Tzedaka in Eretz Yisrael and in Chutz La-Aretz

  • Harav Aharon Lichtenstein

            The section of the Torah dealing with the mitzva of tzedaka concludes with the clause, "Open your hand to the poor and needy kinsman in your land" (Devarim 15:11).  The Ramban notes: "It now says that there very well may be found a poor person at some point in some place where you will live; for the meaning of 'in your land' resembles the meaning of 'in all your settlements' – both in the land, and outside the land."  The Ramban appears to have found it difficult that the Torah would mention Eretz Yisrael – "be-artzekha" (in your land) – in the context of the mitzva of tzedaka, which undoubtedly applies everywhere, including in the Diaspora.  He therefore clarifies that the term "be-artzekha" refers not to Eretz Yisrael, but rather to Jewish communities in any geographic location.[1] Rabbenu Bechayei elaborates further on this issue, and after expressing the difficulty in understanding the word "be-artzekha," he suggests two interpretations:

 

  1. According to the famous principle established elsewhere by the Ramban[2], that even "chovot ha-guf" – personal obligations cast purely upon the individual, without any connection to the land – are performed outside Eretz Yisrael solely for the purpose of preparing one for their ultimate fulfillment in the land, this concept is clearly exemplified in this verse.  Rabbenu Bechayei writes:

 

"Primarily, tzedaka applies only in the land, although it is a personal obligation everywhere.  This is true of all other mitzvot, that their obligation applies mainly in the land, as it is mentioned at the beginning of the parasha, 'These are the statutes and laws you must carefully observe in the land' – for all the mitzvot are the law of the God of the land."

 

  1. Alternatively, Rabbenu Bechayei suggests that that verse's conclusion relates to the promise of blessing for giving tzedaka mentioned towards the end of the previous verse, which speaks of the agricultural shemitta laws, which apply only in Eretz Yisrael.  He writes:

 

"Or, 'be-artzekha' would mean 'even in your land'… The parasha means, take care not to say that as the seventh year, the shemitta year, approaches, and I will have to leave alone my money [debts] or my fields in the land, how can I give tzedaka then?  I will thus incur a loss from every side.  It therefore says: 'Have no regrets when giving to him, for in return the Lord your God will bless you… I therefore command you, saying: open your hand to the poor and needy kinsman even in your land, where you leave alone what is yours, be it leaving alone fields or leaving alone money – there I also command you with regard to tzedaka, because God will bless you for this and add onto what is yours.  Not to mention that you must give charity outside the land where there is no shemitta of fields.  We learn from here that when it mentions 'be-artzekha,' it does not come to exclude the Diaspora, for if 'ba-aretz' meant specifically [the land], the verse would have mentioned, 'When you come into the land' or 'When you enter the land' as we find regarding the mitzvot dependent upon the land."

 

The difference between these two approaches is clear, though both run counter to the approach taken by the Ramban, who, as we saw, understands "be-artzekha" as referring to Jewish communities in all geographic locations, even outside Eretz Yisrael.  According to both interpretations of Rabbenu Bechayei, "be-artzekha" indeed refers specifically to Eretz Yisrael, only from this verse we may extend the obligation to the Diaspora, as well.  All three interpretations, however, require explanation.  Although the Ramban's approach satisfactorily explains the term "be-artzekha" at the end of the parasha, it does not justify its appearance at the parasha's introduction: "If there is a needy person among you, one of your kinsmen in any of your settlements, in your land ['be-artzekha'] that the Lord your God is giving you."[3] Here, "be-artzekha" clearly refers to Eretz Yisrael.  A similar difficulty may be raised regarding Rabbenu Bechayei's second interpretation, which, as we saw, builds upon the absence in the verse of any mention of entering the land.  After all, the verse does, indeed, explicitly mention "in your land that the Lord your God is giving you," which appears to specify Eretz Yisrael no less than it would if it had mentioned entering the land.  This undoubtedly refers to Eretz Yisrael, as emerges clearly from the discussion towards the end of the first chapter of Makkot, in the context of the appointment of judges.[4]  Presumably, then, we must conclude that the verse limits this obligation to Eretz Yisrael.  Several difficulties arise according to Rabbenu Bechayei's first approach, as well.  Beyond the questions raised by the Ramban's theory itself, a full analysis of which lies beyond the scope of our discussion, why did the Torah choose to exemplify this general principle concerning mitzva fulfillment in the Diaspora, if only incidentally, specifically in the context of the mitzva of tzedaka?

 

      The "Peirush Ha-Tur Ha-arokh" on this verse does not cite these earlier commentators and writes:

 

"We must ask, why does it say, 'be-artzekha' - this is not a mitzva dependent upon the land!  And similarly in the beginning of the section [it says,] 'in any of your settlements in your land'!  Perhaps it comes to afford precedence to the poor of Eretz Yisrael, as they [Chazal] expound on the verse, 'the poor man among you' – that it affords precedence to 'your poor' over the poor of a different city."

 

            The basis the Tur suggests for granting precedence to the poor of Eretz Yisrael is a Gemara in Masekhet Bava Metzia (71a), which interprets the verse, "If you lend money to my people, to the poor man among you" as requiring lending first to the poor in one's own locale.  This verse, however, makes no mention of Eretz Yisrael, and thus provides only a parallel for the Tur's theory, rather than a source.

 

            In truth, however, the halakha of precedence established by the Tur appears explicitly in the Sifrei's comments on this section of tzedaka, only not at the end of the parasha, but towards the beginning.  Commenting on the clause, "in any of your settlements, in your land," the Sifrei writes, "In any of your settlements – the residents of your city take precedence over the residents of a different city; in your land – the residents of the land take precedence over the residents of the Diaspora."  Clearly, then, according to the Sifrei, "be-artzekha" indeed refers to Eretz Yisrael, as opposed to the Ramban's interpretation, unless he distinguishes between the Torah's use of the term at the beginning of this section and at the end.  Additionally, the Sifrei explicitly states that the mitzva of tzedaka applies equally in Eretz Yisrael and the Diaspora, and the difference between them relates only to the issue of precedence.

 

The Poor of Eretz Yisrael

 

            Though the issue itself seems clear and straightforward, there remains room to discuss the nature and root of the precedence afforded to the poor of Eretz Yisrael, and the relationship between the mitzva of tzedaka itself to Eretz Yisrael. 

 

            The halakha granting precedence to the poor of Eretz Yisrael is cited by the Semag (mitzvat asei 162) and codified by the Shulchan Arukh (Y.D. 251:3).  The Rambam, however, in Hilkhot Matenot Aniyim (7:13), writes: "A poor person who is one's relative precedes all other people; the poor of one's family precede the poor of his city; the poor of one's city precede the poor of a different city, as it says, 'to the poor and needy kinsman in your land'."  The Rambam establishes the priority scale based on the Sifrei, but makes no mention of granting precedence to the poor of Eretz Yisrael over those of the Diaspora.  Several Acharonim have already addressed the question as to why the Rambam omitted this halakha of the Sifrei.[5]

 

            In resolving this question, let us first consider the question addressed by the early Acharonim regarding a situation of a poor resident of Eretz Yisrael and a poor resident of one's town in the Diaspora.  To whom does one grant precedence with regard to tzedaka – the resident of Eretz Yisrael, or the resident of his own city in Chutz La-aretz?  The Bach (Y.D. 251) writes, "It would appear that [specifically] when they are both from a different city it says that the residents of Eretz Yisrael precede the residents of Chutz La-aretz.  But the poor of one's town in Chutz La-aretz clearly precede the poor of a different city, even if they are from Eretz Yisrael."[6] The Shakh (Y.D. 251:6) rules accordingly.  Seemingly, one can raise the same question as to whether one's relative from a different city precedes local residents who are not relatives.  The Netziv, in his commentary to the Sifrei, writes based on his own intuition and a careful reading of a passage in the Tana De-bei Eliyahu that "it would seem that one's family members take precedence, even if they live in a different city."

 

            This ruling clearly emerges from the comments of the Rambam, who establishes definitively, "A poor person who is one's relative precedes all other people," even before he outlines the priority scale, and this is indeed how we would logically assume.  Nevertheless, it seems puzzling that this question has earned virtually no discussion in the earlier works, as did the question of the residents of one's own city versus the residents of Eretz Yisrael.  True, the Bach thought the answer was simple, but he nevertheless found it necessary to raise the issue for discussion.

 

            The answer to this question is clear and lies in a fundamental difference between the precedence granted to relatives and local townspeople on the one hand, and that afforded to the poor of Eretz Yisrael, on the other.  When it comes to one's relatives and townspeople, the precedence given is grounded in the relationship between the giver and the recipient, and the obligation that emerges from this relationship.  This applies to both relatives and neighbors, such that any conflict between the two groups involves a clash between different levels of the same phenomenon.  In such a conflict, clearly the obligation towards relatives, which adds onto "It is to share your bread with the hungry, and to take the wretched poor into your home; when you see the naked, to clothe him" the dimension of, "and do not ignore your own flesh [kin]," triumphs.   And although the verse cries out, "Better a close neighbor than a distant brother" (Mishlei 27:10), this is said only with regard to the benefit – and even that, as implied by the verse and commentators, applies only under certain circumstances.  But regarding the level of obligation that flows from the existential connection, which extends beyond practical association and its results, undoubtedly family kinship exceeds neighborly commitments, and there was therefore no need to bring this question up for discussion.  By contrast, the preference granted to the poor of Eretz Yisrael need not be interpreted as rooted in their connection to the donors, for were this to be the case, this connection would depend upon the identity of the donors.  Additionally, a Diaspora resident's primary connection and attachment would appear to be with his circle of peers in his own community, rather than with the residents of Eretz Yisrael.

 

            This precedence, therefore, evolves from the stature of the residents of Eretz Yisrael, either the individual stature of each person by virtue of his residence in the land, or the collective standing of the Jewish population in Eretz Yisrael, about which the Gemara writes, "These are the ones referred to as 'kahal'" (Horiyot 3).  The Chatam Sofer (Responsa, Y.D. 33-4) discusses at length the question of affording preference to the residents of Jerusalem over the population of the rest of Eretz Yisrael.  He focuses his discussion on the single issue of whether or not we consider the inhabitants of the holy city greater "ba'alei ma'aseh" ("people of good deeds") than the rest of Eretz Yisrael's residents.  He thus introduces into this discussion an analysis of the halakhic sanctity of Jerusalem nowadays, whether or not it earns unique distinction even after the Temple's destruction, and so forth.

 

            It emerges, then, that the precedence afforded to the poor of Eretz Yisrael does not lie on the same continuum as that granted to one's kin and local residents.  One might have therefore concluded that since a conflict between the two involves a conflict between two distinct systems, perhaps the stature and importance of the recipient would warrant giving preference to the poor of Eretz Yisrael.  The Bach and Shakh thus found it necessary to clarify that in truth, this is not the case, that the factor of relationship overrides the consideration of the recipient's stature.  This is true for one of two reasons: either because generally this system, of personal connection, takes precedence over the other, an issue that deserves independent treatment, or because in this case, the specific consideration of dwelling in the land does not override the donor's connection to the recipient, though other merits may, indeed, warrant granting this preference.

 

This shiur will be continued next week.

Translated by David Silverberg

 

 


[1] Compare with the Rambam's comments in Hilkhot Shemita Ve-yovel (10:10): "A shofar is sounded in every 'gevul Yisrael' [Jewish area]."  Although the verse specifically adds in the context of this mitzva "be-khol artzekhem," the Minchat Chinukh (331) holds that the shofar for the jubilee is sounded even in Chutz La-aretz (as opposed to the view of the Or Samei'ach).

We should mention as well the comments of the Netziv in his "Ha'amek Davar," explaining the words, "evyonekha be-artzekha" ("your poor in your land"): "In the place where you live and know how to deal with them."

[2] Bereishit 26:5; Vayikra 18:25; Devarim 11:18.

[3] The common interpretation of the term "be-artzekha" understands it as a reference to Eretz Yisrael.  See, for example, the Gemara's comment in Bava Batra 81a regarding the obligation of bikkurim: "'That you bring from your land [me-artzekha]' – this comes to exclude the Diaspora."

[4] See Makkot 7a; Rambam, Hilkhot Sanhedrin 1:2.

[5] See the Acharonim cited in the "Sefer Ha-maftei'ach" in R. Frankel's edition of the Rambam.

[6] Incidentally, we should note that the Rambam also omits the halakha granting precedence to relatives and one's fellow townspeople when it comes to lending, despite its unanimity in the Gemara; this is halakha is codified in the Shulchan Arukh – C.M. 97:1.