Megilat Esther records the obligation to give "Matanot L’Evyonim," gifts of charity to the poor on Purim. The Rambam rules that this obligation takes precedence over Mishloach Manot. If one has a limited Purim budget, the primary expenditure should be for Matanot L’Evyonim. There is no joy like the joy of gladdening the hearts of the poor and downtrodden. Unfortunately, today, many people do the opposite, spending large sums on fancy Mishloach Manot baskets and giving only minimal Matanot L’Evyonim.
The Rabbis derive from the word "Evyonim," which is in the plural form, that one must give charity to two poor people. Hacham Ovadia writes a chidush in Yalkut Yosef that one can fulfill his entire obligation by a giving to one poor family. The husband and wife are considered separate entities, and the charity was therefore given to two people. In such a case, the husband should give some of the money received to his wife for her own benefit.
Hacham Ovadia brings a proof to this novel ruling from the Gemara in Masechet Megila (p. 7) which relates that one sage sent a gift of meat and wine to his poor contemporary. The recipient responded by acknowledging that the giver had indeed fulfilled his obligation of Matanot L’Evyonim with the gift. The Maharsha asks how the giver could fulfill his obligation with only one gift. He answers that since the gift was also designated for the poor man’s wife, it is considered two gifts. Clearly, the Maharsha holds that the husband and wife are considered separate entities.
On a similar note, the Aruch Ha’shulhan (Rav Yechiel Michel Epstein of Nevarduk, 1829-1908) rules that a wife is included in her husband’s gift of Matanot L’Evyonim, and she is not required to give separately. Hacham Ben Sion disagreed, and ruled that a wife has an independent obligation and must be careful to perform this Misva on Purim.
Hacham Ovadia ruled that a Jew in America, who celebrates Purim on the 14th of Adar, may commission an agent to distribute Matanot L’Evyonim in Yerushalayim, even though the recipients celebrate the following day. Since the 15th is Purim there, one has fulfilled his obligation.
Hacham Ovadia ruled that one can fulfill his obligation of Matanot L’Evyonim with a check. Even if the banks are closed, and the check cannot be cashed, it still has value and can be used to purchase items on Purim.
1. One should spend more on Matanot L’Evyonim than on Mishloach Manot.
2. Giving to a poor family is considered two separate gifts.
3. A married woman should give Matanot L’Evyonim separately from her husband.
4. One who celebrates on the 14th of Adar may commission Matanot L’Evyonim to be distributed on the 15th of Adar in Yerushalayim.
5. One may write a check for Matanot L’Evyonim.