Halacha Date: 2 Adar 5781 February 14 2021
The Days of Purim
Purim will be celebrated in approximately two weeks from today. This year, we must discuss several unique laws, first of all, because Purim day (the 14th of Adar) falls out on a Friday. Second of all, in Jerusalem, a “three-day Purim” will be celebrated since the 15th of Adar (Purim day in Jerusalem) falls out on Shabbat and this creates special laws for the residents of Jerusalem.
The Mitzvah of Mishloach Manot
The verse in the Megillat Esther (9, 22) states: “In order to mark them as days of feasting and merriment and sending portions (Mishloach Manot) to one another as well as giving gifts to the poor (Matanot La’Evyonim).” The Gemara in Masechet Megillah (7a) states that “Mishloach Manot” refers to sending two food portions to one person while “Matanot La’Evyonim” refers to giving two gifts to two people; i.e. one gift per person. (This is because “Manot” refers to at least two portions, “Matanot” refers at least two gifts, and “Evyonim” is at least two poor people. The verse does not say, “Sending a portion to one another as well as giving gifts to a pauper”).
The Reason for This Mitzvah
The underlying reason for this Mitzvah is that when one sends one’s friend a gift, one expresses feelings of fondness for him and by doing so, one plants feelings of camaraderie in the friend’s heart for himself as well. Additionally, there are those who truly lack financial means and they may be ashamed to ask for assistance for the necessities of the Purim feast; thus, when one sends one’s friend this “Mishloach Manot” in a respectable fashion, the friend will not be ashamed to accept it at all, and he will thus be able to partake of the Purim feast amid much joy.
Since the fundamental reason for this Mitzvah is to create friendship between man and his fellow, if one sends Mishloach Manot to one’s friend and the recipient does not know who the sender is, the sender has not fulfilled his obligation, for being that the recipient does not know who he received this gift from, there is subsequently no friendly bond formed.
This Mitzvah is different from the Mitzvah of Tzedakah (charity) donated during the rest of the year, for regarding Tzedakah, it is most preferable that the recipient not know whom the donor is and that the donor not know who the recipient is. However, regarding Mishloach Manot, the recipient must know who has sent him this gift, for only in this way will feelings of friendship enter the recipient’s heart.
The Definition of “Two Portions”
The definition of “two portions” is two different food items or a food item and a beverage, such as cake and a bottle of wine. It is customary nowadays to send different kinds of sweets and one will indeed fulfill one’s obligation in this manner. Women must also send Mishloach Manot to their friends.
Since one of the predominant reasons for Mishloach Manot is for people to have food to eat for the Purim feast, if one sends one’s friend such gifts as clothing or blankets as Mishloach Manot, one has not fulfilled one’s obligation. Even if one sends one’s friend a monetary gift such that he will be able to purchase food with it, he has still not fulfilled his obligation, for one can only do so by sending food items or beverages. Thus, one who sends one’s friend snuff tobacco or cigarettes as Mishloach Manot has not fulfilled his obligation.
Purim in Quarantine
One who must be quarantined for Purim as a result of the Coronavirus, if at all possible, one should send a family member with a Mishloach Manot package to someone else in order to fulfill this Mitzvah. This family member should also distribute Matanot La’Evyonim on one’s behalf. If no one in the family can leave quarantine, one should ask someone else, such as a neighbor and the like, to distribute Mishloach Manot and Matanot La’Evyonim on one’s behalf.
Nevertheless, this creates another halachic conundrum, for Mishloach Manot must be given using foods belonging to the sender. Here, the food belongs to the agent, i.e., the neighbor. One must therefore request that the neighbor prepare the Mishloach Manot package, transfer its ownership to him, and then distribute it on one’s behalf. This transfer is done by the neighbor giving this package to someone else and saying, “Acquire this for so-and-so (the individual in quarantine).” The package will then be owned by the quarantined individual. The neighbor should then take the Mishloach Manot package to the person who the quarantined individual wishes to send it to and thus, have him fulfill the Mitzvah.