Baskets Full of Joy
When the Jews of ancient Persia celebrated their unlikely salvation from Haman with gifts of food to each other, they probably didn’t go for the tropical-themed basket with gummy fish, rock candy and dried papaya, wrapped in a sweep of turquoise cellophane.
Clearly, the holiday custom of exchanging gifts of food, called by the Hebrew term mishloach manot [MEESH-lo-ach MAN-oat] has changed with the times.
But even in L.A., where fulfilling the Purim mitzvah has been raised to new levels, the basic idea behind mishloach manot remains the same: to promote a joyous spirit of friendship and unity among a scattered nation.
Mishloach manot is one of four mitzvot of Purim, along with charity to the poor (matanot la’evyonim), holding a festive meal (seudah) and reading the Megillah. The fulfillment of mishloach manot requires sending to one person, on Purim day, a gift of two ready-to-eat foods with different brachot, blessings.
Rabbi Avrohom Czapnik, director of the Jewish Learning Exchange and assistant principal at Yeshiva Rav Isacsohn-Toras Emes, says the unity and friendship that results when we exchange gifts is a theme central to the Purim story.
When getting approval for his evil plot from King Achashverosh, Haman refers to the Jewish people as a nations scattered and dispersed among the other nations.
“This was a spiritual indictment. You don’t have unity, and therefore we have the ability to conquer you,” Czapnik explains. Esther’s response, then, was to create a greater sense of Jewish unity by telling Mordechai to gather all the Jewish people to fast and pray for her.