TZEDAKA - PART IV
VI. DOES THIS COUNT?
We left off last week with the issue of ma'aser, namely the fact that one is obligated to give ten percent of his earnings each year. Before proceeding, we should formalize the dual obligation of tzedaka that we have already presented. The first part of the obligation is the requirement to give a certain percentage of one's earnings to the poor. As such, at least one-tenth of what one earns is not actually theirs and can be said to be "owed" to someone who is in need. More on this in a moment. The second aspect is the obligation to give to one who asks for money. While there are situations where one would not have to give immediately or at all, there is nevertheless the prohibition of turning away from the needy and indigent in their hour of need.
It is the first of these aspects that we will now focus on. Working with the basic assumption that one has to give up a certain percentage of his income, the question has often been raised as to what that money may be given to. Can it be used for things other than supporting the local beggars, so long as it is used for "holy" purposes? What is the point of this one-tenth? We noted last week that this amount really stems from the law forbidding us from giving away more than twenty percent of our wealth. The subsequent discussions of that law shift from discussing the maximum that one can give to discussing the minimum that one should give. As such, we must ask what the motivating principle behind this figure is: Is it merely a recommended amount, working within our notions that tzedaka is meant to improve our moral characters? Or, is it perhaps a fixed amount that one must give? The obvious difference is the question of obligation. Can I give less than ten percent, or do I have to find something to do with that money other than spend it on myself? What if there are no poor people around - can I keep the money or do I have to put it aside until I find someone to whom I can donate it?
Ramo (Y.D. 249) quotes Maharil, who states that one may use the money set aside for ma'aser only for the purposes of tzedaka, a seemingly straightforward opinion. However, the Pitchei Teshuva notes that Maharil would allow one to use the money for other purposes if he had made such a stipulation from the outset. The question now is what "other" purposes are allowed? One of the major issues raised is whether or not one may use this money to buy Jewish books. The Derisha answers this question by outlining the basic principles of using ma'aser money. He states that one may use this money to perform any mitzvah that presents itself to them, including Brit Mila, financing a wedding, or buying Jewish books. Taz qualifies this a bit, stating that if one does buy books with ma'aser money, he must write in them that they were bought with such funds. Why is this so? The answer can be found in a statement of the Mishnat Chachamim cited by the Pitchei Teshuva. There is states that one may not sell books bought with ma'aser money, since those books really belong to the public. Thus, even if one stores the books in his house, they must be in some way available for public use and even when that person dies his inheritors must see to it that the books remain available.
This law makes sense, in that while one does not give his money to the poor, he still cannot use it solely for his own purposes (even if he will be the one who uses the books the most). However, there are other cases where one may perhaps use the money from ma'aser in a way that benefits very few people other than himself. A person has an obligation to support his children up until a certain age (roughly six years old). However, can a person support his married children (who are older than this age) with ma'aser funds? The Chatam Sofer offers an interesting approach to this query. In a responsa (2:231) he claims that there is a difference between using ma'aser for a mitzvah that one has to do and using it for a mitzvah that one wants to do. One may not use ma'aser to perform a mitzvah that is incumbent upon them, such as buying candles for Shabbat or Chanukah. However, one may use such funds for voluntary mitzvot such as supporting a bride and groom. While he does not specifically state this, I would conjecture that his reasoning stems from the idea in Pesachim that we do not do mitzvot in bundles, i.e. we do not use the money from one mitzvah to perform another, thus knocking off two birds with one stone. Doing so reveals am attitude that mitzvot are burdensome to us and that we feel a need to dispense of them as quickly as possible. Such a mindset clearly defeats the purpose of mitzvot in general, and certainly of tzedaka in particular. Getting back to the Chatam Sofer,, he concludes that one may support his married children with this money if he assumed this financial responsibility at the moment of their marriage (Maharam MiRutenberg also allows one to support their children and their father with ma'aser money). However, if he only later decided to support them, then his obligation to them takes on the status of any other debt, and one may not use ma'aser money to pay off debts.
On the issue of paying off debts, taxes present some interesting questions for the issue of ma'aser. Taz is very firm about the fact that one may not use this money to pay one's taxes. However, the Chochmat Adam states that anything that would result in a life-threatening situation, such as not paying taxes to the king, take priority over Torah learning and supporting the poor, and thus one may use his ma'aser money to pay off his taxes. I would be inclined to suggest that this ruling needs to be re-evaluated (as perhaps already has), seeing as most countries today merely impose fines or, in extreme cases, prison sentences for tax evasion. A few extra dollars to pay is not the same as facing a death penalty. The is a second issue that taxes raises. Does one have to pay money on their pre-tax income, or do they wait to see what is left after the government has taken its share and only then does he calculate his charitable obligations? Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe Y.D. 1:143) quotes the Birchei Yoseif who says that one does not have to dole out tzedaka from the money that is taken from him in taxes, both income and property (and presumably whatever else the governments can dream up). He then goes further and raises an interesting issue. He makes note of the fact that a person may wind up paying lower income taxes as a result of his annual charitable donations. As a result , he actually profits from the tzedaka that he gives! Given that fact, Rav Feinstein asks if a person is obligated to find out how much he saved in taxes as a result of his tzedaka and then count that savings as a profit and give ma'aser on that as well. Despite the well-known notion that one actually makes money when one buys something on sale, Rav Feinstein rules that this "profit" is not considered to be tangible or in any way obligated to have ma'aser taken from it.
VII. "GOD BLESS US, EVERY ONE..."
Why do we not make a blessing when we give tzedaka? Certainly a majority of the commandments that we perform, both those of Torah-origin and Rabbinic origin, are preceded by the recitation of a blessing. That being the case, why is tzedaka not similarly blessed? While the answer to this question really belongs in a Chabura about the entire concept of such blessings, we will give the main answer here.Rashba, in a responsa (1:18) states that we only make a blessing when performing a mitzvah that we can guarantee will be performed, i.e. something whose performance depends solely on the control of the person performing it. Thus, I make a blessing on lighting candles because I know that I am about to light them. However, tzedaka contains the element of a second party, and there is no guarantee that the intended recipient will agree to receive the funds presented to him. As such, no blessing is said out of the fear that it will go for naught (an analogous case, although not dealing with a mitzvah, is the practice of some to not say the blessing of HaMapil before going to bed, since they cannot control whether of not they fall asleep). Rav Yoseif Kapach questions this idea, asking how this is any different from marriage, when there is also two people involved. In that case, there is always the chance that the woman may not accept the ring (or whatever is being used), and yet we do say a blessing! I have yet to find an answer to Rav Kapach's question, although I wonder along logical lines if the situational circumstances make a difference, namely the fact that by a wedding there is preparation involved by both parties (see Ketubot 2a and various other places), while a situation of tzedaka presents itself out of the clear blue, and thus the odds are much greater that the intended recipient will not accept the money. Beyond that, as we have noted, there are various reasons why a pauper would not accept charity, including the embarrassment factor, and thus perhaps there is real reason for doubt in such a case (even if the pauper does the asking, one can say that we either do or do not have a blessing on tzedaka, and we do not change the law according to each situation).
The commandment to give tzedaka is one of the most fundamental commandments in Judaism, on many levels. On the simple level, it reflects the destiny of the Jewish people to carry the banner of "tzedek u'mishpat" - righteousness and justice - in the world (see most of Tanach for this idea, or at least the shiurim of HaRav Menachem Leibtag -http://www.virtual.co.il/torah/tanach). A society suffused by righteousness takes care of all of its members, and charity is the mechanism by which it cares for its poor. On the other side of the coin, tzedaka is a commandment that carries with it a certain element of Emunat Hashem - belief in God. We are told that we will not lose out financially from giving charity. This is taken to the extreme that this is one of only two mitzvot for which we are allowed to Test Hashem, namely that we are allowed to give tzedaka with the mindset that we are expecting reward in return. Granted, there is some dispute over the scope of this idea. The notion originates in Shabbat 119a, which interprets the verse of "aser t'aser" as "aser bishvil she-titasher" (tithe so that you will become rich). The Pitchei Teshuva cites the Mishnat Chachamim, who claims that one may only test Hashem in the sense of wanting to get riches in return for his charity, but not for any other benefit. Ya'avetz, Shlah, and Mishnat Chachamim further limit this idea, saying that it applies only to the tithes taken from grain, as the verse is speaking about such tithes, but not about money given for tzedaka. However, the Aruch HaShulchan states that there is no difference, and any tzedaka that one gives may be used as a test of Hashem. At the root of it all is the notion that while it is often very hard for people to part with money that they have worked hard to earn and is "rightfully" theirs, there must be the realization that all money comes ultimately from Hashem and that not only do we have the obligation to do with it as He commands, but also that he will take care of us for following His words.
I have tried, over the course of these four Chaburas, to flesh out some of the more popular issues that arise with regards to tzedaka. There are several areas that, while interesting, did not appear to me to be as relevant to people on a daily basis, and in the interest of time and space I decided against writing them up. In addition, there are myriads of opinions and responsa that I was unable to include, for a variety of reasons. This topic is truly one that merits its own book, and publishing such a book a few pages at a time has not been my intention here. Hopefully, I managed to raise some of the main issues and provide people with a starting point for further research on some of these topics.
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