Before long you will be sending and receiving mishloach manos. Mishloach manos are unique in the world of gift giving. Usually you give a gift for one of two possible reasons. One is that you know someone who is in real need, and you want to help them out in a loving and dignified way. An example of that would be sending your cousin with twelve children, a tiny apartment, and a limited income, an entire Purim meal, gourmet and catered. Wouldn’t that feel wonderful for both of you if it was given with a smile and an open heart? The other kind of giving relates to love, not need. Mishloach Manos can be given to someone who is receiving doesn’t need anything that money can buy. No one has enough love. You may not need anything that your theoretical cousin can give you materially, but that doesn’t mean she has nothing to give! Imagine you cousin sending you a recording of her children singing Shabbos zmiros, or the entire book of Tehillim just for you. Mishloach manos is gift giving for its own sake. You don’t have to give your mishloach manos to the needy, nor do you have to give it to someone who you love. Any Jew is a potential recipient.
That leaves you with a question. How do you feel about “any Jew”, and what do you do with your feelings? Why give gifts that are not needed, and why not reserve your gifts to people who you really love? Are you really expected to want to give gifts to any Jew? If not, shouldn’t there be restrictions on who you give Mishloach manos?
The Torah makes demands on you on every level. You are expected to be responsible for your actions. “You are accountable for your damage that you do with your body” even if you are asleep! You are accountable for your speech. The popularity of the Choftez Chaim’s books on communication comes from the fact that we all recognize how powerful words are, and how responsible we must be for where they take you and where they take your listener. You are also responsible for your emotions. You are forbidden to hate your brother in your heart. You are obligated to love Hashem, and to feel awe of Him in your heart. You are also obligated to love your fellow Jew. The question that you may find yourself asking is how can you possibly feel accountability for your feelings? Isn’t love or hate just spontaneous responses to what you experience? Isn’t it natural to love those who love you and hate those you don’t?
The fact is that something is “natural” doesn’t mean that it is either right, nor that it is beyond human control. How do you love someone for whom you don’t find yourself spontaneously feeling the kind of affection and connection that you know you would like to feel? You know what the Torah demands, but it just doesn’t happen? There are many approaches to this issue, but one of the most central ones is that you have to be able to deal with the issue in question both by making internal changes and external changes.
Maharal tells us in his essay on loving your neighbor how to make the internal changes. You begin by recognizing the difference between the kind of love that you feel instinctively, and the kind that comes as the result of longing to be more whole. Instinctively being with someone who is like you is easier and more natural. Having something in common is step one in developing a relationship. When the message you hear is “I am like you”, your instinctive answer is “I relate to you”. This year’s Gerber Baby is a Downs syndrome sweetie pie. As soon as you see the smile, he has your heart. Yes. He is like you. Like your kids. You can relate. This doesn’t always work with “any Jew”. Some Jews are less (or more!) intelligent than you, some have backgrounds that are radically different than yours, and some have faults that are dissimilar to the ones that you have come to accept in yourself. Loving this kind of person is a stretch. There is another way to love. It is by asking yourself not “what do I have in common with this person”, but instead, “What can I learn from this person that I don’t know already? What has he seen that I haven’t? What can knowing him do to make me more whole?” Once this attitude is alive and well within you, you are ready to move on to the next step, developing love towards “any Jew”. You now want to know him.
The next step is bonding with your fellow by giving to him. If the inner work has, for some reason, not been done, giving alone, doesn’t always do the job. Waiters don’t always love their customers.
Enter the great world of Mishloach Manos. You give someone a gift. It is not because you are aware of their neediness. It is not because you know them and feel natural affection and connection. It’s because you recognize that every Jew has something to teach you, something that can make you more whole. You are willing to do something that will make relationship happen. You are stretching your hand for a reason. You want to bond. This is one of the reasons that you are not considered to have fulfilled the mitzvah of Mishloach Manos if you send it anonymously. No mutual bonding can possibly take place through anonymity.
I have just returned from Rav Shmuel Auerbach zatzal ‘s funeral. There were tens of thousands of attendees. The Rosh Yeshivah of Maalos HaTorah was known for his humility, dedication to Torah, dedication to his students, and commitment to the Jewish people. He also held views that were not identical to those held by many other erudite, dedicated, brilliant rabbis. Today the differences were not erased; they are real. But there was so much else there, that today the real question, “What can I learn from him” led to an outpouring of love and respect.
Ester and Mordechai’s love for their people went beyond the borders of commonality. They believed in the sacred nature of every one of us. May we be worthy of following their path.Oh yes! Enjoy your mishloach manos!