Tzedaka in Eretz Yisrael and in Chutz La-Aretz Part 2 of 2

  • Harav Aharon Lichtenstein

Translated by David Silverberg

 

 

            Having reached this point, we may perhaps go one step further and suggest that the precedence taken by the residents of Eretz Yisrael evolves from neither their personal connection to the giver, nor their stature as "ba'alei ma'aseh," but rather a third element.  By way of introducing this concept, let us examine the reason given in the Torah for the mitzva of tzedaka: "For there will never cease to be needy ones in the land, which is why I command you: open your hand to the poor and needy kinsman in your land."

 

            At first glance, we do not even begin to understand this reason.  Why should the frequency and constancy of the phenomenon of poverty yield an obligation to address it?  Does this imply that generally we are permitted to ignore suffering if we encounter it only occasionally?  Indeed, in the parallel section of charity in Parashat Behar (Vayikra 25:35), the Torah writes merely, "If your kinsman, being in straits, comes under your authority - you shall support him, the resident alien, let him live by your side," without any assessment of prevalence or constancy of poverty among one's kinsmen.  The Sifrei on our verse seems to have detected the difficulty, as it writes, "Which is why I command you… I give you sound advice for your own good."  The Netziv explains: "Since it refers to, 'For there will never cease… ,' if it is a command, how is the fact that it will never cease a reason for a mitzva?  And if it will cease in the future, it would not be a mitzva to give when there are poor people?  Rather, it is 'sound advice."  It appears that we have here not a piece of good advice for the giver himself, but rather a piece of advice of far broader dimensions, which can perhaps lend to the institution of tzedaka a fundamental element which extends beyond what the Torah writes in the section in Behar.  It seems clear that in Parashat Behar, the Torah focuses entirely on the misfortune of the pauper and the need to provide him with his needs.  The obligation there is limited to the personal plane, that of the needy recipient.  Charity in that section does not relate to the giver, it is not intended to yield for him any benefit whatsoever, direct or otherwise.  In our context, however, in Parashat Re'ei, although there, too, the poor man himself stands at the center of the Torah's discussion, his personal crisis is portrayed off a more general backdrop, as occurring "in one of your settlements in your land," as part of a long-term, wide-ranging problem that demands attention.  The struggle against poverty is not restricted to the search for a solution for a personal problem - though the personal element is clearly emphasized and felt, as even here we have before us an actual impoverished person, rather than an abstract notion – but rather constitutes a public challenge, part of the ongoing effort to stabilize and perfect society at large.  And so, although this struggle also involves a mitzva, a binding command, nevertheless, its reward comes naturally, both in the form of the divine kindness showered upon the giver in reward for his donation – "for in return the Lord your God will bless you in all your efforts and in all your undertakings" – and in terms of the indirect benefit yielded to the entire population, for a country's health, stability and moral progress clearly benefits all its residents.[1] "I give you sound advice for your own good."  We now understand the Sifrei's response to its implicit question.  Were the phenomenon of poverty to pass at some point from the earth, and poverty would exist only as an occasional occurrence, surfacing at one point and disappearing at another, then although certainly we would still bear an obligation to give bread to the hungry and clothe the naked, this obligation would flow from the section in Parashat Behar, and obligate only that which is required in that vein.  The obligation described in Parashat Re'ei, including all the details introduced there, is rooted in the fact that we deal with a permanent reality, in whose framework charity is characterized not only as assistance to those in need, but as a struggle for the nature of society.  The Torah therefore gives as the reason for this obligation, "For there will never cease to be needy ones in the land."  The opening of hands and avoiding hardening one's heart belong to this endeavor of perfecting this land: "Which is why I command you: open your hand," even many times, "to the poor and needy kinsman in your land."

 

            Clearly, the public element of the mitzva of charity, as a response to the reality of, "For there will never cease to be needy ones," can exist, essentially, anytime and anywhere.  We might view the neglect of this concept as the root of the punishment brought upon Sedom.  The prophet's description (Yechezkel 16:49), "This was the sin of your sister Sedom: arrogance.  It had plenty of bread and untroubled tranquillity, yet she did not support the poor and the needy" addresses not the sin of individuals, but rather the character of an entire country.  Nevertheless, it is also clear that for Am Yisrael, this aspect of the mitzva applies particularly in Eretz Yisrael – either because there the very existence of a "tzibur" (public) finds expression, as reflected in many areas of halakha, such as arevut, kiddush ha-chodesh, semikha, and others[2], or because public obligations apply there with greater force than they do elsewhere.

 

            Moreover, we might claim that giving tzedaka, beyond its status as an independent mitzva, constitutes part of the fulfillment of "yishuv Eretz Yisrael" – the mitzva to settle the land.  I found support for this theory in the comments of the "Pe'at Ha-shulchan," who argues with the Bach and Shakh and established that we give precedence to residents of Eretz Yisrael even over the poor in one's own community.[3] He offers the following explanation for his view (2:29):

 

"It seems to me that clearly the verse, and that which the Sifrei comments upon it, refers to Eretz Yisrael, as it says, 'If there is a needy person among you… in any of your settlements… in your land… '  This means all the residents of Eretz Yisrael – among them, one's relatives take precedence and the local poor people take precedence over the poor of a different city in Eretz Yisrael.  And the residents of Eretz Yisrael take precedence over the residents of the Diaspora - meaning, when the poor of a different city in Eretz Yisrael and from Chutz La-aretz come to Eretz Yisrael, the residents of Eretz Yisrael take precedence… But this does not speak of the poor of one's city in the Diaspora, in which case we would say that the verse mentioned them before mentioning 'in your land,' because logically, they do not earn precedence, for by giving to the residents of Eretz Yisrael, one thereby fulfills the mitzva of giving livelihood to the poor and of sustaining the settlement of Eretz Yisrael." 

 

According to the Pe'at Ha-shulchan, one fulfills the mitzva of yishuv Eretz Yisrael by giving charity to the land's residents, and this is the focus of the discussion in Parashat Re'ei.

 

            In truth, however, it would appear that we may suggest two possible approaches in this regard.  One might understand these comments of the Pe'at Ha-shulchan as referring to "yishuv Eretz Yisrael" in the simple sense of the term, for without charitable support, the poor person will likely find himself compelled to leave Eretz Yisrael.  We may, however, understand the connection to yishuv Eretz Yisrael differently.  The Ramban famously asserts that the mitzva of conquering and settling Eretz Yisrael requires that "we must not leave it in the hands of others among the nations, or leave it desolate."[4] According to the Ramban, this mitzva imposes two obligations upon us: 1) the actual possession of the territory; 2) ensuring a reasonable standard of quality of life in Eretz Yisrael.  "Desolation" not only means the absence of inhabitants, but likely refers as well to a situation in which the land is populated.  Correspondingly, then, we might consider the social stability of the land an aspect of yishuv Eretz Yisrael, as the establishment of its character contributes to its development beyond the actual presence of Kenesset Yisrael in the land.

 

            In light of this, we may very easily explain why the Rambam, in the seventh chapter of Hilkhot Matenot Aniyim, presents the priority of scale regarding one's relatives and fellow townspeople, but omits the corresponding halakha granting precedence to the poor of Eretz Yisrael.  The Rambam there brings only those laws of precedence that result from the laws of tzedaka; the halakha granting priority to the poor of Eretz Yisrael, which relates to the mitzva of sustaining the Jewish population there, does not belong in this context.

 

            It emerges from our discussion that we must distinguish between the two sections in the Torah dealing with giving charity to the poor: the discussion in Vayikra, which encompasses all needy people, in all locations, and that in Sefer Devarim, which is limited to Eretz Yisrael.  This distinction is indeed self understood, and in fact has support from the simple fact, as noted by the Pe'at Ha-shulchan, that Parashat Re'ei in general focuses on the fulfillment of mitzvot in Eretz Yisrael.  And, as mentioned, we might even view some of the mitzvot outlined in this parasha as related to yishuv Eretz Yisrael, despite their being chovot ha-guf.  Consider, for example, the mitzva of destroying idols, which appears towards the beginning of Parashat Re'ei.  This mitzva undoubtedly applies as well in Chutz La-aretz, though not with the same scope as it does in Eretz Yisrael.  The Rambam rules (Hilkhot Avodat Kokhavim 7:1), based on the Sifrei, that

 

"in Eretz Yisrael there is a mitzva to pursue it [idolatry] until we eradicate it from our entire land.  But in the Diaspora, we are not commanded to pursue it.  Rather, wherever we take control we must destroy all the idolatry there, as it says, 'You shall eradicate their name from that place' – in Eretz Yisrael you are commanded to pursue, but you are not commanded to pursue them in Chutz La-aretz."

 

My teacher and father-in-law, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt"l, explained that in the land, the destruction of idolatry, beyond being an independent mitzva, constitutes part of the process of settling and establishing the land.  For this reason, the Torah mentions this mitzva in Parashat Re'ei, as Benei Yisrael stood on the brink of entry into the land.

 

            One point, however, remains to be clarified.  Besides the issue of precedence, is there a difference between the mitzva of tzedaka in the Diaspora and in Eretz Yisrael, parallel to what we saw regarding the destruction of idols?  Or, do these two parshiyot, when all is said and done, completely overlap?  In Hilkhot Matenot Aniyim (7:1), the Rambam, consistent with his remarks in Sefer Ha-mitzvot (mitzvat asei 195), combines the two and cites the verses together in the same context: "There is a mitzvat asei to give charity to the poor in accordance with what the poor deserves, if the giver can afford it, as it says, 'you must open you hand to him,' and it says, 'you shall support him, the resident alien; let him live by your side,' and it says, 'let your brother live by your side'."  However, it seems to me that we might consider the possibility of differences in content between the two parshiyot.  On the one hand, the section in Behar refers to a wider range, as it includes the ger toshav ("resident alien").  On the other hand, it would appear that Parashat Re'ei demands a higher standard, which expresses itself in at least two halakhot extracted by the Sifrei from the verses:

 

1.  "From where do we know that if you gave once, you must nevertheless give even one hundred times?  The verse says, 'naton titein'."

2.  "That which he lacks – even a horse, and even a servant."

 

Based on what we suggested earlier, we may conclude that these halakhot are introduced in Parashat Re'ei only with respect to the poor population discussed there, meaning, "one of your kinsmen in any of your settlements in your land that the Lord your God is giving you."  But such a distinction seems very far-fetched, and so far I have not seen any source for it in the poskim.  Perhaps even if they accepted the difference suggested between the two parshiyot, they nevertheless did not reach any halakhic conclusions on this basis, as they felt that ultimately, we learn the halakhot of one from the other, just as we find, for example, regarding "bal yeira'eh" and "bal yimatzei."  According to the final halakha, both these prohibitions apply both in residences and elsewhere.[5]

 

            In the aforementioned passage in the Pe'at Ha-shulchan, when he seeks to underscore the lower level of Diaspora residents regarding tzedaka and the point that the Torah deals specifically with those in the land, he notes that the Sifrei required a special "yalfuta" (extrapolation) from the verse to apply the mitzva to Chutz La-aretz.  "For one would have thought," he writes, "that the Torah did not obligate giving tzedaka to the residents of the Diaspora; it therefore includes [the Diaspora] from 'that the Lord your God is giving you' – in every location."[6] As mentioned, however, one may contend that after we include the Diaspora from this verse, an equation is drawn between all people in all locations, such that all the halakhot presented with regard to tzedaka apply to everyone equally.  In fact, the Gemara in Masekhet Bava Metzia (31b) requires a yalfuta even to apply the obligation of tzedaka to the poor of a different city: "'Open' – perhaps only to the poor of your city?  From where [do we know to apply the obligation] to the poor of another city?  The verse says: 'pato'ach tiftach' – in every location."  With regard to them, it seems clear that the halakhot presented in this parasha – to give "even one hundred times," and "that which he is lacking" – apply equally, unless one will argue that with regard to them, too, there is room for doubt.  But it would seem, at first glance, that the Pe'at Ha-shulchan's claim, that Diaspora residents are included only as an addendum to the parasha, on the basis of which he argued that the obligation's scope would be more limited in Chutz La-aretz, appears to be contradicted by this sugya in Bava Metzia.  In light of what we explained, however, we might perhaps draw a distinction between the two contexts.  Once the Gemara in Bava Metzia includes the poor of different cities in the obligation of tzedaka, they are included entirely, in every aspect introduced in the parasha, as through them, too, one takes part in the settlement of Eretz Yisrael.  Diaspora residents, by contrast, are included only with respect to the basic commandments of the parasha, but not with regard to all its aspects.  It thus stands to reason that not all the details would apply to them. 

 

            Commenting on the Sifrei here in Parashat Re'ei, the Malbim, in his "Ha-Torah Ve-ha'mitzva," writes: "And from that which is written, 'be-artzekha,' it is explained that the poor of Eretz Yisrael take precedence.  But from that which is written, 'asher Hashem Elokekha noten lakh' it is explained that even the poor of Chutz La-aretz, if they are the poor of your town – you must give to them."  This formulation implies that a practical distinction indeed exists between Eretz Yisrael and Chutz La-aretz with regard to the mitzva of tzedaka: in Eretz Yisrael, one must give to even the poor of different cities, whereas in the Diaspora one is obligated only towards the poor of his city.  In light of what we have seen, this distinction becomes perfectly clear.  In Eretz Yisrael, the mitzva of tzedaka involves the mitzva of settling the land, which obviously applies equally to residents of other locations.  In Chutz La-aretz, by contrast, there is an obligation simply to assist those in need, an obligation which may reasonably be restricted to those to whom the giver has some connection and responsibility.  Understandably, then, halakha may very well make this distinction with regard to other halakhic details, as well, as suggested above.  As stated, however, this would be a particularly novel conclusion to reach, one which would require further inquiry and analysis.

 


[1] A general Talmudic principle dictates that Bet-Din does not employ coercive measures when it comes to a mitzva "she-matan sekhara be-tzida," the reward for which is mentioned alongside it in the Torah.  It would seem that tzedaka would not fall into this category, despite the promise of reward presented in the Chumash.  This principle appears in the Yerushalmi (Bava Batra 5:5) in the context of honest weights and measures, and in the Gemara in Chulin (110b) regarding honoring parents.  In both these instances, the Torah draws a direct connection between the mitzva and the reward with the word "le-ma'an" (see Shemot 20:12; Devarim 25:15).  Regarding tzedaka, however, the Torah indeed describes the reward for this mitzva but separates the reward from the mitzva.  Nevertheless, the Rishonim who elaborate on the question of "kefiya" (coercion) for tzedaka indeed assumed that this mitzva qualifies as a "mitzva she-matan sekhara be-tzida" and therefore raised other explanations as to why Bet-Din might not exercise kefiya for tzedaka.

[2] See my article, "Be-inyan Semikha Be-Eretz Yisrael U-ve'Chutz La-aretz," Beit Yitzchak, 5719, pp.82-98.

[3] Needless to say, when determining halakha le-ma'aseh – particularly when it comes to supporting public institutions, regarding which this topic is especially relevant – additional factors must be taken into account, such as the extent of the need, percentages of distribution, and so on.  This is not the context for a thorough analysis of this issue; it suffices for us to merely note the fundamental debate on the individual level.

[4] Fourth mitzvat asei which the Ramban felt was omitted by the Rambam (printed at the end of the mitzvot asei in the Rambam's Sefer Ha-mitzvot).  Our citation here comes from the Ramban's opening remarks, which deal with the public obligation.  Later, the Ramban includes in this mitzva also the residence in Eretz Yisrael of the individual.

[5] See Pesachim 5b and Rishonim.

[6] It must be noted that the text of the Sifrei as it appears in our versions, and its interpretation, are vague, and it is unclear whether the Sifrei indeed requires a separate "yalfuta" to include the residents of Chutz La-aretz in this mitzva.  The Sifrei reads: "When it says, 'in one of your settlements' – [we would perhaps infer that] if he sat in one place, you are commanded to support him, but if he went around collecting then you are not required to do anything.  [The verse therefore adds,] 'that the Lord your God gives' – in every location ['be-khol makom']."  The Vilna Gaon emends the final two words in this passage to read, "mi-kol makom" – "in any event."  But even according to our version of the text, "be-khol makom," we need not explain it as referring to the Diaspora, and that specifically from the extra clause in the verse we derive the obligation of tzedaka in Chutz La-aretz.  It may very well refer to a different location in Eretz Yisrael.  Moreover, the Sifrei does not derive from the words "pato'ach tiftach" the obligation to support even the poor of different cities, as does the Gemara (Bava Metzia 31b).  It therefore stands to reason that it deals here not with a resident of a different city, but rather with one who travels from place to place.  One might have thought that since he "earns a living" by moving about and people have compassion for him, no strict obligation of tzedaka applies with regard to such a person.  The Sifrei therefore derives from this verse that indeed the mitzva requires giving even to such a person.  The Semag's version of the Sifrei, however, indeed reads, "From where do we know [that the mitzva applies] to the residents of Chutz La-aretz?  As it says, 'that the Lord your God gives you' – to include all locations."  This is also how the Vilna Gaon understood in his Beiur Ha-Gra (Y.D. 251:4), and how Rabbenu Hillel understood the text as it appears in our versions.