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Monday, March 13

פורים - Giving and Receiving

In general, the מצוות that accompany other festivals bear a logical connection to the festival itself. It is not difficult to understand why we light candles on חנוכה, why we eat matzah on פסח or cheesecake on שבועות. However, משלוח מנות and מתבות לאביונים do not fit that mold. The direct connection to the events of פורים is unclear at best. I believe that as פורים is a celebration of Jewish survival in the face of complete extermination, these מצוות were instituted as a symbol of what keeps us together and therefore a necessary component of our survival. We must recognize the importance of the bond we have with our fellow Jew and פורים, when we all almost didn't make it, is the time to do that. Indeed, this is only example of a "mitzvah of the day" being of "בין אדם לחבירו" nature.
There is an interesting contrast between these two מצוות. The gifts to the poor are referred to only as "מתנות לאביונים" However, משלוח מנות differ as the pasuk makes direct reference to the giver and the receiver, "איש לרעהו." This somewhat superfluous elaboration hints to the fundamental difference in the purpose behind these two מצוות. The purpose of משלוח מנות is to establish camaraderie between fellow Jews. It is more important to send to one's less friendly acquaintance than to one's good friend. It therefore does little toward that end if the receiver is not aware of the giver or vice versa. The pasuk therefore clearly mentions the giver and receiver, to stress this importance.
מתנות לאביונום is quite the opposite. There is a need for the poor to be properly sustained and it is the responsibility of the public to do what they can to sustain them. While it is certainly important for the giver to be aware of the great cause to which he is contributing and for the receiver to know that there are people who care, it is far less important that they are aware of each other's identity. A poor man is generally more emabarassed by direct donations and an anonymous donation is a far more noble deed as there is no recognition or acknowledgement involved. To emphasize this point, the pasuk describes this mitzvah simply as מתנות לאביונים.
We do not make a ברכה on the mitzvah of מתנות לאביונים. In fact, we never make a ברכה on the giving of צדקה. There are varios reasons given for this. However, the above thoughts lead me to another insight regarding the lack of ברכה. In performing חסד, it is all too easy to get caught up in selfish aspects of the deed. It is of utmost importance, yet sometimes challenging, to put complete focus on the needs of the receiver. Perhaps assigning a berachah to the mitzvah of tzedakah would dangerously put too much emphasis on the self. The lack of a ברכה allows us to forget about what this מצוה does for us and helps us focus on what it is we are supposed to be doing for others.
Have a happy and healthy פורים.

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