Purim is a time of renewed discovery of how much Hashem loves us, His great nissim – both revealed and hidden – that He does for us on a constant basis, and for our reciprocal acceptance to take some concrete steps towards coming closer to Him. It is also a time of venahafoch hu – what we thought was good was really bad, and what we thought was bad was for the best! That venahafoch hu is alive and well today. What may be touted as being one way may be exactly the opposite.
Enjoy the following narrative, penned by an anonymous correspondent, taking us through the saga of some modern-day venahafoch hus.
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Let me make clear from the outset that I am totally the last type of person who would ever use a mishloach manos service, much less a customizable mishloach manos service. I mean, why would I pay someone else to package some nosh or whatever for me, when I could just as well do it myself? And as far as ideas are concerned, I would rather that the mishloach manos I give be my ideas and not someone else’s.
But life is full of surprises, so when my baby was born early – on the very day I was planning on going out to buy mishloach manos stuff – my friend convinced me to give this new service a try. Of course I could have asked my husband to pitch in, and he would have been glad to help, but something was holding me back. Possibly, it was the memory of the time we were planning to host an elegant dinner for my younger brother’s in-laws and I was unexpectedly delayed on the way home and my dear husband volunteered to set up if I would just tell him what to put where.
I came home to find the table beautifully set – except for the fact that the plate at each setting seemed balanced precariously on something, ready to topple over.
Picking up a plate, I saw a cell-phone charger underneath it. The next plate had our camera charger underneath.
“Mechy, what is this?” I asked, completely nonplussed.
“You tell me!” he retorts, just as puzzled. “I mean I asked you a bunch of times if you were sure that you wanted me to put a charger under each plate and you said yes. So I figured it was some type of crazy theme of yours and I did it. I learned years ago not to ask questions on veiberishe mishugasen.”
My dear, dear husband! Perhaps it was this memory that held me back now from asking him to help with the mishloach manos. Let him learn in the bais medrash; he’s good at that. I’ll see to the home front.
It was my friend Kaila who told me about Shalach Shikkers, a new service that takes care of your mishloach manos from idea to delivery. Kaila’s upstairs landlord was sisters-in-law with someone who lived in the same development as Shira, the lady who runs the Shikkers, and she insisted that, because Shira was trying to break into the business, she wasn’t charging anything more than it would cost me to make the mishloach manos myself.
I placed the call, and boy was I in for an experience!
After the initial pleasantries and me telling her the reason for my call, Shira dove right in.
“Okay, so why don’t we start with the different price ranges,” she said, “and we’ll see where you think you fit in best.”
I wondered if I should just tell her to give me her cheapest package, but I figured I might as well hear what’s out there.
“So our lowest shalach manos packages,” she began, “are about five dollars each. I call them our baalebatish selection and I guess they’re geared mostly toward working families. I’ll write a little ditty to go along with it, something like, ‘Whether your job is palace chef, or if you’re just a waiter/if you work for Mordechai, or for Haman the Hater/whatever you will get is decided by our Creator/even this shalach manos drink and chips made of potater.’ And of course the shalach manos will include a drink and potato chips, something like that.”
“Sounds cute,” I said, wondering what was next.
“Next,” Shira went on, reading my thoughts, “is what I call our Earner-Learner Selection, and they go for about ten dollars apiece. They’re a bit bigger – last week I did a really cute idea for someone. I put in some blue-and-white cookies – get it? Blue shirt, working. White shirt, learning. Blue and white! And I included a chatzilim salad, ‘cause ‘chatzi’ is half, so like half-day. Plus, I put a small bottle of half-and-half soda in each one. Remember those? It really came out nice.”
I was sure it did, but I still didn’t know where I was fitting in to all this.
“Okay,” Shira plowed on, “then I have a sort of One-Year-in-Kollel Selection. These are already $25 each, but I really fill them up. I squeeze in way more than you’d think would fit in a smallish container, to symbolize like squeezing in as much learning as you can in your year! And of course it comes with a poem, something like, “Enjoy some Purim cheer/a happy atmosphere/before it does disappear/becoming part of yesteryear/just like The Year in Mir./So keep this as a souvenir/while the joy’s still in the air.’ Of course I’m just giving you an example. I can customize any poem to be more specific to your crowd or whatever.”
That was fine, but none of this was really talking to me yet.
“For fifty dollars,” Shira sang out, “you get a whole shebang, what I call our Kollel Selection. They’re chock-full of food and nosh, things like Alef-Bais cookies for, like, limud haTorah, tuna for tuna rabbonon, a water bottle ‘cause ein mayim ella Torah, pears for chavrusos and things like that.”
A bit corny – and over my budget – but seemingly more for my crowd.
“I do also have a $100 package.” Shira wasn’t finished. “I know it’s a bit pricey for each shalach manos, but this is our top notch Learning for Life Selection. It’s loaded with goodies – some really expensive stuff too, you know, $5 miniatures, mini-pies, like that – but also cutsie theme stuff. Like I put in animal crackers for animal ‘sacrifices’, symbolizing a life of sacrificing for Torah. And gold-covered chocolate gelt for like full support!”
“Of course I can customize even more expensive and maybe a drop cheaper, but these are my main categories,” Shira seemed to have finally concluded her list. “So what do you say?”
She sounded so excited, waiting with bated breath for my order. One thing, though, more than everything else, was puzzling me. “If you don’t mind my asking,” I ventured, “shouldn’t the baalebatishe working selection be the priciest and the kollel for life selection be the cheapest? Wouldn’t that be more realistic?”
“I don’t know where you’ve been, mammela,” Shira seemed amused and surprised, “but that it sooo forty years ago when people lived more according to their means. Nowadays, a learning couple needs to be supported in style, with all the accoutrements. And a lifetime learner? They ask for even more! It must not be so easy to sacrifice for learning, so I guess they need a lot more material comforts to make all that sacrificing less difficult.”
This “logic” had my head spinning. Was I so “forty years ago”? Were there really families and couples out there like Shira was describing?
Sensing my confusion, Shira took a deep breath and backpedaled a bit. “You know what?” she offered. “Why don’t you tell me what type of crowd you’re sending to, and maybe even what type of theme you’re looking for, and we’ll work from there.”
“I don’t know,” I began uncertainly. “I guess I always thought that we were just pretty average and our crowd was pretty average. I never thought much about it. Most of our friends are either kollel families or were kollel families for many years, so if I’d have to narrow it down, maybe I’d go with a theme about kollel or a Torah lifestyle? Does that make sense?”
“Perrrfect!” Shira crowed, clearly excited. “Why didn’t you just say so? I have just the shalach manos! How about we do an exotic vacation theme? It could be like Hodu v’ad Kush for worldwide destinations. And riding rapids ‘cause Haman’s mazel rapidly changed. And beaches, because a wave is called a ‘gal,’ and here in the gal-gal hachozer, the revolving cycle of life, Haman, who was second to the highest in the land one day, found himself the lowest the very next day!”
Shira finally stopped for breath. “Actually,” I noted wryly, “he wasn’t the lowest but the highest. Fifty amos high. So he went from second to the highest to the very highest! But anyhow, all this ties in with yeshiva life and kollel…how?”
“Oh,” she sounded disappointed that I hadn’t figured that out for myself. “I mean, come on. Exotic destinations are the latest bein hazemanin getaway locations for kollel couples today. So of course it fits right in. And hey! We can do a Hawaiian-themed shalach manos, with tropical treats, some piña colada, and your kids can dress like hula dancers!”
I felt terrible bursting Shira’s bubble because she seemed so genuinely excited, but this was just insane.
“Um…Shira? If you don’t mind, I don’t think this idea is for me. I mean our family’s bein hazemanim trips consist of visiting a local park, wading in a creek, doing some trails…”
“Oh. Aha,” Shira seemed at a sudden loss for words, like she didn’t know how to process such information. “I… I didn’t realize people still did those things. You did say we’re dealing with the average yeshiva-style crowd, didn’t you?”
“Right,” I affirmed. “I did say that, and I can’t imagine that it’s even mutar for anyone to go to some of those places you mentioned, so how would a kollel couple do it? But in any case, like I said, in our family we basically do local stuff and our kids have a blast. They get wet, they get dirty, they love it! You just have to get past the fact that you’re not doing the same thing ‘everyone’ else is doing, and then you can enjoy things you like to do.”
“Okay, now I get it,” Shira sounded relieved. “You guys are the ‘do your own thing’ type. That’s fine. I get it. For a moment I thought that you were, uh, um, you know, that… that you were more the frummie type, if you know what I mean,” she laughed nervously. “But hey, you’re just saying that you like doing your own thing. Okay, so I have a great idea for a do-your-own-thing family. You know that new eatery, iEat, that opened a few months ago? It has a great sushi and Nobu bar, just by the way. But anyhow, it’s set up to be exactly as their ad puts it: “iEat. The eatery I enjoy as I like, no questions asked.’ I checked it out last week. For one price, you can heap your plate with whatever you want. There’s totally no food code, no dress code; you can be as crazy or as chilled as you like.”
I wasn’t sure where this was going, but I didn’t have long to find out.
“So I was thinking,” Shira trilled excitedly, “that this could be your perfect Purim theme! Your kids can dress like chefs or waiters or servers from iEat and we’ll make a poem about how Mordechai did his own thing, you know, how he didn’t bow to Haman and all that. And we’ll do a sushi shalach manos, ‘cause ‘mazel Adar dagim,’ and–”
“Listen,” I cut in, “maybe I’m crazy, but to me this iEat business sounds a lot more similar to Achashverosh’s seudah than to Mordechai’s saying not to go. So I really don’t see myself modeling my shalach manos after that kind of ‘do your own thing.’ You know what? You’ve given me a lot to think about, and I really appreciate your time. Let me think some more, and I’ll get back to you if I come to any decisions.”
I had no idea what I’d decide, but I knew one thing: Whichever sphere Shira inhabited, it was far from the ones my friends and I do. Boruch Hashem I can think of so many families who lead beautiful, meaningful – and happy! – lives. All these insane ideas of more and more materialism are not bringing any couples or families happiness or meaning, that’s clear. But as Purim nears, venahafoch hu is clearly still alive and well and kicking. It’s an upside-down world, where we spend thousands of dollars and hours of stress for tickets to happiness, and it turns out that the happy people aren’t even at the show!
Oh, and in case you were wondering, in the end we did a theme about “Kimu vekiblu, a renewed acceptance and a recharged will.” I gave each shalach manos on a charger – the flat one, not the cell-phone one…