Purim Mishloach Manot — Source Guide

Nov 17, 2014
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Mishloach Manot — Sending Gifts on Purim
A Darche Noam Source Guide

Must I give food for Mishloach Manot?
Do I have to send it on Purim itself?
Do I really need to send it through a messenger?

This source guide is designed to help understand what is behind these and many other questions concerning Purim. It is intended as an educational resource, not as authoritative halakha.

This piece is geared towards learners of any level. Here’s the Source Outline (if you’re more advanced, you might want to begin from “Reasons behind Mishloach Manot”):

1. Introduction and Background Information

2. Basic Sources:
Esther 9:22
Gemara Megilla 7a
Rambam Mishneh Torah Hilkhot Megilla 2:15

3. Reasons behind Mishloach Manot
Manot Halevi quoted in Chatam Sofer Orach Chaim 191
Terumat Hadeshen Teshuvot 111

4. Possible Practical Differences Between the Two Approaches
Questions
Chart with answers

5. Other Practical Halakhic Questions
Questions
Chart with answers

6. Sources helpful in preparing this guide

Introduction and Background Information:
Every adult Jew is obligated in 4 mitzvot on Purim day:
A. Mikra Megilla, Reading/hearing the Megilla
B. Matanot La’evyonim, Gifts to the poor — one gift to each of two poor people
C. Mishloach Manot, sending two presents to a friend
D. Seudat Purim, the Purim meal

This guide to Mishloach Manot will enable you to go directly to the core sources on the two main reasons behind the mitzva and the practical ramifications between them. We will also list some other practical questions that arise and the conceptual halakhic issues behind them.

Basic Sources:
Esther 9:22
[The days of Purim] correspond to the days that the Jews rested from their enemies, and [it takes place in] the month that was transformed from agony to joy and from mourning to a holiday. [They are] to make them days of festivity and joy and sending presents from a man to his friend and gifts to the poor.

This is the basis for giving Mishloach Manot. Note three things:
1. Mishloach Manot was first taken on as a custom by the people and then given the force of rabbinic law through the decree of Mordekhai’s Beit Din (rabbinical court).
2. The Megilla does not give us a reason.
3. In Nechemia 8:12 the nation gives Mishloach Manot on Rosh Hashana.
Gemara Megilla 7a
Rabbi Yosef quotes a baraita: “Sending presents from a man to his friend” — two presents to one man; “and gifts to the poor” — two presents, each to one of two people.

The baraita (Tannaitic material not in the Mishna) builds on the plural of the word “manot” (presents) and the singular of the word “rei’eihu” (his friend). The Gemara (not brought here) on 7a and b quotes a number of anecdotes about Sages and the Mishloach Manot they sent. It was probably part of the basis of the discussion that follows about the reasons behind the mitzva.

Rambam Mishneh Torah Hilkhot Megilla 2:15
What is the obligation for this meal (Seudat Purim)? One should eat meat and prepare a nice meal according to his ability. He should drink wine until he gets drunk and falls asleep in his drunkenness. He is obligated to send two portions of meat or two types of cooked dishes or two types of foods to his friend, as it says, “Sending presents from a man to his friend.” This refers to sending two portions to one man. It is praiseworthy to send to many friends. If he has nothing to send he can exchange with a friend, each one sending his meal to the other in order to fulfill “sending presents from one man to his friend.”

The Rambam speaks about Mishloach Manot in the context of the Purim Seuda (festive meal). Note what the Rambam adds: what to send, going beyond the basic requirements, and what a poor person should do (source is in the Gemara).

Reasons Behind Mishloach Manot

Manot Halevi quoted in Chatam Sofer Orach Chaim 191
In the book Manot Halevi on Megillat Esther [Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz zt”l] writes, “[The goal of Mishloach Manot] is to increase peace and friendship. This is the opposite of what the enemy (Haman) assumed, for he said that we are a scattered and fragmented nation. He meant that instead of being a unified nation the Jews are scattered and fragmented by argument. The Sages therefore decreed that we should send presents to each other. It follows that once one sent them and showed his friendship, the sender fulfills his obligation even though the receiver forgoes the present . . . .

Terumat Hadeshen Teshuvot 111

Question: Do people who send clothing and linen (not food) to their friends on Purim fulfill the mitzva of Mishloach Manot or not?

Response: It seems that they do not, for it seems that the reason behind Mishloach Manot is so that everyone should have enough food to have a proper Purim Seuda. This is implied in Megilla 7b, where it says that Abbayei ben Avin and Rav Chanina ben Avin would exchange meals and thus fulfill the mitzva of Mishloach Manot. Apparently the reason behind the mitzva is [making sure everyone can have] the Purim meal.

Furthermore, we do not find anywhere that anything other than food or drink is referred to as “manot”.

A close reading of the Rambam also bears this out, for he writes, “He is obligated to send two portions of meat or two types of cooked dishes or two types of foods to his friend.” It seems that drinks are included in “food”. With regards to gifts to the poor, on the other hand, he speaks of giving either money or food. Apparently he holds that for Mishloach Manot one must send specifically food.

Possible Practical Differences Between the Two Approaches
Try answering the following questions yourself, based on the above. A chart based on the sources can be found here.

Do you fulfill the mitzva:
– if you send Mishloach Manot anonymously?
– if you send a book or a sweater?
– if the recipient declines?
– if you send a cheese quiche to someone eating a meat meal?
– if one’s family members send without him knowing?
– if you send unhealthy food?
– if one sends the gift before Purim and it just reaches the receiver on Purim?
Who fulfills the mitzva — just the sender or also the receiver?
Do the presents have to be appropriate for the socio-economic status of the sender or the receiver (i.e. must a rich person send an expensive gift)?

Other Practical Halakhic Questions
Try answering the following questions yourself:
A chart based on the sources can be found here.

Do you fulfill the mitzva
– if the recipient is drunk?
– if the recipient is not at home?
– if the recipient is not a friend?
– if one sends to a child?
– if one sends Shemitta produce?
Must one send through a messenger?
Can a husband and wife fulfill the mitzva through the same gifts?
Can one send the two gifts independently?
Can one send unprepared food?
Can one send two different types of the same food?

Sources helpful in preparing this guide
Piskei Teshuvot on Orach Chayim 695
Yabia Omer 6:45
Hamoadim Bahalakha — Purim, “Chovot Hayom”
Hilkhot Chag B’chag
Others are quoted above.

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