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As the ‘craziness’ of this year’s Purim ebbed and flowed again, I started to think about what aspect of Purim is actually the hardest, at least for me.

Actually, I didn’t think about it all, as I immediately knew what aspect of Purim nearly ALWAYS causes me the most stress and anxiety: mishloach manot.

Back in London, I could spend literally hours in traffic jams trying to deliver my ‘nosh packages’ to friends who were often also out in their cars, trying to deliver their ‘nosh packages’ back. It never occurred to me that this was:

  1. a) A huge waste of time

AND

  1. b) Almost certainly didn’t really count as a true mishloach manot, which is meant to be a gift of two different bits of real food that would be ready to chow down on immediately. But I wasn’t going to start cooking up a storm for my 84 best friends at that stage of my life.

Then, we got to Israel, where Purim is taken more seriously, in some ways, not least because the country as a whole ‘closes’ for Purim, in a similar way to what happens on Shabbat.

Which is when I hit the next state of mishloach manot madness:

People were literally cooking mini-gourmet meals for a hundred friends and neighbors, and getting every member of their family involved in the mammoth delivery project that entailed.

That first year, I also had plans to turn out 50 home-baked mini quiches and a personal side-salad, until God sent me a timely bout of dysentery that meant I couldn’t get out of bed or eat for the whole week before Purim, and I barely managed the mitzvah at all that year.

It was so embarrassing: wave upon wave of baskets were showing up at our door, and we had zip, nothing, nada to give in return. Which is when I learnt the law of reciprocity: if thou shalt not return mishloach manot, thou won’t get any the following Purim.

Even though I had my act more together the following Purim (slightly…. As we were moving house and community the day after the festival….) I sent out 30 mishloach manot, and got around five back (mostly fumbled together behind the door, as the host asked me to wait with a slightly stressed smile on their face.)

The following year, I really, really tried harder with mishloach manot.

I planned it two months in advance, and I cooked, made and bought whatever was necessary to make it proper. Dear reader, that community was built on a steep hill, and as I took the turn leading up the mountain a little too sharply, all my carefully arranged hummus, side salads and home made rolls upended and smashed into my car door.

Disaster!!!

I salvaged whatever I could, and had another bout of mishloach manot-induced depression to deal with. Next year, I vowed to buy everything ready-made and ready wrapped, anchored down with 200 metres of cellophane and ribbon.

But of course I didn’t, because by then I’d moved community again and I was in my ‘extreme healthy eating’ phase of life, which made the whole subject of Purim and mishloach manot SO stressful from start to finish. What to make that wasn’t toxic that people would actually eat?!?! AND that would look nice?!?!?

Again, I spent hours baking healthy cookies, and then artfully arranging them on a plate with nuts and dried fruit. No cellophane now for me!!! I wasn’t about to add to the landfill just so my mishloach manot would look nice or stay on the plate!!!!

So of course, they didn’t.

The delivery got so stressful as I had to drive at three miles an hour to prevent all my artful arrangements from moving around…and then people looked at the home-baked cookies suspiciously, and I could read their thoughts: “Is this a good enough hechsher, if it’s homemade?!?? Are dates still on the ‘OK’ list?!?!?” (There was a lot of ‘pious’ kashrut concerns going on over there….)

The following year, I had an epiphany:

No more driving the mishloach manot around! I’m giving to whoever I can walk to within 15 minutes of my home and that’s it.

Which was mostly good, except I still had a few awkward moments when people unexpectedly gave us me a mishloach manot, and I had nothing to give them because I refused to just repackage other people’s nosh behind the door…

By the following year, I had other ‘concerns’ about mishloach manot, because I’d learned the mitzvah was actually better done by giving to people you didn’t like (and who didn’t like you…), or who weren’t part of your usual Chevra.

The problem was not how to find these people, but how to whittle them down to under 50….

Then we moved to Jerusalem, and by that point, I almost gave up on mishloach manot. I was so lonely here the first year, I had no idea how to fulfill the mitzvah, really. I didn’t know anyone. That year, my kids saved the day. On Purim morning, one daughter noticed I’d done absolutely zip all about mishloach manot, and decided to make pancakes for all of our neighbors in our building. One cooked, and the other one packaged and delivered – and I was so grateful to them, because it really made me feel a little more alive and part of things.

Last year, I decided on the simple, easy route: A good bottle of wine, and some super-badatz baklava, for five people within walking distance. Two of my packages went to people I didn’t really like, two went to externally ‘secular’ people, and one went to my nearest neighbor.

One of those negative relationships actually really turned around as a result, and I was thrilled.

Which brings us up to this year. This year, again, that familiar ‘despairing’ feeling took hold before Purim, and made it very hard for me to get to grips with mishloach manot again. I didn’t want to just hand out junk and nosh, but I had no energy to plan or make anything else. I was hit with a very strong wave of ‘can’t be bothered’, which only disappeared the morning of Purim (we celebrate Shushan Purim in Jerusalem, so the shops were still open on everyone else’s Purim.)

That’s when I decided the following: I’m going to make a healthy, easy Israeli breakfast for the three people I like, who live close to me. And that’s what I did.

This year, my husband and I barely got any mishloach manot from anyone, as he gave to his rabbis, and the law of reciprocity doesn’t hold over there.

In the past, that would have made me feel pretty sorry and down, and unloved. This year, I was grateful that I didn’t have a mound of waffley and MSG-drenched bizzli to somehow get rid of.

Friendships aren’t built on mishloach manot, or at least, they shouldn’t be.

I didn’t spend stressful hours cooking mishloach manot treats. I didn’t spend hundreds of shekels buying bottles of wines and fancy-wrapped baskets. I didn’t get super-stressed on Purim morning as I had 347 mishloach manot to deliver before the Purim seuda, and no time to really get that done.

I’m sure the yetzer will still figure out a way to make next year’s mishloach manot another challenge, but this year, for once, after I got past the blahs,  it actually all turned out really good.

TIPS FOR DE-STRESSING MISHLOACH MANOT:

  1. Don’t drive ANYWHERE Purim morning.
  2. If you need to deliver to people who don’t live close, arrange to meet them in shul after the Megillah reading, and swap baskets there.
  3. Keep things simple: the basic mitzvah is to deliver two items of ready-to-eat food, to two different people. That’s it!
  4. Dare to be different. You don’t HAVE to buy huge baskets of cellophane nosh just to fit in. But, you also don’t need to make gourmet quiches, if that’s just not ‘you’.
  5. Keep it practical. A tin of tuna and a jar of mayonnaise fulfills the mitzvah perfectly – without a bamba or bizzli in sight!
  6. Don’t beat yourself up over your mishloach manot: There will always be people who do this better, nicer, fancier, healthier… If you managed to do the mitzvah at all, in whichever way you did it, celebrate that fact! Even that is not so easy, these days.
  7. Don’t beat yourself up over not getting mishloach manot, or not giving it to the ‘right’ people: Much easier said than done, I know, but mishloach manot is NOT meant to be a popularity contest, or a test of your mettle as a Jewish woman.
  8. Notice any ‘negative’ feelings that bubble up on Purim, and pray on them. Purim is blessed with the energy of transformation. Every year, I have insights from my mishloach manot that encourage me to work on myself, try to do things differently, and to notice what ‘vested interests’ still come attached to some of my mitzvah observance. We’re all a work in progress, and nothing underlines WHAT that progress might need to be more than mishloach manot.

God seems to put a different ‘flavour’ or spiritual essence into the air around each of the Jewish holidays.

So it is, before Purim time, I always seem to feel like my life is spiralling out of control and that I barely have time to breathe.

Let’s be clear that I haven’t even got anywhere near to deciding what I’m doing for mishloach manot, who I’m sending them to (or not….) or what’s going to be with the Purim Seuda. Even though it’s already only a couple of days’ away, those things are just not on my radar yet.

Since Rosh Chodesh Adar, I’ve just been running, running, running.

Running to this Rosh Chodesh event, that kid’s performance, this kid’s high school, to the post office, to the Kotel. Of course, these are only the ‘external’ descriptions of what’s going on. The real running is happening internally, where I feel I haven’t been able to sit down, focus or relax properly for weeks.

Mamash, I’ve been caught up in some sort of internal ‘storm wind’ (which as we know is one of the four spiritual ‘klipot’, or forces of evil) which keeps me on edge, on my toes, and running, running, running so fast I don’t have time to breathe, or think, and certainly not to do the washing or shopping.

(Lucky for me, God also made my washing machine malfunction. Since it ‘zapped’ me with static electricity last week, it’s been taking all the lights out every time I turn it on, and I’m running too fast to be able to stop and fix it…Once my husband realises he has no underwear left, I’m hoping he’ll knuckle down and take a look at it. And then also do five loads of laundry. A girl can hope.)

Of course, all this running around is also occasionally dumping me into the midst of the ‘volatile fire’ klipa, too.

Yesterday, I had a road rage incident in the (predominantly Arab…) Jerusalem suburb called ‘Ir David’, the site of the biblical city of David.

Long story short, my kid had a production in the Jewish community hall there, and I had to drive all over Ir David to get to it. The parking was behind a carefully-monitored gate, which I missed and overshot by 2 metres. As I was trying to reverse back, an Arab minibus came right up behind me, and absolutely refused to let me back up.

We got into a standoff for five minutes – because Ir David is a one-way system, and I didn’t want to have to drive all the way around it again – but the Arab driver refused to back up – and boy, my Moroccan genes kicked in.

If my kid wasn’t in the car to calm me down there would have been another stabbing in Jerusalem yesterday – I’ve had gouged his eyes out with my car keys. As it was, I drove off like a woman possessed, loudly cursing the Arabs of Ir David with both windows of my car open.

Five minutes later, when I calmed down a bit, the ‘depressed cloud’ klipa showed up.

Man, after all this work I can still lose it and turn into an enraged would-be murderer…. Luckily, I had a chocolate bar stashed in my bag for this sort of existential spiritual emergency, and after I polished it off, I felt a little better.

But the point is this: Purim is a few short days away, that time of miracles, everything turning around for the best, and profound spiritual work. And I’m so far away from tapping into it this year, and I seem to be running even further away with each hour that passes.

Usually, my hitbodedut, or personal prayer grounds me enough that I can stop running for at least an hour.

But even there recently, my mind has been flitting all over the place and I can’t catch hold of myself, really.

I don’t know what the answer is. I hope God is going to rescue me from the storm wind, and the volatile fire, and the depressive dark cloud soon. And, if I’m really lucky, He’ll do it before Sunday so I can actually get my act together and sort out my mishloach manot, costume and Purim seuda.