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Kesuvos, 50


The Gemara says that the Rabanan of Usha instituted that one should not give away more than one fifth of one's assets to Tzedakah, because it might cause a person to become impoverished. It seems that it is *permitted* to give away up to a fifth, but one is not *required* to do so.

The CHAFETZ CHAYIM discusses many points of this Halachah in AHAVAS CHESED (chapters 19-20).

1. Although it is not required for a person to give more than a tenth of his income to Tzedakah (see TOSFOS in Ta'anis 9a), nevertheless the Chafetz Chayim writes (ch. 19) that a person who wants to give Tzedakah generously should give one fifth of his income for Tzedakah, like Yakov Avinu did (Bereishis 28:22) as quoted by our Gemara.

When a person gives a fifth of his money, he should not give it all at once, but he should divide it into two tenths, as the verse implies. The SHITAH MEKUBETZES gives a number of reasons for this. First, it accustoms a person towards giving, as the RAMBAM writes in Avos (3:15) that it is better to give one penny a thousand times than a thousand pennies at one time.

Second, the Shitah Mekubetzes cites from the ME'ILI that it is proper to divide it into two tenths in order to parallel the two Ma'aseros that are given from fruits of fields in Eretz Yisrael. Every year we separate two Ma'aseros -- Ma'aser Rishon and Ma'aser Sheni (or Ma'aser Ani). Since the two tenths parallel the two Ma'aseros, the Me'ili continues, it is appropriate that one tenth, which corresponds to Ma'aser Sheni, may be invested in any Mitzvah. It may even be invested in a Mitzvah from which one benefits personally, such as writing a Sefer Torah or buying Sefarim to lend out, similar to Ma'aser Sheni which is eaten by the owner himself in Yerushalayim. The other tenth, which corresponds to the Ma'aser that is given to Kohanim and Levi'im, should be distributed as Tzedakah to the poor. The Chafetz Chayim adds that since it corresponds to the Ma'aser that is distrubuted to the Kohanim and Levi'im, it should be given to Bnei Torah, as the verse refers to the tribe of Levi as those who teach the Torah (Devarim 33:10).

(Besides these reasons, the Chafetz Chayim points out that it is important to separate Tzedakah in tithes for Kabalistic reasons.)

2. The Chafetz Chayim adds that there are situations in which it is required, and not just recommended, to give a fifth of one's earnings to Tzedakah. Based on the RAMBAM (Perush ha'Mishnayos Peah 1:1), and on the VILNA GAON in his letter, ALIM L'TERUFAH, the Chafetz Chayim asserts that our Gemara is discussing a person who is separating money for Tzedakah before he has a particular Tzedakah to which to give it, and he is looking for ways in which to use the money for Tzedakah. (This is implicit in the Gemara's expression "ha'Mevazbez.") If, however, a person knows of a specific poor man who is in need of help, then he is obligated to help the poor man even if it requires separating up to a fifth of his earnings.

(b) DISTRIBUTING MORE THAN A FIFTH OF ONE'S INCOME TO TZEDAKAH: Although the Chachamim in Usha prohibited distributing more than a fifth of one's money to Tzedakah, the Chafetz Chayim (ch. 20) points out that a person sometimes *is* permitted to give even *more* than a fifth of his earnings to Tzedakah.
1. If there are poor people whom a person knows are in need, the Chafetz Chayim writes, based on the Rambam, that one is obligated to give up to one fifth of one's money to help them (see above). It is *permitted* to give even more than a fifth of one's moeny in such a situation (see Insights to Ta'anis 24:1).

2. An unusually wealthy person is permitted to give more than a fifth of his money to Tzedakah, since doing so will most likely not cause him to become impoverished (based on TOSFOS in Bava Kama 9b, DH Ileima).

3. If a person is a Shechiv Mera (on his deathbed) and is expecting to die very soon and thus does not have to worry about becoming impoverished, he may distribute even more than a fifth of his money (but not all of it) to Tzedakah (based on the RABEINU YONAH, cited in the Shitah Mekubetzes, who cites the Gemara in Kesuvos 67b).

4. The Chafetz Chayim writes that the prohibition of the Rabanan of Usha perhaps applies only to a person who gives away a large sum of money at once from his estate (as the word "Mevazbez" implies). Is it permitted, though, for a person to calculate how much he needs for his weekly income (and other needs) and to set aside the rest for Tzedakah, even if that extra amount is more than a fifth? Perhaps in such a situation there is no reason to fear that he will become impoverished and have to beg, since he makes sure to leave himself enough to support himself. The Chafetz Chayim concludes that in such a case it is indeed permitted for a person to give away more than a fifth of his earnings.

5. The Chafetz Chayim writes that if a person wants to enter into a "Yisachar-Zevulun" deal by supporting a Talmid Chacham with even more than a fifth of his earnings, it is permitted to do so, as we find in many places (see, for example, Sotah 21a, and Rashi there, DH Shimon). Similarly, the Shitah Mekubetzes writes that it is permitted to support Bnei Torah with more than a fifth of one's money, as we see from the conduct of Rebbi Akiva as cited in the Midrash Raba (Vayikra 34:16) to Parshas Behar.

The Chafetz Chayim explains that a "Yisachar-Zevulun" agreement is not simply a distribution of Tzedakah; it is a business deal whereby one invests his money in the Torah in order to share in the reward of the one learning Torah. That is why it is permitted to make such a deal even with more than a fifth of one's possessions.


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