Halacha Date: 4 Adar II 5779 March 11 2019
In the previous Halacha we briefly discussed the Mitzvah of “Matanot La’Evyonim” on Purim day which is the distribution of two monetary gifts, one to each pauper.
What Must One Give?
In order to fulfill this Mitzvah, one need not give actual gifts; rather, it is permissible to donate money to the needy so that they will have the means to purchase food for the Purim feast.
How Much Must One Donate?
One who is G-d-fearing should distribute Matanot La’Evyonim generously and joyfully and one’s reward will be great indeed. How much must a person donate as Matanot La’Evyonim? Although the letter of the law dictates that there is no set amount for this gift and one fulfills his obligation by giving even a few cents per pauper, nevertheless, it is preferable to spend more on Matanot La’Evyonim then on the Purim feast or Mishloach Manot. One should preferably give enough so that the pauper will be able to make use of the sum for the Purim feast.
The Difference Between Mishloach Manot and Matanot La’Evyonim
In the previous Halacha we have explained that Mishloach Manot must be sent in a way where the recipient knows who the sender is and the sender knows who the recipient of his gifts is. This is because the primary reason behind Mishloach Manot is in order to increase camaraderie among the Jewish nation. Regarding Matanot La’Evyonim, on the other hand, it is indeed permissible to send these gifts to the poor anonymously such that the donor and recipient do not know each other’s identities.
Similarly, whereas regarding Mishloach Manot one must send actual food gifts (or beverages), regarding Matanot La’Evyonim this is not the case and one may donate money instead.
The Importance of Matanot La’Evyonim
The Rambam (Chapter 2 of Hilchot Megillah) writes: “One must send one’s friend two portions of meat or two cooked foods or two food items, as the verse states, ‘And sending portions to one another,’ which means two potions to one person. The more friends one sends to, the more praiseworthy one is. One must also distribute monetary gifts or food items to the poor on Purim day, no less than one gift to two poor people, as the verse states, ‘And gifts to the poor’. It is more important for one to distribute more gifts to the poor than to spend a large amount on one’s feast or send food portions to many friends, for there is no greater and more splendid joy than gladdening the hearts of the poor, orphans, widows, and converts; one who gladdens these downtrodden souls is comparable to the holy presence of Hashem Himself, as the verse states, ‘To revive the spirit of the downtrodden and to revive the soul of the oppressed.’”
Giving this Money To Charity Treasures
One who gives money to a charity treasurer who will subsequently distribute this sum to the needy on Purim day on the donor’s behalf has fulfilled his obligation, since “one’s messenger is tantamount to himself.” This is the prevalent custom today as many people give their Matanot La’Evyonim to trustworthy agents and they in turn distribute the money on the donors’ behalf on Purim day. It is actually proper to fulfill the Mitzvah in this way rather than to give the money to such people whom one cannot ascertain if they are genuinely needy or not.
Care should nevertheless be taken to donate this money to charity treasurers or organizations run by people who are known to be of impeccable honesty and integrity as opposed to relying on just any organization blindly.