The month which turned for them from misery to happiness and from mourning to a good day, to make them feast days and joy and sending portions a man to his friend and presents to the poor.
We celebrate the holiday of Purim. There are several Mitzvot which we will practice. The easiest of these is to go and hear the Megillah reading in Synagogue. This should be done both during the evening of Purim and during the day. It is also very important to make a holiday style meal during the day of Purim, this should be done during the day not during the evening. There are two more Mitzvot which we practice on Purim. These are giving presents to poor people and sending portions of food to friends called Mishloach Manot.
It is very important to take notice of the connection between religious contentment, coming close to friends and helping the poor. To most Jews it is obvious that helping the poor should be part of any religious celebration especially when good things happen and even more so when we pray to G-d to help us. Why then is Mishloach Manot so important to this holiday?
Having a genuine good time is different from what some people believe. It is not a selfish enjoyment where “the pleasure is all mine” and nobody else enjoys. True joy is always shared with peers and neighbors. An example of this is a good dining experience. A good meal is improved by good company at the table. Without any company it is not dining but just eating. With bad company the best food tastes atrocious.
I believe that this is the secret behind three of the Mitzvot which we do on Purim: a festive meal, giving to the poor and Mishloach Manot. We celebrate our salvation from utter destruction, as discussed in Megilat Esther, by sharing our happiness with others.
The Mitzvah of Mishloach Manot is fulfilled by giving two prepared foods to a peer. Sending people food to more people is the best way to fulfill this Mitzvah. If you are sending out few Mishlochey Manot it is best to send to someone you have had problem with. This is because the whole purpose of the Mitzvah is to come close to people.
It has been noticed, both in Israel and abroad, that instead of healing rifts and improving relationships Mishloach Manot is actually the cause of dispute between people. Many people are offended when they receive a package of goodies from a friend which contains less in it than was sent to the same person. You do not need to have a Phd. in Psychology to realize that such behavior is very unhealthy.
At the other extreme you have a healthier attitude. Some people send whatever Mishloach Manot they receive to others. These people prepare only a few at the beginning of the day and send the nicest ones to those they would like to impress. They save themselves much aggravation and have that much less cake that will go stale. I would not suggest following this method because it is better to invest time and energy in sending Mishloach Manot.
Once I received from an eminent Radiologist a small envelope containing a piece of gum and a bite sized chocolate. The enclosed letter said that he had given Tzedakah – charity on our behalf instead of sending us a nice basket. He apparently took the advice of the rabbis who say that it is more important to give to the poor than to spend hundreds of dollars on Mishloach. By informing people why he did not send them Mishloach Manot he avoided angering them.