Monday, March 21, 2011

Purim: I'm Not a Minimalist

Someone showed me an article printed in a publication that I believe has little purpose except to reinforce the insecurities people have about mishloach manot and introduce a few more you probably never even considered. I publish a lot of ideas that I'm certain are disliked by many, so I hope I won't be accused of being the pot calling the kettle black, but I had to wonder what the purpose was to publish such an article? The article actually had something in it that reminded me of a LONG overdue post, but that will have to wait for a few days as I take care of some other things. So, back to mishloach manot for now. . . .

Another idea I was re-alerted to again this year is PIP (on a chat board I saw mention that the idea was promoted in Mishpacha). I published this idea in 2009 when I received it. At the time I thought it intriguing enough to publish the forwarded text on Orthonomics, even though I did **not** advocate the approach and had no plans of adopting such an approach then or now. But I did understand the sentiment that there is a need some have for "permission", so to speak, to tone things down where needed. As the saying goes "ideas have consequences" and the discussions surrounding mishloach manot got me thinking about the consequences of implementing such ideas or acting on insecurities being promoted.

My thinking came to a head yesterday and today. We received two very grateful thank yous for our mishloach manot. The first was from neighbors that are not fully observant who were thrilled to receive our little package of treats and wrote us a little thank you note. I've often wondered if the non-Shomer Shabbat living in a heavily Shomer Shabbat neighborhood feel invisible? It is a nice chance to connect with these neighbors especially on a day that is festive and relaxed. The second thank you was from an elderly, never married man we met at another community member's sukkah a few years back. My husband wrote his name in our notes and we have been delivering a meal-in-a-bag mishloach manot annually (real food for a lunch or dinner). I can't even tell you how appreciative he has been and he has taken it upon himself to send us a fancy gift basket mishloach manot himself, which is appreciated but certainly not expected. At this point the gifts are not "equal" (an insecurity) but that isn't the point of mishloach manot, is it?

Another insecurity mentioned is making someone feel like a chesed case or feeling like a chessed case when people remember you once a year. Certainly one doesn't want to make anyone feel like a chesed case, but I think it would be sadder to not deliver to those who will feel grateful and appreciative because someone out there took a mitzvah designed to bring people closer as an insult.

It happened that I when I went on a run to deliver to our aforementioned friend, I brought extra mishloach manot to give to other people who might not receive many and might be watching a stack multiply outside their neighbor's door. Turns out that no one had put a label on these (I believe I mentioned my worker bees didn't finish the job). What hashgacha I thought! I can deliver these to some widows, widowers, and divorcees we are acquainted with, but don't interact with often, anonymously and hopefully no one will feel embarrassed.

Ultimately I am very uncomfortable with promoting a trend of a minimalist trend of mishloach manot. I was thinking a little bit about it in terms of a takana and why a way of doing thing should be changed. The most famous takana I can think of is that of burying the dead in simple clothing (my apologies for the original mistake). In death there is really no purpose to take our wealth to the grave. I can think of no constructive purpose to anything more than a minimalist burial. In fact, quite the opposite. We can't bring the material into the next world, only our mitzvot. Whatever material goods we may leave in this world on our passing are best used for good in this world.

Limiting mishloach manot to the minimal level of fulfilling the mitzvah, as opposed to encouraging the kehilla to exercise some thought and discretion, is not something I want to see encouraged as a trend. The parade of children in costume is something that brings a neighborhood alive on Purim. There are so many people that we can bring simcha to with this mitzvah. There are tremendous opportunities for chinuch on Purim day. Let's leverage those opportunities and not go overboard just because the Schwartz's went crazy and made "everyone" they sent to feel inadequate!


Miami Al said...

If you have 50 families on your list, and more or less get reciprocation, you're looking at 40-60 baskets/boxes back.

If each one has 2 items in it, that's 100+ pieces of "stuff." That's really plenty for one month before Pesach.

I really enjoy when kids drop them off, or when our kids are dropping them off, but over stuffed baskets? What's the point.

However, if you love filling up containers with food, go for it. I'm sure people love that. Personally, I love something creative that brings a smile, I'm never concerned about a junk food shortage around Purim.

tesyaa said...

My kids enjoy giving to all their friends, but I can do without all the Laffy Taffys, chocolate wafers, and my personal nemesis, boxes of fruit punch (from Costco).

I felt bad when a family whose mother had just given birth drove up at 4:00 with a package, obviously reciprocating for one we'd dropped off. That was not the idea.

I don't think emphasizing minimalism will destroy the character of the holiday. It may just dampen slightly some of the excesses we usually see. That wouldn't be so terrible.

Shoshana Z. said...

Everything that we received this year was modest, cute, and thoughtful. Nothing overboard at all. We live in the western US and I think that people here (at least in my neighborhood) are not so focused on the "Mishpacha Magazine" version of Yiddishkeit. In fact, many people here donate to our local tomchei Shabbos in lieu of or in addition to their mishloach manot.

Avi Greengart said...

Even here in Teaneck things seem to have toned down. People give via the shul list for most acquaintances, then via tomchei shabbos or Project Ezrah (local jobless/budgeting tzedaka), and then to close family, friends, and neighbors individually. There were a few themes, and one especially intricate presentation of a "flower" (cupcake with lolipops, but that's like saying a fancy cake is some flour with eggs and sugar), but really nothing over the top in terms of quantities or expense. It was nice!

We gave out 30 or so this year - mostly to neighbors and our kids' friends. We did a Curious George theme: banana muffins baked when we realized we had too many browning bananas on hand and bananas to complete the theme/provide a second bracha. These were placed in brown paper bags with a label (graphics pulled from the Internet) glued on - slightly askew - by the kids.

Anonymous said...

Minimalist or allocating for the most impact? Sending tzedaka cards, or just a hello, to good friends and family is enough to say I thought of you. One may choose to consciously reallocate the expense and importantly effort of giving mishloach manot to those that 'do not have piles in front of their doors', giving to coworkers/acquantances, neighbors who appreciate knowing that someone is thinking of them... these have a much greater impact, and also provide the opportunity to think outside the box. Actually target individuals/families. Take the time to make larger packages for families that may need a little help, under the guise of providing a part of a full seuda for them (the whole idea behind mishloach manot).

We were very happy to see that many friends and family toned things down, but did something to show they care. we could fit everything we received in a single decent sized box, did not receive an indecent amount of food or candy, but more than enough for the kids to enjoy Simchas hayom (and a special snack each day of the week after).


Miami Al said...

We also make an effort to give to the non-observant Jews that we are friendly with in the neighborhood.

In the neighborhood becoming Orthodox, we robbed them of visits on Halloween from cutely dressed children, I figure that they can at least get the visit on the day we're dressing up our kids! :)

The baskets were generally toned down this year. They were often with a clever theme, but it was a lot of fun. We stick to two items, two brachot, but others are welcome to do what they want. There were a few super clever ones, and a bunch of candies...

Most clever basket I got: someone got a roll of the OU "tape" from the supervised establishments, and did a bag, wrapped in OU, filled with candies that the OU has started certifying in the past year or two.

It probably functioned as an inside joke to all the BTs that received it, but it was way fun, and I learned of a few candies that I hadn't realized had become Kosher.

My kids will be enjoying candy all week, and I haven't felt like a small village in Africa should have been fed instead of my already overindulged children.

JS said...

If people want to go overboard, that's just fine with me. I think the real issue is just that people should donate more to the poor than they spend on mishloach manot - it seems wrong to overindulge on one mitzvah for people who don't need it and ignore another mitzvah for people who truly do.

I love my mishpacha said...

If you really want to be turned off from "mishpacha magazine" judaism, you need to read the last story in this weeks issue: Re a woman who is having at terrible life because her husband chose to leave Kolel and go to work! She considered divorcing him but the Rabbonim told her not to (good thing, eh?) but that this is her "test" that she must pass. I was convinced it was a Purim joke, but have been told otherwise. I was and am completely baffled.

Isreview said...

I can deliver these to some widows, widowers, and divorcees we are acquainted with, but don't interact with often, anonymously and hopefully no one will feel embarrassed."
when you say you give "real food" do you mean packaged with labels or something you cooked at home. I was going to drop off "real food" Meshloch Manot, anonymously at a few homes and someone mentioned to me that it might not be a good idea because people are hesitant to eat food they are not sure where it came from

Orthonomics said...

The person we gave real food to (soup and other things) knows it is from us. The other packages were home baked goods. Where we live currently, people tend to eat from others, but I've lived in other places where that is not the case.

tdr said...

We give a limited number of "real food" mishloach manot. By "real food" I mean something that is nutritious and can be used in an actual meal.

I like to give to people whom I don't know well and whom I think might not be on the mainstream mishloach manot recipient's list, ie not a teacher, someone without kids because people with kids know lots of other people, non-frum people, etc.

One year many years back we gave to an elderly man in a nursing home. I forget how we even met him, but it was not someone we knew well. I don't think he had any family in the area.

He felt SO BAD that he did not have anything to give back, I wondered whether it was a good idea to give to him in the first place! (I concluded that it was) He was hunting in his pockets for food he had taken from breakfast to snack on later.

Dan said...

The takana you're probably referring to wasn't actually about the pine box, but it was about the fancy clothing that people wore when they were buried.
Rabban Gamliel enacted that people should be buried with simple clothing in order not to put pressure on the poor people to keep up with the rich neighbors.
It was such a happiness that Rabban Gamliel made such takana, that the chachomim decreed that any mourner should drink a cup of wine to celebrate this. The wine enactment was cancelled afterwards, but the enactment on burying with simple clothing remains.
(Kesuvos 8b, see Maharsha there too).

Orthonomics said...

Thank you Dan. I made the correction. Wooden box is halacha. Don't know what happened there. Clothing. . . .

Dan said...

Hi Orthonomics,
I don't mean to sound obnoxious, but I just wanted to correct that wooden box is not halacha either.
I think that the shulchan aruch actually prefers that people should be buried directly in the ground, just with shrouds.
In fact, in E"Y almost everyone is buried without a coffin.
I've been told that we just don't do this in the US because it's against the law to be buried without a coffin over here.

Orthonomics said...

Dan, you aren't obnoxious. I clearly needed to learn more about burial.

Dan said...

Don't worry. We all need to learn more.
In fact, the more Torah we learn, the less problems we'll have, financially and otherwise (as long as a proper hishtadlus has been made).

Anonymous said...

Is it correct that it is customary not to thank the person for the shalach manot basket?