Mishloah Manot, Cultivating Friendship, and the Absence of a Brakha Translation and introduction by Rabbi Avi Schwartz, edited by Rabbi Dov Linzer by Rabbi Avram Schwartz

Rabbi Yehiel Yaakov Weinberg (1884-1966) was the last rector of the Neo-Orthdox Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary in Berlin. In his youth in Lithuania, he had been considered an illui, a young genius, and studied under Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel at Yeshivat Kenesset Yisrael Slobodka. He later moved west, studying towards, but not completing, a doctorate at the University of Giessen, and becoming a leader and posek of the German Jewish community during the Nazis’ rise to power and the Second World War. After the war, he moved to Switzerland, where he lived out the remainder of his life. Rav Weinberg is characterized by deep knowledge, penetrating insight, and a commitment to the modernizing project of German Orthodoxy.

In this responsum, Rav Weinberg asks why we do not recite the standard mitzvah-blessing (“that you have sanctified us with Your mitzvoth and commanded us…”) before performing the mitzvah of mishloah manot. He connects this to a larger question – why we don’t make this blessing before interpersonal mitzvoth, such as tzedakkah? His answer gets to the core of whether the importance in our performance of mitzvoth lie in the fact that we are obeying a Divine command, or in the fact that we are doing something that is intrinsically, ethically, the right thing to do. He also addresses the different emotion and attitude the emerge from the performance of a mitzvah that is done out of a sense of duty from one that emerges from a sense of care and love for one’s fellow man. The mitzvah of mishloh manot in this reading is a mitzvah that would lose all meaning were it performed from a sense of duty, since the goal here is not some ritual performance, but to nurture and cultivate feelings of love and caring between one Jew and another.

In his closing paragraph, Rav Weinberg makes another beautiful point – that the core mitzvah of mishloah manot, giving gifts and expressing love and care – is a mitzvah that really applies at all times. It is just on Purim that we are commanded in a specific, concrete expression of this. May we all merit this Purim that our giving of mishloah manot deepen our warm and loving feelings towards our fellow Jews, and inspire us to live this mitzvah every day, throughout the coming year.

שו”ת שרידי אש חלק א סימן סא

ב”ה, יום ב’ ויגש תש”ט, מונטרה

לכבוד ידי”נ הרב הג’ מהר”ז רוזנגרטן ני”ו

ענין ראשון: מפני מה אין מברכים על משלוח מנות

תודתי נתונה לכת”ר ולרעיתו היקרה תחי’ על שקיימתם בי מצות ומשלוח מנות איש לרעהו…
בפורים זה הרהרתי בקושית האחרונים: למה אין מברכין על משלוח מנות, לפי טעם הרשב”א שאין מברכין על הצדקה שמא לא יקבל, והרי גבי מ”מ יוצאין אף אם אינו מקבל, כמו שכתב הרמ”א או”ח סי’ תרצ”ה סע’ ד’ (והפר”ח חולק עליו). ובאמת נראה שאין כוונת הרשב”א דאיכא למיחש שמא לא יקבל ותהא ברכתו לבטלה, דמה יאמר למי שנותן לעני המבקש נדבה? אלא כוונתו, שאין מברכין על מצוה שאינה תלויה בעושה המצוה לבדו אלא גם באחר. ואפשר שמטעם זה אין מברכין על נתינת תרומה לכהן, אף שגם הנתינה היא מצוה כמו ההפרשה שעליה מברכין.
ועוד נ”ל, שמשלוח מנות היא להרבות שלום ואהבה וריעות, כמו שכתב החת”ס באו”ח סי’ קצ”ו. והנה אף שבכל המצות גדול המצווה ועושה ומברכין וציונו – במשלוח מנות טוב שיתן מרצונו החפשי, מתוך רגש של אהבה לאחיו העברי, ואם הוא נותן רק עפ”י צווי הוא מפחית מידת האהבה. וכן הדין בצדקה, שאם הוא נותן מתוך רחמנות או מתוך אהבת ישראל טוב יותר ממי שנותן מתוך צווי וכפיה. וראה מה שכתב הרמב”ם בשמונה פרקיו על מחלוקת הפילוסופים אם טוב יותר לעשות עפ”י צווי או עפ”י רצון פנימי והכרעת הרמב”ם בזה. ואפשר שמשום כך אין מברכין על כיבוד אב ואם.

ובזה נ”ל לפשוט ספקם של האחרונים אם כופין על משלוח מנות כמו שכופין על הצדקה, שמשלוח מנות ע”י כפיה אינה כלום, ושאני צדקה, דהתם העני מבקש לחם להשביע רעבונו.

ועוד נ”ל לחדש, שמשלוח מנות היא באמת מצוה תמידית בכל השנה, ורק בפורים נצטוינו לקיים בפועל מצוה זו כדי שנזכור בכל השנה, כדרך שאנו קורים פ’ זכור, כדי שנזכור כל השנה. וידוע מה שכתב באו”ז, שמצוה שהיא תמידית ואין לה הפסק אין מברכין עליה.

Sridei Esh 1:61A

With the help of God, Monday of Parshat Vayigash 5709 (Dec., 1948), Montreux

To my friend Rabbi Z. Rosengarten

First matter: Why we don’t say a blessing on mishloach manot.

My thanks to you and your dear wife, may she live, for fulfilling the mitzvah of mishloah manot through me (i.e., for sending me mishloah manot)…
This Purim I considered the difficulty raised by the Aharonim: Why do we not say a blessing on mishloach manot? For according to the rationale of Rashba that we don’t recite a blessing on tzedakkah in case the person doesn’t accept it, nevertheless in this case it would seem that a blessing should be recited, since one fulfills mishloach manot even if the person doesn’t accept it, as Rema writes in OH 695:4 (though Peri Hadash disagrees). In truth, however, it appears that Rashba’s point is not that we are concerned that the person will not accept the tzedakkah and the blessing will have been in vain, for if that were the case, why should we not make a blessing when giving tzedakkah to a poor person who has asked for a gift? Rather, Rashba’s point is that one does not recite a blessing on a mitzvah which also depends on a person who is not the one doing the mitzvah. It is possible that on this basis one also doesn’t say a blessing on giving terumah to a Kohen, though the act of giving is as much a mitzvah as the separation, on which one does make a blessing.
It also seems to me that the purpose of mishloach manot is to increase peace, love, and brotherhood, just like Hatam Sofer writes (OH 196). Now, even though the general rule regarding mitzvot is that it is greater to be commanded and do the mitzvah, than to do it without being commanded, and hence we bless before doing a mitzvah, “and God commanded us,” when it comes to the mitzvah of mishloach manot this is not the case. Here, it is better to give of one’s free will, from a feeling of love for one’s Jewish fellow. If one gives only because of the commandment, then he reduces the value of that love. So too with regard to tzedakkah. If one gives out of compassion or love of one’s fellow Jew, it is better than one who gives because of the commandment and obligation. See what Rambam says in the introduction to his commentary on Avot (Shemoneh Peraqim) regarding the debate among the philosophers as to whether it is better to act according to a command or out of an internal will, and Rambam’s decision on the matter. It is also possible that this is the reason one does not say a blessing on honoring one’s father and mother.
On the basis of this I think I can resolve the issue in debate among the Aharonim of whether we compel a person to fulfill the mitzvah of mishloach manot if he refuses to do so, like we do in the case of tzeddakah. The answer is that we do not. Mishloach manot done under duress is of no value. In this way it is different from charity, for in that case the poor person is in need of bread to sate his hunger [and it is therefore of value even if the person giving it is doing so under duress].
Another novel idea I have is that mishloach manot is fundamentally a mitzvah that applies throughout the entire year, and on Purim we are commanded to fulfill it actively in order to remember it throughout the year, as is the case with reading the portion of zakhor, which we recite once so we remember throughout the year. And it is well known what Or Zarua wrote, that when it comes to mitzvah that is ongoing, one does not recite a blessing.

Your friend, with honor,
Yehiel Yaakov Weinberg