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 Megilla (7a) says 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” is at least two portions, “Matanot” is 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 his friend a gift, he expresses his feelings of fondness for him and by doing so he plants feelings of camaraderie in his 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 his friend this “Mishloach Manot” in a respectable fashion, he will not be ashamed to accept it at all, and he will thus be able to partake of the Purim feast amid much joy and happiness.
Since the fundamental reason for this Mitzvah is to create friendship between man and his fellow, if one sends Mishloach Manot to his 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) given during the rest of the year, for regarding Tzedakah, it is most preferable that the recipient not know who the donor is and 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 his 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 satisfactorily fulfill his obligation in this way. 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 his friend such gifts as clothing or blankets as Mishloach Manot, he has not fulfilled his obligation. Even if one sends his 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 his friend snuff or cigarettes as Mishloach Manot has not fulfilled his obligation.
Sending Novel Torah Thoughts
A certain Torah scholar has written in the monthly publication, “Ha’Me’asef,” that a Torah scholar who sends his friend his novel Torah thoughts and insights as Mishloach Manot has fulfilled his obligation. This is because whether the reason for Mishloach Manot is to garner camaraderie or in order to supply one’s friend with something to enhance his Purim feast, one fulfills his obligation regardless, for words of Torah gladden the heart as the verse states, “The commandments of Hashem are just and gladden the heart”, and through them a person will be just as glad as receiving food and drink for the Purim feast. In addition, there is no stronger bond than that of the Torah; thus, one would indeed fulfill his obligation according to the opinion that friendship must be shown through these gifts.
Maran Harav Ovadia Yosef zt”l writes that this opinion is nothing more than a nice thought, however, it does not follow the path of Halacha, for clearly, one only fulfills his obligation of the Purim feast with actual food and not by “eating” words of Torah; thus, the obligation of Mishloach Manot is also strictly with food items and not words of Torah. Therefore, the aforementioned opinion may not be relied upon and one must send his friend specifically food items or beverages in order to enhance his Purim feast.
Mishloach Manot to/from a Mourner
Although one may not send a present to a mourner during the thirty days of mourning or to one mourning the loss of a father or mother during the twelve months of mourning, nevertheless, one may send them Mishloach Manot on Purim. However, Maran Rabbeinu zt”l writes that one should not send a mourner different kinds of sweets or junk food; rather one should send actual food items such as meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, and the like. Similarly, the mourner himself, who is also obligated to send Mishloach Manot, should also preferably send meat, fish, and the like rather that assorted sweets.