This Purim, Give The Gift Of Love!

By Rabbi Israel Rubin

"Five a day" isn't only a catch-phrase we should keep in mind when planning what we'll eat daily. It's also a way to remember how many extra mitzvot we have a chance to perform on Purim, this year beginning March 20th in the evening and ending on the 21st at nightfall. The "five a day" for Purim are: hearing the Megila (Scroll of Esther), adding the special Al HaNisim liturgy to our prayers, giving extra charity to the poor, eating a festive meal and sending shalach manot - gifts of food - to friends.

Shalach manot need only contain a basic minimum of two edible foods. But, the world-over, people have been putting together much more eleborate Purim gifts. From super-fancy and exquisite, to trendy or "theme" Shalach Manot, they often contain hamantashen (filled with prune, poppy seed, apricot or strawberry), cookies and pastries, wines, liqueurs, chocolates, fruit baskets or deli platters. The more the merrier.

Shalach Manot may be presented in virtually anything from A to Z. They are Available in A wide Assortment of Average, Abstract, or Awkward Arrangements: Alcoa Aluminum, Archaeological Artifacts, Acrylic Ashtrays, Artificial Alligator Attache Briefcases, Banana Boxes, Brown Bags, Bowls, Breadbaskets, Baby Bottles, Bigger Bushels or Barrels, Beverage Cans, Crates, "C-thru" or Colored Cellophane, Cereal Containers, Crockpots, Crystal or China Cups, Cornucopias.

Limited space does not permit us to continue this alphabetical listing, so we leave the rest to your imagination.

But instead of getting all wrapped up in what's superficial, let's focus on what's really supposed to go inside the shalach manot, in addition to the goodies.

After all, shalalch manot isn't a care package - the recipients can certainly afford to buy their own fruits and hamantashen. Sadly, the most important shalach manot ingredient is becoming a rare commodity,and it isn't available at the store like all other Purim stuffers.

The most important shalach manot ingredient is love. Real Genuine Love, not the mushy greeting-card kind of love, or the selfish gratification "love" that they make nowadays.

"Love your fellow as yourself" is always the basis of the Torah. But Purim is when we best express the unconditional love that bonds us together. It is our best response to Haman's divisive accusations.

Unfortunately, Haman & Co. are only part of the problem. We become our own worst enemies when we discriminate between one Jew and another, when we label or stereotype Jews by association with this or that synagogue, or lack of affiliation.

Did you know that not all Jews think alike? We have our differences. In fact, two Jews have three opinions. But a Jew is a Jew regardless of affiliation or background. True love is blind to external differences, for so much more unites us than divides us. Deep down, we are one and the same. Love is what makes shalach manot go around!