Giving. The Rebbi M'Sanz was completely infatuated with this fundamental
midah. He possessed such a burning desire to give tzedakah, that every day
he could retire without first donating every cent that he possesed to the
needy. One night he could not fall asleep, and got out of bed and looked
around the house. After much searching he found a single coin, and
immediately ran to give it to tzedakah. Only then was he able to retire.
Most of us are able to fall asleep even on a day when we did not give any
tzedakah. However, one day a year, our Sages obligated us to try and be in
some measure like the Sanzer Rebbi. On Purim, every Jew must give at least
two donations to the poor. The more that we exercise this vital faculty, the
more that we will inculcate within ourselves the desire to give (based on
Bach and Magen Avraham 695,12 and Rambam, Hilchos Tzedaka).
From the halachah it is clear that the point of this mitzvah is not only to
enable the needy to enjoy a Purim seudah, but to cultivate the
characteristic of giving within ourselves. Therefore even a poor person who
is supported by charity is obligated to distribute Matanos L'evyonim (Mishna
Berura 694,1). However he does not have to suffer in order to fulfill it.
If he gives to two aniyim, and they return the money back to him, they have
all fulfilled a mitzvah of Matanos L'avyonim (ibid. 694,2).
"All tzedakah collected for Purim should be used for Purim" (Bava Metzia
78b). Generally the amount of tzedakah distributed depends on the need. Why
did our Sages find exception regarding Matanos L'evyonim, limiting their use
solely to Purim?
Wine, meat, hors d'oeuvre and pastries, all play a significant role in
creating a joyous Purim seudah. Since the amount of money that any person
needs to have a "freilicher Purim" is a very subjective matter, our Sages
wanted to make sure that no one who needs tzedakah would come out
short-changed. They therefore decreed that all of the money collected for
Purim should be made available for the aniyim. Even though adopting this
practice might wind up giving the aniyim more than they actually need, since
Purim is a day of rejoicing without limitation, being overly generous does
not concern us (Rashi, Haghos Ashri, ibid.)
Making all of the tzedakah money available to the aniym seems like a good
idea in a city which has many poor people. However if a person lives in a
large community which only houses two or three poor people, they can surely
enjoy Purim with much less money than the amount which will be collected.
Should all the tzedakah still be distributed among these few aniyim?
Halachah L'Maaseh, money collected for Purim, can not be given to a
different tzedakah. Therefore in a community where there will be a surplus
of Matanos L'evyonim, it is preferable for a majority of the individuals to
set aside the amount that one would generally allocate for Matanos
L'evyonim, and give it to another charity (Shulchan Aruch 694,2). [However
today b'tzaroseinu harabim, there are plenty of opportunities to give to
worthy causes all over the world.]
An Outstretched Arm
"Whoever stretches out their hand on Purim should be given tzedakah" (Talmud
Yerushalmi, Megilah 1,4). All year long a Jew is meant to insure that his
tzedakah money goes to either poor people or worthy causes, and not merely
to pad someone else's bank account. On Purim, we give every adult (or a
clearly needy child) who asks, without exception.
On an individual level this is fine, a person has the free choice to give to
whoever he wants. What about the gabayim (managers of the tzedakah funds);
can they be equally generous with other people's money? Although the truly
needy certainly have first preference, since Purim is a day of "banqueting
and rejoicing", some Rishonim say that the gabayim are technically allowed
to give to anyone who asks (Nemuke Yosef, 48b; Ramban; Ritva). However
Halachah L'Maaseh since a person must make sure to give Matanos L'evyonim to
at least two "real" aniyim, one should specify his preference beforehand
(Shulchan Aruch 694,1).
In addition to the obligation of Matanos L'evyonim, there is also a mitzvah
to give machatzis hashekel (i.e. three coins of the half denomination of the
country where one resides), to tzedakah. Most have the custom to give them
before Mincha on Ta'anis Esther (Rema 694,1), but some poskim rule that this
mitzvah should be done on the morning of Purim, before the Megilah reading
Technically speaking, machatzis hashekel only applies to individuals who
were obligated to give it in the times of the Beis HaMikdash. Some confine
this to males over the age of twenty, while others include all boys past
bar-mitzvah (Mishna Berura 694,5). However other attribute mystical
significance to this mitzvah, revealing that these coins have the power to
enact Divine forgiveness. Therefore custom dictates that three half shekels
should be given for every member of ones family (Kaf HaChaim 694,27).
Nevertheless this is only a side benefit, and one should give them for the
mitzvah's sake, and not with intention for kaparah (Darchei Moshe 694,1).
Once having developed a desire to distribute tzedakah to the poor, the stage
is set for internalizing the next phase of the fine art of giving. We should
now use this attribute to foster camaraderie between Jews though Mishloach
Manos, sending two choice portions of food to at least one friend (Shulchan
The optimum fulfilment of Mishloach Manos is to give portions which can be
used for the seudah, such as meat. Since beverages play an important part in
a meal, they are also considered a food item for Mishloach Manos. Although
some opinions permit raw food, cooked items certainly are preferable (Mishna
The quality of the manos should be in line with the standard of living of
the receiver. Although cookies and popcorn might be sufficient for an
individual of low or average means, if possible a rich person should be
sent finer cuisine (Biyur Halacha citing Yerushalmi). Wealthy individuals
should also try to send respectable portions, since most people expect to
receive generous gifts from them (as implied from Megilah 7b).
Abaye bar Avin and Rav Chanina bar Avin used to exchange Purim meals with
each other (ibid.). Although Rashi understands that these two Amoraim used
to rotate who would make the Seudah each Purim, most Rishonim explain that
every year they switched meals with each other. From here the poskim derive
that if one can not afford to send Mishloach Manos, swaping seudos is
considered an adequate substitute (Shulchan Aruch ibid.).
Even though women are generally exempt from time bound mitzvos, they are
obligated in Matanaos L'evyonim and Mishloach Manos, as well as the rest of
the mitzvos of Purim (Rema 695,4). Since they were also included in the
decree to be destroyed and anhilated, and Esther played an integral part in
the Jewish people's salvation, women are expected to take an active role in
publicizing these miracles (Bach, Taz 694). Although a single adult woman
should certianly take this into consideration, a married woman should also
be careful to make sure that her obligations are fulfilled (Mishna Berura
The Secret of Purim
The greatest of kabbalistic masters, the Ari z"l, described Yom Kippur as
Yom Ke"Purim" (the day which resembles Purim). He viewed Purim's kedushah
with such sublime awe, that even Yom Kippur paled in the face of this holy
day. How can we simple Jews latch onto the incredible potential that lies
burried within what has evolved into one of the most misunderstood days of
the Jewish calendar?
"It is better to give more money to Matanos L'evyonim than one spends on
Mishloach Manos and Seudas Purim, for there is no joy as great and
magnificent as gladdening the hearts of the poor, orphans, widows and
converts. By bringing joy to these individuals one emulates the Divine
Presence as the verse says [Hashem] pick up the spirit of the downtrodden,
and lifts the heart of the lowly" (Rambam, Hilchos Megilah 2,17).
Herein lies the secret of unlocking the untapped holiness of Purim. Think
about the Rebbi of Sanz who couldn't sleep at night knowing that there was
some money in his house that could be used to picks up the spirit of the
downtrodden or lift the heart of the lowly. Give generously, and when you
feel that you are "given out", give some more, and more, and more...
"The more food parcels that one sends to friends on Purim, the better it is"
(Rambam ibid 2,15). After your home looks like the Sanzer Rebbis house did
every night, think about the neighbor that you haven't spoken to for the
last year, and neither of you remember why. Brainstorm for any posibility to
make someone happy; your spouce, children, friends, enemies or any Jew that
you happen to bump into on the street, and without thinking too much more
just do it. Knock down every barrier that stops you from being the paradime
of kindeness the rest of the year, and in their place, for one day erect a
new you. Welcome to Purim.