Should We Send Matanos L'evyonim To Yerushalayim?
Rabbi Nosson Spiegel
When we consider the cycle of the Jewish year, there is no festival where the emotion of simcha (happiness) is the central theme, other than the festival of Purim. When we consider the day of Purim itself, the true Torah perspective is that there is nothing that arouses more simcha than the mitzva of giving matanos l'evyonim (gifts to the poor). The Rambam says that there is no greater simcha on Purim than the glowing happiness we provide to the destitute, the orphans, the widows and the converts. Furthermore, one who brings happiness to these people is compared to the Shechina (Divine Presence)1.
When we consider to whom we should give our matanos l'evyonim, our minds often turn to our brethren in Yerushalayim. This is especially true in our times, when not only are our brethren suffering due to the intolerable security situation, but also due to the many personal tragedies that have occurred there in recent times. There are many hundreds of widows and orphans, many of whom have overwhelming debts to repay due to expensive medical treatments.
The aforementioned attitude has a halachic (Jewish Law) basis to it. The Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) states, that when one comes to give tzedaka (charity), the poor of Eretz Yisrael take precedence over the poor of the diaspora. In Eretz Yisrael itself, the poor of Yerushalayim take precedence over the poor of other cities2. While most authorities seem to hold that the poor of one's own city take precedence over the poor of Eretz Yisrael3, some disagree and maintain that the poor of Eretz Yisroel even take precedence over the poor of ones own city4. In light of the above, one would be tempted to think that the ideal recipient of our matanos l'evyonim would be the destitute of Yerushalayim - but this is not so simple! Before we can examine this particular issue, however, let us look at a different topic relating to matanos l'evyonim.
Often, people prefer to have their matanos l'evyonim organised before Purim arrives.
As the day of Purim can be hectic, and no-one wants to inadvertently lose this mitzva, it is sent out before Purim (for example by post or by means of an agent), and the poor person receives it on Purim day. While the intentions may be pure, this is an issue about which the Poskim (halachic authorities) are divided. Is it a mitzva to send matanos l'evyonim to a poor person on Purim, or is the mitzva only for the poor person to receive the matanos l'evyonim on Purim?
The Me'or writes that one should not give the poor person matanos l'evyonim before Purim, lest he eat it before Purim arrives. The majority of Halachic authorities derive from here that if one sent matanos l'evyonim before Purim, the only situation in which the sender would not fulfil his obligation would be if the poor person could consume the matanos l'evyonim before Purim arrived. If, however, that was impossible (for example, if you sent the matanos l'evyonim by post or by an agent and it will reach the poor person on Purim day and not before) then one has certainly fulfilled the mitzva5.
There is a minority opinion that holds that not only must the poor person receive the matanos l'evyonim on Purim, but the benefactor must actually give it on Purim also6. Even according to this opinion, the benefactor may still utilise the services of an agent to transfer the matanos l'evyonim to the poor person7. As stated, most authorities subscribe to the first opinion. Purim is celebrated on the 14th of Adar, with the exception of Yerushalayim, whose citizens celebrate Purim on the 15th of Adar. It would seem from the above, that in the case of a person whose Purim is celebrated on the 14th of Adar, and he would send the matanos l'evyonim on that very day, and it would be received by the resident of Yerushalayim on the 15th of Adar, according to all opinions this should be an acceptable fulfilment of the mitzva. The matanos l'evyonim were given on Purim and they were received on Purim. Even the stringent minority opinion mentioned above should sanction this, and in fact, this is the attitude that many authorities take8.
Other authorities disagree and take exception to this line of reasoning9. A Jew (let's call him David) has an obligation to give matanos l'evyonim on the 14th of Adar and no later. When the 14th of Adar comes to a close at nightfall and no poor person has received any matanos l'evyonim from David, David has not fulfilled his obligation. When the poor person receives the matanos l'evyonim on the 15th of Adar, he receives it at a time where David's obligation has ceased to exist. It is an axiom that one cannot fulfil an obligation where no obligation exists. David has certainly fulfilled the yearlong mitzva of giving tzedaka (charity), but he has lost the special mitzva which occurs only once a year-namely matanos l'evyonim10.
Due to the conflict of opinions regarding the above case, it would therefore seem that if one were indeed to send matanos l'evyonim to Yerushalayim on Purim, the prudent action would be to also give locally.This should not be looked at as too dificult to observe, as in any case, the Rambam writes that one should spend more resources on matanos l'evyonim than one does on mishloach manos (gifts to ones friends) and the festive banquet eaten on Purim11.
Many Gedolim have described our generation as weak and poverty stricken- in a spiritual sense. In the merit of our striving to fulfil the mitzva of matanos l'evyonim according to all opinions, may Hashem bring happiness and joy to our hearts, by bestowing spiritual wealth unrivaled in history, with the coming of Mashiach. May he come speedily, in our days.
1 Rambam, Hilchos Megilla, 2: 17
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