By popular demand, we shall now discuss the topics of Tzedakah and donating a tenth of one’s earnings more broadly based on the words of Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch and the Poskim and based on what is written in the works of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l on this topic.
Question: How much must one give to each needy individual: Should one give the poor person only the minimum amount of sustenance that he needs to live or should one provide him with all of his needs as he is accustomed to?
Answer: The Baraita in Masechet Ketubot (67b) states: “How much must one donate to a poor person? This is based on what he lacks, which means that if he is hungry, one should feed him. If he is naked, one should dress him. If he has no housewares, one should provide him with housewares. Even if he is accustomed to riding a horse and having a servant run before him when he was wealthy and then he became poor, we must purchase him a horse to ride on and a servant to run before him; each person based on what he lacks.”
This means that one should donate to every person who lacks money the amount of money he requires in order to live a lifestyle he is worthy of. Thus, if the individual is a simple person, he should be provided with funds sufficient to help him purchase food and drink and help him cover expenses such as water, electricity, telephone bills, tuition, etc. If the individual was wealthy and then he fell on hard times and became poor, he should be provided with his needs based on what he is accustomed to, such as if he was accustomed to living in a large house and driving a luxury car, he should be assisted to achieve this as well. Indeed, based on the words of our Sages, even if he was accustomed to riding a horse and having a servant run before him, he should be afforded all of the things he was accustomed to before he became needy.
When there is not enough money in the coffers of the Tzedakah treasurers, they must certainly first assist all of the poor with food, drink, clothing, and shelter. If, however, there is an opportunity to donate more Tzedakah for other expenses, it is then a Mitzvah to provide all of the poor people with anything they lack in a complete manner so that the entire Jewish nation can be glad and not suffer in poverty.
Based on this, when any one of us donate Tzedakah from our own pockets to any individual we wish, all of the poor person’s needs are included in the Mitzvah of Tzedakah; even if one provides the needy person with money to buy things which are beyond basic necessities, this is nevertheless included in the Mitzvah of Tzedakah.
An incident once occurred with Hagaon Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l who provided food packages to large, needy family in Jerusalem before the holiday of Pesach. Inside in this package, Harav Auerbach included several tickets to the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo for the entire family. When one of his family members asked for an explanation about the tickets to the zoo, the great Torah luminary replied, “What will a family with many children do at home for an entire week? It is certainly a good idea for them to get out a little bit and visit the zoo with their children.”
Based on what we have exclaimed above, purchasing such tickets and the like for a needy family is likewise included in the Mitzvah of Tzedakah and performing kindness. The above incident involving Hagaon Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l should remind us all about the sensitivity one must have regarding needy individuals close to us.
It is a great Mitzvah to provide the needy with clothing fit for middle-class individuals, i.e. several changes of clothes for during the week and one suit for Shabbat. For women, it is accepted to have several outfits for Shabbat. It is likewise a great Mitzvah to provide for one who cannot afford to get married and help them cover the wedding expenses and other necessities in a respectable manner. This is known as the Mitzvah of “Hachnassat Kallah”.