July 24, 2024
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The Secrets Behind Mishloach Manot and Matanot L’Evyonim

In a typical yeshivah shiur addressing the topic of mishloach manot, one will most likely hear about the dispute between the Terumat HaDeshen and the Manot HaLevi. These authorities argue about the reason for mishloach manot: the Terumat Hadeshen posits that it is intended to ensure that every Jew has sufficient food for seudat Purim, while the Manot HaLevi contends that the goal is to promote stronger bonds between Jews.

Whatever its reason, mishloach manot remedies the severe problem Haman diagnosed about our people. He noted (Esther 3:9) that we are an “Am mefozar u’meforad—a scattered and divided people.” Mishloach manot bonds us together and helps us overcome our differences. A Jew should never lack food for his seudah, and we should leverage Purim to draw us together.

Anyone who experiences a proper Purim recognizes the impact of mishloach manot. Neighbors can go a lifetime without knowing each other, without an occasion to draw them together. Mishloach manot brings us together and reconnects old friends.

Rav David Hirsch wisely counsels giving mishloach manot especially to people one does not know. This way, one makes new friends and builds bonds. It would be beautiful to see a program facilitating Jews of different communities bringing each other mishloach manot, to help ease divisions among our people. Rav Asher Bush (Teshuvot Shoel Bishlomo 1:38) rightfully rejects outsourcing this beautiful mitzvah to communal mishloach manot. Eliminating the personal connection fostered by mishloach manot is unacceptable, as it defeats the mitzvah’s fundamental purpose.

 

Conclusion

A divided Jewry entices those like Haman to attack, while a united Jewry is not an inviting target for Jew-haters. Hopefully, the unity fostered by mishloach manot lasts year-round and wards off future “Haman” enemies.

 

Matanot L’evyonim and Purim: Rejecting Amalek

Why do we give gifts to the poor (matanot l’evyonim) on Purim? I believe it is partially a rejection of Amalek, a major theme of Purim and Megillat Esther. Amalek attacked the weak, as recorded in the Chumash (Devarim 25:18). Haman’s planned destruction of our people was a large-scale situation of the strong taking advantage of the weak. Haman portrayed us as weak and vulnerable, as seen in Esther 3:8 and Megillah 13b. We, in turn, strengthen the weak through tzedakah.

Additionally, the Chumash tells us that Amalek attacked the laggards. By supporting the poor with matanot l’evyonim, we correct our error (tikkun) of allowing the weak to fall behind and become exposed to Amalek’s attack.

 

Purim and the Poor

When Purim began, we introduced celebration and mishloach manot (Esther 9:19). In affirming the new holiday, Mordechai added matanot l’evyonim as a rejection of Amalekite values (Esther 9:22). It is for this reason the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 694:3) codifies Bava Metzia 78b’s assertion that we do not question the credentials of someone who extends a hand for money on Purim. As well, the Gemara (Megillah 4b) famously states that “Eineihem shel aniyim teluyim bemikra Megillah—the poor look forward in eager anticipation of Purim,” and we dare not disappoint them.

 

Why Not Bikur Cholim?

My daughter-in-law, Raizy Jachter, asks: “If the concern is supporting the weak, why didn’t Mordechai institute bikur cholim for Purim as well?” Perhaps, while there may not always be sick people, the Torah (Devarim 15:11) states there will always be poor people. My wife, Malca Jachter, adds that matanot l’evyonim can and should be given beseter (secretly) and fits with the Megillat Esther’s theme of tzniut. Bikur cholim, by contrast, cannot be done with the beneficiary not being aware of his benefactor.

 

Conclusion

We fight Amalek on the battlefield and in the struggle for values. Slogans like “only the strong survive” echo Amalekite themes which we reject. Our enthusiastic fulfillment of matanot l’evyonim affirms our commitment to the Torah values towards the needy, and utterly repudiates the Amalekite worldview.


Rabbi Jachter serves as the rav of Congregation Shaarei Orah, rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County, and a get administrator with the Beth Din of Elizabeth. Rabbi Jachter’s 18 books, including a brand new one entitled, “In the King’s Court: Exploring Megillat Esther—Our Most Subtle Victory,” may be purchased at Amazon and Judaica House.

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