It was the morning after Purim.
I had made myself a cup of coffee and taken my regular seat at the dining room table, hoping to work on an essay whose editorial deadline was fast approaching. I cleared a space for my laptop by pushing back the remains of the mishloach manot, the food packages we exchange with friends on Purim that now covered the entire surface of the table. But as much as I tried, I could not write. Not a word.
I was too distracted by the assortment of colorful containers and clever themes, the bright ribbons and festive gift bags, the towering boxes filled with candied nuts and dried fruit, the baked goods, wine, and chocolate. The display was a visual picnic. The risk to my healthy eating regimen notwithstanding, I could not look away.
Of all the ritual obligations of Purim day, the exchange of food gifts is my favorite. I love having a reason to pack something fun for our friends. On the receiving end, I treasure the variety, as well as the thought folks put into the planning and distribution.
Still, as with so much else in Judaism, it is the spirit of the mitzvah that matters most, not the beauty of the package or the creativity of the contents. Generosity and friendship go into the giving along with the treats. It is equally important to remember that this bounty, dare I say excess, should not be taken for granted.
It strikes me each year how the two holidays that start with a P (or a pey in Hebrew) fall just one month apart on the Jewish calendar. They also share an essential mitzvah: the giving of tzedakah to those in need, providing them with the resources to prepare their own festive meals. This means that we’ve only fulfilled our own ritual obligations on both holidays once we’ve enabled others to do so as well.
I try to hold this beautiful concept close to my heart while traveling between the two Ps. After all, the cost of making Passover goes up year after year. (Does anyone else remember when the butcher gave out shank bones for free?) Many families aren’t sure how they will put the basics of the seder plate, the wine, or even the matzah on the table. Yet we often have no idea who among us is struggling. It may be the family we least suspect. As such, we’d do well to be sensitive, refraining from participation in the public chorus of kvetching about the rising cost of brisket.
As for our formal Passover tzedakah donations, known as maot chittim, we can make them early to local Jewish organizations that operate food pantries, matzah funds, and kosher soup kitchens. They are all especially busy as they scramble to meet the needs of Jewish families in the approach to the holiday. Plus, because of the daunting costs involved in making Passover, the number of families seeking assistance swells this time of year.
There are other ways we can help in our communities. Pick up extra items while heading down the Passover aisle in the supermarket and donate them to the nearest kosher food pantry, checking with the program directors first to see what they could use most. Or get creative in taking the edge off holiday prep for someone who needs a hand in ways that aren’t financial, maybe with the heavy lifting of the Passover dishes from storage or with moral support if they are dealing with family challenges.
In the meantime, make good on the cleaning should you discover unopened excess in your kitchen cabinets, like the three inexplicable tubs of oatmeal I found in ours. Donate that unused chametz to an organization that accepts it year-round.
And no matter what’s in our cabinets or on our to-do lists, whether we are celebrating the holiday at home or going away, let’s make extra room in our hearts as we travel from Purim to Passover, and if we can, at our tables when we sit down to the holiday meals.
Kindness begets kindness. May the coming weeks be filled with it, and may our seder tables teem with blessing.
Merri Ukraincik of Edison is a regular contributor to NJJN. Follow her at merriukraincik.com.