From the Anash.org inbox: A Crown Heights mother bemoans the thousands of dollars spent on shaloch manos each year, and wonders, if perhaps this year, we could do things differently.
By a Crown Heights Mother
This is not an ad for the post-Purim nosh drive we’ve run for the past six years for the benefit of yaldei hashluchim who don’t have easy access to it.
As a matter of fact, without advertising anywhere, other than a couple WhatsApp messages and word of mouth, we’ve been inundated with hundreds of pounds of nosh each year.
From as early as 7:15 a.m. Shushan Purim morning and for the next week or so afterward, our doorbell rings at all hours with dozens of deliveries of “mishloach manos leftovers” in all shapes and sizes from people who just can’t wait to get rid of it. Hundreds of snack bags, wafers, chocolates, and immeasurable quantities of any kind of candy you can think of—and then some—all tossed into overflowing shopping bags, full-sized grocery boxes that take two people to lift, 30-gallon garbage bags literally bursting at the seams, and anything in between. Our kids, too, come home from school dragging bags of nosh that stop the blood circulation in their fingers. Some of them use luggage “wheelies” to make their collections from the drop-off boxes a little easier.
It’s hard to believe that just a day or two or three before, each piece of that same “junk” lay so painstakingly arranged and assembled in some gorgeous—or themed or cute or funny—packaging, the product of much thought and effort and time and money. Yes, believe it or not, the 100% perfectly coordinated blue mishloach manos you worked for hours to plan and prepare—the jelly beans, candies, gumballs, foil-wrapped chocolates, and even the blue-tinted hamantashen you baked yourself—was dumped on my doorstep. I know because it was still in the fancy blue gift bag with your name on it. Don’t feel bad. It was in good company with the chicken-themed cookies roosting on candy eggs in a chocolate-pretzel nest nearby.
As my family and I sit for hours and days, sorting through every bit of nosh, getting rid of anything homemade or without a hechsher and dividing the goods by category, our dining room starts to feel like a candy store warehouse. Each year, we try to estimate the monetary value of what comes through our doors. There’s no way for us to get an exact figure, but it is certainly in the many tens of thousands of dollars.
That’s a lot of money.
And as I gaze at all that “junk,” I think about where the money’s coming from.
From people who are struggling to pay rent and tuition and basic living expenses—even to put food on the table. From people who are drowning in debt. Yes, baruch Hashem there are those who have an easier time paying their bills, but there are many who do not.
One side of me thinks, “Wow, Aibershter, look at how Your children are willing to put Your holy mitzvos even before their basic necessities.”
Can I be honest and admit that I have to remind myself to think that way?
And that I’m trying to keep the other side at bay? The part of me that, after all these years, still cannot wrap her head around how it became mandatory for each child to give every single one of their classmates mishloach manos—and that if they don’t, they literally become outcasts. Yes. Been there, done that.
We won’t mention the rest of the people on the must-give list: the neighbors’ kids and the camp friends and the friends from other places—and that’s before we talk about the adults. And of course it all has to look “good.” Or cute. Or coordinated. Or else.
As my family and I stuff handfuls of each type of nosh into oversized Ziploc bags and flat-rate shipping boxes and prepare to send them to shluchim around the world, I wonder: Is this what Mordechai and Esther had in mind when the mitzvah of mishloach manos was enacted? Does the end justify the means?
I’m no stranger to buying hundreds of food items for mishloach manos. Growing up, our family gave out lots of mishloach manos. In fact, no matter how many hours we spent in the car delivering them, we never got through our entire list.
There was just one difference between the Purims of my childhood and those of my children: Our mishloach manos deliveries were to people who would otherwise never have known it was Purim that day. Standing on their doorstep, dressed in our finest costumes, we delivered joy and Yiddishkeit along with the foods in our gift bags.
If I remember correctly, the mitzvah of mishloach manos is about counteracting Haman’s claim that the Jews are scattered and separate from one another. It’s about doing for others and coming together in achdus—unity and friendship. It’s not about scurrying from one child to the next at a class meet-up, bearing heavy shopping bags on each wrist and checking off the “got” and “gave” columns on the class list you’re holding as you rush to collect as much nosh as you can. Nor is it about needing to break the bank in order to give something “presentable.”
On a number of occasions over the years, I’ve asked the mothers of my children’s classmates what they think of us setting a different “standard” for that class’ mishloach manos giving. Maybe each child should pick one or two names from a goral and give only to them. Maybe each child should bring one type of nosh to contribute toward the mishloach manos of each girl in the class, so they all come home with the same nice big package.
Each time, my suggestion has been met with resistance. “How will this child feel when the rest of their siblings and friends each come home with so much more nosh than they do?” or “My kids look forward to this all year round. How can I take it away from them?” There was one year when the mothers in one of my children’s classes agreed to a specific “plan,” but that was it. At the end of the day, changing the status quo is usually not easy.
To her credit, I will say that one of the principals I spoke with about “the situation” told me that she had once attempted to set such policies into place but that many parents had been up in arms against it. As a compromise, she had set a school-wide policy allowing students to include a maximum of three items in their mishloach manos. It’s a step.
When my children were younger, we’d skip the meet-ups. We’d think of some people we knew who most likely would not be receiving any or many mishloach manos and those were the people we’d give. Each child would choose two or three classmates’ names from a goral and give them, too. Of course, we’d also give all the teachers. Between mivtzoim and deliveries, that was enough to keep us on our toes the entire Purim day, and the kids always ended up with a sizable amount of nosh from the mishloach manos they’d received.
But as the children grew older, we couldn’t “get away” with that kind of thing anymore, and our Purim preparations started to lose their luster. Suddenly it was all about what we needed to do “because everyone else does it,” and there seemed to be no way out of it. Building up our children’s self-confidence and strengthening their value systems didn’t seem to be sufficient when it came to facing their classmates on Purim.
This year, though, I wonder if there is hope.
As Purim approaches and my mishloach manos misgivings mount, my thoughts turn to Eastern Europe. We’ve sent lots of nosh to shluchim there in the past. This year, the thought of supplying them with Laffy Taffys and licorice seems ludicrous. They need food and basics, not junk!
We keep on reading with awe and pride about shluchim and shluchos who literally put themselves in the line of fire to help fellow Yidden. That’s called doing for others. That’s called achdus.
And I ask myself how we can allow ourselves to be so consumed with our local mishloach manos “needs” when our brothers and sisters are literally starving for bread? When so many Yidden have become real evyonim overnight—displaced with not much more than the clothes on their backs?
Where are our priorities?
Perhaps this year we can muster the courage to stand up and deliver a chinuch message to ourselves and our children. Perhaps we can take heed of what the Rambam writes, that matanos la’evyonim takes precedence over mishloach manos—and do it as a family, with at least as much effort and energy as we are accustomed to investing in our mishloach manos. Not only will we be helping evyonim across the world, but we will actually even be helping the evyonim in our children’s classes.
We can’t wait for “the system” to change. We are “the system.” The change starts with each of us.
I challenge myself and I challenge each of you to raise the subject with the parents in your children’s classes, with the teachers, and, better yet, with your children themselves.
Let’s make this Purim be one of true achdus, and may our achdus bring the ultimate orah v’simchah v’sasson viy’kar.
– Unsigned so as to save my children from insensitive comments
P.S. If you’d like to effect change but hesitate to be “the one” to stir the pot, you can start a conversation by suggesting that your children’s class “adopt a family” from Ukraine (or anywhere else). If you don’t know anyone specific, choose a city from chabad.org/ukraine.