What is the most important law in the baking of matzo? Rabbi Yisrael Salanter (1810 - 1883) - the founder of the Mussar (Ethics) movement - responded by saying that the most important aspect is treating the employees of matzo factories properly.
When Pesach (and everything it entails) is upon us, it is very easy to think purely in terms of ritual and symbolism and to lose focus on how one should behave towards others - an equally important aspect of Pesach.
The laws of Pesach, as codified in the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), do not begin with an explanation of how to prepare one’s home for Pesach or how to bake matzot and what you can or cannot eat or even as to how we are obligated to remember that Gd brought us out of the land of Egypt.
The first law relating to Pesach as codified by the Shulchan Aruch describe the mitzvah of Maot Chittim (literally meaning ‘Money for Wheat’), also known as Kimcha D’Pischa (Flour for Pesach). This is providing the poor with the basic holiday necessities and highlights the importance of ensuring that everyone has matzo on Pesach.
It is not the same as the mitzvah of tzedakah that is a prerequisite throughout the year.
Accordingly, one should view Maot Chittim as a tax from which there is no exemption, and be guided, as was the case for centuries, by his/her rabbi as to how best to observe this vital prelude to Pesach.
It is clear that the financial burden of Pesach is not a modern-day phenomenon and the Rabbonim instituted Maot Chittim so all can enjoy Pesach.
This highlights how the Rabbonim, over the ages, instituted laws which ensure the proper balance between scrupulous observance of ritual and concern for the well-being of Jewish people, recognising that Pesach is a time when poverty can take a greater financial & mental toll than usual.
This law goes to the very heart of Pesach. It is specifically designed to ensure that all of Clal Yisrael can celebrate our freedom, to serve Gd, the central theme of Pesach.
In Sefer HaToda'ah (The Book of our Heritage - written by Rabbi Avraham Eliyahu Mokotovsky; 1912 - 1976) it states:
“…even a person who has already fulfilled the mitzvah of tzedakah in complete accordance with the law, cannot appreciate the full implication of freedom if he/she knows that their neighbour is hungry or in need. If one does not feel moved to assist the needy at this particular season how can one sit down at the Seder table and begin reciting the Haggadah by declaring: Kol dichfin ... Kol ditzrich - All who are in need let them come and join with us at the Seder.”
The Ya'avetz, Rabbi Yaakov Emden (1698-1776), contends that this invitation is extended to all who are in need of food. He argues that, as we take care of the sustenance of the Jewish needy before Pesach (through Maot Chittim/Kimcha D'Pischa) this invitation, which we make on Seder night itself, must refer to non-Jews. Not because they have any mitzvah relating to Pesach but is in accordance with the Gemora in Gittin -" Mefarn'sin Aniyay Acu"m Im Aniyay Yisroel Mipnei Darchei Shalom," we sustain the non-Jewish poor as well as the Jewish poor to maintain peace between the Jews and non-Jews.
Once we have provided sustenance for our own poor before Pesach, we then offer assistance to others. At the same time, we also invite those Jews who are alone to join us at our seder.