The Mishnah (5:4) discusses a wealthy person who is travelling and runs out of food, and rules that he can take the gifts for the poor -- leket, shichecha, peah and maaser ani. What he does when he returns home is the subject of debate. R' Eliezer maintains he would need to pay for what he took. The Tifferet Yisrael understands that he would need to pay the poor of his city. The Shoshanim Le'David however notes that the Yerushalmi concludes that he needs to pay the poor of the city from which he took the matanot. The Chachamim however argue that he does need to, because when he took the matanot he was indeed "poor". How do we understand this debate?
When the Yerushalmi teaches that, according to R' Eliezer, the person must pay the poor of that city, the Gemara continues that the answer appears obvious and asks why the teaching was necessary. The Gemara answers that it is needed "lemidat ha'din". The Pnei Moshe explains, that it was needed to teach that the poor of that city can legally demand the payment in beit din. The Ridbaz explains, that one might have thought that the obligation is only midat chassidut -- not enforceable, yet desirable. According to R' Eliezer that is not the case.
R' Chaim Kanievsky shlita in his commentary on the Yerushalmi explains that this is not because it is considered as if he stole from them. Even if he was wealthy and stole the matanot, he could not legally be forced to pay, since there is no individual that can declare that he was the victim. R' Chaim explains that it is because from the outset, the permit to take the matanot was contingent on him paying them back.
The Chatam Sofer (Chulin 130b) has a similar explanation. R' Eliezer agrees with the Chachamim that he was indeed considered poor at that time. Nevertheless, it was temporary and all he needed was a loan and not a gift, considering that he had plenty of money at home. Consequently, while this person was allowed to take the matanot, he was only allowed to do so as a loan and therefore must pay the value back. The Chachamim however argue that since he qualifies as a poor person, he can take this matanot as a gift.1 This would be like a poor person who had 199 zuz -- one zuz under the poverty line. Even though he has funds to nearly last the entire year, he can take one thousand zuz worth of matanot. R' Eliezer however would counter that that case is an issue of quantity. In our case, the ani is qualitatively wealthy, albeit short of funds in this context. According to the Yerushalmi it is clear, that according to R' Eliezer, since it is considered like a loan, he must pay the poor of that city.
The Tifferet Yisrael, who understand that R' Eliezer requires him to pay the poor of his own city, appears to understand that the obligation is midat chassidut. Interestingly, that is how the Mishnah Rishona explains the Mishnah - according to the Chachamim the person is completely exempt while according to R' Eliezer the obligation to pay back is mi'midat chassidut. We have seen that this position was rejected by the Yerushalmi and conflicts with the Chatam Sofer above.
Turning our attention to the Chachamim, the Tosfot R' Akiva Eiger understands that according to Rambam (Matanot Aniyim 9:15), even though there is no "obligation" to pay, one should still do so due to midat chassidut. Indeed, the Rambam explains the position of the Chachamim in this way in his commentary on the Mishnah.
The Tosfot R' Akiva Eiger however finds the Rambam difficult. The Gemara also addresses the case if someone was wealthy when taking the gifts. The Gemara rules that Beit Din cannot force the individual to pay back, as we have explained above. Nevertheless, midat chassidut would suggest he should. The Gemara implies that if he was poor at that moment, due to lack of food, then even due to midat chassidut he would not need to pay back what he consumed.3
The Derech Emunah (9:108) however explains that the Rambam in the Mishnah Torah understands that this individual is completely exempt. He explains (Tziyun Halacha 176) that the fact that the Rambam compares this case with a poor person that took gifts and then became wealthy, implies that the cases are equivalent, and that there are no expectations that he pays back.
1 Note that this implies that he is no different to any other poor person and can take more than he needs (see Derech Emuna 9:106).
Receive our publication with an in depth article and revision questions.
Listen to the Mishnah Shiurim by Yisrael Bankier