Purim -- A Season for Giving...
They are to observe these as days of feasting and gladness, and for sending delicacies to one another, and giving gifts to the poor.
---- Scroll of Esther, 9:22
Just as non-Jews like to pride themselves of having a season of giving, so do we. No, it's not Channukah -- it's Purim! The custom of giving gifts to celebrate Purim comes from the story of Purim itself and continues to this day. We give two kinds of gifts. One is a gift of edible items to at least one friend. This is known as Meshelach Manot (or Sh'lach Manos to all us Ashkenazim out there). The second is Matanot La'evyonim, which is a gift of tzeddaka to at least two poor people.
Here is a quick guide to giving Meshelach Manot and Matanot La'evyonim:
For Meshelach Manot, send two kinds of ready-to-eat food (e.g. a cake
and a banana, a bottle of wine and some chocolate, and so on) to at least one
friend. Men should give to men, and women should give to women. The gift
should be given on Purim day (Tuesday the 14th of March this year), and should
preferably be sent via a messenger (ask a buddy to help you), as the word meshelach is related to the word sh'liach, messenger. The
gifts can be simple (a can of soda and an apple in a brown, paper bag), or
really fancy. There is a lot of room to be creative!
For Matanot La'evyonim, give a gift of money to at least two
poor. This is also done on Purim day. One should give at least enough for
the poor person to buy a small meal. According to Rabbi Eli Mansour of
Dailyhalacha.com, an amount of $5 per person should be enough to fulfill ones
obligation. However, the more one can give the better! In fact, it's
better to spend less on meshelach manot and on Purim parties in general, if it
will negatively affect ones giving to the poor. One need not give the
money directly to a poor person. It can be given to a community representative,
as long as the money actually gets distributed on Purim day itself.
Ahhh, the season of giving..... L'Chaim!