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Shabbat Parashat KI TEITZEI | 5768

Spending Money on Mitzvot "bein adam lchavero"

Ask the Rabbi

Question: I read in your book, Living the Halachic Process, that one is not obligated to spend his own money to do mitzvot bein adam l’chavero (interpersonal). Does it follow that one doesn’t have to spend money on hachnasat orchim (hosting) or that one can use his tzedaka money on it?
Answer: If his guest is poor enough to deserve tzedaka funds, then feeding him at one’s home is no less a legitimate use of tzedaka than giving him money (Ahavat Chesed 3:1).

Hachnasat orchim also applies when one hosts people of means (Sukka 49b). However, that does not mean that anytime one hosts someone, he fulfills (in the fullest manner) the mitzva of hachnasat orchim. The Terumat Hadeshen (I, 72, accepted as halacha by the Rama, Orach Chayim 333:1) proposes that the mitzva of hachnasat orchim, whose fulfillment justifies utilizing halachic leniencies, applies to a guest who is away from home and needs a place to stay. As the Beit Yosef (OC 333) says, inviting friends over is not a mitzva at all. Let’s put the matter in perspective. Maintaining good relations with friends and neighbors is a crucial part of a healthy Jewish lifestyle. For an extreme example, consider that a wife can demand a divorce of a husband who forbids her to lend things to neighbors because he inhibits her ability to interact properly with them (Ketubot 72a). Yet, just as one who gives birthday presents to his family cannot consider that tzedaka, so too investing in friendships is a good thing, but not a mitzva per se. (One who hosts local people specifically because they are lonely, etc. seems to resemble hosting those from out of town who need a place to stay. Further detail and analysis is beyond our present scope.)

What about a case where the host fulfills the mitzva of hachnasat orchim but not of tzedaka? How should expenses be covered? The gemara (Sukka 49b) says that acts of chesed apply to a person’s body and resources; the Yerushalmi (Peah 1) gives a spending limit of a fifth of one’s resources on such mitzvot. However, the examples given (Rashi, Meiri Sukka 49b) of using resources are loans of money and objects, where one is repaid. We stick to the thesis in our book that mitzvot of chesed, including hachnasat orchim, do not fundamentally require one to spend money. If a host requested that the guest share in significant expenses, he would have fulfilled the basic mitzva of hachnasat orchim, albeit not with all the frills (see Encyclopedia Talmudit, vol. IX, p. 130). On the other hand, a Jew is encouraged to provide special food on behalf of a guest (consider the story of Avraham and see Chulin 100a). The money he outlays (and “gets back” only when he is a guest at someone’s house) is part of the normal fulfillment of the mitzva, and can be seen as such in regards to questions of tzedaka (Tzedaka U’mishpat 6:(15)).

Can one, then, claim the money spent in this way as a use of ma’aser money (a preferred tzedaka fund)? The classic use of ma’aser money is on supporting the poor (Rama, Yoreh Deah 249:1). According to some, one cannot use it on other mitzvot (simple reading of the Rama). However, distinctions are suggested. The B’er Hagolah (ad loc.) says one may use ma’aser money on mitzvot in which he is not otherwise required. The Shach (YD 249:3) cites those who say that if there is a mitzva (apparently, a voluntary one) that he can perform only if he uses tzedaka funds, he may do so. The Chatam Sofer (Shut YD 231) limits the leniencies to one who, before accepting the practice of giving ma’aser kesafim, made a provision that he would use the funds for such mitzvot.

So, if one goes beyond the standard call of duty in inviting those in need of a place to stay and eat and feels that such uses were within the realm of intentions he had for his practice of ma’aser, he may use such funds for hosting expenses. Otherwise, he should follow the lead of Avraham Avinu and cover the costs for the sake of the mitzva.


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