The Mishna (Chagigah 1:5) in today’s daf (Chagigah 8b) states that someone with many dependents and a more limited budget should, when coming to Jerusalem for the שלוש רגלים (the three Pilgrim festivals), bring more שלמי חגיגה (festive peace offerings that were given in part to the Kohanim but which were primarily eaten by the pilgrim with their family and any others who were in need of food) than עולות ראייה (pilgrimage olah offering that were fully consumed in the fire of the altar). Contrasting this, someone with fewer or no dependents and a larger budget should bring more עולות ראייה than שלמי חגיגה. While someone with fewer or no dependents and a more limited budget should be aware of – and should only feel an obligation to bring – the minimum requirement of both. What this teaches us is that what people give, and what people bring, is highly dependent on their personal and economic situation.
Yet while this law is crystal clear, and while the Torah (see Devarim 16:17) emphasises the notion of אִישׁ כְּמַתְּנַת יָדוֹ – meaning ‘each person giving according to their means’, and while similar sentiments are expressed in numerous other areas of Jewish law and practice, there is no doubt that when it comes to Purim which we will be celebrating in less than a month, and especially when it comes to sending Mishloach Manot (notwithstanding the fact that the Rambam rules in his Hilchot Megillah 2:17 that ‘it is preferable for a person to be more liberal with their Matanot L’Evyonim than to be lavish in their preparation for the Purim Seuda or in giving Mishloach Manot, for there is no greater and more splendid happiness than to gladden the hearts of the poor, the orphans, the widows, and the converts’), there can be significant social pressure to spend and give beyond your budget in order to keep up with what others, with a larger budget, spend and give. What this means is that while the Torah and halacha are highly sensitive to each individual’s personal and economic situation, there are many Jews who lack this same sensitivity and who can, in the most extreme of situations, unknowingly ‘weaponize’ a tool intended to foster friendship and love between people to generate discomfort and unease.
Especially given the financial struggles that many have experienced due to the pandemic, there will be many whose fulfilment of אִישׁ כְּמַתְּנַת יָדוֹ this year may significantly differ from previous years, and what we also often forget is that we are rarely privy to what is the true reality of other people’s personal and financial situation.
Given all this, I hope this message serves as a timely reminder that there are many who are currently experiencing financial struggles. That we should be more liberal in what we give for Matanot L’Evyonim than for Mishloach Manot. And that when it comes to Mishloach Manot, we should be gracious in what we receive, and considerate about what we give.