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The World of Gifts

Libi Astaire

Why are we required to give gifts on Purim? Why should you be thrilled to receive 12 identical gifts of a challah roll and small grape juice? What gift costs very little, but can be more precious than pearls? Unwrap the ancient art of gracious gift-giving — and receiving.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Purim is unique. It’s the only holiday when we have to give gifts: at least one gift of two food items and two gifts of money to the poor. Why did Purim get these two mitzvos? The Chasam Sofer connects the custom to what happened when Achashveirosh ordered everyone to bow down to idols. Mordechai famously refused, but there were many Jews who lacked his courage. How could a person know if a Jew bowed down only out of fear? Perhaps this Jew had been secretly “off the derech” for years and wasn’t bothered by bowing to idols? It was only afterward that everyone realized they were all “kosher” Jews. To make this knowledge concrete, they exchanged gifts of food, showing their trust in each other’s kashrus. The Izhbitzer Rebbe says that the reason for both mitzvos has to do with the cause of the trouble in the first place, the tzarus ayin (narrow eye) that made people begrudge what their neighbors had — a spiritual illness that affected rich and poor alike and caused many of the disagreements and disputes that led Haman to call the Jews a scattered and dispersed people. The only remedy was to do acts of kindness. Other commentators give additional reasons, but the common thread between them all is that these two mitzvos are an excellent way to create unity and feelings of closeness. Gifts can be an expression of gratitude for a present friendship, as well as express a desire to repair a broken relationship and make amends for a past dispute. A Purim gift to a newcomer, widow, divorced person, or older single can make everyone feel part of the community. So, with so much going for it, is there a downside to gift-giving? As it turns out, I’m not alone when it comes to having the “gift” of anxiety.

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