Giving or Taking

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By Rabbi Berach Steinfeld

In Devarim, Perek Tes Vov, posuk zayin the Torah teaches us that if a poor person comes to you asking for tzedaka, you may not close your fists and not give. You have the obligation of an asseh and a lo sasseh to make sure to give tzedaka.

The Gemara in Gittin, daf zayin, amud bais says that a poor person who survives on what other people give him as tzedaka is still required to give tzedaka to others. If a poor person practices this and gives tzedaka, he will be helped and he will not be poor anymore. The Tur and Shulchan Aruch in Yoreh Deah, siman resh mem ches pasken that a poor person must give tzedaka,

We find the Tur himself in Yoreh Deah, siman resh nun alef says in the name of Rav Sadya Gaon that a person is not required to give tzedaka unless he has enough money to live for himself. The posuk in Vayikra, Perek Chof Heh, posuk lamed vov says that “your brother should live with you.” This proves that your life comes before someone else’s. The Rema agrees with the Tur. How do we reconcile the above two halachos?

The Aruch Hashulchan in Yoreh Deah, siman resh mem ches, seif koton bais says that this could be the reason why the Bais Yosef does not bring down this halacha since he was not sure whether or not he held like Rav Sadya Gaon.

Some want to explain the above topic by saying that there are two types of poor people: one type is a person who has no money at all. He would be exempt from tzedaka. Then there is another person who has money; he just does not have enough cash (which would be two hundred zuz). Such a person may take tzedaka but also has to give tzedaka. The Aruch Hashulchan does not like this tirutz. He says that if a person has a way of giving tzedaka, he would not be allowed to take tzedaka. The shiur of two hundred zuz is an arbitrary shiur that chazal established to describe someone who has no money, but if the person could live on that amount, he would not be allowed to take tzedaka.

The Aruch Hashulchan says a different answer. There are two inyanim when it comes to a poor person and tzedaka. When it comes to the ptur of not having to give tzedaka unless he has money for himself , it is regarding the mitzvah of tzedaka that come up on a daily basis. In that scenario, a person does not have to give tzedaka unless he himself has enough money to live on, as we say your life comes before someone else’s life. The case of the Tur and Shulchan Aruch that say that a person has to give tzedaka even while being poor and that will help him not be poor anymore is speaking about the mitzvah of tzedaka of giving money at least once a year. The gemara in Bava Basra, daf tes, amud bais says that a person must give a third of a shekel of tzedaka at least once a year. This tzedaka must be given even by the poorest people, which is what the Rambam says in Perek Zayin of Hilchos Matnos Aniyim, halacha heh. If a person gives less than a third of a shekel once a year, he is not yotze the mitzvah of tzedaka. Giving this tzedaka properly will help the poor person come out of his poverty.

Let us all be zocheh to be from the givers and not the takers.

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