Halacha for Tuesday 28 Sivan 5781 June 8 2021

Who is Obligated in the Mitzvah of Tzedakah?

Every member of the Jewish nation must donate Tzedakah. Even a pauper who receives Tzedakah, has no way of earning a livelihood, and only lives off of what others provide him with must give Tzedakah from what others give him. When the Sages of Israel had control over the Jewish nation, the Jewish courts in every city would force those who did not want to donate Tzedakah to do so. If one refused, they had the authority to sanction the individual through various methods until one indeed donated the amount of money the court estimated that he could and should give. Although we have a great rule that we do not force one to perform a Mitzvah whose reward is written in the Torah, such as the Mitzvah of sending away the mother bird from the chicks or eggs about which the verse states, “In order to do good for you and so that your days may be elongated,” and thus it would seem that one should not be forced to perform the Mitzvah of Tzedakah, nevertheless, since this Mitzvah entails negative Torah commandments as well, as we have discussed in the previous Halacha, it is for this reason that the Bet Din had the right to force one to perform this Mitzvah.

It is forbidden for the charity treasurers or other individuals responsible for the Tzedakah funds to implore an individual to give Tzedakah if it is well-known that one does not possess the means to give and only does so out of shame, for instance, if there is an appeal being held in the synagogue and the treasurers know that a certain individual cannot donate yet they turn to him out loud and in public so that he may donate out of shame, this money is considered stolen by the charity collectors, for they have forced a person to donate more that he can afford. About them does the verse state, “And I shall remember all of his oppressors,” and as the Gemara in Masechet Baba Batra (8b) expounds, this refers even to charity collectors and treasurers. The same applies to a wealthy individual who has already been exempted from his obligation of Tzedakah, for instance, if he is a well-known philanthropist and donates more than necessary to charity, it is likewise forbidden to pressure him to give more Tzedakah, for he is halachically exempt already and he is only donating out of shame. However, if one is capable of giving more Tzedakah and is only refraining from doing so out of stinginess, one may implore him with words until he agrees to give more.

There was once an incident in the United States approximately twenty-five years ago where, the luminary of the generation, Hagaon Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l needed to travel in order to fundraise for his yeshiva which had become entangled in severe financial hardships. A well-known philanthropist belonging to one of the Sephardic communities there organized a dinner for Harav Feinstein in his home where several other philanthropists from a certain community would be present. The rabbi spoke words of Torah before the guests and explained to them the dire straits the yeshiva found itself in with hopes that they would donate handsomely to support the yeshiva. After the rabbi finished his speech, envelopes were distributed among the evening’s participants in order for those present to place however much they could for this holy cause. The host noticed that his affluent friends were not being as generous as they could be possibly because the sums of money were being placed in sealed envelopes without any fanfare. He immediately requested that the envelopes be collected and informed all the guests that he would henceforth be speaking in Arabic, a language that the rabbi would surely not understand. As the rabbi sat baffled by a language he could not decipher, the host began lovingly rebuking his friends by telling them, “Are you not ashamed that when the leader of the generation who has dedicated his entire life to the Torah and must now humiliate himself by coming before us and asking for handouts and you give him sums that will barely solve his financial plight when you and I both know that you can all do much better than this! We shall therefore now conduct a public appeal and everyone will announce out loud how much he is donating.” Clearly, the result was much better the second time around and a respectable sum of money was collected which saved the yeshiva from drowning in debt much to the satisfaction of the venerable Rosh Yeshiva.

If one is unable to give much Tzedakah but convinces one’s wealthy family and friends to donate and they donate as a result of one’s efforts, besides for the fact that one’s reward is great for bringing merit to others, our Sages say that such a person’s level is so great that it is considered as though he has given Tzedakah on his own, for “one who causes another to perform a Mitzvah is greater than the one who actually performs it,” as the verse states, “And one who causes righteousness (Tzedakah) shall have peace” as opposes to just “And righteousness shall bring about peace.”

In the following Halachot we shall discuss some more details further.

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