As Purim gets closer we are all anticipating the festive spirit. However, we must not neglect the important Mitzvah of Matanot leEvionim (giving charity to the poor). Living in the Western world we find that there are needy people of all faiths, both Jews and Gentiles. What is the Torah’s approach concerning the giving of charity to non-Jews?
The Gemara in Gittin 61a states that one is able to sustain poor Gentiles together with poor Jews, visit their sick and bury their dead, because of Darkey Shalom (Ways of Peace). Rashi understands this to mean that one is not obligated to give charity to non-Jews but if one finds oneself in a situation where the Gentile would be offended then one is able to give to both. The Taz on Shulchan Aruch 101 implies that this is also the opinion of the Ran.
However, the Rambam (Hil. Melachim, end of 10th chapter) seems to disagree with this view as he stresses that one is COMMANDED to provide for the Gentile as he is for the Jew, implying that it is not merely permitted out of fear but rather out of true humanitarian concerns.
Interestingly, the Rambam does not end there but quotes two sources to back up his opinion: “God is good to all and has compassion on all of His creation” and “The ways of Torah are ways of Peace”. Why does the Rambam feel a need to quote these sources which are not mentioned in the Gemara? What is he trying to add? Rabbi Yosef Ber Soloveitchik suggests that the Rambam is teaching us a fundamental idea. We have a Divine obligation to emulate G-d in all His ways. Just as he is compassionate, so must we be compassionate. Just as he created the world, so we too need to be creative in all of our pursuits. Concerning this Halacha the Rambam is telling us that there is a Torah based humanitarian commandment to follow God’s ways and have compassion for all of His creatures irrespective of their faith.
However, one must stress that it does not necessarily follow that one can fulfill one’s obligation of Matanot leEvionim on Purim by giving charity to a non- Jew, since on Purim we first and foremost celebrate and strengthen the unity among JEWISH people (as is expressed by the Mishloach Manot, as well), therefore it seems that specifically on Purim one cannot fulfill the Mitzvah of Matanot leEvyonim by universal-ethical generosity, although of course it is not forbidden to also give charity to non-Jews on that day.
May we all learn from here to follow in the ways of G-d and start by showing sympathy to our own brethren wherever they may be, and through that expand our compassion to the general society.