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?


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.