Monday, March 10, 2014

A Primer on Shalach Manos by Rabbi Yair Hoffman

Mordechai and his Beis Din enacted that on the day of Purim each person must send a gift of at least two portions of food to a friend. This is seen from the verse in Megilas Esther, “Umishloach manos ish l’reyehu.”

What is the reason behind the mitzvah of shalach manos? Two reasons are brought down. The Terumas HaDeshen (Siman 111) writes that it is to ensure that the recipients not run out of food items to serve for their meals.

The Manos HaLevi on Megillas Esther (9:19), written by Rav Shlomo Alkabetz and cited by the Chasam Sofer, writes an altogether different reason: to increase peace and brotherly love.  This is the opposite of the characterization of the Jewish people by Haman as a nation “Mefuzar umefurad” spread and standing apart on account of internal arguments.

The Yesod v’Shoresh HaAvodah writes that one should recite the following preamble before fulfilling the Mitzvah:
לשם יחוד קודשא בריך הוא הריני מוכן ומזומן לקיים מצות עשה של דברי קבלה “ומשלוח מנות איש לרעהו.”

When performing the Mitzvah one should not just perform it perfunctorily, but should focus on the qualities of the recipient and place within his heart a strong love for his fellow man.  He should intend to honor him and to strengthen his inner joy with this package of Shalach Manos.

Men and women are both included in this mitzvah. The halachah is that men send to men, and women send to women. Women are obligated in the mitzvah because, according to the Mishnah Berurah, “they too were involved in the miracle.”  A child should be instructed to fulfill the Mitzvah just as one instructs a child to fulfill all the other Mitzvos.  The child may send to another child, as the other child is considered his or her peer.

Even a poor person is required to fulfill the mitzvah of mishloach manos. The mitzvah of mishloach manos may not be fulfilled with money, clothing, or other non-food or non-drink items. The mitzvah may only be fulfilled with kosher items.

Another little-known halachah about shalach manos is found in an esoteric Biur Halachah (written by the Chofetz Chaim) in Orach Chaim 695. He writes that the Chayei Adam has proved from a passage in the Talmud Yerushalmi that if one sends a Purim package to a wealthy individual, the package must be a respectable one.

Thus, one should not send something below the kavod of the recipient. The poskim have ruled that a lollipop is not considered chashuv for an adult, nor is a bottle of Poland Spring water or seltzer.  To fulfill the Mitzvah, the portions must convey sufficient regard for the recipient.  

The Biur Halachah writes that the Ritva’s comment on his version of the Talmud Bavli agrees with the Chayei Adam. A careful reading of the Ritva, however, reveals that the Ritva and Chayei Adam are not exactly the same. Both of them require an upgraded Purim package on account of wealth; of that there is no question. However, the Ritva’s requirement is of the wealth of the giver—not the recipient. In other words, according to the Ritva, if the giver is very wealthy, his package must reflect that as well and he cannot fulfill the mitzvah with a meager package. Since the Biur Halachah does quote both the Chayei Adam and the Ritva, both would seem to be authoritative.

Therefore, one should not send something below the kavod of the giver or the recipient. [...]

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