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Prioritizing Gifts

Imagine that we had simply written the word, "Purim" and had suggested that people reach back into the recesses of their minds for memories.

What would you think of? Hamentashen? Grogger to drown out Haman's name? Dressing up in costumes?

Purim is a time for fun and laughter, for holy frivolity. It's a time when "Purim Torahs," or humorous explanations of verses in the Megila, are shared, such as the following: A nasty person who did not like the town rabbi decided that Purim would be an opportune time to let the rabbi know just what he thought of him. To fulfill the mitzva of mishloach manot [gifts of food], he bought a few pounds of chopped liver which he placed on a platter and molded into the form of a certain curly - tailed animal. The man then sent it to the rabbi. When the rabbi received it, he took a portrait of himself, put in on a platter, and sent it to the "friend" with the following note:

"I have often wondered about the seemingly extra word in the Megila concerning gifts of food to friends. The Megila states 'That they should make them [Adar 14 and 15] days of feasting and joy, and of sending portions a man to his friend, and gifts to the poor." (9:22) I was always confused about why the word 'man' was necessary. It would have been sufficient to say, 'sending portions to friends.'

"After receiving your thoughtful package, my question was answered. The Megila is teaching that the portions you send should be 'a man'- the type of person you are. Obviously, you fulfilled the mitzva accurately and sent me a description of yourself. To reciprocate, enclosed is my picture so you may have a vivid description of me."

All joking aside, sending mishloach manot to friends is one of the special mitzvot of Purim. Another special Purim mitzva is that of giving charity. Although giving charity is always a great mitzva, giving gifts to the poor is emphasized on Purim.

In the Maimonides' teachings about Purim, he states that it is better to increase in gifts to the poor than in sending portions to one another. But, if tzedaka is so important, why was mishloach manot mentioned first (in the above-mentioned quote) seemingly signifying its greater importance.

The answer to this question is not a "Purim Torah," nor is it a laughing matter. What Maimonides is trying to teach us is that when giving charity to the poor it is very important to be extremely careful not to embarrass the recipient. When Mordechai instituted Purim as a day of giving gifts to the poor he was concerned that it should not become renowned as a day when poor people receive hand- outs, possibly causing them embarrassment. Thus, he also instituted the exchanging of food presents among friends so that an observer would be unable to distinguish gifts to the poor from gifts to friends. To camouflage the gifts to the poor, the Megila preceded the commandment with the order to send portion to friends.

All of this technical talk coalesces into one theme: Jewish unity, which is fostered by actions that are caring, compassionate, loving, respectful, and kind.

Haman was able to convince King Ahasuerus to implement his evil decree to annihilate the Jewish people by stating that we are "one nation, scattered and dispersed among the nations." Though we were still identified as "one nation" we were scattered and dispersed, we lacked harmony and unity amongst ourselves. We lacked love and compassion for our fellow Jews.

To counteract Haman's claim Esther told Mordechai, "Go gather together all the Jews," emphasizing the importance of unity. Thus, when Haman's evil plans were foiled, Mordechai instituted, for all generations, the mitzvot of sending food gifts to friends and giving charity to the poor.

Happy Purim!



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