Priorities In Giving

By: Rabbi Dovid Markel


The verse in Devarim (15:7) says: “If there shall be a destitute person among you, of one of your brothers in any of your cities, in your land that HaShem your G-d gives you, you shall not harden your heart or close your hand against your destitute brother.”

Giving tzedaka (charity) is a biblical commandment which includes both a positive and a negative instructive. Both the positive and negative elements of the commandment are derived from the same verse (mentioned above). The first half of the verse teaches us the positive commandment to give, while the second half instructs us of the negative commandment that one should not harden their heart and hold back from giving.

Additionally, this verse also demonstrates that there are priorities in giving. Just as there is a commandment to provide for the poor, there is a directive that the pauper who is more closely related to you must be provided for first, before one provides for the needs of one more distantly related.

We see this idea clearly expressed in a verse in Yeshayahu (58:7): “Surely you should break your bread for the hungry, and bring the moaning poor [to your] home; when you see a naked person, clothe him; and do not hide yourself from your kin.” The verse explains that though a person is obligated to give charity and provide for the poor, he must first provide for his own flesh.

The Sifri[1] explains that the order of priority in giving is actually embedded in the words of the original verse in which the general law of tzedaka is learned. In this order should a person give to others in need.

He explains as follows: The verse begins with, “If there shall be a destitute person…” This teaches us that the destitute person is comes before all. The destitute person that is referred to in this verse is the individual who lacks even his most essential needs.

The Hebrew word employed here is the word “evyon” (אביון) and not the more common word, “ani” (עני). This is because the evyon—the destitute—is even poorer than the ani—the indigent—and lacks even his most essential needs. In fact, the word evyon shares the same root as the word “ta’ev,” (תאב) which means longing[2]. Essentially, what this means is that the destitute person longs for his vital needs of food and basic sustenance, and it is he whom you must always give first.

The next phrase in the verse continues with, “of one of your brothers.” This teaches us that one should supply the needs of their siblings before supplying others with their needs. From the fact that the verse says, “of one of your brothers,” and not simply, “of your brothers,” it is derived that brothers who share the same father must be provided for before a sibling with whom one shares only the same mother.

The verse continues by saying, “in any of your cities.” From this verse we learn that one must give to the indigents of their own city before supplying the needs of those in other cities.

The next words in the verse are, “in your land.” This instructs us to give those who live in the land of Israel prior to giving those who live in other lands.

Priorities of Relationship

From all the above as well as from other texts, it is seen that the closer related the pauper is to the giver, the more priority he receives. The order of relation according to the Torah is as follows[3]:

1) Parents[4]

2) Adult children

3) Grandparents[5]

4) Grandchildren[6]

5) Siblings-father’s side

6) Siblings-mother’s side

7) Relatives[7]

8) Wife’s relatives

9) Neighbors

10) Your city

11) The poor of Jerusalem

12) The poor of the land of Israel

[1] Parshas Re’eh

[2] See Rashi, Devarim 15:4

[3] YOD 251:3

[4] See Shach YOD 251:5 that in general one should not support their parents from charity money unless they cannot support them otherwise.

[5] See Sdei Chemed, P’as Hasadeh 2:18

[6] Sdei Chemed ibid

[7] What is meant by this is relatives that one cannot say testimony for. See Beis Yitzchok YOD 2:86. Included in this is one’s divorced spouse. See Shach 247:1

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