Mr. Goodman was the gabbai tzedakah of his shul. A month before Pesach, he was approached by one of the congregants, Mr. Solomon, who poured out his heart. He had suffered a serious financial setback, and had no remaining money to purchase food and supplies for Pesach, in addition to various loans that he had to repay.
“How much money do you need?” Mr. Goodman asked him.
“I need to raise $10,000 to cover the Pesach expenses and loans,” replied Mr. Solomon.
“Please God, we will help you,” Mr. Goodman said. “I will send out a special notice of kimcha d’pischa [Pesach collection] to the shul membership.”
“I ask that you not mention my name,” said Mr. Solomon. “I would not like my circumstances publicized.”
“Of course,” said Mr. Goodman. “The notice will simply state that we are collecting kimcha d’pischa for one of our community members who is in financial need.”
“I very much appreciate your help,” Mr. Solomon thanked him.
The community responded very generously to the special appeal. During two weeks’ time, Mr. Goodman was able to raise $15,000 of kimcha d’pischa for Mr. Solomon.
Meanwhile, before the money was handed over, another person from the community approached Rabbi Goodman for support.
“I’ll try to help as we can,” said Mr. Goodman, “but we already made a special appeal this year. Let me see what other funds we have. I’ll be in touch with you in a day or two.”
After the person left, Mr. Goodman began wondering. “Mr. Solomon only asked for $10,000,” he thought to himself. “I wonder if I can give the excess $5,000 to this other person? On the other hand, maybe I had no right to accept more than $10,000 in the first place.”
Mr. Goodman called Rabbi Dayan and explained the situation. “What should I do with the excess $5,000?” he asked. “Should I give it to Mr. Solomon, use it for the other needy person, or return it to the donors?”
“This issue depends on a number of factors,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “The Mishnah (Shekalim 2:5) teaches that excess collection for needy people goes to the needy people. Similarly, Shaarei Teshuvah [O.C. 429:3] writes that excess kimcha d’pischa money shouldn’t be used for other purposes, but rather given to the needy for other Pesach expenses. Excess collection for a specific, needy individual goes to him. This Mishnah is cited in Shulchan Aruch [Y.D. 253:6]. ”
“It’s simple, then,” said Mr. Goodman. “The extra money goes to Mr. Solomon.”
“It might seem simple, but it actually isn’t,” said Rabbi Dayan. “According to many authorities, this halacha depends on whether the donors were aware of the identity of the recipient and whether the collector was a regular gabbai tzedakah.”
“Why is that?” asked Mr. Goodman.
“When money is donated for a certain individual, the collector accepts it on his behalf,” explained Rabbi Dayan. “However, by rights, he should not acquire the excess amount. Nonetheless, the Talmud Yerushalmi states that Chazal granted him it on account of the embarrassment he suffers through having his name publicized. Thus, when the collection was done anonymously, Mr. Solomon does not necessarily acquire the excess; the money can be used for a similar purpose and given to another needy family. (Mishpetai haTorah, Tzedakah #22)
“What difference does it make whether I am a regular gabbai tzedakah or not?” asked Mr. Goodman.
“When a regular person collects, the donor’s intent is for the current case,” explained Rabbi Dayan. “However, when a regular gabbai tzedakah collects, the donor’s intent is that any excess money should be distributed at his discretion. Moreover, some authorities maintain that a regular gabbai tzedakah can divert the excess amount when needed, even if the collection was for a specified, named individual, since the money is donated at his discretion.” (Shach Y.D. 256:7; Aruch Hashulchan Y.D. 253:13; Shevet Halevi 8:212; 9:204)
“Is there a case in which the excess money should be returned to the donors?” asked Mr. Goodman.
“When the money was not needed at all,” replied Rabbi Dayan, “such as money collected for a wedding that was cancelled. Ideally, the money should be returned to the donors; if difficult to do, it should be used for a similar purpose of hachnassas kallah.” (See Y.D. 253:7; Tzedakah Umishpat 9:4-6)
About the Author: Rabbi Meir Orlian is a faculty member of the Business Halacha Institute, headed by HaRav Chaim Kohn, a noted dayan. To receive BHI’s free newsletter, Business Weekly, send an e-mail to email@example.com. For questions regarding business halacha issues, or to bring a BHI lecturer to your business or shul, call the confidential hotline at 877-845-8455 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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