By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
Recently, a local kosher supermarket displayed a sign saying “Two Brachos” Purim packages were available. Why is this halachically problematic? Because Purim packages require two different food items, but never was there a halachic requirement that these two items have two separate berachos. Nor has there ever been a rabbinic authority requiring such a thing in well over two thousand years.
A complaint to one of the managers elicited the following response: “True, but since everyone is requesting packages with two berachos, we are making them available.”
Argghh! So, once and for all, for the record, there is no such requirement. Hopefully, the teeming masses of Jewish shoppers are reading this column.
Once we are on the topic of mishloach manos (or shalach manos), there are some interesting issues that we can explore.
The mitzvah is to send two different foods to one other person or family. Must the two foods be sent together? Rav Elyashiv is of the position that they must. May one of the foods be a liquid? Most authorities hold that one of the foods may certainly be a liquid (except for water), and this is the authoritative view. There is a reading of Rabbeinu Chananel that holds a liquid may not be one of the two food items. This view is apparently not l’halachah.
Must the food items be ready to eat? The Magen Avraham, Vilna Gaon, and Chayei Adam hold that it must. The Pri Chadash is lenient. We rule in accordance with the former view.
Does sending money to buy food or sending a gift certificate at Traditions work? Some Acharonim hold that it does, but many hold not. The language of the Rambam (Hilchos Megillah, Chapter 2) seems to indicate that it must be real food and not a gift certificate or money.
What is the reason behind the mitzvah of shalach manos? Two reasons are brought down. The Terumas HaDeshen writes that it is to ensure that the recipients not run out of food items to serve for their meals. The Manos HaLevi on Megillas Esther, written by Rav Shlomo Alkabetz and cited by the Chasam Sofer, writes an altogether different reason: to increase peace and brotherly love.
Refusal. What if a package is prepared and the recipient responds with a “No, thank you”? Has the sender fulfilled the mitzvah in such a case? According to the Terumas HaDeshen it would seem not; according to the second opinion he very well might. It is interesting to note that the Rema in O.C. 695 writes that one has fulfilled the mitzvah. The Pri Chadash questions this position and does not understand it. Our aforementioned Chasam Sofer answers the dilemma by suggesting that the Rema holds like the Manos HaLevi. Perhaps one can point out, however, that even according to the Manos HaLevi, the full effect of the shalach manos has not been achieved. Peace and brotherly love is a two-way street, and the giver doesn’t necessarily feel so good if his gift is refused. So how can the Rema be understood? It is only if the recipient responds gently, “Don’t worry about it; you don’t need to actually give it to me.” Rav Ovadiah Yoseph, however, holds that Sephardim should not rely on this Rema and send the shalach manos to someone else.
Anonymity. Does the recipient have to know who sent it, or does anonymity work? The Ksav Sofer (responsa O.C. #141) relates the issue to the two reasons mentioned above. He recommends that one be stringent and avoid anonymity.
Lost or stolen. What happens if the shalach manos that you had sent got lost or stolen? The Birchei Yoseph writes that one must send again.
How fancy must it be? Another little-known halachah about shalach manos is found in an esoteric Biur Halachah (written by the Chofetz Chaim) in Orach Chaim 695. He writes that the Chayei Adam has proved from a passage in the Talmud Yerushalmi that if one sends a Purim package to a wealthy individual, the package must be a respectable one. In other words, a small bottle of grape juice and five cookies does not fulfill the mitzvah when one is sending a package to Edgar Bronfman, Michael Bloomberg, or Larry Ellison.
The Biur Halachah writes that the Ritva’s comment on his version of the Talmud Bavli agrees with the Chayei Adam. A careful reading of the Ritva, however, reveals that the Ritva and Chayei Adam are not exactly the same. Both of them require an upgraded Purim package on account of wealth; of that there is no question. However, the Ritva’s requirement is of the wealth of the giver–not the recipient. In other words, according to the Ritva, if the giver is very wealthy, his package must reflect that as well and he cannot fulfill the mitzvah with a meager package. Since the Biur Halachah does quote both the Chayei Adam and the Ritva, both would seem to be authoritative.
How should they be sent? The Chasam Sofer in his commentary to the Talmud (Gittin 22b) writes that ideally, the package should be sent through a messenger and not delivered by the sender directly. The reason is that the verse in the Megillah specifically states, “and the sending of gifts.” Children, however, can be used as the messenger without a problem. The same is true regarding sending it through a non-Jew.
To whom? The halachah is that men send to men, and women send to women. Women are obligated in the mitzvah because, according to the Mishnah Berurah, “they too were involved in the miracle.”
May one fulfill the mitzvah by sending to a child? The verse in the Megillah uses the term “Umishloach manos ish l’rei’eihu–and the sending of portions each man to his peer.” The Aruch HaShulchan permits it and considers a child a “peer.” Other poskim disagree with the Aruch HaShulchan. It is, therefore, better to send it to an adult.
What about sending shalach manos to a mourner? The Rema states that one should not send during the entire twelve months of mourning. This halachah is true for Ashkenazim. Sephardim, however, can receive shalach manos during mourning.
The packaging. Should at least two of the food items be wrapped separately or in two different containers? Some authorities (the Ben Ish Chai) hold that if they are sent together then the container itself may make it as if it is one food. Thus, Raisin Bran would only be considered one food item unless one separated the raisins from the cereal into two plastic baggies. Others (Sheim M’Shimshon, O.C. #31) write that the container does not make it into one food.
Timing. When should the shalach manos package be given? It must be given in the daytime and not at night. The mitzvah should also be fulfilled, ideally, before one begins the Purim seudah.
What about the school and shul? Schools and shuls often send out a flyer and request you to participate in their shalach manos program when they send out a list of who sent to you. While this idea is fantastic in terms of reducing the waste and excess in shalach manos giving, the givers should be aware that one cannot and does not fulfill the actual mitzvah with this form of giving. Many people are unaware of this fact, and it seems that we should insert it somewhere in the fine print at least. v
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