Contributed by: R. Ezra Mizrahi
One of the misvot of the Pourim is Mishloah Manot, the sending of at least two portions of food to a fellow Jew. The missvah is actually mentioned in Megillat Esther:
"as the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration. He wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor." (Esther 9:22)
Among the posqim, there are many different reasons behind this missvah. Some say that this missvah is connected the meal of Pourim, Seoudat Pourim, claiming that our Rabbis instituted this missvah to ensure that each person had food for the holiday meal.
However, other posqim explain that the reason behind Mishloah Manot is to save the poor from embarrassment. As the Rambam explains, the missvah of Matanot Laevyonim (gifts to the poor) is the most important missvah of Pourim, and therefore some posqim explain that the Rabbis instituted the missvah of Mishloah Manot so that no one notices the poor person collecting gifts for the holiday because everyone is receiving Miloah Manot, thereby saving the poor person from embarrassment.
There is yet another beautiful reason for Mishloah Manot. Haman claimed to Ahashverosh: "There is a certain people dispersed and scattered among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom whose customs are different from those of all other people and who do not obey the king's laws" (Esther 3:8). The Manot HaLevi explains that "scattered" ("meforad" in Hebrew) refers to how the nation was scattered internally, that average Jew fought with average Jew, and that there was no camaraderie between them.
In order to create "Ahava VeAhva" or peace and camaraderie between Jews, the Rabbis established the missvah of Mishloah Manot; this is the main purpose of the missvah, to draw fellow Jews together.
We need to be mindful of this purpose. Barouch Hashem, we live in a large and growing community, where Mishloah Manot lists have appendices. Many stores sell ready-made Mishloah Manot as a great time-saver, but do so at a premium price.
One must give Mishloah Manot within one's means. Oftentimes, we get caught up with who is getting and who is giving to really feel the camaraderie that the missvah is supposed to help us feel with each other.
We need to refocus on the goal of Mishloah Manot, stop the pressure of who one "has to give to" and the like. Learn to truly receive a gift without running to quickly make one to give in return. Ignore insane expectations others may have of you and enjoy the holiday as it was meant to be. Remember that one fulfills this missvah with giving TWO servings of food to ONE person. It is great to do more, but not create a pressure-cooker-like atmosphere, forgetting the ultimate goal of the missvah: "Ahava VeAhva" or peace and camaraderie between Jews.