Spreading The Wealth
‘Giving to Only One Poor Person’
Is it better to donate all one’s charitable funds to one cause? Or is it better to divide the money among several causes? Poskim answer this question based on our sugya: R’ Abba bar Zavda said, “Anyone who gives all his priestly gifts to one kohen brings famine to the world.”
The source for this statement is II Shmuel (20:26 and 21:1). We read, “And Eera the Yaari was kohen to David” and immediately afterward, “And there was a famine in the days of David.” David gave all his tithes to Eera, leaving other kohanim hungry. As an appropriate punishment, middah keneged middah, Hashem caused a famine to strike the land (Iyun Yaakov).
Accordingly, the Rosh rules that giving all one’s tithes to a single kohen is forbidden. The Rambam, however, doesn’t mention such a rule in his Mishneh Torah. The Rashash explains the Rambam’s omission by noting that R’ Abba bar Zavda’s statement contradicts the rule that a Jew who is accustomed to giving his tithes to a certain kohen may not give them to another kohen (Bava Basra 123b, see Tosafos).
An Indigent Kohen
Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld (Salmas Chaim 15) attempts to resolve this contradiction based on the Or HaChaim (Rishon L’Tzion, Yoreh De’ah 257:9), who writes that giving one kohen more than his basic needs at the expense of other kohanim who are left hungry is forbidden. However, one may – indeed, one must – give a chosen kohen all one’s tithes if he does not have enough to meet his needs.
Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky (Derech Emunah, Hilchos Maaser 7:s.k. 38) offers an alternative explanation. Giving all 24 types of priestly tithes to one kohen, he argues, is forbidden. However, it is permitted to designate one kohen to routinely receive one particular type of tithe.
The Mordechai (Bava Basra 502) accepts R’ Abba’s ruling and therefore writes, “From here we see that it’s forbidden to give all the charitable funds at one’s disposal to a single poor relative and forsake one’s other relatives. It is also forbidden to give all one’s charitable funds to a single poor person and ignore the rest.” The Shulchan Aruch records this ruling (Yoreh De’ah 257:19).