The origins of Mishloach Manot

In Megillat Ester 9:19 we read about when Purim is celebrated: “Therefore Jewish villagers who live in unwalled towns celebrate the fourteenth day of the month of Adar as an occasion of gladness, feasting and festival and for sending Mishloach Manot (delicacies) to one another.” The next few verses mention Mordechai’s proclamation of Purim as an annual holiday on the fourteenth and fifteenth of Adar and Mishloach Manot are mentioned again in verse 22: “as the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and the month which had been turned about for them from one of sorrow to gladness, and from mourning to festival; to observe them as days of feasting and gladness and sending Mishloach Manot to one another and Matanot L’Evyonim (gifts to the poor).

Professor Michael Holzer of the University of Haifa explains that Mishloach Manot show mutual respect in the Jewish community while Matanot L’Evyonim show social responsibility to the weak population.

Megillat Ester is not the only time in the Tanach where gifts of food were distributed. In the book of Nechemia, when the Jewish people returned to the Land of Israel to build the Second Temple, during their celebration of Rosh HaShana, when the Torah was read to the nation, the people began to cry. Nechemia told the people (Nechemia 8:10) “Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet beverages and send Manot (portions) to those who have nothing prepared, for today is sacred to God. Do not be sad, the enjoyment of God is your strength.”

We see from here that sending Manot cheers people up.

What are these rich foods and sweet beverages?

Dr. Michael Kochman, describes rich foods as foods of good quality as in Yitzchak’s blessing to Yaakov (Breisheet 27:28) “May God give you of the dew of the heavens and the fatness of the earth and abundant grain and wine.” Sweet beverages would be liquid products such as honey and grape juice.

According to Professor Avraham Shalom Yehuda, sending Mishloach Manot on the holidays may be derived from the Persian custom to send Mishloach Manot on their new year.

Mishloach Manot is a mitzvah of Purim which is still a highlight of the holiday for both the giver and the receiver.

May we merit to give and receive packages for many more Purim celebrations.