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Yisroel Gelber: Shalach Manos and the Art of Receiving

By Yisroel Gelber

Posted on 02/27/18

Purim, is an opportunity to enter the world of love and closeness.  After all, the Jewish People experienced Divine love in the form of a miraculous salvation from certain annihilation at the hands of  Haman.


Correspondingly, we focus a great deal of energy leading up to and on this holiday on expressions of giving  baskets of delicacies to our friends and neighbors. These Shalach manos, as they are called, provide a mechanism for allowing us to  create or repair friendships.


Yet while most people focus on the art of giving, few of us realize that there is an art to receiving as well. How and with what attitude we accept a gift determines its impact as much as or more than that of the benefactor.


How does one accept a gift graciously and in a manner that will maximize its potency? Rabbi Wolbe says, with one essential ingredient: Gratitude. Far more than an accessory to any relationship, gratitude actually is its lifeblood. Absent this quality, a relationship can atrophy or morph into an instrument of contempt.


In the most pronounced sense, each of us is a receiver from the Almighty: consider the food, drink, shelter. health and other gifts we receive daily. For this very reason – to exercise our “receiving muscles” – we recite a blessing prior to and following everything we eat. In doing so, we internalize gratitude and strengthen our relationship, through feeling the Almighty's  love towards us. 


In human interactions, we can identify countless routine examples in which learning to receive is vital. 


One spouse may want to give their partner in some way to help build the relationship.  However, the receiver may sometimes lack trust in the sincerity of the giver. They may imagine that the other only gave the gift for their own selfish benefit.  Instead of appreciating the good gesture, by trying to read the other's mind , they may unfortunately deprive themselves of an opportunity for closeness. 


Another all-too-common occurrence in our busy lives: We receive an e-mail from a friend sharing an interesting article or moving Torah concept, perhaps one of many in a given day. We might reflexively scan and delete it, but even if we actually read it, imagine if we would take a moment to appreciate the simple fact that someone cared enough about us to send it our way. Imagine further the impact we could have by commenting on the article and responding “Thank you for thinking of me and sharing this!” Compounded over time, this simple habit would foster love and appreciation in many relationships.


(Some posqim explain that for this very reason we do not make a blessing when performing an act of kindness for another individual; we can never be certain that they will accept the overture, and so the cycle of relationship building may not be completed.)


 Receiving – expressing gratitude – can be a difficult challenge for some people. By admitting that we received, we now owe the giver, and for some people, this act of submission may be too painful for some.  Inherent to this act is also an admission that we need another’s assistance, that we were somehow incomplete without their gift, receiving proactively can be a blow to our ego and an unpleasant experience. But, as we have demonstrated, the value of artful receiving should surpass the hindrance any such reservations.


As we approach this Purim, we will encounter a fabulous opportunity to practice the “art of receiving.” As a modest exercise, perhaps pick one shalach manos that you receive, and instead of tossing it in a pile with many others, or swiftly tearing it open to examine its contents, take a moment to meditate on the effort involved in its production, and the fact that its preparer was thinking and cares about you. Perhaps even contact them to say thank you for the gift and what you like about it.  Building this critical "muscle"through shalach manos, will surely allow us  to enter a world of  love and closeness , that  we can bring with us throughout the year!