Dear Rabbi,

In a recent meeting of our temple sisterhood, the issue was raised that the giving of gifts at Purim, mishloach manot, is really only meant for the poor and that the modern way of giving doesn’t benefit anyone. Is this true?


Looking after the poor plays a role in every Jewish holiday (and everyday), and on Purim even more so, but the idea of mishloach manot, sometimes referred to as shalach manos, is actually to give gifts to anyone and everyone, rich or poor!

To explain: in the 9th chapter of the Book of Esther, we read about the establishment of the holiday of Purim:

Mordechai inscribed these things and sent letters to all the Jews... to enjoin them to make the fourteenth day of the [Jewish] month of Adar and the fifteenth day thereof, every year, as the days when the Jews rested from their enemies... to make them days of feasting and joy, and sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor.1

These final words describe three distinct observances of Purim: to celebrate with a feast; to send mishloah manot to friends (“mishloach” means “the sending of,” and “manot” means “portions” or “servings”); and to give charity to the poor.2

Mishlaoch manot is fulfilled by sending a minimum of two different kinds of ready-to-eat food to at least one person. The unique Purim-Mitzvah of giving gifts to the poor requires us to give a gift of monetary value to at least two needy people during the daylight hours of Purim.

Getting back your question, what sort of observance is it to give gifts to people who aren’t actually in need? How does that measure up to helping an old lady across the street?

One explanation is that this too is a nice way of ensuring that everyone has what to eat for the Purim meal.3 Giving money won’t help if the stores are closed or if someone is stuck at home, so we give gifts of ready food so that the recipient can just open and eat. From that angle, this mitzvah is also about charity, since even people with means may not have food ready for the meal.

But what if your friend has lots of food? What’s the point of giving them another cake and bottle of wine? And isn’t it offensive to give food gifts to someone who is self-sufficient?

That’s exactly the point!

Mishloach manot expresses friendship and promotes unity,4 and reminds us that no human can survive as a completely self-sufficient being. We need friends and value them; and giving food gifts is a way of showing our connection. We share our joys and our pains, and always have the time for each other no matter how much is already on our proverbial plate.

For future reference, if any more questions of this sort come up at a sisterhood meeting, just take out your phone or laptop and learn about the observances and customs of all the holidays at’s Jewish Holiday websites.

Please see Why Do We Give Food Packages on Purim? from our selection on mishloach manot.

Happy Purim!

Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson