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Thought for the Day: Giving Tzedaka on Purim and Asking Your Rav

I was at R' Fuerst's sunday morning shiur just barely a week after receiving s'micha from the rav. Just as the shiur concluded, someone I didn't know approached me and said, "You look like some who knows what he is talking about.  I finished eating just an hour ago.  Can I still bentch?"  Of course I waved my hand in "oh... pshaw" at his thinking I looked like I knew what I was talking about, and I wondered if s'micha really shows like a glow in my face or something.  I clarified with him that it really was just 60 minutes since he finished eating, told him that he has up to 72 minutes.  He thanked me.  I walked out feeling very rabbinic... and then stopped in my tracks and broke out in a cold sweat.

Rabbi Fuerst was still there (the rabbi is often beleaguered by rabbanim and lay people asking for either clarification, other questions, or just to show off how smart they are).  I had, therefore, just paskened a sh'eila right there in front of my rav.  Paskening a halacha in front of one's rav is a capital offence (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Dei'ah 242:4).  Not an auspicious way to begin one's career as a rabbi (nor to end one's life in any case).  I tried asking several people and they all said the same thing, "You'll need to ask R' Fuerst."  I finally worked up the courage and was, Baruch HaShem, told that I had not committed a capital offence.  Why not?  Because I just said over an accepted p'sak halacha.  What would be a problem?  Using knowledge I had and applying halachic principles to arrive by logic at a conclusion and then issuing that decision as a psak halacha.  Whew.

So when a friend asked me a few weeks ago about a detail in giving tzedaka on Purim... even though he was not asking me for a psak halacha (he is more than capable himself); even so, one brush with death is enough for me.  I clarified the issue for myself and then called the rav for a psak.  Oh... you want to know the question, clarification, and ultimate psak?  Soitenly.

There is a halacha on Purim that כל הפושט ידו ליטול נותנים לו/anyone who sticks out his hand to take, give to him.  Interesting.... so Purim is the one day of the year that I have not asked to see green cards.  So far so good.... then my friend pointed out to me that this halacha is brought in the section on מתנות לאביונים/gifts to the poor -- which is specifically targeted to people who need money for the Purim feast.  So... if true, this comes with a stringency and a leniency.  The stringency is that the amount required for מתנות לאביונים is enough to buy a meal; at least 5$, but maybe 10$.  The leniency is that you are not required to give to anyone who asks for money, only anyone who asks for money for his Purim festive meal.

Reasonable question.  I did more research to find source of halacha in the gemara and follow its evolution in how it is brought in halacha through the ages.  I did that research as preparation for calling the rav, not instead of calling the rav!  I also wanted to be sure I could ask about details and know I was not wasting the rav's time.

Bottom line: R' Fuerst told that that nowadays everyone has what they need for the Purim meal.  This halacha, therefore, is to be applied generally to anyone asking for tzedaka.  I confirmed that during the year one does need to check the credentials of the asker to confirm that his request is an honest one.  I pressed and asked if that meant I was required to give to everyone on Purim regardless of credentials.  The rav told me, "You should."  Meaning -- and this is my interpretation of the rav's intent, based on having discussed many questions of halacha over the years with the rav: We are really taking the halacha out of the original boundaries.  One cannot say, therefore, that this is the decree of Chazal.  However, it is certainly in the spirit of the original decree and it has become the custom to apply it this way.  It is, therefore, appropriate and laudable to give to anyone who asks, though one need give only what is his custom, not the amount of a full meal.

You, of course, should ask your own rabbi.  Nevertheless, I believe this is the accepted halacha; and if you do decide to ask me, this is the psak you are going to get.

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