Matanos La’evyonim

clip_image002_thumb.gifMegillas Esther teaches that one of the mitzvos established by Mordechai and Esther was “matanos la’evyonim,” giving gifts to the poor. Since the megillah states one should give gifts “La’evyonim,” which is plural, we derive that one must give gifts to at least two poor people (Gemara Megillah 7b).


There are several opinions regarding the minimum gift needed to fulfill the mitzvah. The Maharasha contends that one must give each person an amount significant enough to be respectable (Chiddushei Agados, Megillah 7a s.v. shadar). Some contemporary poskim rule this way.

Zera Yaakov (Shu”t #11) contends that it is sufficient if the poor person could purchase a minimum meal with the gift, which he defines as bread the size of three eggs (quoted in Pischei Teshuvah 694:1). Thus according to this opinion, one fulfills matanos la’evyonim if one gives three slices of bread to each of two poor people (or enough money for each to purchase three slices of bread).

Ritva contends that one is required to give only the value of a prutah, a copper coin worth only a few cents (Ritva, Megillah 7b; Menoras HaMaor; Shu”t Maharil #56). Mishnah Berurah (694:2) rules this way and one can certainly follow this approach.


The above amounts are indeed extremely paltry matanos la’evyonim and only define the minimum amount to fulfill the mitzvah. There are two other rules that are important:

Firstly, one should give money to every person who asks for a tzedakah donation on Purim without verifying whether he has a legitimate tzedakah need (see Yerushalmi Megillah 1:4). We will explain the details of this halacha later. (It is obvious that one should not make a major donation without verifying that the need is legitimate.)

Secondly, one should calculate how much one intends to spend for shalach manos and the Purim seudah and then designate a greater amount of money for matanos la’evyonim (Rambam, Hilchos Megillah 2:17).


Question: Assuming that one has limited resources, which is more important to give, many gifts to the poor or many shalach manos?

One should give a greater amount of matanos la’evyonim and limit how much shalach manos he sends (Rambam, Hilchos Megillah 2:17).


The Bach rules that someone with 100 gold coins to distribute for matanos la’evyonim should distribute one coin to each of 100 poor people rather than give it all to one individual because this makes more people happy (Bach 695 s.v. v’tzarich lishloach). According to Rav Elyashiv, it is better to give two large gifts that will make two aniyim happy than to give many small gifts that are insufficient to make the recipients happy (quoted in Shevus Yitzchok on Purim, pg. 98).

These two Piskei halacha are not in conflict — quite the contrary, they complement one another. The mitzvah of matanos la’evyonim is to make as many poor people happy as possible. Receiving a very small gift does not place a smile on a poor man’s face, although it fulfills the minimal requirements of the mitzvah as noted above. However, both the Bach’s gold coin and Rav Elyashiv’s large gift accomplish that the poor person becomes happy. Therefore, giving each person enough of a gift to bring a smile to his face is a bigger mitzvah than giving a very large gift to one person and being unable to bring a smile to the others. Thus, the optimal way to perform the mitzvah is to make as many people happy as possible.


The minimal amount that I am required to give may not be from maaser funds just as one may not spend maaser money on other mitzvos (Shu”t Maharil #56; Magen Avraham 694:1). The additional money that I give may be from maaser (Magen Avraham 694:1). However, since I concluded that one is not required to give more than one perutah to each of two poor people, two perutos are worth only a few cents. Therefore, once can assume that virtually all one’s matanos la’evyonim may come from maaser money.


If the poor person receives the money on Purim, one is yotzei (Be’er Heiteiv 695:7; Aruch HaShulchan 694:2). Therefore, one can fulfill the mitzvah by mailing a contribution if one is certain that the poor person will receive it on Purim. If the poor person receives the money before Purim, one is not yotzei (Magen Avraham 694:1).

Similarly, one does not fulfill the mitzvah of matanos la’evyonim if the ani does not receive the money until after Purim.


If the organization distributes the money to the poor on Purim, I can perform my mitzvah this way.


If I donate the money through an institution that will distribute the money on Purim, I can fulfill the mitzvah and also deduct the donation from my tax liability.


If the poor person can convert the check into cash or food on Purim, then I fulfill the mitzvah (Shvus Yitzchok pg. 99, quoting Rav Elyashiv).


A woman is obligated in matanos la’evyonim (Shulchan Aruch 695:4). Magen Avraham states “I did not see that people are careful about this, possibly because this rule applies only to a widow or other woman who does not have a husband but that a married woman fulfills her obligation by having her husband distribute for her. However, one should be more machmir.” Thus according to the Magen Avraham, a woman should distribute her own money to the poor. It would be acceptable for a husband to tell his wife, “I am giving matanos la’evyonim specifically on your behalf,” but it is better if he gives her the money for her to distribute or gives the money to a shaliach to be zocheh for her, and then gives the money to the ani. Although most poskim follow the Magen Avraham’s ruling, some rule that a married woman fulfills the mitzvah when her husband gives, even without making any special arrangements (Aruch HaShulchan 694:2), and others contend that a married woman has no responsibility to give matanos la’evyonim (Pri Chodosh, quoting Maharikash).


No. One fulfills the mitzvah by giving the poor either food or money (Rambam). However, one should give the poor person something that he can use to enhance his celebration of Purim (see Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav 694:1).


No. The poor person may do whatever he wants with the money (see Gemara Bava Metzia 78b).


One does not fulfill the mitzvos of matanos la’evyonim, shalach manos, or the Purim meal if they are performed at night (see Machatzis HaShekel 694:1).


The Mishnah (Peah 8:8) states that someone who owns less than 200 zuz qualifies to collect most of the Torah’s gifts to the poor, including maaser ani, the second tithe reserved for the poor, and peah, the corner of the field left for them. What is the modern equivalent of owning 200 zuz? Contemporary poskim rule that someone whose income is insufficient to pay for his family’s expenses qualifies as a poor person for all halachos including matanos la’evyonim. This is assuming that he does not have enough income or savings to support his family without selling basic essentials (Piskei Teshuvos 694:2).


Does the mitzvah of matanos la’evyonim apply to the poor? Is there an easy way for him to perform it?

The Tur (694) states that “Chayov kol adam litein matanos la’aniyim,” “Every person is obligated to give matanos la’evyonim.” What is added by emphasizing “kol,” everyone? The Bach explains that this emphasizes that even a poor person, who is himself a tzedakah recipient, must also give.

Is there an inexpensive way for a poor person to give matanos la’evyonim?

Yes, he can give part of his seudas Purim to another poor person and the other poor person reciprocates. Thereby, they both fulfill matanos la’evyonim (Mishnah Berurah 694:2). Also, note that according to what I concluded above, a poor person can give a quarter to each of two other paupers and thereby fulfill the mitzvah.


One may not use money collected for matanos la’evyonim for a different tzedakah (Gemara Bava Metzia 78b). This is because the people who donated the money expect to fulfill two mitzvos with their donation: tzedakah and the special mitzvah of matanos la’evyonim. Thus, if one uses the money for a different tzedakah purpose, they fulfilled the mitzvah of tzedakah, but not the mitzvah of matanos la’evyonim.

If someone decided to give money for matanos la’evyonim, he is required to give it for this purpose even if he did not say so (Mishnah Berurah 694:6, quoting Hagahos Ashri).


Do residents of Yerushalayim and other ancient walled cities who observe Purim on the fifteenth of Adar (often referred to as “Shushan Purim”) fulfill the mitzvah of matanos la’evyonim by giving to the poor who observed Purim the day before? Do people who observe Purim on the Fourteenth fulfill the mitzvah by giving to the poor of Yerushalayim when it is not yet Purim for them? These are good questions that are debated by contemporary poskim.

In the words of the Rambam (Hilchos Megillah 2:17), “It is more important to provide more gifts to the poor than to have a more lavish Purim seudah or send more shalach manos. This is because there is no greater and honored joy than bringing happiness to orphans, widows and the needy. Someone who makes the unfortunate happy is likened to Hashem’s Divine Presence, as the pasuk says: ‘He who revives the spirit of the lowly and brings to life the heart of the crushed,’” (Yeshayah 57:15).

How Do I Distribute My Tzedakah?

clip_image002Let us begin by reviewing the concepts of mitzvas tzedakah that I discussed last article. These concepts include:

Dei Machsoro: the requirement to provide all the needs of a poor person, including luxury items that he became accustomed to when he was in a better financial situation.

Takanas Usha: a rabbinic injunction that prohibits spending more than one-fifth of one’s property on tzedakah or on any other mitzvah, lest one become destitute as a result. According to some opinions, this takanah does not apply to someone who will not become destitute as a result.

Ani Bifanav: when I am aware of a poor person whose needs are not attended.

Ayn Ani Bifanav: when I am not currently aware of a poor person whose needs are not being attended to.

Maaser Kesafim: giving ten percent of one’s moneys to tzedakah. The poskim dispute whether one subtracts household expenses from one’s income before calculating maaser.

The concept of maaser is primarily in the case of ayn ani bifanav, when I fulfill it by putting aside this much money for tzedakah. In a case of ani bifanav I do not fulfill my mitzvah by giving him only ten percent.

A person who distributes maaser kesafim to the poor is blessed with a special guarantee of wealth. This bracha occurs only if one is meticulous at calculating exactly a tenth of one’s income for tzedakah (Shu’t Avkas Rocheil #3). Furthermore, this bracha is fulfilled only if one gives this maaser money to the poor, but if one gives part of it to other causes, there is no guarantee that wealth will follow (see Shu’t Radbaz 3:441). Therefore, although one may use maaser kesafim to buy an aliyah, pay for a “mi’shebeirach,” purchase sefarim that will be used by the tzibur (Taz 249:1) or similar communal needs, it is preferred to earmark maaser kesafim for the needs of the poor (Rama 249:1). Donations to Torah institutions are considered distributions to the poor (Ahavas Chesed 2:19:2), as are hachnasas kallah expenses (to pay wedding and related expenses for a poor groom or bride).

The Chofetz Chayim recommends dividing one’s maaser as follows: two-thirds for distribution to the poor (including local chinuch and tzedakah institutions) and one-third for gemach loan funds that also benefit the poor (Ahavas Chesed 2:18). One should check with one’s local Rav whether this formula should be followed in light of local tzedakah needs.

Chomesh: giving twenty percent of one’s moneys to Tzedakah. This is the optimal level of fulfilling mitzvas tzedakah, whereas setting aside ten percent is considered only “midah beinonis,” an average person’s conduct. Someone who gives a chomesh to tzedakah should first calculate and set aside one tenth, and then a second tenth. This will guarantee that he receives the bracha of wealth mentioned above as well as a lot of extra reward. Furthermore, whereas the first maaser should preferably be given to the poor as mentioned above, the second maaser may be donated to other charitable causes. If possible, the first ten percent should be given to poor talmidei chachamim and Torah institutions (Ahavas Chesed 2:19:3).

Yissachar-Zevulun partnership: An arrangement whereby one person (Zevulun) assumes responsibility to support someone else (Yissachar) so that Yissachar can immerse himself completely in Torah without concern about making a living. In a true Yissachar-Zevulun partnership, Yissachar and Zevulun are complete partners, Yissachar receiving half of the profits of Zevulun’s business while Zevulun receives half of the reward of Yissachar’s learning.

Traveling Ani: One does not have to give a poor person who is traveling from place to place more than a minimum donation (Mishnah Peah 8:7; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 250:3,4). However if he is a respected person, one should provide for him appropriately.


Based on the above information, we are now ready to determine how much tzedakah I should be giving and to which causes.

Before starting to give regular amounts of tzedakah on an ongoing basis, one should declare that he is following this procedure bli neder, without accepting it as a vow. Also one should say that if one donates more than a chomesh of one’s income to tzedakah in one year, that the extra can be counted as part of the next year’s tzedakah calculation (Ahavas Chesed 2:18:2). The reason for the last condition is because some poskim otherwise require one to begin a new maaser calculation each year even if one gave more than his share the year before.

Preferably, a person should begin by calculating twenty percent of his net moneys for tzedakah purposes (Yerushalmi quoted by Tosafos Kesubos 50a). First, one calculates twenty percent or at least ten percent of one’s cash or cash-equivalent inventory. A newlywed couple should begin with their wedding presents; other people should begin with their accrued savings (assuming that they have not yet given tzedakah). If the couple intends to be in kollel, they should ask a rav whether they should distribute this money to tzedakah or whether they may keep it for their own kollel needs (see Rama, Yoreh Deah 251:3; Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:112).

The Chofetz Chayim suggests that someone who finds it difficult to give away ten percent of his principle should instead set it up as a loan fund (gmach) from which he himself is permitted to borrow if necessary (Ahavas Chesed 2:18).

As mentioned above, the poskim dispute whether one subtracts family living expenses from one’s income before making these tzedakah calculations. Ask your rav for his opinion.

This, in short, is how maaser is calculated. Whenever giving tzedakah, one should do so with a happy countenance and make the poor person feel good (Shulchan Aruch 249:3).

As mentioned last week, someone who has a secure and adequate income may give more than a tenth or a fifth to tzedakah. One is also permitted to give more than twenty percent of one’s income to support Torah study (yeshivos, kollelim, chadorim and talmidei chachamim).


Family comes first. Someone who has destitute relatives or family members studying in yeshiva or kollel, should give them top priority. This includes supporting one’s sons in yeshiva and kollel (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 251:3; see also Pischei Tshuvah 249:2).

Someone who cannot meet the financial needs of his own family should spend all his tzedakah funds on their needs (Rama, Yoreh Deah 251:3 and Gra ad loc.).

Community tzedakah funds should not be used to support someone as long as there are family members who can be leaned on for support (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 251:4).


Rav Moshe Feinstein ruled that one should not pay tuition for sons and daughters in elementary school and high school from maaser funds. However, someone who refrains from taking a tuition reduction for which he is eligible may pay the difference from maaser (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:113; also see Ahavas Chesed 2:19:2). If paying tuition without resorting to maaser funds creates hardship, one should ask a shaylah. Yeshiva gedolah tuition and expenses may be paid from maaser.


Tzedakah moneys should be distributed locally rather than sent out-of-town (Gemara Bava Metzia 71a). Thus, after meeting one’s family obligations, one should distribute the majority of one’s remaining tzedakah to local community needs. One should make sure to set aside enough money to give a small contribution to each person who comes to the door for a legitimate cause.

When there are limited resources, support of talmidei chachamim precedes non-talmidei chachamim (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 251:9). However, supporting local poor people precedes giving to out-of-town talmidei chachamim (Pischei Tshuvah 251:3).

Many poskim contend that out-of-town yeshivos that teach students from one’s city should not be treated as an out-of-town institution since they are educating local children.

I once heard an insightful story about the Chofetz Chayim from my Rosh Yeshivah, Rav Yaakov Ruderman, zt”l. When the Chofetz Chayim was in Vilna, he noticed many poor people from Brisk who had traveled to Vilna for financial help, and when he was in Brisk he noticed poor people there from Vilna. Surprised that the poor were traveling out-of-town for tzedakah, the Chofetz Chayim explained, “The Yetzer Hara tries very hard to stop Jews from keeping mitzvos. However, when it comes to giving tzedakah he has no success, since Jews are such merciful people that they always give. Instead the yetzer hara gets them to fulfill the mitzvah incorrectly. In this case, each city did not fulfill the mitzvah correctly since it did not provide sufficiently for its own poor, thus forcing them to travel for support.”


When distributing tzedakah funds to out-of-town people, those who live in Eretz Yisroel should be given more than those from Chutz La’Aretz (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 251:3; see Shach).


One should always give precedence to people who need food over people who need clothing (Gemara Bava Basra 9a; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 251:7). Life-threatening emergency situations should be prioritized. In most instances, one should prioritize to provide tzedakah to a needy woman ahead of a man.


One should never turn away a poor person empty-handed. If one has no more tzedakah to distribute, give the poor person a token donation “borrowed” from future maaser calculations (see Aruch HaShulchan 249:7) and make extra effort to boost the spirits of the poor person After all, it is very embarrassing to ask for financial help, and more uncomfortable to receive only a token gift in response.

If someone has already distributed his tzedakah requirements, he is not required to answer mail solicitations. (Nevertheless, I personally try to make a token contribution in order to participate, at least minimally, with people involved in a mitzvah [see Mishnah Makos 5b].)


Question: I tell a solicitor at my door that I cannot give more than ten dollars to his worthy cause, and he refuses to accept it. Did I fulfill the mitzvah of tzedakah? Am I required to give him more?

Answer: Assuming that one has faithfully fulfilled the guidelines presented above, he is not required to give more if the solicitor refuses the donation. However, one has not fulfilled the mitzvah of tzedakah since the donation was not accepted (Shu’t Rashba #18; see also Derech Emunah, Hilchos Matanos Aniyim 7:1 in Biyur Halacha; cf. Beis Hillel, Yoreh Deah 248).


Question: Am I responsible to help someone who became poor by squandering all his money?

Answer: Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that I am, since he cannot afford essentials at this juncture (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 4:37:3).

However, the mitzvah of tzedakah does not require us to make someone wealthy (Gemara Kesubos 67b) by providing him with a lifestyle greater than what he is accustomed to. This reminds me of a family I knew who consistently spent beyond their means and always accumulated debts that they could not repay. I asked a shaylah whether there was a mitzvah of tzedakah to help them. I received a psak that although it would be a chesed to help them, it would not be considered tzedakah. (Incidentally, it is absolutely forbidden to borrow money if one cannot repay it.)


I now return to the three shaylos that I raised in the previous article.

Question: There is a knock on my door, and I find myself face-to-face with a stranger holding a letter from the local Vaad HaTzedakah. The letter testifies that he needs surgery but has no medical insurance to pay for it. How much should I give him?

Answer: Although this person desperately needs surgery and medical attention is a high priority, I am not required to make a major contribution to assist him since he is collecting door-to-door for his needs. Of course, if one wishes one can give him a major contribution.

Question: The mailman’s daily delivery includes a solicitation from an internationally renowned yeshivah. How big a check should I place in the return envelope?

Answer: Based on the opinion that out-of-town yeshivos that educate local students have a right to claim that they are servicing a local tzedakah need, this yeshivah should have a right to collect ahead of an out-of-town institution. Thus, one should treat this as an important tzedakah, although the local Torah and tzedakah institutions come first.

Question: My neighbor has been out of work for a while. The family is embarrassed to ask for help, but I know that they are hurting terribly. I can help them discreetly without their discovering the source of the money. How much should I give them?

Answer: Assuming that there is no local tzedakah that can assist him, one should consider this person’s needs high priority. If there is a local tzedakah that will help him, alert the gabbayei tzedakah and figure out a method of helping the needy neighbor without jeopardizing his self-dignity.

The neighbor’s attempt to avoid receiving tzedakah funds is highly meritorious. Chazal say, “Someone who needs to receive tzedakah funds and refrains from accepting will not depart this world without having sufficient means to support others,” (Mishnah Peah 8:9). I know someone who strived to fulfill this concept. After losing his job, he lived very frugally and worked whatever he could find to keep his family from receiving tzedakah. He attests that Hashem supported his family by totally supernatural means. For example, one of his “gifts” from Heaven was a sizeable inheritance from a great-aunt whom he hardly knew!


It is generally prohibited to “test” Hashem as the Torah states, “Lo senasu es Hashem,” “Do not test Hashem,” (Devarim 6:16). One may not say, “I am performing this mitzvah so that Hashem will reward me by providing me with such-and-such (Sefer Yerayim #361; Chinuch Mitzvah 395, 424; Shu’t Radbaz #882).

However, there is one exception to this rule – one may give maaser kesafim expecting to be blessed with wealth as a reward (Gemara Taanis 9a, as explained by Shu’t Avkas Rocheil #3; Rama, Yoreh Deah 247:4; Sefer Hassidim #144; Ahavas Chesed 2:18. Cf. Shl”a and Yaavetz #3, quoted in Pischei Tshuvah 247:2).

The Gemara relates that after Reish Lakeish’s passing, Rabbi Yochanan encountered his nephew (who was Reish Lakeish’s son). Rabbi Yochanan asked his nephew what he had learned in cheder that day. The nephew replied, “Te’aser kedei shetisasher,” “Give maaser so that you get rich.”

“How do you know?” asked Rabbi Yochanan.

“Go test it,” answered the nephew, who then asked, “but one is not permitted to test Hashem?”

Rabbi Yochanan replied, “I heard from my rebbe, Rabbi Hoshiyah, that this is an exception because of the pasuk in Malachi (3:10), where Hashem begs us to test Him when giving maaser and see for oneself that He opens the windows of heaven and grants blessings until our lips weary of saying ‘Enough!’”

We see from this that it is permitted to declare that I am giving the correct amount of tzedakah and expect that Hashem will reward me with wealth. I know several people who personally attest that this bracha was fulfilled!

One situation involved a man I knew by the name of Michael. Michael was in very difficult financial and personal circumstances and came to ask me advice about giving tzedakah. I suggested that he set aside maaser and use the amount for his family’s own unmet needs. He asked me, “Isn’t this just a game? I am not distributing tzedakah moneys elsewhere anyway!”

I explained to him about the bracha of wealth for someone who sets aside maaser, and that he is following the Torah’s instructions for distributing tzedakah under his circumstances since his family comes first. Then I suggested that he accept, bli neder, to set aside chomesh (as explained above) from any new, unexpected income he receives. I asked him to keep me posted.

A few months later Michael returned. He indeed had put my suggestion into practice and reported that he had paid off all his extensive outstanding debt. Furthermore, his marriage, which had been suffering from the financial strain, was also much improved. “I have only one thing to attribute this success to — making sure that I pay my two maasers to tzedakah accurately. It works like a charm!”

May we all always be showered with brachos for contributing generously to tzedakah!

Should I Limit How Much Tzedakah I Give?

This article was originally published in Yated Neeman

clip_image002There is a knock on my door, and I am face-to-face with someone holding a letter from the local Vaad HaTzedakah. The letter introduces him as an individual in need of surgery but without medical insurance to pay for it. How much should I give him?

The mailman’s daily delivery brings a solicitation letter from an internationally reknown yeshivah. How large a check should I place in the return envelope?

My neighbor has been out of work for a while. The family is embarrassed to ask for help, but I know that they are hurting terribly. There is a discreet way of helping them whereby they will never find out the source of the money. How much should I give them?

These are shaylos we face daily. Do we know the halacha guidelines how much to give?

Before we begin to discuss the details of these halachos, we should reflect for a moment on the importance of the mitzvah of giving tzedakah. When we give tzedakah we emulate Hashem’s deeds, since He is constantly giving tzedakah. It is for this reason that “whoever has mercy on the poor, Hashem will have mercy on him” (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 247:3; see Gemara Shabbos 151b). When a person listens to the supplication of the poor and gives him tzedakah, Hashem listens to him and provides him with parnasah (Rama Yoreh Deah 247:3). A person should always realize that as much rachmonus as he has on others, Hashem has on him. For this reason, tzedakah tears up any evil decree (Gemara Rosh Hashanah 16b).

In addition, giving tzedakah is rewarded monetarily, so one does not lose by giving tzedakah. As the Rambam teaches us, “No one ever became poor from giving tzedakah nor did anything bad or any harm come from it” (Rambam, Matanos Aniyim 10:2; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 247:2). Someone who gives ten percent of his income to tzedakah will be rewarded with wealth. Yitzchak Avinu distributed ten percent of his profits to the poor and was rewarded that he received back one hundred times what he gave (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer #33). How many investments do you know that pay back a 10,000 % return, which is what Yitzchok received!

Before we deal with specific halachic cases, we need to explain some of the concepts of the laws of tzedakah. Because of the complexities and importance of the issues involved, this week’s article will deal primarily with the principles of hilchos tzedakah, whereas next week’s article will focus on practical applications.


Once a person qualifies to receive tzedakah (the criteria by which this is determined will be explained IY”H next week), the Torah required us to provide him with his entire needs. What is included in his needs? It certainly includes his basic living necessities of food, adequate clothing, and a proper place to live. It also includes enabling him to get married, including setting up a household with all its necessities (hachnasas kallah). It also includes providing him with whatever he was used to when he was in a better financial situation.


People find surprising that we are required to provide someone needy with items that other people consider luxuries. This halacha is derived from the following pasuk: “When one of your brethren will be needy … do not harden your heart and do not close your hand from your needy brother. However, open your hand and give him as much as he lacks, whatever he is lacking” (Devarim 15:7,8). The pasuk closes with a very obvious redundancy (“as much as he lacks, whatever he is lacking”). This teaches that we are required to provide him with “as much as he lacks,” in Hebrew “dei machsoro,” even if other people would not be considered “lacking” if they were without this item. This is the source for the famous story where Hillel provided a pauper who came from a wealthy family with a servant to run before him since this was the accepted lifestyle he grew up with (Gemara Kesubos 76b). On the other hand, we are not required to make his wealthy.

What is the difference? If he was once a man of legitimate means and became used to a certain lifestyle, then to him it is poverty to manage on a lower financial level. But I have no responsibility to provide him with a lavish lifestyle that he was never accustomed to.


In earlier generations, every Jewish community had a system of providing for the poor. The community appointed “gabbayei tzedakah” who were empowered to make weekly collections for the local tzedakah needs. These gabbayim evaluated how much each member of the community should give (according to his means), assessed him appropriately, and collected the moneys (Rambam, Matanos Aniyim 9:1; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 156:1). Someone who felt the gabbayim had assessed him for more than he could afford could challenge the assessment in a beis din.

One can imagine that the gabbay’s job was not a pleasant one, yet it was absolutely necessary. For this reason, only the finest people were chosen for this job (see Gemara Pesachim 49b; Bava Basra 8b), and also for this reason Chazal say, “Gadol hame’aseh yosair min ha’oseh,” “the one causing others to give tzedakah is greater than the person giving the tzedakah” (Bava Basra 9a).

One of the unfortunate results of being in our galus is that we no longer can enforce the authority of the gabbayei tzedakah. For this reason, tzedakah organizations are dependent on voluntary contributions. The unfortunate result of this situation is that the community’s tzedakah’s needs are never met adequately, and the needy are almost never provided with “dei machsoro.” Thus, those in charge of distributing tzedakah funds are often placed in the unenviable position of having to decide how much to give each individual. Deciding tzedakah priorities with limited resources is a lengthy halacha discussion.

It should be noted that the gabbayei tzedakah were primarily responsible to provide for local tzedakah needs. If someone came from out-of-town requesting tzedakah help, he was provided with only a small contribution (Mishnah Peah 8:7; Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 250:4 and Shach).


Many poskim contend that dei machsoro is primarily the responsibility of the community’s tzedakah fund (Rama 250:1). Others disagree, contending that the individual still has a responsibility to take care of dei machsoro of the needy (Rambam; Bach). However, when the community is not providing dei machsoro, all agree that the individual is responsible for all the poor person’s needs if he can (Rama). Therefore, if a needy person requests financial help, and I have the financial means to provide whatever he needs, I am required to. (However, if the poor person is soliciting door-to-door, I do not have to give more than a minimal donation, as will be explained later.) Some poskim rule that if providing dei machsoro is more than twenty percent of my net earnings, I am not obligated to provide all his needs, but only twenty percent of my earnings (Rambam, Peirush Hamishnayos Peah 1:1). I will explain shortly how one calculates “earnings.”


Most of the above discussion is describing a case referred to by the poskim as “ani bifanav,” literally, “a poor person is before him.” This means that I am aware that there are poor people whose needs are not fully provided. In our day, we are always in a situation of “ani bifanav,” since we always know of tzedakah organizations that try to provide for the needy but do not have sufficient funding to provide all their needs. However in earlier generations, people did not always have contact with someone who was not provided for. This is referred to as “ayn ani bifanav,” there is no poor person before him. In such a situation, one should still set aside money for distribution to tzedakah.


Rambam and Shulchan Aruch rule that one should preferably set aside twenty percent for tzedakah, and that a person who is “midah beinonis,” neither miserly nor overly generous, sets aside ten percent.


The Chofetz Chayim (Ahavas Chesed 2:18) suggests setting up the following system to guarantee that one gives ten or twenty percent of one’s income to tzedakah. Although it involves a bit of bookkeeping, it is definitely worthwhile.

Because of reasons beyond the scope of this article, it is a good idea to state that one is following this practice bli neder. Chofetz Chayim also suggests making a condition that he is entitled to estimate expenses. We will soon see why he makes the second condition.

Whenever one receives income, he calculates what expenses were incurred in earning this money and writes down the amount in his income ledger. In a separate column in his ledger, he subtracts his household expenses.

There is a dispute among poskim whether household expenses can be deducted from income before one calculates maaser. Some poskim rule that one may deduct household expenses from income and only needs to calculate maaser on the net amount that is left (Shu’t Avkas Rocheil #3; Ahavas Chesed 2:18). Others disagree (Aruch HaShulchan 249:7).

In a separate place in the ledger, he calculates all tzedakahs donated, even small amounts placed in a pushkah or at the door. He should certainly include ongoing tzedakah responsibilities, donations to local institutions and tzedakahs.

Periodically make a cheshbon to see whether you gave more or less than maaser. At that time, if one has given less than maaser, put aside the extra money for maaser purposes. In the interim, he may borrow the money for his own needs (Ahavas Chesed 2:18:1).


Chazal tell us that someone who sets aside a tenth of his income for tzedakah is rewarded with a bracha of wealth. The Gemara even states that one is permitted to test Hashem to see that this bracha is fulfilled, something that is otherwise strictly forbidden (Gemara Taanis 9a). We will discuss next week IY”H how one “tests” Hashem.


After the destruction of the Second Beis HaMikdash, the Sanhedrin relocated several times and was once situated in a town name Usha. While in Usha, the Sanhedrin made several important takanos (permanent rulings). One of these takanos forbade a person from distributing more than twenty percent of his property to tzedakah lest he himself become needy (Gemara Kesubos 50a). This ruling is referred to as the “Takanas Usha.”

[The Chofetz Chayim (Ahavas Chesed 2:20:5) points out this takanah implies that one should never spend more that twenty percent of one’s savings on any item. (Presumably, one’s residence is an exception.) If Chazal ruled that one may not spend more than twenty percent of one’s property for tzedakah, one certainly should not spend this much for any other purpose. Furthermore, one should be careful to avoid purchasing luxury items, since it is very to become accustomed to an expensive lifestyle. Unfortunately, this sometimes results in having difficulty purchasing the necessities of life, as we often see happen.]

A superficial understanding of the Takanas Usha would lead one to strange (and inaccurate) conclusions. Reading the Takanah literally, it would seem that even a wealthy individual may not give more than one-fifth of his property to tzedakah because he may become a tzedakah case himself. Why should this be so? If he has considerable savings, perhaps so much that he could not figure out how to spend all this money in a lifetime, yet is he not permitted to give away more than twenty percent of what he owns? Surely, this could not be what was intended by the Takanas Usha.

The Chofetz Chayim (Ahavas Chesed 2:20:1,3) explains that this is a misunderstanding of the Takanas Usha. Since the reason for the Takanah was to make sure that someone does not become destitute, it applies only to someone whose income does not provide generously for his family. Someone who has a job or business that provides adequately for his family is permitted to give everything above his needs to tzedakah even if it is more than twenty percent of his income or his holdings.

The following story bears out this ruling. In the days of King Munbaz (one of the Chashmonayim kings) there was a drought, and he distributed the entire royal treasury, accumulated over several generations, to the poor. His family members protested, saying that his predecessors had all increased the wealth of the monarchy, and King Munbaz was disbursing it. Munbaz responded, “My ancestors stored below, and I stored above. They stored their wealth in a place where it could be stolen and I stored in a place from where it cannot be stolen. They stored items that do not reproduce and I stored items that produce profits. They stored money and I stored lives. They stored for others, and I stored for myself” (Gemara Bava Basra 11a). Thus we see that it is permitted for someone wealthy to give away more than twenty percent of his income for tzedakah needs.

There are a few other instances when it is permitted to give more than twenty percent to tzedakah. As mentioned above, one case is where someone’s dei machsoro is greater than twenty percent of my income (Rambam, Matanos Aniyim 7:5; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 250:4; Ahavas Chesed 2:19). This is assuming that I can provide dei machsoro without being hard-pressed to take care of my family’s needs. If paying the poor person’s needs will make me hard-pressed to provide for my family, I am not required to pay “dei machsoro.”


Another case where I am permitted to give away more than twenty percent of my income is if I commit myself to a Yissachar-Zevulun partnership. This means that I commit myself to support someone so that he can learn Torah.

The Tribe of Zevulun provided for all of Yissachar’s financial needs and they become partners. Zevulun provided half his income to Yissachar, and Zevulun received half the reward. In a true Yissachar-Zevulun partnership, the person learning Torah is provided half the profits of the business, and the businessman is provided with half the reward in Olam Haba for the learning (Midrash Rabbah Bamidbar 13:17; Shach Yoreh Deah 246:2). This can be done whether or not one has a business. Thus, the Zevulun partner commits himself to provide far more than twenty percent of his disposable income to support the learning of Yissachar.

The Midrash declares, “Why did Zevulun merit to be the third tribe to offer korbanos at the dedication the mishkan? Because they treated the Torah dearly and spent money lavishly on Yissachar, thus enabling Yissachar to be totally devoted to learning.” As a result, in the course of time, Yissachar produced two hundred heads of the Sanhedrin, and Zevulun was given the credit (Midrash Rabbah, Bamidbar 13:17).

Anytime someone provides money to enable others to learn Torah he receives tremendous reward for the support of Torah learning. The unique feature of a Yissachar-Zevulun relationship is that the profits for the business are also divided equally. However, even if someone is not involved in a formal Yissachar-Zevulun relationship, he may donate over twenty percent of his income to Yeshivos, Chadarim, Kollelim, or talmidei chachamim (Ahavas Chesed 2:20:4).


If someone is collecting money for a pikuach nefashos situation, the Takanas Usha does not apply and one may contribute over twenty percent (Aruch HaShulchan 249:5).


A person who is terminally ill is permitted to give away tzedakah money without being limited by the Takanas Usha. The Gemara tells us that Mar Ukva, who was known as a big baal tzedakah, knew that he was terminally ill. He asked that he be brought his tzedakah calculations, which amounted to the fantastic sum of 7000 dinarim. His response was “such a small amount prepared for such a long way” and gave away half of what he had left. The Gemara asks, how was he permitted to give away so much to tzedakah, one is not permitted to give away more than a fifth of one’s property to tzedakah? The Gemara answers that the Takanas Usha was established so that one not become needy later in life. However, to give away large sums of money immediately prior to one’s demise is permitted (Gemara Kesubos 67b; Rama, Yoreh Deah 249:1). For this reason, a person is permitted to give away in his will a large percentage of his property to tzedakah. In a previous article we discussed how one does this in a way that is halachically effective.


What should I do if my family’s responsibilities are great, and I simply cannot afford to give someone soliciting me significant moneys. I should never turn someone away empty handed. Even if I am not obligated to give him more because I have already exceeded my limit, I should still give him a token contribution. If I have absolutely nothing to give him, then I should make certain to leave him with a positive feeling.

If I am solicited for a donation that is beyond my means, I should tell the solicitor how badly I feel that I cannot give him an appropriate amount, but try to make him feel good and then give him a very small contribution (Yoreh Deah 249:4).

See “How Do I Distribute My Tzedakah” for the practical applications of tzedakah based on these principles.