Spreading Peace and Joy

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Details are often determinative. They offer the key to deciphering the meaning of complex actions, sometimes contrary to the surface appearances.

One of the Purim rituals is mishlo’ach manos, sending food — generally a care package — to a friend. Unlike other religious rites, this one merits no blessing. Why not? Commentators struggle to explain the various commandments for which we recite no blessing and this one is no different. One explanation in particular strikes my interest.

A famous inquiry into the natural of this ritual distinguishes between two rationales offered to explain it’s intent. The Terumas Ha-Deshen suggests that by sending a friend food yo are ensuring he can eat his festive Purim meal. However, according to the Manos Ha-Levi, your goal is to spread peace, love and friendship with you gift. The Chasam Sofer (Responsa 1:196) highlights this dispute to explain a ruling of the Rema (Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 795:4) that you fulfill your obligation even if the receipt refuses to accept the gift. While you have not added to his meal, you have increased peace by offering him a gift.

R. Yechiel Ya’akov Weinberg (Seridei Eish 1:61 in new edition) relates this to a debate between the philosophers and the Sages which the Rambam discusses in his Shemonah Perakim (ch. 6). According to the philosophers, someone who does not want to sin is greater than someone who successfully struggles to refrain from sinning. The Sages, however, considered someone who overcomes his urge to sin as greater than someone who has no desire. The Rambam says that both are correct.

Regarding “reason-based” mitzvos, acts that we would have intuited even absent a command, one who does not desire to violate them is greater than someone who overcomes his urge. However, those who overcome their urge for “Authority-based” mitzvos, those actions that would be entirely permissible if not for the biblical command, are greater than those with no such desire.

According to the Manos Ha-Levi, mishlo’ach manos is a “reason-based” mitzvah. It is a form of increasing peace and friendship. We do not recite blessings on mitzvos of this nature, suggests R. Weinberg, because we perform them optimally without the command. On such mitzvos, one who performs them without a command are greater than one who performs under obligation. Emphasizing the command in a blessing is certainly inappropriate. R. Weinberg suggests that this is also the reason we do not recite a blessing on charitable giving or respecting parents.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

6 comments

  1. For an interesting article that discusses this point about the Rambam, see The Ethical Views of Maimonides within the context of Islamicate Civilization, by Lawrence V. Berman, in Perspectives on Maimonides, ed. Joel L. Kraemer.

  2. According to the Manos Ha-Levi, mishlo’ach manos is a “reason-based” mitzvah.

    Any more so than according to the “Terumas Ha-Deshen” ?

    How is ensuring a festive meal less “reason-based” than spreading peace, love and friendship ?

    Also:
    How is it “reason-based”, to begin with ?

    If not commanded, a person might, arguably, do so, but not necessarily on Purim, or in accordance with the specific Halakhot.

  3. avraham etzion

    The simplest answer to many of these questions on Berachot to certain mitzvoth is that we do not make any beracha on a Mitzva between man and man.The reason is a bit similar to what Rabbi weinberg suggested.The brecha is Asher kidshano bemitzvotecha
    Non Jews perform most of the mitzvot between man and therefore
    this is not a distinct jewish act

  4. R’ Avraham,
    I resonate to the reason being we don’t want to make our brothers into a “cheftza shel mitzva”.
    KT

  5. Ketzot Hachoshen(SA-ChM97:1) asks why there is no bracha for mitzvot like giving a loan to a fellow Jew. He brings a responsa of RaShBA who said that the reason is that the completion of the mitzvah is not dependant solely on the metzuveh, it is also dependant on the da’at of the recipient. There is the possibility of bracha levattalah if he refuses to recieve the loan(or Mishloach manot in this case)In any event if the ta,am of the mitzvah is to celebrate the unity that was the lot of the Jewish People under Mordechai and Esther there should be keiruv da’at between the giver and the recipient.

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