of Purim's mitzvahs are mishloach manot
(sending 2 food
items to 1 other Jew via a messenger) and matanot l'evyonim
food or money to 2 poor Jews). We may ask:
What is the connection between these mitzvot and the holiday of Purim?
Considering the advantage of giving tzedakah secretly so the recipient won't know
the benefactor's identity, why aren't the gifts to the poor given via a messenger,
as the gifts to the friends are?
3) Why are 2 food types given to 1
acquaintance, but 1 charitable gift is given to 2 poor people?
Why must we give food to a friend, but for the poor we can choose between food
The Lubavitcher Rebbe answers: Purim is physically and spiritually
unique. At Purim there was a decree made in the physical realm to annihilate every
person identified as a Jew. The subsequent salvation included all Jews. Similarly
on a spiritual plane, our tradition says, the Jews decided to complete the process
begun at Mount Sinai. They unanimously accepted the Torah and its laws of their
own free will, not under duress, as was the case at Mt. Sinai (see commentaries
on Exodus 19:17).
The purpose of giving the Torah is to create a dwelling
place for G-d in this earthly domain. An important prerequisite for the Torah's
giving was the Jews' unity. Since Purim was the completion of the process started
at Sinai, the mitzvahs of Purim hint at these three revolutionary events: 1) Making
a dwelling place for G-d in this dimension; 2) Jewish unity; and 3) Things happening
from our own initiative.
In this light, we can examine the mitzvahs of
Purim: Making a dwelling place for G-d occurs in two ways: perfecting our relationship
with Him through learning Torah and doing mitzvahs, and by encouraging others
to follow suit. Torah and mitzvahs, which connect us to G-d, are compared to food
and drink, which connect our souls to our bodies. Love and awe of G-d, which accompany
our divine service, are compared to gold and silver, which are used to buy food
With mishloach manot, when each Jew gives to another person
(G-d) gifts of food (mitzvahs), there must be two foods in each gift to prove
that we are not performing the mitzvahs easily and naturally, but breaking out
of our limitations to achieve the higher standard of doing them for the sake of
Heaven. Just as mitzvahs cannot be elevated on their own, but must be 'accompanied'
with love and awe, so also mishloach manot must also be through a messenger. On
the other hand, money alone can't suffice, because love and fear are not by themselves
valued gifts to G-d. It is our actions that count.
So now we have taken
care of ourselves, but what about our obligation to others? For this comes the
next mitzvah of Purim, matanot l'evyonim-gifts to the poor, which is also a hint
to our obligation to encourage the 'poor' in knowledge of G-d to come closer to
Judaism. For some, encouragement comes through seeing peers doing a mitzvah and
wanting to join in. For others intellectual explanation may inspire. In the same
way that there is not just one way to help another Jew become more aware, so too
the gifts to the poor can be either food or money. Our responsibility is to give
only one gift to each because our task is to take them out of poverty, to start
them on their Jewish journey. However there are two parts to every Jew, the body
and the soul. Both of these elements must be influenced to serve G-d. Therefore
the mitzvah of giving to the poor must be to two needy Jews.
Shaul Y. Leiter is the executive director of Ascent-of-Safed.