Pesach was fast approaching!
On Shabbos HaGadol, Rabbi Dayan’s shul was making an appeal for ma’os chittim. He was asked to introduce it with a drashah (sermon).
“Pesach is a Yom Tov in which we celebrate the redemption of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt,” Rabbi Dayan began. “We want each individual to personally experience, once again, the freedom from bondage, so that we can dedicate our lives to the service of Hashem.
“Unfortunately, there are many needy people in the community who are not able to feel the sense of freedom. They do not have the necessary financial means to joyously celebrate the Yom Tov in a fitting manner! Some are not even able to afford the basic needs of the Seder night – matzah, wine, etc.
“The Mishnah at the beginning of Perek Arvei Pesachim teaches that it is the community’s responsibility to provide the necessary Pesach provisions to the needy people of the community. We must ensure that they have even enough wine to fulfill the four cups – the symbol of freedom!
“Shulchan Aruch opens the laws of Pesach with the generations-old practice of collecting money for Pesach needs, known as ma’os chittim. In olden times, grain or flour would be distributed to needy families; nowadays we distribute money for Pesach purchases.
“Our gabbai tzedakah has a list of needy families in our community. We are hoping to raise at least $20,000. Any excess money will be forwarded to an organization that provides for families in Eretz Yisrael.
“We ask each person to give generously, according to his ability, toward this important mitzvah!”
The shul gabbai stood up and started announcing pledges.
Mr. Goodman, who sat near Rabbi Dayan, turned to him. “We ourselves don’t have much extra beyond our own Pesach needs,” he said. “We do have maaser kesafim money, though, from this month.
“Can maaser kesafim money by used for ma’os chittim?”
“The rule is that you cannot use maaser kesafim (tithing) for obligations that are incumbent on you,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “This is true even when the money will be used for poor people. For example, the basic obligation of giving matanos l’evyonim to two poor people cannot be given from maaser kesafim, since it is an obligation. However, additional amounts distributed on Purim, beyond the basic obligation, can be given from maaser kesafim if you want to” (Mishnah Berurah 694:3).
“Similarly, machatzis hashekel and kaparos should not be given from maaser kesafim, even though the money will be used for needy people, since it is a defined requirement according to the minhag” (Tzedakah U’mishpat 6:).
“In previous generations, the communities would often levy a set amount for ma’os chittim as a communal tax on the community members, in which case they could not give it from maaser kesafim. Nowadays, though, Harav S.Z. Auerbach, zt”l, rules that it is possible to give ma’os chittim from maaser kesafim, since there is no set amount required by the minhag and no imposed communal collection, so that it is not considered as paying a required debt” (Halichos Shlomo, Pesach 2:2).
“In our case, though, when you make a pledge in a ma’os chittim appeal, the halacha depends on your initial intent when making the pledge. If you pledge without intent to pay from maaser kesafim, the tzedakah pledge itself now becomes an obligation incumbent upon you due to your commitment, so that you cannot fulfill it afterward through maaser kesafim.
“However,” concluded Rabbi Dayan, “if you initially intend to pay the pledge from maaser kesafim, or do so on a regular basis, or if that is the common practice in your community, so that your default intention is such – it is permitted” (Taz, Y.D. 249:1).
Verdict: Nowadays, ma’os chittim may be given from maaser kesafim, since there is no set amount required for the minhag. However, if you pledge a certain amount for ma’os chittim, paying it from maser kesafim depends on whether this was your initial intent when making the pledge.