Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 15 March 2014 / 13 Adar II 5774

Poor and Purim

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Henry

Dear Rabbi,

I know there is a special mitzvah on Purim to give to the poor, but I’m not sure why. What’s the connection between the poor and Purim, and what are some of the specifics on how the mitzvah is to be performed? Thanks for your time.

Dear Henry,

One particular aspect of the terrible designs of Haman and of the decrees of King Achashverosh was that they intended not to uproot Judaism but rather to annihilate the Jewish People. Therefore, the celebration of Purim is not only a reaffirmation of Judaism, but actually a confirmation of the physical continuation of our People.

For this reason, we eat, drink and give food gifts to each other. It is for the same reason that we give special gifts to the poor on this day, so that no one should be lacking, and in order that everyone should be able to full-heartedly thank G-d for being alive.

The mitzvah is for every person to give at least one gift to each of two poor people. Even poor people themselves who normally subsist on charity are required to give these gifts. The gift to each person may consist of food or money, but should be significant enough for a person to incorporate into a meal.

Even though these gifts are given to the poor, they may not be given from monies tithed for charity, but rather from one’s own money. However, one may use charity money to give beyond the required one gift for each of two poor people.

The gift should be given on the day of Purim, and specifically after the reading of the Megilla. This is in order that the poor will be able to use the food or money immediately for the purpose of fulfilling the mitzvah of their own Purim meal. That being said, a person may transfer the gifts before Purim with the intention that they be given on Purim. In this way, an individual or organization can act as an agent on behalf of others to disseminate gifts to needy individuals on Purim itself. If, for whatever reason, a person is not able to give this gift to the poor on Purim, he should put the money aside on Purim and give it later when he has the opportunity.

One is not to be overly-scrutinizing on Purim in determining whether the poor are needy enough to receive these gifts or not. Rather, the Sages declare, “anyone who extends his hand to take – we are to give him”. As above, one may use charity money to give to people beyond the halachic requirement.

In some communities children ask for “Purim-gelt”. There is no requirement to give to children unless you know they’re collecting for adults, such as their parents. Based on proper discretion, one may give them vary small, symbolic amounts. But since children may use the money for harmful things like fireworks, excessive sweets or other things that their parents would not approve of, one should be cautious when giving money to children.

Both men and women from the age of bar and bat mitzvah are required to fulfill this mitzvah. A parent may give his older children money in order for them to fulfill their mitzvah of giving to the poor, but it is a good practice to encourage them to give of their own money if they have, for example from allowances or baby-sitting.

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