Monday, March 14, 2011

amazing chiddush of R' Yosef Engel regarding matanos la'evyonim

The gemara (Shabbos 10b) quotes Rav as teaching that if you give a gift to a friend, you have to tell him about it -- don't just leave an anonymous present in his mailbox. Maharal explains that by definition a gift is meant to express love, appreciation, etc., to create a bond between giver and recipient. Unless the two parties are aware of each other, that connection is lost. However, writes the Maharal, the mitzvah of tzedaka is simply to fulfill the needs of the poor. Therefore, it can be fulfilled even when the recipient and giver are unaware of each other.

My wife is learning Maharal so I told her to take a look. She immediately threw back at me the pasuk, “Matan b’seiser yichpeh af,” (Mishlei 21) but Tosfos beat her to the punch. Tosfos explains, the gemara is speaking specifically about a present sent to express affection, not just any gift. That’s exactly why a gift of charity can be given secretly.

Why do I bring up this Maharal a week before Purim? Because R’ Yosef Engel uses it as the basis for a tremendous chiddush. The mitzvah on Purim is called “matanos la’evyonim.” It’s a gift! Therefore, unless you know who you are giving to and unless the recipient knows whom he/she is receiving from, you are not yotzei the mitzvah.

Not all poskim are happy with this. Why not compare matanos l’evyonim to the mitzvah of tzedakah, which can be done anonymously? That question gets to the very crux of the debate: is the mitzvah of matanos la’evyonim just a subcategory of the mitzvah of tzedaka that happens to be connected to Purim, or is it a unique mitzvas ha’yom of Purim that operates with its own rules? The fact that we can point to nafka minos between matanos l’evyonim and tzedaka – even the poor are obligated in matanos la’evyonim, the shiur of matanos la’evyonim is different than the shiur for tzedaka, and others – lends weight to the latter position. On the other hand, the purpose of the mitzvah of matanos la'evyonim seems consistent with the purpose of mitzvas tzedaka, and I would venture to guess that most people would equate the two.


  1. great unknown9:58 PM

    mar'eh makom for the R' Yosef Engel, please.

  2. and whether you can take it off of ma'aser.

  3. Mareh Makom is Shabbos 10b in Gilyonei Hashas. But, and it's a big one, if you'll read it inside you'll see that he knew very well that it was off the charts. He begins with ולפי זה לכאורא and ends with וזה חידוש דין לכאורא. Not exactly "Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen."

  4. The chiyuv to give tzedakah is normally limited to provide basic necessities for aniyim. For example an ani has to be given enough bread to suffice for the 2 daily meals(first perek bava basra).

    Here we are commanded midivrei sofrim to give more than their basic needs which comprise the chiyuv mideoraisah - so it is matanos, a day of gifts for the aniyim.

    You can still give it anonymously becuase it is tzedakah, but it is still called matanos becuase it is a chiyuv midivrei sofrim to give more than your basic torah tzedakah obligation

  5. Akiva2:26 PM

    Adding a source to the discussion - the Rav, as recorded in Harrerei Kedem, identifies Matanot L'Evyonim as an expression of Simchas Purim, noting that true Simcha requires you to be m'sameach others and to bring the evyonim into your simcha.

    Which, it would seem, lends support to R' Yosef Engel's position.

  6. You don't need RYBS for that -- the Rishonim say it. I thought the opposite -- that if it's a din in simcha alone, then who cares if the ani knows who he is getting the gift from or not -- as long as he is happy.

    PC - you are straddling the fence.

    B -- hey, the post was titled "amazing chiddush" for a reason.

  7. Normally the mitzva of tzedaka is vehaavet taavitenu de machsoroh asher yechesar lo - you have to give him what is missing. There is no mitzvah to cheer him up - actually that's not true - there is - see gemara 1st perek bb, but that's with words - hanosen perutah le'ani gets 6 berachos vehamephaysoh bedavarim gets 11 berachos, but that's with words.

    Purim is a day where as part of the good cheer of the day you ensure that aniyim also have something to be happy about. But it's still a mitzva of tzedaka, just that on this occassion the mitzva of tzedakah is to cheer up the oni, not only provide their basic needs.

    It's called a matanah becuase there is no mechayev mitzad the matazav of the oni to give this amount of tzedakah.

    cf sefer hachinuch who says that menachos are called menachos which is a loshon of matonoh because normally there is no chiyuv associated with them and they are brought voluntarily.

    There is no chiyuv to tell the oni that you are giving them money, the chiyuv is to give tzedakah beophen matanah

  8. I want to register my approval of the basic idea of pc's mehalach, but it's farkert from Reb Yosef Engel. On Purim,it goes beyond dei machsoro. Unlike regular yamim tovim, when there is a chiyuv of simcha, and machsoro is to have meat and wine, what you give him has a din of Tzedaka. But here, it has nothing to do with what he eats on Purim. The chiyuv is to give him extra, and that's why it's called Matana. But I find it hard to hear that it's still under the heading of tzedaka. Tzedaka is defined in the Torah as asher yechsar lo. Beyond that cannot be tzedaka. I wouldn't say you'd be over on Bal Tosif if you give extra to an ani, but tzedaka it's not. The only possibility is that you could call it "tzedaka derabanan." Again, nothing to do with the Bendiner, but fine in itself.

  9. Anonymous4:35 PM

    Given the expensive neighborhoods where many Jews live, it's not always a given that we know evyonim personally.

  10. Anonymous5:21 PM

    Maybe we could encourage the people who live in expensive neighborhoods who don't know any bona fide evyonim to go on a evyon hunt. I'd bet the local rav could help, assuming he himself doesn't qualify. Seriously, any well-to-do person who does not make it his business to personally know and help an evyon should get a refund on his chinuch.

  11. >>>There is no chiyuv to tell the oni that you are giving them money, the chiyuv is to give tzedakah beophen matanah

    Semantics. The point of R' Yosef Engel has to do with *how* it is given. Accepting his chiddush as to *how* it is given but still calling it tzedaka makes no difference to the point. You can tell me an apple is really an orange, it's just an orange with a different taste, a different color, and a different texture.

  12. the idea of making the recipient of the gift aware of the identity of the giver is to foster good will. seems to me that it is more important to preserve the dignity & self-esteem of the ani by giving incognito.

  13. Hanosen matanah lechaveroh chayav lehodioh is due to a chiyuv hakoras hatov which means that it is part of a relationship between the giver and the receiver.

    The simchah of tzedakah for an ani who receives tzedakah is the money, not the feelings of the donor.