Law and Order 1
By Rabbi Abba Levin
On Purim we have four Rabbinic obligations: reading Megillas Esther, eating the festive Seudas Purim, mishloach manos and matanos laevyonim, gifts to the poor. This article will focus on mishloach manos and matanos laevyonim. Is there a set order for performing these mitzvos or not, and if yes, which of the two should be fulfilled first?
Chavos Yair states in his Mekor Chayim (Orach Chaim 695) that mishloach manos takes precedence over matanos laevyonim since the Megillah lists them in this order: "And mishloach manos between friends and matanos laevyonim" (Esther 9:22). We find elsewhere when the Torah lists items, that the sequence of the listing determines the progression of the mitzva. The Torah says of the Land of Israel, "It is a Land of wheat and barley, grape, fig, and pomegranate; a land of oil-olives and date-honey". Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 211) rules that one should give preference to the order of the verse. Thus, if one intends eating, for instance, a grape and a fig, he should first eat the grape and then the fig. The grape comes first because it is mentioned first in the verse; hence it would seem logical that mishloach manos also be given first priority. However, this issue is not as simple as it may seem.
Firstly, the custom is not in accordance with Chavos Yair. People generally are not careful to deliver mishloach manos before matanos laevyonim. Furthermore, B'tzel Hachochma (Shu"t Chelek 6, #81) cites sources ruling the exact opposite, namely that matanos laevyonim comes first. Yesod Veshoresh Ha'avoda (Sha'ar 17, Sha'ar Hamefaked 6) and Siddur Ya'avetz (383a; 20) write that matanos laevyonim is given before Shacharis; and only after Shacharis, a short learning session and breakfast, should a person begin giving mishloach manos.
Another proof against Chavos Yair can be derived from Shelah Hakadosh brought in Magen Avraham (692:1) that when one recites Shehechiyanu on the Megillah by day, he should have intention to include the Purim meal and mishloach manos. B'tzel Hachochma wonders why Shelah Hakadosh omitted matanos laevyonim from the list? It would seem that Shelah Hakadosh also rules that matanos laevyonim should be given before Shacharis.
We are left with a difference of opinions which mitzvah to observe first. B'tzel Hachochma notes that people commonly do not perform either one before Shacharis, nor do we give preference to either one. He adds that all opinions agree that the halachic principle of ein ma'avirin al hamitzvos, we do not skip over mitzvos, would apply here. Therefore, if a poor person seeks a donation even Chavos Yair would agree that one is obligated to give him first. And conversely, if one sees his friend first even Yesod Veshoresh Ha'avoda and Siddur Ya'avetz would agree that he must be given mishloach manos immediately.
B'tzel Hachochma brings a related issue: if a person is not financially able to perform both mitzvos, which mitzva should he discharge? Keren Ledavid (Shu"t 164) rules that mishloach manos should be fulfilled, since the verse lists it first. B'tzel Hachochma cautions that this is not necessarily a proof to the opinion of Chavos Yair cited above. One could differentiate between which mitzvah takes precedence and which mitzva should be done if he can only do one. We find a similar distinction in regards to tallis and tefillin. Many Poskim rule that if a man can only afford to buy one of them tefillin takes precedence; however, someone who owns both puts on his tallis before his tefillin. We can therefore say that even Yesod Veshoresh Ha'avodah and Siddur Ya'avetz, who hold that matanos laevyonim comes first, could agree that if he can only afford one he should choose mishloach manos.
Another topic discussed in Poskim is bringing mishloach manos to family members, Rabbonim, and older people. As quoted in the verse, mishloach manos are to be given, "ish lerayehu - a man to his friend". This would seem to disqualify relatives who cannot be classified as friends. Moreover, writes Rav Moshe Sternbuch (Teshuvos Ve'Hanhagos III), the whole point of mishloach manos is to increase friendship; family is inexorably bound to us anyway, to give them mishloach manos is pointless. However, HaRav Shmuel Kamenetzky, Rosh Yeshiva of Philadelphia Yeshiva disagrees. His contention is that nowadays we cannot take family relationships for granted. We must consciously display acts of friendship to parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and married children. Bringing them mishloach manos is fulfilling the mitzva in the truest spirit.
To bring mishloach manos to one's Rav raises the same problem: can he be considered a friend or not. The general consensus among Poskim is that indeed one has done his mitzva thereby. Another question is if a teenager brings to an adult, can this be termed a friend, since their different social status separates them. Again, Halachic authorities deem it a fulfilment of the mitzva. However, Sfas Emes (Maseches Megillah 7b) rules that the older person must send mishloach manos to the younger one first, he thereby shows that he regards him as a friend. If the younger one sends the older one first, it is presumptuous to call him his friend and he has not fulfilled his mitzva.
1. The intention of this article is merely to point out the various halachic issues involved. No practical application of halacha should be derived without the input of a Rav.
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