What is the nature of the mitzvah of Mishloach Manos and why was it instituted in conjunction with Purim? Allow me to present a new and novel insight into the mitzvah of Mishloach Manos which may provide food for thought beyond the belly fodder of the mitzvah itself.
Many commentators suggest that the mitzvah of sending gifts of food is intended to foster and strengthen unity amongst the Jewish people and repair the divisiveness that characterized Jewish life in Ancient Persia. After all, Haman recounted to Achashverosh “Yeshno Am Echad Mefuzar U’Meforad” – “There is a nation that is scattered and divided.” Factionalism has plagued us as a people through much of our history, rendering us most vulnerable to both spiritual and physical onslaughts from enemies bent on our destruction.
The turning point in the Purim saga came about when Ester instructed Mordechai, “Lech K’nos es Kol HaYehudim” – “Go and gather all of the Jews,” and unify them in common purpose to serve Hashem, to repent, and to resolve to care for each other. When we are together, we are invincible. The ensuing unity saved the Jews and is thus memorialized and celebrated through the mitzvah of Mishloach Manos.
Rabbi Yaakov of Lisa, author of Sefer Megilat Setarim on the Book of Esther, (as well as many other famous works, notably Nesivos HaMishpat) offers an additional dimension to this theme of unity. The Gemar ah inShabbos (88a) relates that on Purim our ancestors, the Jews of Ancient Persia, re-accepted the Torah with complete loving dedication, as opposed to the original Kabbalos Hatorah at Har Sinai, which was accepted from a position of fear and possible coercion as they stood beneath a suspended mountain on pain of being imminently crushed in the event of their rejection of Torah.
Their new acceptance is derived from the verse in the Megilla (9: 27) “Kiymu VeKiblu HaYehudim – The Jews affirmed and accepted.” Chazal explicate this to mean, “Kiymu Ma She’Kiblu Kvar – they reaffirmed that which they had previously accepted.”
Rabbi Yaakov explains that a critical element in acceptance of Torah is that it be undertaken as a communal endeavor, each member strengthening the next in order to perform and observe its myriad commands and strictures. Indeed the original Kabbalas HaTorah was undertaken by the Children of Israel, K’ish Echad B’Lev Echad, with unity of heart and purpose.
Likewise, the latter day Kabbalas HaTorah of Purim required Achdus amongst the Jews of Persia. The mitzvah of Mishloach Manos was thus instituted to perpetuate the sense of unity necessary to accept and maintain an ever renewed commitment to our holy Torah.
Based on this idea of Mishloach Manos supporting Kabbalas HaTorah, Rishpei Eish, a descendant of the Chasam Sofer, adds one final breathtaking insight. Medrash Tanchuma records an enigmatic statement of Chazal: “Lo Nitnah Torah Ela Le’Ochlei Ha’Man – The Torah could only be given to the generation that consumed the Manna from heaven in the wilderness.”
What is the meaning of this statement?
Two simple ideas immediately emerge. The generation which witnessed the open hand of G-d providing their sustenance could best subjugate themselves to His service.
Additionally, since their needs were constantly provided for, the Bnei Yisroel could devote themselves exclusively to the study of Torah without distraction.
The question thus arises, if benefiting from Hashem’s Manna is prerequisite to proper acceptance of Torah, where is this critical element found in the second acceptance of Torah on Purim?
Rishpei Eish creatively suggests that this is where the exchange of gifts enters the picture. In the Sinai Desert all of Bnei Yisrael’s experiences occurred on a supernatural plane. Manna showered down from heaven and Torah was given in the presence of the revealed Shechina amidst thunder, lightning, shock and awe. All was “בגלוי.”
The Purim story, by contrast, is characterized by Hester Panim, concealment of the Divine face. Our challenge is to recognize the animating hand of G-d in all world affairs. We recognize that, in fact, we are all agents of G-d to manifest the Divine in this seemingly natural world.
And so, in place of Manna from heaven, we bestow upon each other Manos from man, recognizing that “Mishloach Manos Ish Le’Re’ehu” find their ultimate source, much like the original Manna, from the One on high.
Fascinatingly, in Parshas Ki Sisa we find these two terms juxtaposed in describing G-d’s communication with Moshe Rabbeinu, “Ve’Diber Hashem El Moshe Panim El Panim Ka’asher Yedabber Ish El Reehu.” Mishloach Manos employs the same terminology, conveying the message that we must lovingly accept upon ourselves the holy task of doing Hashem’s works here on earth, as His Divine emissaries.
And just as the Manna in the desert facilitated Torah study and observance, we too encourage each other to dedicate ourselves to Torah study and observance with the promise that we will be there for each other providing “Manos” as needed.
One question remains: why two Manos? And the answer becomes obvious. The Torah was originally given on Shabbos, the day when the Divine presence is most manifest, a time when we are freed from material pursuits, to focus on the spiritual. How much Manna was given for Shabbos? The Torah tells us, “Lechem Mishna,” a double portion so that we would be relieved of any burden on Shabbos, the day of Kabbalas HaTorah.
Thus, in re-enacting a renewed Kabbalas HaTorah, we too ensure that each individual is given “Manos,” a double portion given from Ish L’Reehu, from man as G-d’s Shaliach to another worthy Jew.
As we prepare to engage in this supernal mitzvah, let us acknowledge the Source of all blessing in this world and take upon ourselves the holy responsibility of acting as God’s interface into this world, as we extend the Divine revelation from the Manna of antiquity through the Manos we bestow today.