“This year we’re not going to allow even one mishloach manot (food gift) in the house,” Shira announced as Purim approached. “All that candy is bad for the children’s teeth, and Passover is coming! How can we clean the house if there are pretzels under the couch and cookie crumbs in the playroom?”
Stan sighed. He could never understand what was so bad about the children enjoying a little candy. It was true that Passover was coming, but his wife had been talking about it since Rosh Hashanah. Actually, the minute Passover was over she had started saying, “Don’t go into that room with chametz (leavened food)!”
But Shira was determined, and when Purim arrived, she was ready.
“Happy Purim!” the neighbor called as she knocked on the door and entered holding mishloach manot. Shira was standing in the kitchen surrounded by the mishloach manot she had packed. On the table, there was cellophane for wrapping more mishloach manot, and cards decorated with colorful clowns.
When the neighbor left, Shira took the candies out of the mishloach manot and repackaged them, so they could be sent to other neighbors.
Late in the afternoon, Shira was finally able to relax and smile. There wasn’t a trace of candy to be found in the house. She had checked off every name on the list of people to whom mishloach manot had to be sent. Every mishloach manot that came into the house had been repackaged and sent to someone else. Only two handfuls of chocolates remained, one for the children and one for their parents.
The festive Purim meal was cooking, and a wonderful smell filled the house, when there was another knock at the door. Who could it be?
“Hello! Happy Purim! How nice! Thank you for coming. Just one minute. I have something to give you!” Shira ran to the kitchen and said goodbye to the chocolates. The Feinbergs! Who knew they’d be coming? She was sure they had gone to visit their grandparents. Apparently not! And now Shira was left with an enormous mishloach manot full of the foods she so feared: crumbly cookies, a whole package of toffees, crackers. Oy! What was she going to do now?
“Stan, could you come here?”
“I’m sorry, I’m busy.”
“It’s urgent! Really urgent. Please come to the kitchen.”
Stan came in. One glance told him all.
“An extra mishloach manot, huh?”
“Yes. We have to get it out of the house.”
“It’s just one mishloach manot . . .” he began, but Shira cut him off.
“One? There’s enough here for thirty families. We can’t keep this in the house. Do you have any idea what we can do with it?”
“Let’s think. We’ve already given to all the neighbors, all the teachers and your cousin. Who else is left? No one.”
“Then let’s give it to someone we didn’t plan on giving to. Someone we don’t usually give to. Someone like . . .”
“Someone, someone . . . I have a great idea! Howard the Hermit! I’m sure the Feinbergs didn’t give him mishloach manot. I’ll give him the whole package. Just take their card out and stick in one of ours.”
“You’re a genius! I hope he’s home.”
Howard the Hermit lived across the street. No one knew who had given him the name “Howard the Hermit,” but everyone agreed that it suited him to a T. He almost never spoke, and he was always a little disheveled. Nobody ever visited him. The children didn’t like him, and he didn’t relate to the children. He came and went without attracting any attention. Sometime he muttered under his breath. Even Stan didn’t really know him. Sometimes they’d pass each other in the street, but that was all.
Stan made sure that the Feinbergs were nowhere in sight, took the mishloach manot and made his way to Howard’s house. He was a little apprehensive about meeting him. Who knew how he’d react? Would he yell? Smile? Or would he mutter under his breath?
A voice called out from the other side of the door. “I’m sorry. I have no money for you!”
“Howard . . . uh . . . I don’t want money,” Stan stuttered. “It’s me, Stan, from across the road.”
Stan sensed that there was an eye at the peephole studying him. After a quiet moment, the door opened wide.
“Good afternoon! Happy Purim! I’ve come to give you mishloach manot.”
Stan blushed and nodded.
“You’re the first one to bring me mishloach manot this year.” Howard nodded his head as if he were trying to remember something. “In fact, I don’t think I’ve received any mishloach manot for at least five years.”
Stan wanted to say that he was sorry. He wanted to apologize for the neighbors, to say that they were just embarrassed to come because they didn’t really know Howard, and that from now on he would try to be a little nicer, and maybe invite him over for a Shabbat meal, and . . .
But Stan didn’t say anything.
“This is very nice of you,” said Howard, who suddenly didn’t seem so odd. “I really appreciate it. Could you wait here one moment?”
A minute later Howard appeared with a beautiful package of tropical fruits and a bottle of good wine. “This is for you. I prepared it last night in case someone came with mishloach manot, so that I’d have something to give in return.”
Stan wanted to cry, but he didn’t let himself. “This is beautiful. You have good taste.”
“Thank you. Have a happy Purim.” Howard smiled widely and closed the door.