Judaism: Purim Laws: Rejoicing Together
Rabbi Eliezer MelamedThe writer is Head of Yeshivat Har Bracha and a prolific author on Jewish...
The Mitzvah to Rejoice with Friends and the Needy
This is true because real happiness is an expression of a broadening of life, and its spreading out into a love for all Creation. On the other hand, a person who eats and drinks only for himself is an egotistic and limited person, preoccupied solely with satisfying his appetite, and will never achieve real joy. Consequently, we are commanded to send choice portions to one another.
A person who ignores the sorrow of the poor, although he might think he's having a good time celebrating with his friends, really is only being frivolous and disregarding true life. He escapes thoughts of misery in the world, and in this way alone, is able cheer himself for a while. But of course, the harsh reality does not disappear as he sips his wine; and so, deep down, he realizes he does not warrant happiness, and remains sad. However, someone who takes care to make the poor and helpless joyful, his life has value, and can justifiably and truly rejoice. And this is why we are commanded to give gifts to the poor on Purim.
The mitzvah of mishloach manot is for every person to send two choice portions to a friend. The purpose of the mitzvah is to increase brotherly love between friends.
A person who sends his friend clothing or a book, although such gifts are certainly gratifying and express one’s love, has not fulfilled the obligation of mishloach manot, because the portions must be edible. However, after fulfilling the mitzvah by sending two choice portions of food, if one wishes, he may add other gifts to increase brotherly love and friendship.
Our Sages determined that a person must send at least two portions to his friend, thereby expressing his affection, because with a single portion, one can certainly help his friend not go hungry, but by sending two portions, we wish for him to enjoy the variety of foods, as well. The more one sends mishloach manot to increase love and affection, peace and friendship, between himself and his friends, the better.
What Type of Portions?
According to most poskim, a bottle of an important beverage, such as wine or beer, or a tasty juice, is considered a choice portion, and one can fulfill the mitzvah with two beverages. Other poskim are stringent, and do not consider beverages as a choice portion. And although the halakha follows the majority of poskim, a person who wishes to fulfill his obligation according to all opinions, should send at least one mishloach containing two edible portions.
Some poskim are of the opinion that a portion must be the volume of three baytzim (three eggs, approximately 150 cc). Other authorities also add that the portions must be of considerable importance, based on the importance of the sender and the recipient; if they are wealthy, the portions must also be significant and pleasing, in accordance with their esteem. But if the portions are worthless in their eyes, one does not fulfill his obligation. ‘L’chatchila’ (initially), one should make sure that indeed, each portion measures at least three baytzim, and they are important and respectable in the eyes of the sender and the recipient.
It is a mitzvah for every Jew to give two gifts, to two poor people, on Purim, in other words, one gift to each poor person. The more matanot l’evyonim one gives, the better.
Someone who gives the proper amount of two gifts to a poor married couple has fulfilled his obligation of giving two gifts. Also, a person who gives the amount of two gifts to a widow and her young, dependent child, has fulfilled his obligation of giving two gifts. However, someone who gives two gifts to one evyon, even if he gave one gift after the other – has not fulfilled the mitzvah, because he must give to two poor people.
The gift can be money or anything edible, but one should not give clothing or books, because some poskim are of the opinion that the gifts must be something that can be enjoyed at the Purim feast; therefore, one should give either food, or money to buy food.
The value of each gift must be the amount of money it takes to buy a minimal amount of food that satisfies one’s appetite, similar to small, simple meal – for example, a falafel, or a sandwich. If a shekel is given for each gift, one has fulfilled the mitzvah, because this is enough money to buy bread equal to the volume of three eggs (approximately three slices), and this is an adequate amount to minimally satisfy one’s appetite.
It is forbidden to give matanot l’evyonim from one’s ma’aser kesafim (one-tenth of one’s earnings set aside for charity), because a person may not fulfill his obligations with these monies. However, Rambam (Maimonides) wrote that it is appropriate for one to spend more on matanot l’evyonim than he spends on his Purimfeast and mishloach manot, and for this calculation, one can include all of his ma’aser kesafim for that month – in other words, if he gives more than what he spends on the Purim feast and mishloach manot, he has fulfilled the words of Rambam.
Although women are generally exempt from mitzvot asey she’hazman graman (positive, time-bound mitzvoth), since they were involved in the same miracle, as well, – they must also observe the mitzvoth of Purim. And concerning mishloach manot, due to the issue of modesty, one should be meticulous that women send gifts to women, and men send gifts to men. But as far as matanot l’evyonim is concerned, there is no need to be meticulous in this matter, because giving charity does not involve as much kiruv ha’daat (intimacy) (R’ma 695:4, where the concern of kiddushin in mishloach manot is mentioned).
A married woman is also obliged to fulfill these mitzvoth. This being the case, a married couple is obligated to send two mishluchay manot, one from the husband, and one from the wife, and in every delivery there must be two portions. And although the main point of mishloach manot is strengthening friendship between the sender and the recipient, it seems there is no need to explicitly specify that one particular portion was sent from the man, and the other from the woman, rather, the intention of the senders that one portion is from the husband, and the other is from the wife, is sufficient. And although it may seem that by doing so kiruv ha’daat is diminished, this is not the case, for since they are a married couple, it is obvious that the delivery is sent by both of them, and therefore, both are considered to have achieved kiruv ha’daat.
It is good to train children who have reached the age of education (six or seven) to mitzvoth, as well.
Q: Rabbi, last week you wrote that a woman can absolve other women of their obligation to hear the reading of the Megillah. In contrast, our community Rabbi opposes this. How should we act?