Giving Tzedakah At Night
The Minchas Elazar of Munkatch (Divrei Torah 1:117) writes that there are some miserly people who look for every excuse to exempt themselves from giving tzedakah. For example, when a poor person approaches them for tzedakah at night, they claim to follow the Arizal’s practice of not giving tzedakah at night. However, the Minchas Elazar writes that this is no excuse. This is not what the Arizal intended at all.
What did he intend?
Night Is a Time of Harsh Judgment
The Chida (Birchei Yosef, O.C. 235) writes, “Night is a time of strict judgment. Therefore, according to the students of the Arizal, it is not a time for giving tzedakah.” The Chida is commenting on the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 92:10, Y.D. 249:14), which rules that it is proper to give tzedakah before each prayer, as the pasuk states, “With tzedek, I will behold Your presence” (Tehillim 17:15).
The Arizal followed this ruling by giving tzedakah before Shachris and Mincha, but he did not give before Maariv. The Chida cites a source for the Arizal’s custom from our own Gemara. The Gemara tells us that R’ Chinena bar Papa was once walking outside at night to distribute tzedakah to the poor. As he walked, the prince of destructive spirits met him and demanded to know why R’ Chinena was infringing on his domain. R’ Chinena answered by quoting the pasuk, “A gift in secret overturns anger” (Mishlei 21:14).
The simple explanation of this story is that the prince of spirits asked why R’ Chinena walked about at night when destructive spirits roam. R’ Chinena answered that he relied on the merit of tzedakah to protect him. However, the Chida offers another explanation. He suggests that the prince of spirits said that tzedakah does not have the same ability to arouse Heavenly mercy at night as it does during the day, since night is a time of strict Heavenly judgment (see Divrei Torah, ibid; Maharsham 2:43). R’ Chinena answered that tzedakah is nevertheless effective at all times.
According to this explanation, from the very source of the Arizal’s practice we see that there is no restriction against giving tzedakah at night. All the Gemara means to say is that giving tzedakah during the day is more beneficial since it awakens a greater degree of Heavenly mercy. All we should derive from the Arizal’s practice is that one doesn’t have to give tzedakah before Maariv, but one may certainly do so if one pleases.
Others believe the Arizal warned against giving tzedakah at night if one can possibly give it during the day (see Divrei Torah and Maharsham, ibid.). They explain that according to Kabbalah, giving tzedakah at night arouses the anger of destructive spirits.
Do Not Turn Away a Poor Person
However, all opinions agree that one should not turn away a poor person who comes to collect tzedakah at night. If a person does so, he neglects the positive commandment of “You must open your hand to him” (Devarim 15:8) and transgresses the prohibition of “Do not harden you heart; do not clench your hand” (Devarim 15:7).
The Arizal favored giving money during the day only when there is no question of turning a poor person away empty-handed. The Aparkasta D’Aniya (3:Y.D.:181) writes, “At no time, and under no circumstances, should one ever refrain from giving tzedakah.”
All the Arizal meant, he writes, is that one should not meditate on kabbalistic intentions before giving tzedakah at night as he would during the day. He adds, “This practice has no relevance to the majority of people who in any event do not know the kabbalistic intentions when giving tzedakah. They should give tzedakah at all times, with wholesome simplicity. Hashem, Who cherishes tzedakah, will position every mitzvah in its appropriate time and place.”
The Divrei Chaim’s Custom
The Tzanz-Klausenberger Rebbe, zt”l, cites the custom of his great-grandfather, the Divrei Chaim of Tzanz. At night, he would give his attendant tzedakah money to distribute, and the attendant would distribute it the following day (Divrei Yatziv O.C. 293; see Divrei Torah, ibid., who cites other details of the Divrei Chaim’s practice of giving tzedakah at night).