Monday, May 12, 2008

Guest Posting By Chabakuk Elisha - The Sudilkover Rebbe's Perspective on Tzedaka

(Picture courtesy of

Recently, A Simple Jew and I discussed the appropriate method for giving tzedaka. Is it better to distribute smaller amounts to more recipients and thereby help a greater number of people, or should one distribute larger chunks to fewer people and thereby help the individual recipients more?

Not wanting to to take a position since both positions seem to have reasonable logic to support them, A Simple Jew and I waited with curiosity for an answer to come back from the Sudilkover Rebbe. In the process of waiting for a response, I thought about the question from time to time until one day during Shachris I concluded:

If I care about the recipient, I should give more to less – and if I care about myself, I should give less to more. Therefore it would make sense to split the difference, and give a big chunk to one or two recipients, and give small amounts to many other recipients.

When I got to work a couple hours later, I found the response from the Sudilkover Rebbe forwarded to me by Reb A Simple Jew in my email box. I translated it from Hebrew into English here:

Please accept my apologies for not responding in English as I have done in the past. Due to my many obligations as well as my physical condition, which needs improvement, it is hard for me to concentrate and write in a language that I am not fluent in – for it takes quite a bit of energy for me – for this I ask your forgiveness. Unfortunately, my response was delayed as I did not have easy access to a computer and writing was difficult.

Your question is indeed a weighty one, and I considered the matter:

The Rambam maintains that the optimal approach to charity should be to aid a poor individual or Torah scholar who has no means, and through charity he can be set upon his feet – which includes worthy institutions that are failing and through substantial donations they can be rescued.

On the other hand, the Meiri writes that "every penny adds up" – that by distributing charity to many recipients one multiplies his mitzvos of tzedaka. But regarding this, my esteemed step-grandfather, the Imrei Yosef of Spinka, would say, "What is the value of additional mitzvos, when the needy aren't significantly helped?"

Therefore, it seems to me, that should one have considerable funds to donate to charity, one should grant it all to a needy individual or scholar in order to set him upon his feet, and if there are remaining funds they should be distributed in small amounts to all those who ask and thereby add acts of charity among Israel.

May Hashem protect me from erroneous advice made hastily. And may it be Hashem's will that the needy be satiated amid blessing and livelihood without limit, and may Yisroel not be dependent upon one another or upon other nations.

- Just another word about the Imrei Yosef of Spinka:

It is known that the Imrei Yosef followed the practice of his teacher, the Divrei Chaim of Sanz, not to keep money in his posession. Every morning before davening, he would make certain to distribute any funds that he had received to charity in fulfillment of the verse "Olam chesed yibone" (the world is built upon kindness).

Once while he was preparing to daven Shacharis, and after he had distributed all of his money, a poor man approached him begging for assistance. The Imrei Yosef searched everywhere but was unable to find even the smallest coin to give the man. Immediately he sent his son (later to be famously known as the "Chakal Yitzchok") to borrow money from a certain wealthy man in order to help this poor Jew – who did as we was told, and ran to take out the loan. After the funds were given to the needy fellow, the Chakal Yitzchok asked his father:

Was that really necessary? Don't Chazal teach that "When a person wishes to perform a mitzvah but is unable to that it is counted as if he performed it;" and that "Good intentions are counted by Hashem as actions"?

To which the Imrei Yosef replied, "What is gained if I get credit for a mitzvah and the poor destitute fellow remains without food?!"

I smiled when I read his thoughtful response, and I was also fascinated how similar our conclusions were. May Hashem send a refuah sheleima to the Sudilkover Rebbe, may he have arichas yomim vshanim tovos!


At May 12, 2008 at 7:33:00 AM EDT, Blogger Leora said...

Good questions. I would look to the Rambam. But you discussed some of the issues well.

Refuah sheleima to the Sudilkover Rebbe.

At May 12, 2008 at 8:51:00 AM EDT, Anonymous ploni said...

CE, the same distinction has occurred to me, however, one could alsolook at it another way: I could give $10.00 to 1000 people, or $10,000 to one person. If we look at the recipient, then we might go with the latter. However, if 1000 people each give $10.00 to 1000 people, then the recipients still receive $10,000 each, but the givers have had the zchus of giving many times. Therefore it seems to me that your cheshbon only works for the individual giver, but if the rabim are giving small and often, it may actually be better overall. Ant thoughts?

At May 12, 2008 at 10:46:00 AM EDT, Anonymous chabakuk elisha said...

Leora & Ploni,
Thanks for the feedback!

The thought had crossed my mind, but I think it's unlikely to work that way in reality (sorta reminds me of those pyramid schemes that never really work).
Nevertheless, by splitting the difference as I mentioned (and giving a large amount to one or two causes, while also giving many smaller donations) you are actually doing both anyway, right?

At May 12, 2008 at 12:06:00 PM EDT, Anonymous avakesh said...

Rambam in Avos on the "Vhakol lphi rov hamaase" says that it is better to give many small donations than one large one, since the former accustoms one to give more. Of course, one can say that this is all for the same cause but for different causes one can distinguish.
There is also some material on this in commentaries to Shulchan Aruch Hil Tsedaka.

At May 13, 2008 at 12:22:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Yirmeyahu said...

Just to throw in my two cents (I'm sorry I couldn't resist). Insofar as it is generally preferable to give through neutral third parties, and these are generally organizations bizman hazeh, wouldn't it seem that it would be incumbent upon the organization to make sure that the funds provided to the needy accomplish their goal, while an individual's contribution isn't going to directly have such an effect whether one gives to one tzedakah or many?

At May 13, 2008 at 1:30:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Yirmeyahu said...

I meant to mention

and while I'm at it:

As mentioned in the post the Divrei Chaim was a Gaon in tzedakah who wouldn't go to bed without having distributed all of his money. His great grandson the Sanz Klausenberger Rebbe zy"a spoke on the importance of Kosher gelt. I would like to alert you all to founded by the Sanz Klausenberger Rebbe, which is a girls orphanage in Israel.

Personally I found the automatic payment method to be an effective way to allow my little bit given regularly to accumulate. (The most frequent option on their site is monthly, but if you contact them they probably can set you up for weekly withdrawals if that works better(: )

At May 13, 2008 at 11:12:00 AM EDT, Blogger Chaim B. said...

Isn't your safeik exactly the point addressed by the Rambam in the Peirush haMishna to Avos 3:15, where he explicitely writes that it is better to do many small acts of charity than to give one lump sum (hakol l'fi rov ha'ma'aseh=multiple repetitive acts)?
Is the Sudilkover Rebbe asserting that the Rambam he cites (can you provide the mareh makom) contradicts the Rambam in Peirush haMishna?

At October 2, 2008 at 8:14:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would also like to mention the fabulous work done by and at the Laniado hospital in Natanya, which, like Lev LaLev, was founded by the Klausenberger Rebbe.


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