A Sefer for Mishlo'ach Manot?
Mordechai instituted mishlo'ach manot - the sending of edibles one to another - as a way to celebrate Purim annually.
In the present day, mishlo'ach manot have become very popular. Entrepreneurs have developed a big business of making fruit and food baskets for mishlo'ach manot, and young and old, rich and poor, are all occupied with it a good part of Purim day.
The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 695:4) says that "One is obligated to send his friend two portions meat or other sorts of food," and the Mishnah Berurah comments, "Food, but not clothing or other things." The Bei'eir Heiteiv writes that if one sends clothing or vessels as portions and there is enough time to sell them and buy food with the money for the festive meal, the sender fulfilled the mitzvah of mishlo'ach manot.
A question has been raised, however: must the manot - portions - be only actual food items, such as (ready to eat) meat, cake, fruit, and drinks, or can one send a sefer containing divrei Torah which is compared to food and drinks, as the pasuk says, "Come and partake of my food and drink of the wine that I mixed" (Proverbs 9:5, see Metzudot David and Chagigah 14a)?
We also find in halachah an instance where studying Torah is considered the equivalent of eating food. On Shabbat one should eat three meals: one Friday night, the second Shabbat day, and Seudah Shelishit - the third meal - in the afternoon. When Erev Pesach falls on Shabbat, there is a question as to how one should fulfill the mitzvah of eating a third meal since bread cannot be eaten after the fourth hour of the day and it is prohibited to eat matzah on Erev Pesach?
Shulchan Aruch (444:1) advises relying on the opinion that the third meal need not have bread, and states that it is sufficient to eat fruit, or meat and fish. The Bei'eir Heiteiv writes, "The Shelah writes in the name of the Zohar that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai would study Torah in lieu of a third meal."
Two Reasons For The Mitzvah
Perhaps the answer to this question would depend on the two popular reasons for the institution of mishlo'ach manot.
According to the Manot Haleivi (pg. 206b) of Rabbi Shlomo Haleivi ben Alkavetz, the famous Kabbalist who composed the Lechah Dodi hymn which we sing Friday night in the Kabbalat Shabbat prayers, it was instituted to refute Haman's description of the Jewish people as "mefuzar umeforad" - in a state of total disharmony and disunity (3:8). Thus, Mordechai instituted the exchange of edibles among friends on Purim to demonstrate unity and love.
According to the Terumat Hadeshen (Responsa 118) by Rabbi Yisrael Issarlan, Austria, (see Levush 695) the sending of portions is so that everyone will have a sufficient amount of food for the festive meal in order to experience the requisite simchah - joy - on Purim.
Consequently, according to the Manot Haleivi, sending a sefer as a portion would be in compliance with the mitzvah since it serves the purpose of demonstration of love and unity. On the other hand according to the Terumat Hadeshen, sending a sefer for mishlo'ach manot would not be satisfactory since the mitzvah was instituted to assure that everyone have sufficient food for a proper festive meal.
Two Famous Sefarim
Two of the very popular sefarim on Megillat Esther are "Manot Haleivi" by Rabbi Shlomo ben Alkavetz, as mentioned above, and "Mechir Yayin," which was written by Rabbi Moshe Isserlis, known as the Rama. His comments on the Shulchan Aruch is the basis for the halachic rulings followed by all Ashkenazi communities.
In the introduction to Manot Haleivi, the author writes that in the year 5289 he was a chatan. As Purim was arriving he was pondering in his mind what he should send his future father-in-law, Rabbi Yitzchak HaKohen. One night, while lying in bed, he resolved to make a sefer on Megillat Esther and send it to him, since the words of the sages and the wine of Torah are more pleasing to him than all delicacies. (Most probably, he called it Manot Haleivi for its association with mishlo'ach manot.)
Rabbi Moshe Isserlis in his introduction to Mechir Yayin writes that in the year 5316 he left Kracow and went to the country for fresh air. There he lacked sufficient food and drink for a prominent festive meal on Purim, so he composed this sefer "Mechir Yayin" (lit., exchange of wine). At the end of the sefer he writes that on Purim he sent it as a manah - portion - to his prominent father, Rabbi Yisrael, who was the parneis - leader - of the Kracow Jewish community.
We explained above that the sending of a sefer for mishlo'ach manot is only valid according to one opinion regarding the reason for the mitzvah. If so, why would these prominent Torah giants compose a sefer and send it as a manah - portion?
It is easily understood why Rabbi Shlomo ben Alkavitz sent his sefer to his future father-in-law, since he holds that the mitzvah was instituted to demonstrate that peace and harmony prevails among us. But what about Rabbi Moshe Isserlis who wrote the sefer Mechir Yayin and sent it as a manah to his father?
The Rama's Opinion
In Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 695) the Rama rules that if one sends portions to his friend and he refuses the gift, or returns it saying, "Consider it as though it was received" (see Mishnah Berurah), he has nevertheless fulfilled the mitzvah. The Pri Chadash disagrees.
Rabbi Moshe Sofer, in the collection of responsa Chatam Sofer, (Orach Chaim 196), explains that these opinions are contingent on the reasons for the institution of the mitzvah.
According to the Terumat Hadeshen, it was instituted for the benefit of the receiver. Hence, if he refuses to accept it, the giver has not enhanced his friend's festive meal and has not brought him any simchah, and thus he has not fulfilled the mitzvah of mishlo'ach manot. According to Manot Haleivi, mishlo'ach manot was instituted for the sake of the giver, so that he can demonstrate his love for his fellow. Thus, one fulfills the mitzvah by sending the portions, and the recipient's refusal to accept has no effect on the mitzvah.
We see from this that the Rama who rules that the mitzvah is fulfilled even when the receiver refuses it, corroborates the opinion of the Manot Haleivi that the mitzvah was instituted to demonstrate love, harmony, and unity. Therefore, he too, like Rabbi Shlomo ben Alkavitz, sent his sefer Mechir Yayin as a portion to his father on Purim.
In view of the above that sending a sefer is not good according to all opinions, halachically it would not be sound advice to rely on fulfilling the mitzvah in this way. Moreover, the worthy rabbis mentioned above may have fulfilled the basic mitzvah by sending edibles to a friend, sending their sefarim only as a token of mishlo'ach manot and not for the actual fulfillment of the mitzvah, or they may have sent their sefarim together with other edibles.
Torah And The Seudah
However, the Rama (ibid. 695:3) writes in the name of the Maharib (Rabbi Yisrael of Bruna), "It is good to engage a bit in Torah study prior to the commencement of the festive meal. An allusion to this is the pasuk, 'Layehudim hayetah orah vesimchah' - 'For the Jews there was light and joy' (Esther 8:16) of which the Gemara (Megillah 16b) says that 'orah' means 'Torah' [and it is mentioned before simchah - the festive meal at which one rejoices].
Thus, it is definitely proper to send a sefer together with the mishlo'ach manot so that one's simchat Purim will be enhanced with "orah" - the light of Torah.