Mar Zutra in mesechet brachot states: אגרא דתעניתא - צדקתא the merit of a fast day lies not in the fasting, but in the charity dispensed. Rashi explains that towards the end of the fast day a person should seek out poor individuals and give them tzedakah. Presumably, without the donated dollars, the poor person would have no food to break his or her fast. Thus a person is rewarded for the charity.
Rabbi Shmuel Eidels, the Maharsha, raises a question about the statement. Jewish tradition doesn't allow one to receive a tangible benefit from the performance of a mitzvah, yet on fast days a faster benefits in that he/she saved money that he would have otherwise spent on food. The Maharsha, answering his own question, recommends
“Calculating the money saved by fasting and giving the money to charity.”
The Maharsha's idea is simple, yet extraordinary. Fast days are not intended as days to save money. They are opportunities for personal spiritual growth and communal connections, especially with those in need. By following the Maharsha's idea with a modest 10,18,25, or 36 dollar contribution to tzedakah, you have the opportunity to elevate your fast day, as well as provide much needed food to those in need.
Fast for Feast, founded in June 2015, is a Colorado nonprofit corporation in good standing. Our tax identification number is 47-4375238. The organization was founded by Rabbi Marc Gitler, with the support of Leket Israel, and the assistance of many wonderful people.