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In Melbourne Shabbat begins Fri 22 Dec 2017 08:23 PM and ends Sat 23 Dec 2017 09:24 PM
י"ג אדר ה' אלפים תשס"ט
We read toward the end of the Megilla (9:20-22) that Mordekhai sent letters to the Jews of the provinces of Achashveirosh, announcing the establishment of the Purim festival. He wrote:
… that they should keep yearly the fourteenth day of the month Adar, and the fifteenth day of the same, the days wherein the Jews had rest from their enemies, and the month which was turned unto them from sorrow to gladness, and from mourning into a good day; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, and of sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor.
Mordekhai enacted three components to the Purim celebration: “feasting and gladness,” “sending portions one to another” (mishlo’ach manot), and “gifts to the poor” (matanot la-evyonim).
This week, we will discuss the details and parameters of each of these mitzvot, including the specific obligation of “chayav inish li-vsumei” – to become inebriated on Purim.
The festive meal of Purim, known as the se’udat purim, is one of the central components of the Purim holiday, both experientially and halakhically, as the Megilla itself characterizes the days of Purim as "days of feasting and gladness."
When should one conduct this festive meal?
The Gemara records:
Rava said: one who eats the festive Purim meal at night has not fulfilled his obligation. What is the reason? It says: "days of feasting and gladness." Rav Ashi was sitting in front of Rav Kahana; it became dark, and the Rabbis didn’t come. He said to him: Why didn’t the Rabbis come? Maybe they were busy with the festive Purim meal. He (Rav Kahana) said: Was it not possible for them to eat [their Purim meal] the previous night? He (Rav Ashi) responded: Didn’t [you] hear that which Mar said in the name of Rava: one who eats the festive Purim meal at night has not fulfilled his obligation? …
Rava clearly rules that the festive meal must be eaten during the day of Purim, and not the previous night. The Rambam (Hilkhot Megilla 2:14), the Rashba and Ritva (Megilla 4a) rule in accordance with this Gemara, as does the Shulchan Arukh (695:1).
The Mordekhai (Megilla 787), however, cites the Ra’avya (R. Eliezer ben Yoel Ha-levi, d. 1225) as arguing that just as the Megilla is read both at night and again during the day, similarly, one should hold a festive meal both at night and during the day. Apparently, he recognized an additional, albeit lower, level of the mitzva that requires holding a meal at night, as well. The Rema (ibid.) also writes that one should "rejoice at night as well, and slightly increase in one's meal."
The Rema records that it is customary to begin the Purim meal after praying the mincha service, in the afternoon. The Mishna Berura (8) explains that people are generally busy delivering mishlo’ach manot during the morning hours, and therefore the festive meal is commonly held in the afternoon.
In many communities, especially where people must work on Purim, it is customary to begin the festive meal very late in the afternoon. The Rema rules that the majority of the meal should be eaten during the day, and speaks very critically of those who begin late and eat most of their meal after dark.
Very often, the Purim meal is concluded only after nightfall, giving rise to the question of whether one should insert al ha-nissim in birkat ha-mazon. The Orchot Chayim (Hilkhot Purim, 35), cited by the Hagahot Maimoniyot (Hilkhot Megilla 2:14), rules that one inserts al ha-nissim even if the meal extended into the nighttime hours. The Tur (695), however, cites his father, the Rosh (see Teshuvot 22:6), as ruling that one should not insert al ha-nissim after dark. The Maharil (56) records that the custom in Ashkenaz followed the first opinion. The Shulchan Arukh (695:2) cites both views, and the Rema adds that it is customary to insert "al ha-nissim."
Interestingly, the Peri Megadim (Eishel Avraham 5) lauds the practice of those who eat the se’udat Purim in the morning. The Rema, citing the Sefer Ha-minhagim, rules that this should be done when Purim falls on Friday.
What should one eat at the festive Purim meal? The Magen Avraham (695:9) writes, "We haven't found [a source indicating] that one is obligated to eat bread on Purim." Accordingly, the Birkei Yosef (695) and Eliya Rabba (695:7) rule that one need not eat bread at the se’udat purim. Others, however, maintain that one must eat bread at the Purim meal, just as Halakha requires eating bread at Yom Tov meals (see Shulchan Arukh O.C. 529:1). This is the view accepted by the Arukh Ha-shulchan (695:7) and the Netziv (Ha-emek She'ela 67:1, attributing this view to R. Achai Gaon).
This question may impact upon another issue, namely, whether or not one who forgets to insert al ha-nissim must repeat birkat ha-mazon. The Mishna Berura (15) cites a debate surrounding this issue. The Magen Avraham (9) and Peri Megadim (ibid.) link this question to the issue of whether one is obligated to eat bread at the Purim meal. Those who require one to eat bread should also require one to repeat birkat ha-mazon if he forgot al ha-nissim, as the recitation of al ha-nissim was mandatory as a result of the obligation to eat bread. Conversely, those who do not require eating bread should not demand that one repeat birkat ha-mazon in this case. The Aruch Ha-Shulkhan (12), however, contends that even those who require the consumption of bread would not demand that one who omits al ha-nissim repeat birkat ha-mazon, as birkat ha-mazon should be treated no more stringently than the amida prayer. One who forgets to add al ha-nissim in the amida does not repeat the amida, despite the fact that the inclusion of al ha-nissim is clearly obligatory, and hence we would not require one to repeat birkat ha-mazon, either.
As for the final halakha, the Mishna Berura applies to this case the principle of "safek berkhot le-hakel," meaning, one never recites a berakha if there is some uncertainty as to whether it is warranted. Hence, in light of the different views surrounding this issue, one who forgets to add al ha-nissim in birkat ha-mazon should not repeat birkat ha-mazon.
Must one eat meat at the Purim meal? The Rambam (Hilkhot Megilla 2:15) and Shulchan Arukh (696:6) strongly imply that one must eat meat at the Purim se’uda. Some even express uncertainty as to whether one fulfills the obligation by eating poultry (Yechaveh Da'at 6:33)! The Magen Avraham (696:15), however, questions whether one must actually eat meat. The Acharonim relate this issue to the question of whether one must eat meat on Yom Tov to fulfill the commandment of simchat yom tov.
Another component of the festive Purim meal is drinking wine, a halakha to which we devote the next section.
The Gemara (Megilla 7b) teaches:
One is obligated to become intoxicated on Purim until he cannot distinguish between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordekhai.” Rabba and R. Zeira held the festive Purim meal together. They got drunk and Rabba slaughtered R. Zeira. The next day, he prayed for him and he was resurrected. The next year, [Rabba] said to him: Let us hold the festive Purim meal together. [R. Zeira] said to him: miracles do not occur every hour.
This startling passage raises many questions.
Regarding the facts of the story, the Maharsha (R. Shmuel Eidels, 1555–1631), in his commentary to this passage, explains that Rabba certainly didn't kill R. Zeira. Rather, he forced him to drink excessively, which made him ill. The Maharsha suggests that the unusual term “shachtei” ("slaughtered") employed by the Gemara refers to what Rabba did to Rabbi Zeira’s throat – forcing him to drink.
From a practical, halakhic perspective, of course, the more pressing question is how we must understand the Gemara’s initial statement. Is there really an obligation to become inebriated on Purim, and, if so, to what extent?
The Rishonim take different approaches in interpreting this passage and determining the halakha.
The Ba'al Ha-ma’or (to the Rif, Megilla 3b), cites Rabbeinu Efrayim as explaining the story of Rabba and R. Zeira as intended to contradict and reject the Gemara’s initial statement requiring drinking on Purim. Accordingly, the Ba'al Ha-ma’or rules that there is no obligation to drink on Purim. The Ran (ibid.) concurs.
Many other Rishonim, by contrast, including the Rif (3b) and Rosh (1:8), cite this passage verbatim, implying that while the story of Rabba and R. Zeira may serve as a warning against excessive intoxication, fundamentally, Halakha accepts the Gemara's initial statement.
Interestingly, the Rambam (Hilkhot Megilla 2:15), writes:
How does one fulfill this obligation of the [Purim] meal? He should eat meat and arrange a meal according to his means, and DRINK WINE UNTIL HE BECOMES INEBRIATED AND FALLS ASLEEP AS A RESULT…
The Rambam adds that one should drink until he falls asleep, while omitting the Gemara's description of drinking "until one cannot distinguish between 'cursed is Haman' and 'blessed is Mordekhai'.” Why does the Rambam reformulate the Gemara's dictum, and does his new formulation alter the demands of this mitzva?
The Rema (695:2) seems to have understood that one drinks until he falls asleep, and thereby fulfills the requirement to drink until he cannot distinguish between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordekhai.” The Arukh Ha-shulchan (695:3), by contrast, explains that the story of Rabba and R. Zeira serves to modify the initial statement, and reject the extreme obligation first proposed by the Gemara. In other words, while one should become mildly intoxicated on Purim, excessive inebriated is not mandated (and therefore, not permitted!).
The Orchot Chayim (Hilkhot Purim) also rejects those who mandate complete inebriation, and writes that one should merely "drink more than one is accustomed." He also rules that becoming completely inebriated constitutes a serious sin, as we shall see shortly.
The Tur (695) and the Shulkhan Aruch (695:2), following the Rif and Rosh, cite this Talmudic passage verbatim. Interestingly enough, the Arukh Ha-shulchan (695:5) expresses astonishment over the Tur and Shulchan Arukh’s ruling in accordance with the Rif and Rosh, rather than the more moderate positions of other Rishonim.
The Rema, however, writes:
And some say that one need not drink that much, and should rather drink more than he is accustomed to and then sleep, and by sleeping he cannot distinguish between the cursed Haman and blessed Mordekhai. Regardless of whether does a lot or a little, he should focus his heart towards the heavens.
Many Acharonim, including the Mishna Berura (695:5) and Arukh Ha-shulchan (695:5), advocate following the Rema’s ruling.
The Rambam (2:15), and, later, the Tur and Shulkhan Arukh (605), imply that this mitzva is part of the obligation to participate in a festive Purim meal. R. Shimon Sofer, in his Hitorerut Teshuva (1:6), infers from the story of R. Zeira who refused to attend Rabba's Purim meal the next year (see above), that the drinking must accompany the Purim meal.
If so, then one might question the practice of those who drink on Purim night, as the Shulchan Arukh (695:1) explicitly rules that one can fulfill the mitzva of se’udat Purim only during the day.
Assuming that one wishes to reach some level of inebriation, is there a "preferred drink" that he should use for this purpose?
The Shulchan Arukh does not specify any particular beverage. However, some Rishonim explain the halakha of drinking on Purim as intended to commemorate the feasts that took place during the Purim story, which included indulgence in wine. This would certainly indicate a preference for wine. Furthermore, Rashi (Megilla 7b s.v. li-vsumei), the Rambam (Megilla 2:15), the Rokeach (237) and the Radbaz (1:462) also explicitly mention drinking wine. Some prove from these sources that one should preferably use wine is fulfilling this mitzva. (See, for example, R. Menashe Klein [1925-present], Mishneh Halakhot 5:83.)
R. Moshe Sternbach, in his Mo’adim U-zmanim (2:190), suggests that one should conduct the meal over wine to fulfill the obligation of “mishteh,” which indicates specifically wine, but he may also drink other alcoholic beverages if he enjoys them.
Although women are included in all the mitzvot of Purim, some sources suggest that it may be especially inappropriate for women to become intoxicated (see Ketubot 65a, Pesachim 109a, and Mo’adim U-zmanim, ibid.).
Several Rishonim expressed great concern regarding this mitzva. The Orchot Chayim (ibid.), for example, writes that full inebriation is certainly prohibited, "and there is no greater sin, as it leads to sexual impropriety, bloodshed, and other sins." In fact, the Chafetz Chayim (R. Yisrael Meir Kagan, 1838-1933), in his Bei’ur Halakha (695:2), questions how the Rabbis could possibly encourage, or even mandate, behavior which has so often been the cause of sin. He cites the Eliya Rabba as explaining that since the miracle of Purim occurred as result of “mishta’ot” (feasts characterized by drinking) – the first feast which led to Vashti's demise, and, later, the feast at which Achashveirosh ordered Haman's execution – we commemorate those miraculous events through drinking wine.
Nonetheless, some (Ra'avya 2:564) explain that the Gemara does not obligate drinking, but merely presents it as a mitzva be-alma (a mere good deed). But one certainly fulfills the day's mitzvot even without drinking. Furthermore, R. Avraham Danzig (1748-1829) writes in his Chayei Adam (155:30):
If one believes that drinking on Purim will interfere with his performing any mitzva, such as reciting birkat ha-mazon, mincha, or ma'ariv, or if he will behave in a boorish manner, it is preferable that he not drink (or become inebriated) as long as his motives are proper.
A famous Talmudic statement (Bava Metzia 23b) allows one to alter the truth regarding "puraya," which is traditionally understood as referring to private sexual matters. Interestingly enough, however, the Maharsha explains this term as referring to Purim:
Be-furaya- as a person is obligated to become intoxicated and so on, the Rabbis would customarily lie, saying that they could not distinguish [between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordekhai”] even if they were not inebriated enough and could distinguish…
Apparently, one should not feel pressured to become inebriated, and may even lie if necessary.
The Bei’ur Halakha concludes his discussion of this topic by citing the following comments of the Me'iri:
We are certainly not commanded to demean ourselves through joy, as we are not commanded to engage in a celebration of frivolity and nonsense, but rather through joy that brings about love of God and thanksgiving for the miracles which He wrought for us…
It may be worth noting that while one who is intoxicated may still recite birkat ha-mazon (Shulchan Arukh O.C. 185:4), when it comes to tefila the Shulchan Arukh (99:1) writes:
One who drinks a revi'it of wine should not pray until he removes the wine [meaning, until its effects wear off]. And if he drank more, but he is able to speak before the King, then if he prays [the amida], his prayer fulfills his obligation. [However,] if he is unable to speak before the King, and prays, his prayer is an abomination and he must repeat his prayer when the wine is removed from him…
One should recite the mincha prayer before one's se'udat Purim, and be mindful to properly recite the arvit prayer after the meal.
As mentioned above, the Megilla (9:22) relates that Mordekhai instructed the Jewish people to "make them [the days of Purim] days of feasting and gladness, and of sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor."
Rabbi Yair Chayim Bacharach (1639-1702; author of Chavot Yair) writes in his work Mekor Chayim (O.C. 695) that one should fulfill the mitzva of mishlo’ach manot before giving matanot la-evyonim, since the verse (Esther 9:22) lists mishlo’ach manot before matanot la-evyonim.
Others (see, for example, R. Betzalel Stern [1911-1989], in his Be-tzel Ha-chokhma 6:81) disagree. In fact, the Yesod Ve-shoresh Ha-avoda (12:6) and R. Yaakov Emden (in his siddur) write that one should actually give matanot la-evyonim before shacharit on Purim morning! Furthermore, the Tur and Shulchan Arukh (694-5) record the laws of matanot la-evyonim BEFORE the laws of mishlo’ach manot, perhaps suggesting that matanot la-evyonim should be given first. Moreover, the Rambam writes (Hilkhot Megilla 2:17):
It is better for a person to increase his gifts to the poor than to increase the size of his Purim meal or mishlo’ach manot. For there is no greater and more admirable joy than to gladden the hearts of the destitute, orphans, widows and converts. One who gladdens the hearts of the misfortunate is likened unto the Divine Presence.
The Gemara (Megilla 7a) teaches that one must give two "gifts" to two separate people, or, as Rashi explains, a total of two gifts, one to each person.
What is the minimum that one must give for each gift? The Ritva (Megilla 7a) writes that one should give at least two "perutot" (coins), one for each gift. Similarly, Rashi (Responsa 293, Shibolei Ha-leket 202) asserts that there is no minimum amount for matanot la-evyonim, as it is a form of charity, which one should give as much as one likes. On the other hand, some (see Maharsha, Chidushei Agadot Megilla 7a) require that one give a more significant gift. The Sha'arei Teshuva (695:1) cites the ruling of the Zera Ya'akov that one should give a minimum of "three eggs," meaning, the amount of a small meal.
The Rambam (Hilkhot Megilla 2:16) writes that one may give either money or food to fulfill this mitzva. The Or Samei’ach (ad loc) writes that one should not give clothing. The Turei Even (Megilla 7a) suggests that although one may indeed give food, it is preferable to give money, as one reason for not reading the Megilla on Shabbat (Megilla 4a) relates to the problem of giving money as matanot la-evyonim on Shabbat. This clearly presumes that money is the preferred means of fulfilling this mitzva.
Who is considered an "evyon" (poor person) for this mitzva? Seemingly (see Piskei Teshuvot 694:2), based upon the standard definition of a "poor person" who may take public charity funds (Shulchan Arukh Y.D. 253:2), one who is unable to support oneself and his family, or a person who faces exorbitant expenses for medical care or other needs, may receive matanot la-evyonim. The Rambam (Hilkhot Megilla 2:16) and Shulchan Arukh (694:3) rule that we are not discerning with people asking for charity on Purim as we are throughout the year, and all who "extend their hand" are given matanot la-evyonim on Purim. The Ramban (cited by Nimukei Yosef, Bava Metzia 48b), as well as the Tur (694) and Shulchan Arukh (694:3), write that one may give matanot la-evyonim to Jews and non-Jews alike, in order to avoid "eiva" (enmity or animosity). The Machzor Vitri (245), however, records Rashi’s harsh criticism of those who distribute matanot la-evyonim to their non-Jewish workers on Purim.
The Shulchan Arukh (694:4) rules that one who does not encounter a poor person on Purim may set aside the money and give it them after Purim.
It is customary to set aside money before Purim and give it to the appointed gabbaim, who serve as one's agent to distribute the matanot la-evyonim on Purim day. R. Yosef Engel, in his Gilyonei Ha-shas (Shabbat 10b), claims that the identity of the giver must be known to the recipient, because the verse describes matanot la-evyonim as "gifts," which one gives expecting the recipient to know that he received it specifically from him. Other Acharonim, however, reject this assertion, and even prefer to preserve the anonymity of the donor.
One should not give matanot la-evyonim from money already set aside as ma'aser kesafim (see Rema, Y.D. 249:1). Similarly, one should not give matanot la-evyonim to pay a debt, or to pay those whom he would ordinarily give a gift (Arukh Ha-shulchan 694:4). However, once one has fulfilled the minimum requirement of matanot la-evyonim, he may then add from his ma'aser kesafim to increase the sum or number of recipients (Yechaveh Da'at 1:87).
It is interesting to note that giving charity often accompanies obligatory festivities. The Rambam (Hilkhot Yom Tov 6:18) writes:
When one eats and drinks [on Yom Tov], he is obligated to feed those less fortunate – the stranger, orphan, widow, and poor. One who locks his door and eats and drinks only with his family, neglecting the poor and those of bitter fortune, do not experience the joy of a mitzva but rather the enjoyment of one's belly!
Incorporating the less fortunate into our own celebrations is an integral part of religiously mandated “simcha”. Without this added dimension, one’s happiness is merely physical, “the enjoyment of one’s belly.”
A number of possible reasons have been suggested for the mitzva of mishlo’ach manot (“sending portions one to another").
Some relate the mitzva of mishlo’ach manot to the broader mitzva of the festive Purim meal, either in that it ensures that the less fortunate will have food for a festive meal, or as it serves an extension of one's own personal obligation to hold a festive se’udat Purim.
The Terumat Ha-deshen (111), for example, writes, “The reason for mishlo’ach manot is to ensure that each and every person has sufficient means to hold a proper Purim meal.”
Similarly, the Rambam (Hilkhot Megilla 2:15) writes:
How should one fulfill the obligation of a festive meal? He should eat meat and assemble a proper meal according to his means, and drink wine until becoming inebriated… and similarly, one is obligated to send two portions of meat or two cooked dishes of two types of food to his fellow…
The Rambam clearly implies that the mitzva of mishlo’ach manot stems from the obligation to partake of a festive meal.
Others understand mishlo’ach manot as an independent mitzva instituted for the purpose of increasing friendship, in the interest of rectifying the divisiveness that Haman observed among the Jewish people: “There is one nation scattered and dispersed among the [other] nations" (3:8). (See, for example, the Chatam Sofer [O.C. 1:196] citing R. Shlomo Alkavetz's work, Manot Ha-levi.]
This question may impact upon a number of practical halakhic issues.
For example, what is the proper time for sending mishlo’ach manot? The Rema (695) rules that one must fulfill this mitzva during the day, and not on the night of Purim. Instinctively, one might explain this ruling on the basis of the theory that associates mishlo’ach manot with the Purim meal, which would naturally require sending mishlo’ach manot specifically by day, when the Purim meal is eaten. In truth, however, it seems that the proper time for all the mitzvot of Purim is during the day (the nighttime Megilla reading marks the exception), and we therefore cannot necessarily demonstrate the relationship between mishlo’ach manot and the se’udat Purim from this halakha.
R. Aryeh Tzvi Frommer, in his Eretz Tzvi (121), bemoans the practice of many to give mishlo’ach manot after sunset on Purim day, while still partaking of the Purim meal. He notes that the Terumat Ha-deshen, cited above, might condone such a practice, as he associates mishlo’ach manot with the Purim meal, and thus so long as the meal is in process, perhaps one can still fulfill the obligation of mishlo’ach manot. Nevertheless, R. Frommer writes, this position is not universally accepted, and one should not rely upon it.
The Ben Ish Chai (Rabbi Yosef Chayim ben Eliyahu al-Chakam of Baghdad, 1835–1909) addresses the question of whether one can fulfill this obligation by sending mishlo’ach manot before Purim on the assumption that it will be received on Purim (and it is indeed received on Purim). He suggests that according to the Terumat Ha-deshen, as long as the recipient benefits from the gift on Purim, the sender has fulfilled his obligation. According to the Manot Ha-levi, however, one must send the gift, thereby demonstrating his affection for the recipient, on Purim day itself. This issue in discussed by other Acharonim, as well. Some (Be'er Heitev 695:7, Chelkat Yaakov 1:102) maintain that the mishlo’ach manot must be received on Purim, while others (Arukh Ha-shulchan 695:17) insist that it must actually be sent on Purim day.
According to some authorities, one who lives in Jerusalem, where the mitzva of mishlo’ach manot is fulfilled on Shushan Purim (the 15th of Adar), should be careful to send mishlo’ach manot to a fellow Jerusalemite who, like him, observes Shushan Purim. Conversely, one who lives outside Jerusalem should ensure to give mishlo’ach manot specifically to somebody who observes Purim on the same day.
What must one send as mishlo’ach manot? The Gemara (Megilla 7b) teaches:
Rabbi Yosef quotes a beraita: "Sending gifts from a man to his friend" -- two presents to one man; "and gifts to the poor" -- two presents, each to one or two people.
Thus, this mitzva requires sending at least two gifts to at least one person.
What gifts qualify for this obligation? The Rambam (Hilkhot Megilla 2:15), and, subsequently, the Shulchan Arukh (695:4), write that one should send "two portions of meat or two cooked dishes of two types of food to his friend…"
The Mishna Berura (20) writes that one may even send a drink, and the Arukh Ha-shulchan (14) adds that one may even send two drinks. There is no source for the common misconception that one must send two foods requiring two different berakhot, though the two foods should be distinct and not two pieces of the same food (see Arukh Ha-shulchan, ibid.). Some (Magen Avraham 695:11, Chayei Adam 135:31 and Arukh Ha-shulchan 695:15) write that the food must already be cooked and ready to eat, while others (Peri Chadash 695, Yechaveh Da’at 6:45) maintain that one may even send uncooked foods. The Mishna Berura (20) cites both opinions.
Seemingly, those who relate the mitzva of mishlo’ach manot to the festive Purim meal might require that the food be ready to eat. Indeed, the work Ma’aseh Rav records the Vilna Gaon’s ruling that one should send cooked items ready to be used for the Purim meal.
Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg (1916- 2006), in his Tzitz Eliezer (8:14), suggests that this debate may also impact upon the size of the gift. He suggests that according to the Terumat Ha-deshen, the giver should take into account the financial position of the recipient and whether he will potentially use the gift for his Purim meal. According to the Manot Ha-levi, however, the gift should reflect the position of the giver, in order to properly reflect his gesture of affection towards the recipient.
The Terumat Ha-deshen (ibid.) raises the interesting question of whether one may give clothing as mishlo’ach manot. He concludes, based upon his analysis cited above, that since mishlo’ach manot is intended to ensure proper provisions for the festive Purim meal, the contents of the mishlo’ach manot must be edible.
Similarly, Rabbi Menashe Klein, in his Mishneh Halakhot (4:91), questions whether one may send chidushei Torah (written Torah insights) as mishlo’ach manot. He suggests that while this would certainly not suffice according to the Terumat Ha-deshen, it might qualify according to the Manot Ha-levi, who explains that mishlo’ach manot serves to increase friendship among people. Since some people enjoy chidushei Torah more than material goods, it is possible that sending chidushei Torah achieves the desired goal of mishlo’ach manot and thus fulfills the obligation.
The Acharonim also question whether one fulfills the mitzva of mishlo’ach manot if the recipient declines ("mochel") to accept the gift (see Rema 695, Chatam Sofer O.C. 1:196), and whether one may send a "gift with the condition that it be returned" (Peri Megadim 694:11). These questions may also depend upon whether the ultimate goal of the mitzva relates to the Purim meal, or to increasing harmony amongst Jews.
The Arukh Ha-shulchan (695:16) comments that one does not fulfill the obligation if the recipient does not know that he received the mishlo’ach manot.
Rabbi Yaakov Ettlinger (1798 – 1871), in his Binyan Tziyon (44), suggests that one should preferably send the mishlo’ach manot through a shaliach – an agent – rather than personally, as the verse speaks of "sending" gifts, and not "giving." The Mishna Berura (18) cites this opinion. This idea seemingly supports the notion that mishlo’ach manot serves to increase peace and harmony among the Jewish people, and should therefore include as many people as possible. If so, then one need not send the gifts with an agent who is generally considered a valid "shaliach" – meaning, an adult Jew – as the purpose of employing an agent here is not to discharge one's obligation, but rather to get more people involved in the mitzva.
Women are equally obligated in mishlo’ach manot and matanot la-evyonim, as "they were also included in the miracle" (Shulchan Arukh 695:4 and Mishna Berura 25). The Magen Avraham (14) notes, however, that the women in his time were not so strict about these obligations. To justify this practice, he suggests that while a widow should send her own mishlo’ach manot and matanot la-evyonim, a married woman fulfills her obligation through the mishlo’ach manot and matanot la-evyonim sent by her husband. The Magen Avraham concludes, however, that women should preferably act stringently in this regard and send their own mishlo’ach manot and matanot la-evyonim.
According to the Magen Avraham’s rationale, a husband should send two portions to at least two people – one for himself and another for his wife. Furthermore, based upon our discussion above, it would seem that at least regarding mishlo’ach manot, the recipients should know that the portions came from the husband and the wife.
The Arukh Ha-shulchan (694:2), by contrast, writes that a husband and wife discharge their obligation by sending to one person, due to the principle of "ishto ke-gufo" (husband and wife are considered like on). One's adult children, however – both boys and girls – are obligated to send mishlo’ach manot and give matanot la-evyonim independently, and do not fulfill the obligation through their parents. Interestingly, the Peri Chadash (and, apparently, the Vilna Gaon in 695:4) rules that women are NOT obligated in matanot la-evyonim and mishlo’ach manot, as the verse says "ish le-re'ehu" (“a MAN to his neighbor”). Other Acharonim seem to reject this opinion.
The Rema (695:2), citing the Terumat Ha-deshen (110), writes, “Some say that if one damages another as a result of the Purim festivities, he is exempt from paying.”
The Mishna Berura (13) cites the Bach who distinguishes in this regard between minor and major damages. He explains that people are not "forgiving" of major damages, even if they result from the Purim festivities, and therefore the guilty party must compensate the victim in the case of major damage.
In addition, the Acharonim (see, for example, Mishna Berura 696:31, Arukh Ha-shulchan 695:10) warn against excessive frivolity during the Purim celebrations, as discussed above.
Furthermore, while in some communities people may have been forgiving of minor property damages, one must certainly avoid behavior which leads to embarrassing or humiliating others in any way.
The Rema (696:4) observes the custom to wear costumes on Purim, including men wearing women's clothing, and vice versa. He justifies this behavior on the grounds that the intentions are for the day's festivities. The Taz (Y.D. 182), however, records that his father-in-law, the Bach, sought to abolish this custom.
Certainly one who dresses up, and those who perform "Purim shpiels," should ensure that their actions are "le-shem shamayim" and in good taste.