Can a person fulfill his obligation of Mishloach Manot (sending of food portions) and matanot laevyonim (gifts to the poor) by the sending of said items from America before Purim so that they arrive at their destination in Israel on Purim?
One must separate the discussion between “Mishloach Manot Ish L’rei’eihu” and “Matanot la’Evyonim” since each one has its own halachic parameters. A proof of this is that the Shulchan Aruch composed the laws of gifts to the poor in a discrete section, whereas, the laws of sending portions of food appear as an addendum to the laws of the festive meal of Purim! From this many halachic decisors conclude that Mishloach Manot is directly connected to Se’udat Purim. In contrast, it is ruled in the laws of Matanot la’Evyonim that the poor person may use the money as he wishes and it is not specifically designated to purchase the food for the festive meal.
What requires further analysis is whether Mishloach Manot is linked to the festive meal of the giver or the recipient? The Chatam Sofer (Section 196) explores this question and concludes there are two different opinions. According to the view of the Terumat HaDeshen (Section 111) the rabbinic enactment was directed at the recipient in order to guarantee that every Jew will have sufficient food for the festive meal. Therefore the Sages legislated to give to each and every person, even to one who has sufficient food for the meal, so as not to embarrass one who does not.
However, the Manot HaLevi (written by Rav Shlomo Alkabetz of Tzefat) writes that this enactment was made to counter theloshon hara of Haman who said to Achashverosh, “There is one nation that is dispersed and scattered…” i.e. they are fragmented and divided due to the continuous controversy among them. As such, the rectification was to create unity and harmony among the Jews, as Esther said, “Go, gather all the Jews…” that is to bring together and unite all of them. Therefore, each individual is required to send from his or her meal food portions to another to affect an increase of love and fraternity between them.
There are several practical differences between these two opinions. Does the standard or quality of the Mishloach Manot need to be in accordance with the socio-economic status of the giver or the recipient? Does the giver satisfy his obligation even when the recipient refuses to accept it? Is a guest, who has no meal of his own, required to send Mishloach Manot? Our original question, may one send Mishloach Manot before Purim so that they arrive on Purim, would seemingly also depend on this dispute if Mishloach Manot is a requirement that the giver should engage others in his “meal” or is it dependent on the recipient, i.e. to ascertain that everyone has a Purim meal? According to the Terumat HaDeshen one has discharged his responsibility. However, according to the Manot HaLevi the act of giving must be done on Purim day itself. (See Be’er HeTeiv, Orach Chaim 692:7 who asks this question and cites the opinion of the Yad Aharon that one indeed has satisfied his obligation.)
Nonetheless, according to the Chatam Sofer this matter of sending Mishloach Manot to Israel is dependent on this dispute. Consequently, one who is sending them to Israel should verify that the Mishloach Manot are delivered on Purim day itself. It would appear that according to both opinions, if the Mishloach Manot were delivered before Purim one has not discharged his responsibility. All being said, it is preferable for each person to send two different food portions to at least one individual in his city.
Likewise one may inquire if sending gifts to the poor before Purim so that they arrive on Purim is sufficient to satisfy the mitzvah of Matanot la’Evyonim. It is accepted customs that in a place where there are no indigent people to collect the money before Purim in order to deliver the money to the poor on Purim day. Especially if by doing so there will be an increase in the amount of money contributed. For the Rambam writes in the end of the Laws of Megilla (2:17), “It is better that a person should increase his gifts to the poor than to increase the size of his Purim meal or Mishloach Manot. For there is no greater and more admirable joy than to gladden the hearts of the destitute, orphans, widows, and converts. One who gladdens the hearts of the misfortunate is likened unto the Shechina – the Divine Presence.
Therefore, someone who knows that he will not find any poor people on Purim should send the Matanot la’Evyonim before Purim through the charity custodians in whom he is confident that they will distribute the money to the poor on Purim day.