The Mishloach Monos Dilemma
by Yehudis Cohen
I always envy my friends who prepare simple and elegant "Mishlo'ach Manot" on Purim - a beautiful bag filled with a bottle of wine and a pineapple, gaily decorated with some ribbons. Every year I tell myself that next year I will do the same. I will go to the liquor store and purchase a few cases of wine and then go to the produce store and purchase a couple dozen pineapples. I will then place them, quickly and efficiently, in some beautiful bags I purchase at a paper goods store, tie and curl some ribbons on the two handles and voila! My Mishlo'ach Manot will be ready.
This variety of Mishlo'ach Manot, or gifts of food to friends on Purim, fulfills the requirements of the mitzva: that the food be ready to eat and that there be at least two different types of food upon which two different blessings are recited.
But every year, no matter how frazzled or hectic things are, I can't bring myself to actually make these Mishlo'ach Manot. You see, in addition to the fact that I like to be different, I have always enjoyed being creative with Mishlo'ach Manot as it is a beautiful mitzva which is, unfortunately, unknown to many Jews.
Most Jewish children know that we dress up on Purim and twirl groggers at the mention of Haman's name. Most Jewish adults know that it is a mitzva to hear the Megila read on Purim. And most everybody knows that we eat delicious cookies on Purim known as "hamantashen." But somewhere along the line, maybe during the Depression Era when money was so tight, sending Mishlo'ach Manot to friends fell by the wayside for many, to the point where many Jews don't even know that this mitzva exists.
And so, if Purim has almost arrived and I still don't have a "theme" around which to base my Mishlo'ach Manot, then, at the very least, they have to be unusual or homemade. For instance, I've had my children deliver fresh bagels, cream cheese and orange juice to friends early in the morning so they could enjoy a fairly nutritious breakfast and our Mishlo'ach Manot at the same time (before everyone starts digging in to all of the candy and cake that are an inevitable part of most Mishlo'ach Manot). Or one year I made fresh onion bread and babaganoush and gave it together with spring water (the Chabad custom is to include a beverage with the Mishlo'ach Manot).
Last year, however, I think that many of my friends and neighbors in Crown Heights were thinking about what the Rebbe told us time and again is our only task left until the Redemption: to prepare ourselves and the entire world for Moshiach. And many of the Mishlo'ach Manot reflected just that theme.
One of my friends sent a rather plain container, but the message on the cover was far from ordinary. The cover note had a graphic of a door slightly ajar with a sign handing from the doorknob that read:
"Hold fast to the Rebbe's "klamkeh" (door knob),
Let his Torah be your guide
For Moshiach's standing at our door
Let's pull him right inside!"
Inside there was a can of tuna labeled livyatan - the special, giant fish we will eat at the festive meal with Moshiach, a paper ox (with googly eyes, she reminded me) labeled Shor Habor - the wild ox that we will also eat at the festive meal, and a bottle of wine labeled Yayin Hameshumar - the wine, guarded since the time of creation, that we will drink at the festive meal.
Another friend sent her Mishlo'ach Manot in a little plastic shopping bag that had a picture of fish swimming around on it. Inside there was a cup - decorated with fish swimming in water - with jelly fish, crackers in the shape of fish, and tuna spread. The card read, "May we merit very soon to eat the livyatan at Moshiach's festive meal."
We also received a beautiful little treasure chest filled with chocolate candies that were wrapped in all different colored foils.
Snuggled next to the candy was a three-inch, old-fashioned bottle that my friend had filled with wine and closed with a little cork. I assume she based this beautiful Mishlo'ach Manot on a talk from the Rebbe where he stated that every single person holds the key to unlock the treasure chest of the Redemption.
As for my Mishlo'ach Manot, I bought children's plastic firemen helmets ($3.60 a dozen!) and filled them with "hot" items like barbeque corn chips, taco chips, fireballs, red hots, hot tamale candies and "white fire" - vodka. I wrapped them all up in red cellophane and tied them with red, orange and yellow ribbons. Our family's message read: "May the spark of Moshiach in each one of us grow into a blazing flame that burns down the walls of exile and brings about the complete revelation of Moshiach."
What are my plans for this year? Once again I'm considering the pineapple-and-wine-in-a-beautiful-bag variety. But what I'm really hoping for is that before I have too much more time to think about it, all Jews from all over the world, including "all those who were born and all who were destined to be born" (as it says in the Midrash) will be partaking of the festive meal with Moshiach in the Holy Temple.
Somehow, I don't think I'll be in a quandary about Mishlo'ach Manot then.