– Author: Rav Ben-Tzion Shor

We are all accustomed to the mitzvah of Mishloach Manot, and the fashion in which it takes place – namely, a platter filled with foods full of sugar. However, this situation raises a serious question. What happens if one doesn’t know that one’s friend has diabetes and gives him Mishloach Manot with sugar filled snacks which are forbidden to him?[1] Does one fulfill the mitzvah even though the contents of the Mishloach Manot are not edible to the recipient? Are we obligated to inquire among our friends and relatives if anyone has diabetes in order to give them sugar free Mishloach Manot? What if they prefer to keep it quiet?!

In order to answer the question, we will explore the reason behind the mitzvah of Mishloach Manot, the different criteria needed to fulfill the mitzvah, and how these aspects influence our scenario.

Mechila –מחילה

A good litmus test in defining the nature of the mitzvah is applying the concept of Mechila (foregoing). What happens if a person who is supposed to receive Mishloach Manot is mochel it? The Rema[2] rules that even if the intended recipient does not want to accept the Mishloach Manot, or alternatively he is mochel, the sender has fulfilled the mitzvah.[3] However, the Pri Chadash[4] disagrees and holds that mechila is not acceptable for the mitzvah of Mishloach Manot, and to fulfill one’s obligation the recipient has to actually receive it.

The Chatam Sofer[5]proposes the following explanation for their dispute.  There are two known reasons for the mitzvah of Mishloach Manot. The first[6] is that every person will have what to eat for the Purim meal. The second[7] is to add peace and friendship between Jews, contrary to Haman Harasha’s accusation “there is one nation scattered and divided…”[8] The Chatam Sofer ties these two disputes together. The Rema holds like the latter option; that the purpose is to increase peace and friendship, and therefore no actual receiving is necessary as long as good will is shown. Similarly, when the recipient is mochel there is a stronger bond of friendship formed notwithstanding the fact that he didn’t actually receive the food, and therefore the sender fulfills his obligation. The Pri Chadash on the other hand held like the former reason; that the purpose is that every person should have what to eat at the meal and that’s why mechila won’t help.

According to the Chatam Sofer’s explanation of the Rema (namely the purpose is to strengthen bonds of  friendship), similarly in our scenario of diabetes there doesn’t have to be an actual giving as long as there is a stronger bond of friendship. As long as the recipient who has diabetes is pleased that his friend gave him Mishloach Manot, even though he cannot eat it, the sender has fulfilled  the mitzvah.

However the Korban Netanel[9] has a different explanation of the Rema, and explains his ruling even according to the reason for Mishloach Manot being that every person should have what to eat for the meal. The Mishna in Nedarim[10] states that if one took a vow not to enjoy anything from his friend unless that friend accepts a certain gift from him, if the gift is not accepted then the vow applies and the person is not allowed to enjoy anything from his friend.

However, the friend could say that it is as if he received the gift and then the vow does not apply. The reason behind this[11]is that since the friend could actually accept the gift and immediately return it, there is no need for all the back and forth,[12] and it is as if the gift was accepted. According to this explanation the Rema is also understandable: Since regarding Mishloach Manot the recipient could actually accept the Mishloach Manot and return it immediately, there is no need for all the back and forth. By being mochel, it is as if the recipient accepted the Mishloach Manot, and the sender fulfills the Mitzvah.

A similar logic to the Korban Netanel’s explanation of the Rema can be found in a different context altogether, but highlights the same principle.[13] The first Mishna of Bava Batra states that if two neighbors share one garden they can force each other to build a fence or wall in order to prevent the other from seeing into their portion (this is called hezek r’iya, damage through sight, and is equivalent to physical damage). The Rosh[14] states that if the two neighbors were mochel each other they can’t change their mind later on and demand building the wall, while other Rishonim disagree. Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman[15]asks: Mechila should only work when someone owes the other something due to a prior reason such as a loan or caused physical damage, and once there is mechila the debt is gone. In our case though, every moment there is new damage through sight, and therefore every moment there is a new debt, so how does mechila help? The answer according to Rabbi Elchanan is that the Rosh understood that mechila is an acceptance of the debt and an immediate return of it as a gift. This way, if the neighbors were mochel, it is as if the money to build the separating wall was given and returned, hence they can’t demand it again even though there is new damage every moment. The Rishonim who argue with the Rosh hold that mechila is plain forgiveness and so would only help in a situation where the debt is a one-time obligation.

Accordingly we have given two definitions of mechila:

  1. An acceptance and return of the object (Rosh)
  2. Classic forgiveness of the debt (other Rishonim).

In relating this back to our discussion, the Rema who rules that mechila works for Mishloach Manot understands like the Rosh (definition 1): Mechila is really an acceptance and return of the object as a gift, and that’s why there is no difference between a physical acceptance and mechila. On the other hand, the Pri Chadash held like definition 2, that Mechila is only forgiveness, and that’s why one does not fulfill one’s obligation: There is no actual acceptance.

According to this explanation, one could still interpret the Rema as holding that the reason for the mitzvah is to ensure that all have what to eat, and mechila only works because it is as if there was an acceptance. If so, mechila would only work if the contents of the Mishloach Manot were edible. But in our case where the contents of the Mishloach Manot are not edible for the recipient, the sender would not fulfill his obligation, even if the recipient would be mochel, since mechila is an acceptance, and even if he would have actually accepted the Mishloach Manot the sender would not be have fulfilled his obligation.

To summarize what we have learned till now. The Rema and the Pri Chadash disagree regarding whether the sender fulfills his obligation if the recipient is mochel their Mishloach Manot. We saw two different ways to explain the opinion of the Rema (the Chatam Sofer versus the Korban Netanel and Rabbi Befler) and the ramifications for our case: According to the Chatam Sofer, the sender fulfills his obligation, as there is an increase of friendship, which is the reason for the mitzvah according to his explanation of the Rema. By contrast, the Korban Netanel, who understood the Rema’s reason for the mitzvah as being based on having what to eat, and mechila working due to the novel understanding of what mechila actually is, would agree here that he hasn’t fulfilled the mitzvah, for ultimately the food was not edible for him.

Importance – חשיבות

However even according to the Korban Netanel one could argue that whether the Rema would hold that the sender still fulfills his obligation in our case depends on another variable – the concept of importance.

The Chayei Adam[16] proves from the Yerushalmi[17] that every Mishloach Manot has to contain two kinds of food or drinks of important value. The question is as follows: Is the importance is measured according to the sender or according to the recipient? If someone poor sends his rich friend a cheap bottle of wine as Mishloach Manot would this constitute a valid Mishloach Manot? If we measure the importance and value according to the recipient, a cheap bottle of wine might not be considered of value for the rich friend, and he will definitely not serve it during the Purim meal, hence the sender would not fulfill his obligation. This question also has ramifications for our case. When someone sends his diabetic friend Mishloach Manot that he can’t eat, if we measure the importance according to the sender it is still valid, but if we measure according to the recipient, perhaps the food has no value for him and the sender does not fulfill his obligation. The same question would apply in the reverse scenario: If someone who has diabetes sends food that he can’t eat to a friend who does not have diabetes, if we measure importance based on the sender, he does not fulfill the mitzvah, but if we measure by the recipient, the sender can fulfill the mitzvah.

At first glance, it seems that we can prove from Rabbeinu Chananel[18] that we measure according to the sender. The Gemara in Megilla brings down a story that Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi sent Rabbi Oshaya a thigh of veal and a bottle of wine on Purim, and Rabbi Oshaya told Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi that he fulfilled the mitzvah of Mishloach Manot. However, Rabbeinu Chananel has a different version of the text of the Gemara. In his version it says that the mitzvah that Rabbi Yehuda fulfilled was Matanot La’Evyonim, and only after later sending three bottles of wine did he also fulfill Mishloach Manot. We see that we measure the importance of the value according to the sender because Rabbi Oshaya had to be poor since he received Matanot La’Evyonim. If we’d measure by the receiver, one bottle of wine should have been enough in order to be considered important; hence this proves that we measure according to the sender. For this reason, Rabbi Yehuda, who was very wealthy, had to send three bottles of wine. Based on Rabbeinu Chananel, one who sends sweets to another who has diabetes can still fulfill his obligation since the sender views this food as valuable. However, the Ritva[19] had the same version of the Gemara text as Rabbeinu Chananel and it is unclear from his commentary whether the importance should be measured by the sender or by the recipient. So we cannot prove unequivocally from the Rabbeinu Chananel that we measure according to the sender.

Another source that seems to measure according to the sender is the Chochmat Shlomo.[20] The Chochmat Shlomo debates what happens if someone sends his friend Mishloach Manot that contains food that is forbidden to the sender and permitted to the receiver, such as food that is assur de’rabanan to someone who is slightly sick or assur de’oraita to someone who is in lethal danger. The Chochmat Shlomo rules that the sender does not fulfill his obligation in such a case and he derives his conclusion from Megillat Esther. The pasuk in the Megilla that refers to Mishloach Manot says “and of sending portions one to another [umishloach manot ish lere’eihu].”[21] The pasuk already mentioned the sender at the beginning of the Pasuk in reference to the other mitzvot of the day and should have ended by saying “sending portions to another.” Why did it repeat “one to another”? The Chochmat Shlomo claims that the addition is to teach us that the “portions” have to have value for the sender and that’s why he is mentioned again alongside the mentioning of the “portions.” It seems that the value is measured according to the sender, and if so in our scenario even though the sweets have no value to the recipient the sender would fulfill his obligation. However, in truth nothing can be proven conclusively from the Chochmat Shlomo, as he only referred to a case where the food is valuable to the recipient but not the sender, but it could be that according to the Chochmat Shlomo its needs to be of value both to the sender and the recipient.

Consequently, the question of according to who we measure the value and importance remains unresolved, and Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch[22] writes that because of the doubt, each Mishloach Manot has to contain food of important value for both the sender and the receiver. In our case, then, the sender would not fulfill his obligation by sending sweets to someone who has diabetes.

Happiness – שמחה

However there is one more aspect that must be taken into account: Simcha – happiness. Rabbi Avraham Sofer and Rabbi Yehoshua Neuwirth zt”l[23] argue that part of Mishloach Manot is to cause happiness,[24] and perhaps the need for the contents to be of important value is only in order to cause happiness. If this is true, then it can be argued that even if the Mishloach Manot is not of important value for the receiver, if it causes happiness then the sender still fulfills his obligation. Rabbi Sofer and Rabbi Neuwirth zt”l claim though that sending sweets to someone who has diabetes does not cause happiness on the part of the recipient because he can’t eat them, and therefore the sender does not fulfill his obligation. On the other hand, Rabbi Yitzchak Zilberstein and Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l[25] hold that the mitzvah was enacted on a nationwide scale and so the happiness need only be a general happiness among the nation. Therefore, any food or drink that causes happiness among the general population is usable for the mitzvah of Mishloach Manot, and even if a specific individual is not pleased with what he receives, it does not influence the mitzvah of the sender. In our case, even though this particular Mishloach Manot does not cause happiness to the recipient who has diabetes, since it would have caused happiness to most people, then the sender fulfills his obligation. Another idea that Rabbi Auerbach zt”l and Rabbi Zilberstein propose in favor of the sender fulfilling his obligation is that the happiness required from Mishloach Manot is not necessarily from the eating but also from the receiving. If this is the case, then someone who has diabetes may actually be happy when receiving a Mishloach Manot even if it contains sugar filled food because he can give it to his family or friends, and so there is no problem of lack of happiness and the sender fulfills his obligation.

In summary, we have seen two explanations for the reason of Mishloach Manot: A to increase the friendship, in which case the sender fulfills his obligation even if the contents are not edible. B to ensure that everyone has what to eat during the Purim meal, in which case one can only fulfill one’s obligation if the Mishloach Manot is edible for the recipient. We saw that according to the Korban Netanel’s understanding of mechila, this wouldn’t suffice even if the recipient was mochel. From the aspect of importance we saw that the food has to have value for both the sender and the recipient, and since the food has no value for the recipient, the sender doesn’t fulfill his obligation. Rabbi Neuwirth zt”l and Rabbi Sofer add that every Mishloach Manot must cause happiness and since there is no happiness, the sender cannot fulfill his obligation. On the other hand, Rabbi Auerbach zt”l and Rabbi Zilberstein hold that importance and happiness are measured according to the general population and not according to individuals.[26] In addition, the recipient is happy to receive the food since he can give it over to his family or friends. For these two reasons, one still fulfills the obligation.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef zt”l[27]and Rabbi Simcha Rabinovitz[28] both rule that if someone sends his friend  Mishloach Manot that contains food that the recipient can’t eat due to health reasons (such as sweets to someone who has diabetes), the sender still fulfills the mitzvah, since the receiver can give it to his family and friends.

May we be zoche on these days of Purim, which are parallel to Yom Ha’Kipurim,[29] to be mochel one another fully, to achieve a feeling of importance in our Avodat Hashem, and create a sense of simcha and achdut among all of Am Yisrael. A Freilichen Purim!

[1] The same principle applies to sending gluten filled Mishloach Manot to people who suffer from Celiac, though we will limit our discussion to the diabetes example.

[2] Rema O.C 695:4

[3] Darkei Moshe 695 brings the source of this halacha in the name of the Mahari Brin.

[4] Commenting on Shulchan Aruch there

[5] Responsa Chatam Sofer O.C. 196, Hagahot on the Shulchan Aruch

[6] Responsa Terumat Hadeshen 111

[7] Rav Shlomo Alkabetz in his sefer Manot Levi

[8] Esther 3:8

[9] Korban Netanel on Megilla 1:7:6

[10] Mishna, Masechet Nedarim 63b

[11] Chidushei HaRashba, Nedarim 24a (brought also by the Ran there)

[12] Hafuchei mitarta lama li

[13] I heard this idea from Rabbi Doron Befler.

[14] Rosh, Bava Batra 1:2

[15] Kovetz Shiurim, Bava Batra siman 1

[16] Chayei Adam 155:31

[17] Yerushalmi Megilla 8:4

[18] Masechet Megila 7a

[19] Ibid.

[20] Shulchan Aruch 695:4

[21] Megillat Esther 9:19

[22] Teshuvot Vehanhagot 2:354

[23] Nishmat Avraham, Mahadura Batra p. 806

[24] He brings a number of proofs: 1. Shaarei Teshuva 695:7 that matana al menat lehachzir doesn’t fulfill the obligation.  2. The Be’er Heiteiv ibid. that discusses a bird that was found to be a tereifa after it had already been eaten. 3. The Chayei Adam who paskened that it needs to be of value to the recipient.

[25] Nishmat Avraham ibid.

[26] However, one could argue that if it is fitting and causes simcha for individuals, one fulfills one’s obligation, as we saw above in the Chochmat Shomo, even if the general population would not be happy about it. The only novelty they are adding that we measure this according to the general population is specifically to be lenient.

[27] Chazon Ovadia, Purim p. 148 and similarly in Responsa Yabia Omer 9, miluim to siman 74

[28] Piskei Teshuvot 695:20

[29] Tikunei HaZohar, Tikun 21

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