Actually, I didn’t think about it all, as I immediately knew what aspect of Purim nearly ALWAYS causes me the most stress and anxiety: mishloach manot.
Back in London, I could spend literally hours in traffic jams trying to deliver my ‘nosh packages’ to friends who were often also out in their cars, trying to deliver their ‘nosh packages’ back. It never occurred to me that this was:
a) A huge waste of time
b) Almost certainly didn’t really count as a true mishloach manot, which is meant to be a gift of two different bits of real food that would be ready to chow down on immediately. But I wasn’t going to start cooking up a storm for my 84 best friends at that stage of my life.
Then, we got to Israel, where Purim is taken more seriously, in some ways, not least because the country as a whole ‘closes’ for Purim, in a similar way to what happens on Shabbat.
Which is when I hit the next state of mishloach manot madness: people were literally cooking mini-gourmet meals for a hundred friends and neighbors, and getting every member of their family involved in the mammoth delivery project that entailed.
That first year, I also had plans to turn out 50 home-baked mini quiches and a personal side-salad, until God sent me a timely bout of dysentery that meant I couldn’t get out of bed or eat for the whole week before Purim, and I barely managed the mitzvah at all that year.
It was so embarrassing: wave upon wave of baskets were showing up at our door, and we had zip, nothing, nada to give in return. Which is when I learnt the law of reciprocity: if thou shalt not return mishloach manot, thou won’t get any the following Purim.
Even though I had my act more together the following Purim (slightly…. As we were moving house and community the day after the festival….) I sent out 30 mishloach manot, and got around five back (mostly fumbled together behind the door, as the host asked me to wait with a slightly stressed smile on their face.)
The following year, I really, really tried harder with mishloach manot. I planned it two months in advance, and I cooked, made and bought whatever was necessary to make it proper. Dear reader, that community was built on a steep hill, and as I took the turn leading up the mountain a little too sharply, all my carefully arranged hummus, side salads and home made rolls upended and smashed into my car door.
I salvaged whatever I could, and had another bout of mishloach manot-induced depression to deal with. Next year, I vowed to buy everything ready-made and ready wrapped, anchored down with 200 metres of cellophane and ribbon.
But of course I didn’t, because by then I’d moved community again and I was in my ‘extreme healthy eating’ phase of life, which made the whole subject of Purim and mishloach manot SO stressful from start to finish. What to make that wasn’t toxic that people would actually eat?!?! AND that would look nice?!?!?
Again, I spent hours baking healthy cookies, and then artfully arranging them on a plate with nuts and dried fruit. No cellophane now for me!!! I wasn’t about to add to the landfill just so my mishloach manot would look nice or stay on the plate!!!!
So of course, they didn’t. The delivery got so stressful as I had to drive at three miles an hour to prevent all my artful arrangements from moving around…and then people looked at the home-baked cookies suspiciously, and I could read their thoughts: “Is this a good enough hechsher, if it’s homemade?!?? Are dates still on the ‘OK’ list?!?!?” (There was a lot of ‘pious’ kashrut concerns going on over there….)
The following year, I had an epiphany: no more driving the mishloach manot around. I’m giving to whoever I can walk to within 15 minutes of my home and that’s it.
By the following year, I had other ‘concerns’ about mishloach manot, because I’d learned the mitzvah was actually better done by giving to people you didn’t like (and who didn’t like you…), or who weren’t part of your usual Chevra. The problem was not how to find these people, but how to whittle them down to under 50….
Then we moved to Jerusalem, and by that point, I almost gave up on mishloach manot. I was so lonely here the first year, I had no idea how to fulfill the mitzvah, really. I didn’t know anyone. That year, my kids saved the day. On Purim morning, one daughter noticed I’d done absolutely zip all about mishloach manot, and decided to make pancakes for all of our neighbors in our building. One cooked, and the other one packaged and delivered - and I was so grateful to them, because it really made me feel a little more alive and part of things.
Last year, I decided on the simple, easy route: A good bottle of wine, and some super-badatz baklava, for five people within walking distance. Two of my packages went to people I didn’t really like, two went to externally ‘secular’ people, and one went to my nearest neighbor.
One of those negative relationships actually really turned around as a result, and I was thrilled.
Which brings us up to this year. This year, again, that familiar ‘despairing’ feeling took hold before Purim, and made it very hard for me to get to grips with mishloach manot again. I didn’t want to just hand out junk and nosh, but I had no energy to plan or make anything else. I was hit with a very strong wave of ‘can’t be bothered’, which only disappeared the morning of Purim (we celebrate Shushan Purim in Jerusalem, so the shops were still open on everyone else’s Purim.)
That’s when I decided the following: I’m going to make a healthy, easy Israeli breakfast for the three people I like, who live close to me. And that’s what I did.
This year, my husband and I barely got any mishloach manot from anyone, as he gave to his rabbis, and the law of reciprocity doesn’t hold over there.
In the past, that would have made me feel pretty sorry and down, and unloved. This year, I was grateful that I didn’t have a mound of waffley and MSG-drenched bizzli to somehow get rid of. Friendships aren’t built on mishloach manot, or at least, they shouldn’t be.
I didn’t spend stressful hours cooking mishloach manot treats. I didn’t spend hundreds of shekels buying bottles of wines and fancy-wrapped baskets. I didn’t get super-stressed on Purim morning as I had 347 mishloach manot to deliver before the Purim seuda, and no time to really get that done.
I’m sure the yetzer will still figure out a way to make next year’s mishloach manot another challenge, but this year, for once, after I got past the blahs, it actually all turned out really good.
1. Don’t drive ANYWHERE Purim morning.
If you need to deliver to people who don’t live close, arrange to meet them in shul after the Megillah reading, and swap baskets there.
2. Keep things simple: the basic mitzvah is to deliver two items of ready-to-eat food, to two different people. That’s it!
3. Dare to be different. You don’t HAVE to buy huge baskets of cellophane nosh just to fit in. But, you also don’t need to make gourmet quiches, if that’s just not ‘you’.
4. Keep it practical. A tin of tuna and a jar of mayonnaise fulfills the mitzvah perfectly - without a bamba or bizzli in sight!
5. Don’t beat yourself up over your mishloach manot: There will always be people who do this better, nicer, fancier, healthier… If you managed to do the mitzvah at all, in whichever way you did it, celebrate that fact! Even that is not so easy, these days.
6. Don’t beat yourself up over not getting mishloach manot, or not giving it to the ‘right’ people: Much easier said than done, I know, but mishloach manot is NOT meant to be a popularity contest, or a test of your mettle as a Jewish woman.
7. Notice any ‘negative’ feelings that bubble up on Purim, and pray on them. Purim is blessed with the energy of transformation. Every year, I have insights from my mishloach manot that encourage me to work on myself, try to do things differently, and to notice what ‘vested interests’ still come attached to some of my mitzvah observance. We’re all a work in progress, and nothing underlines WHAT that progress might need to be more than mishloach manot.