What it all Really Means
Shalach manos: a definition: 1.
The traditional exchanging of gifts generally consisting of two or more brachos between friends and family on the holiday of Purim.
Shalach manos: a definition: 2.
Carefully crafted, carefully themed and carefully color coordinated, these creative creations are handed over by a trio of matching-costumed children (except for the one who refuses to wear the hat) and received graciously by a second trio of matching-costumed children (besides for the one who insisted at the last minute on last year’s too-short kalla gown), only to be ripped apart three second later and dissected and scanned for chocolate and jelly beans by the kids, anything edible by the mother, anything drinkable by the older brother, and the rest, poem and all, is regifted to the general vicinity of the overflowing garbage can.
But no, that is not exactly true. Not always. Not for me, at least. Not this year. Because this year my husband came home and his eyes were aglow.
“You’re eyes look all funny,” I said with concern. “It looks like you have rabies.”
“I’m happy,” he explained. “They are glowing with happiness. Because I have a great idea. For shalach manos!”
“That’s cute,” said I. “But I’ve been planning our shalach manos since Purim.”
“It’s not Purim yet.”
“Since last Purim. Basically, we’re going with the kids dressing up like Thing One and Thing Two.”
“We have four things.”
“They are called children for future reference, but we will also do Thing Three and Thing Four. You will be the Cat in the Hat.”
“And you?” his eyes narrowed.
“I will be their mother,” I said. “What? She is a legitimate character.”
“She is a shoe,” my husband pointed out. “If I remember my Dr. Suess. All you see is her shoe.”
“I shall wear a shoe or two. And then, but listen! I will buy red-and-white striped hats to put the shalach manos in, you know, like the Cat in the Hat’s hat, and!!! Then I will boil eggs and make hamentashen and dye the eggs green! And the poem will be, I could not, would not, on Purim day/Think of a better time to say/That we wish you a day filled with lots of noshin’/especially on our ‘green eggs and “ham”entashen!’ Get it?”I grinned. “Green eggs and “ham”entashen?” I gave a laugh of triumph.
“Is anyone going to eat the, um, the green eggs?” my husband asked me carefully when I finished my victorious cackling.
“Why wouldn’t they?”
“Because of the green.”
“Oh...” I shrugged. “I dunno. But how super cute is that!”
“So cute!” he replied so super quickly that I knew that he was just waiting for me to stop talking so that he could tell me his idea. So I stopped talking and looked at him, waiting. Impress me, said my one raised eyebrow.
“So cute,” he said again. “So very nice and cute.”
“Stop saying cute,” I said warily. “You never say cute.”
“Okay so the thing is, what I want us to do,” he said in a great big rush of words, “Is not do that thing. That you just said. Even though it’s so—well, cute.”
What he wanted us to do was to order fifty cards from Yad Eliezer and deliver them in lieu of shalach manos. That’s what it actually says on the card, apparently. That someone donated money to Yad Eliezer in your name and this card is in lieu of shalach manos. That’s how I know the word lieu.
“We’ll still make one for my Rebbi,” he said. “And a couple more for good friends or whatever if we want, a handful, but I was thinking...” he hesitated. “I was just thinking, why throw food in the garbage if we can use that same food and give it to people who really need it? It’s a little, well, kind of silly.”
Kind of silly? My green eggs and “ham”entashen were not silly. They were genius. I lashed back a little. “Kind of silly? I’ll tell you kind of silly. Kind of silly is you ordering pizza last year on Purim.”
“Don’t remember. But why is that kind of silly?”
“Well, where do I begin? One: you were fleishigs. Two: you were standing on the table. And three: you called the cab company.”
“You’re making it up! I did not do that!”
“You did. And you kept stressing mushrooms, that you wanted mushrooms on top of the pizza. ‘With an m,’ you said. ‘Mmmmushrooooms.’”
“I don’t like mushrooms.”
“Somewhere in Jerusalem, there is a cab company that thinks otherwise.”
“And then what happened?”
“You told me to take over holding up the ceiling because it was wavering, you said, wavering, your word, and then you curled up in the middle of the dining room table, put your elbow into a bowl of congealed meatballs, and went to sleep.”
“So back to the Yad Eliezer cards. Are you game?”
Am I game?
The thing is, the embarrassing thing; I didn’t want to do it.
I really, really didn’t want to do it.
“I’ll feel silly handing out a card,” I hedged.
“But they’ll see that it’s for tzedaka,” my husband urged. “And who knows? Maybe we can start a revolution around here! Maybe we can get less garbage for you to get rid of right before Pesach and more true giving. You know. More of what it really means.”
Which wasn’t fair of an argument. Because whatever I would answer back to such a noble speech would sound petty.
I quickly drew up a mental comparison:
Yad Eliezer cards:
2. To a worthy cause
3. Helping widows and orphans and struggling families
4. Bringing a smile to the face of the poor and downtrodden
5. Lessening the awful waste that we are party to every Purim.
Dr. Suess Theme:
4. It’s cute.
5. It’s super cute.
Did I mention that it wasn’t fair?
I opened and closed my mouth a few times and then closed it, firmly. I had no argument except “I don’t wanna” and I wasn’t going to use that, of course.
“I don’t wanna,” I said.
“Why not?” he countered.
We got the cards.
The night before Purim, in a fit of rebellion, I made one hundred and fifty deep chocolate white chunk cookies, put three apiece in little filmy bags, and tied them to the cards with ribbon. The cards were not going lonely and naked to my family and friends without some solid caloric support. My husband raised his eyebrows when he saw what I did and made a knowing face.
After the last of our cards were handed out and my kids searched through what we had been given for candy and chocolate and the rest was thrown in the general vicinity of the garbage can—poems, baskets, cellophane, and anything that was unwrapped and looked like it had been handled by Someone Else’s Kids—I thought about how I had I found myself explaining. As if I needed validation for not staying up the whole night, for not coordinating our baskets to our outfits, (Husband found my idea to dress us all like poor people distasteful for some reason) as if I needed everyone’s approval. I found myself saying, “I had a theme, you know. It was so cute. Get it, green eggs and hamantashen? But then we thought, why throw all that money in the garbage if we can give it to people who really need it?”
And they said, how nice! And cookies, too! And I lowered my eyes in modest acceptance. As if, if I couldn’t be super cute, I could be super noble. With cookies, too, of course.
How long had I been hijacking the whole idea of shalach manos and making it entirely about me?
“We should do cards again next year,” my husband said. He was beaming in triumph and also a little in drunkenness. “How great was this?”
“You ordered pizza from the cab company last year,” I reminded him. “I am not the only one around here who has a lot to learn.”
He looked like he wanted to ask me—and legitimately so—what in the world I was talking about, and what in the world that had to do with what he had just said, and I turned to him, to smile, to share my new understanding of self, of Purim, of giving, of What it Really Means, but he lifted a finger for silence. He was on the phone.
And on the table.
“Hello,” he said. “Ice-cream. A gallon of ice cream. Rocky Road. Rrr. Rrrrrocky Rrrrroad.”
I wanted to tell him that he had dialed the zoo and that might be why he was having trouble making them understand his ice-cream preference, but after a moment, he hung up, curled up directly into a platter of brisket and fell asleep.
(Reprinted with permission from Ami Magazine)
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