The Meaning of Edible Gifts on Purim
On Purim, the standard Jewish holiday cliffnote, “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat” gets a special addition: “Let’s help other people eat, too.” Purim, which starts Saturday night and goes through Sunday, is a holiday that not only requires a banquet ( se’udah ), but also that we send gifts of good food to our friends, and help out the less fortunate in our community, as per Mordecai’s specific request in the book of Esther: “And Mordecai wrote these things, and sent letters to all the Jews…that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, and of sending food one to another, and gifts to the poor.”(Esther 9:20-22)
What kind of a gift is food? Unlike other presents, food disappears once consumed (in this case, often leaving a trail of hamentaschen crumbs). Yet a gift of food — cookies, cakes, fruits, nuts and other treats are common on this holiday — sends two special messages that are appropriate for a day of celebrating our success escaping national collapse. Food keeps our physical bodies alive and is also a celebration of life, having within it the capacity to elevate the basic experience of eating into one of delight and joy. Giving the gift of food says at once: “I don’t want you to be hungry” and “I want you to really enjoy life.” In the face of the grim story of Purim, not only should we note that we’re indeed still alive enough to eat — we should revel in it.
The obligation to send food to the less fortunate, which extends beyond the usual requirement to help others eat, holds several meanings. First, making a feast for the celebration is a financial burden for those less fortunate in our community, and thus we are all obligated to help ensure that everyone can celebrate. Secondly, Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld writes that while Haman’s goal was annihilation of a people, the obligations of Purim reinforce our peoplehood. We strengthen our relationships with friends to whom we give gifts, and we strengthen the social fabric of our community by emphasizing our responsibility to care for our entire community.
Whether businesses have the same obligations as individuals in Jewish tradition is a question for another time. Nevertheless, this Purim I have the opportunity to engage in these Purim mitzvot in a special way through Grow and Behold , the kosher pastured meat company I founded with my husband Naftali Hanau last year. As a new, ethically-based business that so loves to feed people good food, it was critical to us to take the Purim obligation of feeding the poor seriously through our business.
This Purim, we are partnering with Masbia , a kosher soup kitchen in Brooklyn, which serves over 500 meals a week. We contacted Alex Rapaport, the director of Masbia, to find out how we could help, and decided we would give in two ways: we’ll be putting packages of soup bones from our pasture-raised kosher chickens in the carryout packages, and we will donate 5% of sales through March 20 to support their general operating costs.
Reb Shlomo Carlbach famously said that each of the Jewish holidays reminds us of something we should be thinking about year-round. In this case, Purim is a moment not only to reflect on our victory against Haman, but the state of our peoplehood. What does it meant to be not merely “not dead,” – but truly alive, exemplified by both enjoying good food and friends? And what are the defining characteristics of our peoplehood? Among others — caring for members of our community, particularly those who are less fortunate than we are. I invite you to participate in these Purim activities by supporting local charities or by giving to the poor directly, and by sharing good food with your community. L’chaim!
Chanel 12 News came to mark the launch of our Purim campaign — you can see the full coverage on the Grow and Behold Blog . For misloach manot ideas that take a healthy and sustainable twist on the standard of Hershey kisses and crumbly cookies, check out suggestions from JCarrot readers , My Jewish Learning , or the JCarrot Archives .
Anna Hanau is the Associate Director of Food Programs at Hazon, and co-authored “Food for Thought, Hazon’s Sourcebook on Jews, Food and Contemporary Life.” She and her husband Naf Hanau founded a kosher pastured meat business called Grow and Behold Foods in summer 2010, and she keeps a flock of chickens in her backyard in Brooklyn.