By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
Just in time for the pre-Pesach tzedakah season, Rav Feivel Cohen, shlita, one of the leading poskim in the United States, has released his newest sefer, Badei HaShulchan on the Laws of Tzedakah. As in the previous volumes, this volume of the Badei HaShulchan is written in the same tri-section manner as the Mishnah Berurah. On the top of each page are the words of Rav Yoseph Karo, the author of the Shulchan Aruch; directly below that is the major commentary with a compendium of the opinions of the Acharonim. A section called Biurim is made up of in-depth analytic glosses pertaining to the topic discussed by the author of the Shulchan Aruch. And the third section is a sourcebook for the compendium section.
Rav Elyashiv, zt’l, once told a friend of mine that he should pose his questions not to him but rather to Rav Feivel Cohen, whose depth and breadth of knowledge is so vast that he is the outstanding posek of America.
The sefer is smaller (144 pages on tzedakah) than his previous works, but that is because there are only 13 chapters of hilchos tzedakah in the Shulchan Aruch altogether. There are 236 different pieces in the Biurim, or in-depth analysis section of the work. In addition, there are 12 pages of addenda to his previous works with some insightful nuggets of chiddushim and sources. For example, previously he had written that he did not find a source for the custom to wait three hours between milk and meat, but someone pointed out a source in the writings of Rabbeinu Yerucham.
In this short overview, we will review and comment upon a selection of the biurim in Rav Feivel’s incisive study of this section of halachah. There is no question that it is a masterful work that comprises a major contribution to what, until now, may have been a sorely neglected section of Shulchan Aruch. Rav Feivel, shlita, analyzes every word and nuance of the Shulchan Aruch and his sources, plumbing their depths for more insights. The comments of this author should not be viewed as critical of this remarkable work; they are written in the spirit of “l’hagdil Torah” and in complete admiration.
The first (of the 236 biurim) deals with a famous Rambam (Avos 3:15) that seems to opine that it is preferable to give many poor people less money than a large amount to one poor person. Rav Feivel initially attempts to read this Rambam somewhat innovatively. He understands the Rambam to mean that giving to numerous poor people at numerous different times is preferable than giving at one time. Rav Feivel cites the Chofetz Chaim as understanding this Rambam in its classic sense. Although not cited by Rav Feivel, it is interesting to note that the Yaavetz in his work Lechem Shamayim actually disagrees with the Rambam and states that it is preferable to donate to one poor person. This is perhaps an earlier proof than the works of the Chofetz Chaim that he cites.
In analysis #4, Rav Feivel states that according to the Shulchan Aruch’s statement that refraining from charity might lead to death if the poor person starves, then by that token one should even violate Shabbos out of this concern and give charity on Shabbos—which is not indicated. He concludes that the issue requires further analysis. Perhaps one can respond to this point that in such a case one is obligated to give charity on Shabbos and it is not at all a violation of Shabbos (See Aruch HaShulchan 688:17).
In his comment to Y.D. Section 248:4, Rav Feivel seems to question the ruling of the Noda BiYehudah that a wife is believed to say that she is giving a gift as a messenger of her husband. Rav Feivel asks why then the Shulchan Aruch would have categorically stated that one does not accept a large gift from the spouse without qualification. A closer reading of the Noda BiYehudah, however, would show that his view is that the Shulchan Aruch was coming to exclude the case where the wife thinks that she is performing a mitzvah when she is giving the gift against the will of her husband. This explains the Shulchan Aruch’s non-qualifying ruling.
In Y.D. 249:4, Rav Feivel questions what extra insight lies in the halachah that a person should not yell or scream at a poor person when he does not have funds to give him. Rav Feivel reasons that this is certainly subsumed under the mitzvah of “love thy neighbor.” Perhaps the Shulchan Aruch is stating this in a case where the poor person is being overly aggressive or assumes that the donor is lying—even still one may not rationalize to oneself to yell or scream at him.
In Y.D. 249:14, Rav Feivel questions why the Rambam found it necessary to write extra wording—that before each of the tefillos the greatest of the sages would first give charity and after then pray. Why is the clause “and after then pray” necessary? He cites the response of a former bein ha’zmanim chevrusa from Lakewood, Rav Chanoch Saltz, who explained that the use of “after” is indicative of immediacy, as seen from a statement of Rav Huna in the Midrash.
Alternatively, it may be more likely that the Rambam was simply informing us of the practice of Rabbi Elazar in the Talmud that he would give charity and then pray to fulfill the verse of “And in kindness, I shall appear before You.” The Rambam used the previous clause of “before each of the tefillos” to teach us that it should even be done before the evening services, which are a time that some people say one should avoid “awakening compassion” since it is a time of judgment. Since the Rambam is translating from the Aramaic term “v’hadar matzli” it is unlikely that he is implying any additional meaning from the term “v’achar kach” since the Talmud never employed that term.
Rav Feivel Cohen has inspired tens of thousands to further delve into the depth and meaning of every word in Shulchan Aruch. This fine work is no exception. May Hashem grant him the strength and years to continue his finely honed analysis on all of Shulchan Aruch. v
The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com.