ISSUE: Personal Happiness and that of Others

Purim is marked by two principal social commandments (mitzvot):

  • Mishlo'ah Manot--sending portions of food to others
  • Matanot leEvyonim--gifts to the poor

What these two mitzvot have in common is that they bring people together - they strengthen social ties - and express love of one's "neighbor" and the desire to bring him or her happiness.

  • There are significant differences between these two commandments:
    Mishlo'ah Manot:
    Food portions are generally exchanged between persons who know each other.
    Matanot leEvyonim:
    Gifts are usually given to poor persons with whom the giver is not acquainted.
    Mishlo'ah Manot:
    Gifts are only food (two different types must be given).
    Matanot leEvyonim:
    Gifts are usually money.
    Mishlo'ah Manot:
    Food portions are generally sent from home to home.
    Matanot leEvyonim:
    Gifts to the poor are usually given on the street.
    Mishlo'ah Manot:
    The concept of friendship, in a world as competitive as ours, is sometimes eroded over the course of the year; we all race to work. The mitzvah of mishlo'ah manot provides an opportunity to repair the institution of friendship.
    Matanot leEvyonim:
    This commandment temporarily improves the social status of the poor and allows all to be equal on the holiday. Of course, this social improvement is not meant to occur only once a year. The commandment of tzedakah (charity) remains binding throughout the year.
  • What the two commandments have in common is obvious!
    The desire to make others happy
    The desire to draw others near and draw near to others

Teacher Focus

One's own happiness, another's happiness, and the happiness of the poor--which takes preference?

Rank these three commandments according to their importance in your opinion:


Now, note how the talmudic Sages ranked the three commandments (the formulation is that of Maimonides):

It is better for a person to give many gifts to the poor than to have a great Purim feast and send many portions of food to his friends. For there is no greater and nobler joy than bringing happiness to poor people, orphans, widows, and strangers. One who brings happiness to the hearts of those who are miserable is comparable to God Himself, as is written: "... to revive the spirit of the humble, to revive the courage of the broken" (Isaiah 57:15). Maimonides, Laws of the Megillah 2:17

On Purim, we have the opportunity to fulfill G-d's will:

Thus said the Holy One to Israel: "My children, what do I ask of you? All I ask of you is that you love and honor each other."

Tannah deVei Eliyahu Rabbah 26

Translated from the Russian language pilot series of educational modules from the Jewish Agency CIS Syllabus Project [1996]:
Purim in the context of attitudes towards Jews and Jewish attitudes towards their persecutors

General Editor: David Pur
Project Director: Yossi Pnini
Production: Dvorah David-Shwartz, Meir Levinov [MIR]
Internet Editor: Gila Ansell Brauner
English Version: Chaim Mayerson

With the support of: The L. A. Pincus Fund for Jewish Education in the Diaspora
& In cooperation with: The Israel Ministry for Education & Culture 





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15 Jun 2005 / 8 Sivan 5765 0