Purim Gifts and Festive Meal
3. Every person (1), even a poor person who himself receives charity, is
obligated to give at least two gifts (2) to two poor people, that is, one
gift for each of them, on Purim (3). This is derived from [Esther 9:22]
which says, "U'Matanos ("gifts") Le'evyonim" ("to poor people") [whereby
the use of the plural ("gifts" and "poor people")] implies [a minimum] of
two gifts to two poor people. One should not be selective when
distributing money on Purim. On the contrary, a gift should be given to
anyone who extends his hand (4). If a person lives in a place where there
are no poor people, he should set aside the money until the poor approach
him. Alternatively, he should send it to them.
(1) Both men and women are obligated.
(2) The gifts can be either money or food (Mishna Berura 694;2).
(3) One cannot fulfill one's obligation by giving gifts to the poor before
Purim. This is because the act of giving is supposed to enhance one's joy
("simcha") on Purim itself.
Here is a quote from 142:1 which is relevant to this mitzvah: "it is
preferable to give more gifts to the poor than to spend more on the
festive meal of Purim and on sending gifts of food to friends ("Mishloach
Manos"), for there is no greater and more glorious joy before the Holy
One, blessed be He, than to gladden the hearts of the poor, the orphans,
and the widows, because, a person who gladdens the hearts of these
unfortunate individuals resembles the Divine Presence ("Sh'chinah") [which
Isaiah 57:16 describes as] 'enlivening those with lowly spirits and
invigorating those with broken hearts.' " However, one may appoint a
representative before Purim to give out the gifts on one's behalf on Purim
(Aruch HaShulchan 694:2).
(4) That is, on Purim, one shouldn't withhold money from a poor person who
asks for it just because one believes him to be a trickster ("ramai") and
undeserving (Ibid. 694:1).