Purim is an extremely unique Yom Tov. As opposed to the other Yomim Tovim, we find two mitzvos on Purim that are exclusively interpersonal related mitzvos; Mishloach Manos and Matanos Laevyonim. Let us explore the nature of these two mitzvos.
Many of the very interesting halachos of mishloach manos hinge on a fundamental dispute in the Poskim as to the very nature of this mitzvah:
- The Terumas Hadeshen (111) writes that the purpose is to ensure that the recipient have enough food to be able to have a minimal se’uda. Therefore, only gifts of food and drink can count toward this obligation, not new clothes and the like.
- The Manos Levi explains that the purpose of this mitzva is to increase feelings of love and unity between Jews, as a rectification for Haman’s description of the Jewish people as “a nation scattered and dispersed throughout the nations” (3: 8). As such, one can fulfill the mitzvah even with non-food items.
A number of other details of mishloach manos seem to depend on this dispute:
1) If the intended recipient refuses to accept the mishloach manos offered him, has the “giver” fulfilled his obligation? This is a debate among the poskim; the Rema (O.C. 695: 4) rules leniently and the Peri Chadash maintains that in this case no mitzva has been fulfilled. The Chasam Sofer (O.C. 196) explains that if the purpose of mishloach manos is to provide the recipient with food for his meal, then this goal is clearly contingent on the acceptance of the gift by the recipient. On the other hand, the very offer of mishloach manos generates a feeling of friendship even if it is not accepted.
2) Can mishloach manos be delivered anonymously? The Ksav Sofer (O.C. 141) connects this question to the reasons for the mitzva. Clearly, the recipient benefits even if he doesn’t know the source of his gift. However, no fraternity and love is generated when the identity of one of the involved parties is unknown.
3) The Aruch Hashulchan (696: 3) rules that someone who is traveling on Purim cannot fulfill mishloach manos by having a family member deliver on his behalf. Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank (Mikra’ei Kodesh) considers this similar to the previous question about anonymous delivery. If the purpose of mishloach manos is to create an aura of unity and love, then the delivery must be performed in a personal manner (“ish le-re’ehu”, in the language of the Pasuk), not anonymously or through an intermediary. Interestingly, the Mishnah Berurah (695,18) disagrees, and he actually cites an opinion that perhaps one can only fulfill the mitzvah by sending mishloach manos with an agent, based on the term ”mishloach” appearing in the Pasuk, indicating specifically an emissary’s involvement.
As far as Halachah Lemaisa, one should try to make sure that at least one mishloach manos is actually accepted by the recipient, and in a way that the recipient is clearly aware who the sender is. Although not obligatory, it is as well advised to have at least one mishloach manos given directly and one delivered via an agent, to accommodate all opinion
That is the discussion pertaining to the first interpersonal mitzvah of Purim, mishloach manos. Now we turn to the second interpersonal mitzvah, matanos laevyonim – the requirement to give charitable gifts to at least two poor people (Shulchan Aruch O.C. 694:1).
There as well is a fascinating dispute in the Poskim regarding the nature of this mitzvah:
- Rav Yosef Engel (Gilyonei Hashas Shabbos 10b) notes that the Megilah (9:22) refers to this mitzva with the term “matanos” – “gifts.” A “gift,” Rav Engel writes, differs fundamentally from ordinary charity. The Gemara in Shabbos (10b) teaches that when a person gives his fellow a gift, he must inform the recipient. The reason is that a “gift”, by definition, requires both a benefactor and a beneficiary. The concept of a gift is not merely the transfer of some asset from one person to another, but rather the forging of a relationship, nurturing the bonds of friendship between the two parties, and this requires that both the giver and the recipient are aware of the gift. However, charity is completely different. Tosefos (Shabbos) writes that although one who gives a gift must notify the recipient, when it comes to charity, the opposite is true: it is preferable to donate charity anonymously, in order to avoid embarrassing the recipient. The reason is that charity is intended solely for the purpose of providing financial support to a person in need, whereas a gift serves to facilitate social bonding and friendship. Accordingly, when one gives charity to the poor, the key concern is that the funds or goods reach those in need, not to facilitate emotional bonding; to the contrary, such bonding is to be discouraged in the context of charity, due to the embarrassment this would cause the recipient. A gift, however, is intended not merely to give somebody something he could use, but to strengthen bonds of friendship, and this requires informing the recipient of the gift.
Accordingly, Rav Engel rules that since the Megila formulates this requirement with the term “matanos,” referring to this donation as a “gift,” we should treat it not as charity, but rather as a gift. In other words, matanos laevyonim differs from ordinary charity in that it must be given as a “gift,” and thus one must inform the recipient. As opposed to other charitable donations to the poor, which should ideally be kept anonymous, matanos laevyonim requires that the beneficiary knows from whom he received the gift. The mitzvah of matanos laevyonim is intended to engender a feeling of friendship and affection among Jews, and this can be achieved only if the recipient knows the identity of the benefactor.
- Rav Asher Weiss ( Minchas Asher- Moadim), on the other hand, cites the Rambam ( Megila 2:17) as indicating that matanos laevyonim is supposed to be given to the poor in a manner which maximizes the recipients’ joy, which would seemingly be an anonymous gift, which helps to preserve the recipients’ dignity and protect them from humiliation. He maintains that it would be more logical to give matanos laevyonim anonymously.
So how should one fulfill this mitzvah on a practical level?
Rav Weiss has a fascinating suggestion to satisfy both views. He writes that one can fulfill the obligation of matanos laevyonim by giving food products to two needy people, who will assume that the gifts are given for the purpose of mishloach manos, as opposed to matanos laevyonim. However, the giver can actually have in mind that he is fulfilling the mitzvah of matanos laevyonim. This way, one is able to give matanos laevyonim in a manner whereby the recipients know who gave them the gifts, but without causing them shame. Have a happy and uplifting Purim!