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Why Send “Mishloach Manot” Food Gifts Through a Messenger?

Why Send “Mishloach Manot” Food Gifts Through a Messenger?

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Photo: Cookiecutterskitchen.blogspot.com
Photo: Cookiecutterskitchen.blogspot.com

Dear Rabbi,

I know that the word mishloach literally means “send,” and I’ve been told that the correct way to give mishloach manot is actually through a messenger. Is this true? Can you explain the reason?

Answer:

You are certainly onto something here. Mishloach manot involves giving two food gifts to at least one person on the holiday of Purim. The words used to describe the observance in the Scroll of Esther, mishloach manot,1 translate as “sending portions.”

“Sending” typically involves at least three people (the giver, the messenger, the receiver), as opposed to “giving,” which only involves the giver and the receiver. Because of the specific wording in the verse, it is customary to send the food packages through a third party. The messenger can be just about anybody: a friend, a relative, a child.2

It may sound strange at first, but usually the person giving mishloach manot will ask any person nearby to hand the gift to the recipient. This would include a child who opens the door at the recipient’s home, a friend going along to deliver the gifts, or one’s own child.

When the gifts are given through a messenger, more people become involved in fulfilling the mitzvah and the miracle of Purim is publicized. This is the primary reason we use a third-party.3 Alternatively, it is because it is considered a more respectful manner of giving the mishloach manot.4 But even if one gives the mishloach manot directly to the recipient, the giver still fulfills the Purim observance.5

Conversely, there are some who actually consider it better to give the food packages directly to the recipient. This is because one of the reasons for mishloach manot is to increase friendship and community bonds. As such, it seems more appropriate to give the gifts directly.

According to this, the reason the term ‘sending’is used (as opposed to ‘giving’) is to stress that although normally we consider it better to do a mitzvah, a ritual observance, by oneself, rather than appointing a messenger to do it, this does not apply to the sending of mishloach manot. Additionally, according to Jewish law, when one fulfills a mitzvah through a messenger, one must use a messenger who has the same obligation as the one who sends him/her. When it comes to mishloach manot, it does not matter who the messenger is; a child will suffice.6

Practically speaking, the prevailing custom is to try and send the mishloach manot through a messenger, but one definitely fulfills one’s obligation even if he or she gives the gift directly to the recipient.

See Why Do We Give Food Packages on Purim? from our selection Mishloach Manot: Sending Food Portions to a Friend on Purm.

Footnotes
1.

The Scroll of Esther, known as Megillat Esther or the Megillah, 9:19.

2.

See commentary by Rabbi Moshe Sofer, the Chatam Sofer, on Talmud Gitin 22b. See also Rabbi Yaakov Ettlinger in his responsa, Binyan Tzion 44.

3.

Mekor Chaim 694. Responsa Zecher Yehosef 2:8.

4.

See Responsa Yehuda Yaleh, Orech Chaim 207.

5.

See Binyan Tzion ibid, and Rabbi Abraham David of Buczacz in Eishel Avraham on Shulchan Aruch Orech Chayim 695.

6.

See Eishel Avraham ibid.

Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
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Yisroel Cotlar Cary January 26, 2015

Re The source for this mitzvah is in the Megillah itself. "Mordechai... enjoined the [Jews] to make the fourteenth day of the month of Adar... feasting and joy, and sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor."

One of the themes of Purim is friendship and unity. When Haman asked King Ahasuerus for permission to destroy the Jews, he said "There is a certain people who are scattered and separate…" In contrast, Queen Esther knew that Jewish unity was essential when praying for G‑d's help. She instructed Mordechai to "Go, assemble together all the Jews" for fasting and prayer. G‑d is our father, and He loves nothing more than seeing His children unified. When we are united, we merit G‑d's blessing. Reply

Anonymous toronto January 22, 2015

mishloach manot What is the connection between Esther and Mishloach manot . I am sure that she is also expected to give a gift to the people and it is a commandment. Reply

Anonymous Riverside, CA, USA March 8, 2012

Of all the traditions of Judaism, this one Is one of the most beautiful. I think it should be stressed to do it daily, however, and not just once a year. No? After all, the poor or needy are always among us. My question is, what if you are among the poor and needy? It is so very difficult to ask for help! It is embarrassing, and how do you find words to express it? BTW, even though I may be in that category, I still give rather than receive. Reply

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