Despite what I said a few posts ago, I have been mentally preparing for Purim. In fact, it would be fair to say that since my move to New York, Purim has become a most stressful spot on the calendar for me.
It was my car drive to New York that started the equation of Purim with chaos in my mind. I experienced car trouble en route to New York, which delayed my arrival be by a day and half. I consequently screeched into town layil Purim, and speed-walked my way down to the shteibl halfway down my block to hear the megillah. The next morning, figuring that there would be megillah readings well until mincha, I stepped out of my apartment at 8:55 AM. and asked a passerby if she knew of a megillah reading soon in the area. She looked at her watch and asked if I could somehow make it to the Yeshivah of Brooklyn by 9 AM. When I got to the corner of Ocean Parkway and Avenue L where the Yeshivah is, I was met by a most amusing site: women were scurrying from every direction towards the Yeshivah in an attempt to make it in time. B'H', heart-pounding, I managed to cram myself in with the other ladies by the skin of my teeth, and spent the megillah reading desperately trying to ensure that I heard every word over this and that noise, etc. Purim was suddenly becoming a more complicated than I had anticipated.
On my way home from the megillah reading, I was introduced to another new phenomenon when I stopped in at Moisha's Discount to pick up items for my shalach manot. The place was a madhouse. I somehow managed to get what I needed (after drastically cutting down my shopping list) and went home to assemble the packages. Having been warned that the traffic made driving/parking pointless on Purim, at the allotted hour, I started walking toward Boro Park to where I was eating the seudah. That is where perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was awaiting me.
When the door opened, my bag of shalach manot was wisked from my hand directly into a box on the kitchen table. Crammed into the box, which was overflowing, were all the items that the host/hostess were discarding and interested in having others pillage. The box contained silver platters. It contained top-of-the-line chocolate. It contained, in short, premium goodies galore. My host/hostess had, B'H', received such an overwhelming abundance of shalach manot that they weren't concerning themselves with just any chocolates, just any cookies, just any wine...or anything. Only the best were being sent to them and for those of us who showed up without only the best, it was straight into the box.
I felt horrible. Obviously, the purpose of the box was to fulfill the mitzvah of giving anonymously. But I had the distinct, sinking feeling that my bag was not up to snuff, and that I had offended my host/hostess by showing up with sub-par offerings.
With that realization, the pressure of Purim in Brooklyn came into full focus. Many people wait the entire year until Purim and use shalach manot as catch-all "thank you" gifts. I can certainly relate to taking the opportunity to show gratitude to the recipient. But in Brooklyn, people easily spend at least $30 a basket, because a very pretty $5 offering is just not going to cut it. No matter how delicious the food being offered. As with everything else in New York, things are done on a grander scale, and what could pass muster elsewhere is looked down upon here.
I do not put a dollar amount on showing gratitude. We should all be able to thank those we need to thank in the way that will best demonstrate that gratitude to them, i.e. in the way that they will most appreciate. And I try, as best as I can, to not wait to show that gratitude; I try at the earliest opportunity to demonstrate it. Maybe that is why, that first Purim in Brooklyn, the spectacle at the seudah left me with an impression not of gratitude, or of doing a mitzvah, but of "one-upping".
We are supposed to give shalach manot. And we give to everyone we know in order to not offend anyone. But in the end, is Hashem being served any better by making others feel badly about doing the mitzvah?
I hope that I have adequately showed gratitude to all of you who know me over the years, and if I have in any way been lacking in that department, I humbly ask mechilah of you now. And with that, I better get back to this year's shalach manot list. Because you can never start planning too soon.