Purim Puzzle

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Dear Rivkie,

 With Purim coming up, it occurs to me that from year to year I forget how stressful it can be, specifically giving out shalach manos (Purim gift baskets, also referred to as mishloach manot). There’s the halachic obligation, but there are also social pressures. For example, do I need to give one to everyone who gives to me? And it seems like so many people develop elaborate themes, making the rest of us feel inadequate. Is it okay to stick with something simple? Then there’s the driving — where is the “boundary” for delivery?


Please explain the rules of etiquette for giving shalach manos, so I can try to relax and enjoy one of my favorite holidays!


(Wish I Could Be) Elated Esther


Dear Esther,

 Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, I was newly married, and, having never celebrated Purim growing up, I watched my chosson (husband) carefully prepare our shalach manos to give out. He would take a white paper plate, put an orange and store-bought hamantashen (triangular cookies) on top, fold and staple until the whole package resembled a hamantashen, and call it a day. He would make two or three and we’d deliver them to friends in our downtown neighborhood. Period. I thought this was all very exciting and awfully clever. Then we moved to the suburbs.

Now, I am not deriding this practice at all. In fact, I look back on it fondly. The halachic obligation is that you must make a gift of two different foods and deliver it to one person. In my house, we have taken this to mean that we choose a theme in December, start ordering costumes in January and February, while concurrently ordering supplies from Amazon to make 96 shalach manos to match the theme, and do more stuff that I’m too embarrassed to go into, what with all the excess. Additionally, I buy shalach manos to support various institutions in the community. And then spend all of Purim delivering said 96 shalach manos. And then crumple in a heap right after seuda (festive meal), even if it occurs at 4 p.m. Period.

So, now that I have that off my chest, and you are thinking, “Rivkie, are you crazy?”, please hear me out. One of my children and I do this whole Purim thing together because we both enjoy the creative process. She gets super into it, and gets a lot of pleasure from it, and I get a lot of pleasure from watching her enjoy it. And maybe also some of the actual doing part. The rest of the family puts up with us.

Which brings me to this: Do what works for you, Esther. This will probably lie somewhere between a paper plate hamantashen and 96 themed shalach manos. On the one hand, yes, it is nice to deliver and receive a bunch of shalach manos. However, if you don’t want to do that, don’t do it. We have friends who leave town on Purim. Ostensibly, this is to meet up with friends in a close-by city, but who is really the wiser? And what if you do the same? Go hear megillah, hand out your one or 12 shalach manos, and then go away for the afternoon. Just make sure that your kids are OK with this. Obviously, don’t sacrifice their enjoyment to avoid all the making and delivering. Do not be a Purim Scrooge if your kids really want to stay in your community all day. You may have to compromise a little.

Now, you are worried that you might get more shalach manos than you give. That’s OK! When someone comes to your house and, say, you’ve run out of packages, don’t stammer and act guilty. Say “Chag Sameach!” or “A Freilichen Purim!” or “Thank you!” They probably don’t care if you give them anything; maybe, like (some people in) my family, they just love to do the packaging and delivering.

There’s an idea (see aish.com) that one thing we can do on Purim is remove our masks, such as the mask of self-containment. If we tell ourselves we don’t need others, and we are fine on our own, we don’t risk anything. So, a nice thing to do is to give shalach manos to those we especially need to reach out to; for example (this is scary), someone who’s hurt us in the past (this is  really advanced-level shalach manos giving that I admire greatly), to open up a connection with others. It’s harder, but more admirable, to give to those types of people than our 57 BFFs, right?

Overall, it’s important to enjoy this and all the other holidays. Purim is pretty deep and it behooves us to re-read megillah before we hear it (twice) on Purim. Think about the miracles that happened, and, more amazing, that they were hidden. And remember, a major theme of the day is “v’nahafoch hu,” or “things got turned upside down.” You can turn things around for yourself in thinking about Purim. Enjoy yourself, your family, and however many friends you want to give shalach manos to, whether that’s one or 96. And, mainly, have a freilichen (happy) Purim!

 All the Best,