contribute equally to its well being. Every person, regardless of wealth or lack of wealth, is important to the well-being of the Jewish community.
Purim is a holiday of sweetness and joy, a time when we remember that the future of a community can depend on the presence or absence of a single gesture. Mordecais refusal to bow down to Haman in the Book of Esther created a crisis for the Jewish community. However, when Ahashverosh, the King of Shushan, gestured for Esther to come into his presence, this gesture of welcome set in motion the salvation of the Persian Jewish community. Thus, by making a sweet gesture ourselves during Purim, through the giving of Shalach Manot and tzedakah, we too participate in the health of our community.