Thoughts on Mishloach Manos

This is not ideas for themes as some people requested on a neighborhood email list. Actually, I think that the theme notion sometimes obscures the real point of the mishloach manos. The mitzvah was not instituted to show off one's originality, creativity, or cute packaging. It was established to stress connection. By sending food (that is intended to form part of the Purim meal) to our friends, we reinforce the closeness that usually is signified by sharing a meal-- like having dinner together or even "doing lunch." The interconnectedness of the Jews was an important component of their coming together at the time of Esther to do tshuva, re-accept the Torah, and vanquish Amalek. I really doubt that they pondered over themes to distinguish their mishloach manos, as the focus would have been over the food rather than packaging -- or substance rather than style. There is nothing wrong with style, but one should not lose focus. So I am not certain that on has fulfilled the mitzvah by giving, say, a package of gum (which may not constitute food at all) and a little chotchkela in a too-cute-for-words teeny container.

Many stores sell prepackaged mishloach manos that are beautifully wrapped. Some include a dish that would afterwards be used as a serving dish; in fact some of the stores specialize in these dishes and just add on a bottle of wine or grapejuice and some wafers so that the package would actually contain something edible. One such store advertised with words to the effect of "Give them something that will last." That may be a nice sentiment, but it is not really relevant to mishloach manos.

Mishloach manos only qualify for the mitvah if they are edible (for some of the finer points related to halachic considerations for such you may see some of the posts at divreichaim.blogspot.com). And as they are supposed to be incorporated into the Purim seudah, they should also be eaten -- that is to say completely consumed -- on Purim day itself. That is not to say that there is a din of nosar in relation to Purim comestibles but that the mishloach mano are for the day. The gift is supposed to be enjoyed as part of the Purim celebration and in the process consumed; it does not linger in the china cabinet. What lingers in the china cabinet cannot be mishloach manos, though it may be a separate gift.

Carpe diem -[seize the day] could be applied to Purim, as well as other yomim tovim. Each holiday offers its own experience with unique halachic requirements to reflect on the spiritual meaning behind the day. We should do the mitzvahs with an appreciation of the significance of the day and live the moment, so to speak. We should not bemoan the fact that what is eaten is gone and may not be remembered as well as the decorative platter it came with. The point is to eat the mishloach manos, and just like the upcoming mitzvah of eating matzah, the ingestion serves a spiritual purpose. So the gift one offers on Purim is meant to enhance the experience of the day. It's what's inside that counts.

That brings me to one other point I think people forget about. The first consideration for any food item should be that it is actually something people will enjoy eating. Some people go for highly decorated food stuff that has all the taste appeal of a piece of cardboard coated in wax. We once had the misfortune to receive a platter of cookies that fit just that description, and what's incredible to me is that the person who bought them knew full well, in the words of her daughter, that "they are nasty," but thought that appearances trump taste. In truth I was not impressed by how they looked -- very tacky to my taste -- and it would have been better to buy regular bakery cookies that people would actually eat. I don't even like to take a chance on buying chocolates for people if I don't know what exactly is inside them. While any chocolate piece can look attractive in colorful foil, the filling may make it something only worth seeing but not worth eating.

Comments

Here's an idea, one that I've gotten sincere thanks for. Send a Empire barbequedo chicken or turkey, thawed out. Or have the local restaurant deliver sushi or hamburgersomething or pizza. All of which I've done.

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