By Rabbi Chaim Chazzan
What is the optimal way to perform the mitzvah of matonos lo’evyonim?
The mitzvah of matonos lo’evyonim is to give a gift to two needy individuals. The gift should consist of something that the receiver can benefit from on Purim, such as money or food.
The Mishneh Brura brings in the name of the Ritva that two prutos are sufficient to fulfill the mitzvah (in US currency that would be less than ten cents). However, many poskim hold that one must give at least enough to cover the cost of a meal. The size of this meal is subject to further debate among poskim.
Although one fulfils the obligation of matonos lo’evyonim by giving a small sum to two people, the Rambam writes: It is preferable to spend more on matonos lo’evyonim than on the Purim seudah and mishloach monos, because there is no greater and more beautiful simcha than to gladden the hearts of the poor.
One may not use maaser money for the actual mitzvah of matonos lo’evyonim, but it is permissible to use maaser to give to additional needy people. On Purim, one should not examine the worthiness of the tzedakah cause, rather donate to anyone who requests.
One who will not encounter needy people on Purim, should appoint an agent who will give on his behalf, either in person or by phone. If for whatever reason this is unfeasible on Purim itself, the consensus of poskim is that one should donate before Purim in a manner that the poor people will receive it on Purim. However, if that was not taken care of before Purim and one does not know of any needy people and can’t appoint an agent, one should set aside an amount on Purim to be distributed it after Purim.
Matonos lo’evyonim can be given to anyone who doesn’t have a steady income that is sufficient for his and his family’s basic needs, and doesn’t own assets which he is able to sell, other than items for his and his family’s personal use such as a home and household wares. One can also give to someone who has an income but doesn’t have the resources with which to pay for an exceptional expense such as a medical problem or making a wedding etc.
שו”ע או”ח סי’ תרצד, מ”א בשם השל”ה, מ”ב שם, ש”ת סק”א, כף החיים סק”ז, פתחי תשובה שם, צפנת פענח הל’ מגילה ע’ לח, שו”ת קנין תורה ח”ג סי’ קג, שו”ת מהר”י אסאד סי’ רז, שו”ת חלקת יעקב ח”א סי’ קב. שו”ע יו”ד סי’ רנג ס”א, צדקה ומשפט (בלוי) פ”ב ס”ב-סי”א.
Reprinted with permission from Lmaan Yishmeu – a project of Mercaz Anash. To see more articles visit Mercazanash.com