You’re sitting down at your seder and everyone is enjoying each other’s company, when all of a sudden, you hear a knock at the door. Someone gets up to answer and finds a person who is clearly in need standing at the door. This individual is poor and destitute and is just looking for a place to eat, a place to have a seder.
What do you tell him? If you turn to the Haggadah, the answer is clear: כל דכפין ייתי וייכול—all who are hungry should come and eat. You should invite this person in with open arms!
Yet, the answer might not be so clear, at least for most people. This is because most people in the world are not tzadikim (righteous), and at the very least might be justifiably a little uncomfortable with the notion of inviting someone in whom you have not met and have nothing to do with. Moreover, while meeting someone new at the seder can be a meaningful experience, it also might run the risk of unsettling a certain dynamic or chemistry that has already been formed around one’s table. The seder can be a very insular, family-oriented experience that is carried by the consistency of the same people coming year after year. And there is nothing wrong with this!
How can we hold on to this feeling, and at the same time maintain that “all who are hungry should come and eat?” Rav Shlomo Kluger, who authored the Chochmat Shlomo (a commentary on the Shulkhan Aruch) maintains that this is the precise purpose of maot chitim, the funds that many communities raise before Pesach to help those in need. Somewhat surprisingly, he maintains that it is incumbent upon us all to give maot chitim before Pesach, so that if someone were to come knocking on your door during the seder and you do not want to let them inside, you can say to them (and really, to yourself) that you already helped them find food by offering maot chitim before Pesach. Then, says the Chochmat Shlomo, you can close your door, and go back to your family.
Is this something that would be pleasant to say or be heard by the poor person at your door? Absolutely not. But at the same time, this source teaches us a valuable lesson: Sometimes it is ok for us to prioritize our family, especially on a holiday like Pesach. However, if we take this approach we must make sure that we have done the important legwork before Pesach to support those around us who are in need.
Lest one think that this might be taking the easy way out, this week’s Haftarah, a special one read on Shabbat Hagadol, seems to hint that in some ways, giving tzedakah before Pesach can be even harder than inviting someone to your seder table.
הָבִיאוּ אֶת־כׇּל־הַמַּעֲשֵׂר אֶל־בֵּית הָאוֹצָר וִיהִי טֶרֶף בְּבֵיתִי וּבְחָנוּנִי נָא בָּזֹאת אָמַר יְהֹוָה צְבָאוֹת אִם־לֹא אֶפְתַּח לָכֶם אֵת אֲרֻבּוֹת הַשָּׁמַיִם וַהֲרִיקֹתִי לָכֶם בְּרָכָה עַד־בְּלִי־דָי׃
Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, and let there be food in My House, and thus put Me to the test—said the LORD of Hosts. I will surely open the floodgates of the sky for you and pour down blessings on you;
וְגָעַרְתִּי לָכֶם בָּאֹכֵל וְלֹא־יַשְׁחִת לָכֶם אֶת־פְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה וְלֹא־תְשַׁכֵּל לָכֶם הַגֶּפֶן בַּשָּׂדֶה אָמַר יְהֹוָה צְבָאוֹת׃
and I will banish the locusts from you, so that they will not destroy the yield of your soil; and your vines in the field shall no longer miscarry—said the LORD of Hosts.
These pesukim (verses) indicate in a powerful way that every time we give tzedakah, we might be bothered by the feeling that we will not have enough left for ourselves. Hashem challenges us to give anyway, promising that we will still be taken care of, even after we give of ourselves.
Giving maot chitim can often amount to much more, monetarily speaking, than what one would give to someone who simply wants a seat at their table. Any time someone gives from what they have, there is always a concern that you might not have enough for yourself. This is the case for many who “dig deep” when they offer maot chitim funds. These powerful verses reassure the giver that Hashem recognizes our efforts to help those around us, and will reward us by taking care of our sustenance, making sure we ourselves do not go hungry.
May we all merit a Chag Kasher V’Sameach, and most importantly, a chag in which we can all pay close attention to the needs of those around us, whether that is before Pesach, at our seder, or both!