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Home » Re'e

Re’eh: Charity

Submitted by on August 31, 2016 – 9:17 pmNo Comment | 903 views

Rewards

Charity is an obligation and even an investment. In some ways it is also a gift, but to the giver, not the recipient. The Talmud speaks of a righteous man called Benjamin who fed a poor woman and her seven daughters during a famine. Shortly thereafter, Benjamin fell ill and was about to breath his last. But the angels advocated for him. “If saving one life is like saving the world,” the said to G-d, “then Benjamin, who saved eight lives, deserves to live.” G-d consented and Benjamin lived another twenty-two years.[1]

Giving to others, gives even more to ourselves. Charity gives life and you can’t put a price on that. Charity gives bounty. No man has ever gone poor from giving too much to charity. On the contrary, the more we give, the more G-d rewards and that is a promise we can take to the bank.[2]

Hearing this, one would suppose that people line up in droves to give to charity, yet most are reluctant to give. Let us not minimize the extent of the challenge. We work hard for our money to procure the resources necessary for our own lives. Giving it away is a serious commitment and doesn’t come easy.

Obligation

This is why the Talmud outlines the extent of the obligation. There are maximum requirements and minimum requirements.

Though the returns are ensured by G-d, the Talmud insists that we shouldn’t give more than twenty percent of our income.[3] Twenty percent is the maximum, but the minimum is ten percent. Under ordinary conditions, one should never give less than ten percent. If someone literally doesn’t have enough to part with ten percent, he may be excused for giving less, but he cannot be excused for not giving at all. Every Jew should give at least a little to charity each year and if possible every day, especially when solicited by the poor.[4]

Our primary obligation is to provide for those closest to us. If we can’t afford to provide for our children and parents from our regular income, we should direct our charity toward them. Our family is our first obligation. However, if we can afford to provide for them from our regular income, we should not debase them by providing for them out of charity.

If our family is cared for, we should direct our charity toward our relatives and if they are well off, our charity should be directed to our neighbors. If they are okay, we should allocate it to people in our city and when that is provided for we can turn our attention to people and causes further afield.

Under no circumstances can we give our charity to ourselves. No matter how poor we are, our charity must be distributed to others. We might collect charity from others, but the few cents that we spare, must be allocated to others, never to ourselves. That is not charity.

Business Concerns

There are particular requirements for those who make their money in business. It is best to maintain a separate account for charity and funnel our tithes into that account on a regular basis.[5]

If we are given seed money with which to start up our business, we make a one-time payment of twenty percent of the principal to charity. Once we tithed from the principle, there is no requirement to tithe from it again. Going forward, ten percent from net profits fulfills our obligation.[6] Business expenses can be claimed against profits and ten percent need not be drawn from them.

Suppose you made a profit one month and posted a loss the next month, can you offset the profit against the loss or do we calculate each transaction separately? The same question applies to one who owns multiple businesses. May we offset the gains of one against losses in another?

Remember that losses don’t generate reverse payments from our charity account. If the profit can’t be claimed against losses, one would pay ten percent on the profit and gain nothing from the loss. If the profit is offset by the loss, it reduces the amount of the tithe.

If payment had not yet been made, there is a dispute between Rabbi Yechezkel Landau (Nodah Biyehudah #198) and Rabbi Chaim Bacharach (Chavos Yair #224). Rabbi Landau maintained that profits and losses in the same calendar year can be offset against each other. This is because tithes may be paid on an annual basis. Rabbi Bacharach ruled that if bookkeeping has already recorded the profit it cannot be offset by future losses even if the tithe has not yet been paid. Profits can, however, be offset by losses calculated at the same time even if they occurred in separate years. We may be lenient according to either opinion, but businesses that run final reports at the end of the year, may offset their profits according to both opinions.

Both codifiers agree that if one has already tithed, it is forbidden to take it back on account of future losses. This means that if we tithe to charity and subsequently lose money, we cannot claim that we overpaid on our tithe and apply the balance to a future profit. The only exception is if one stipulates verbally to this effect before the tithe payment is made.

It is permissible to tithe before we earn the income and deduct from our balance as the money comes in. Suppose you paid a hundred dollars to charity. You may keep a running tally until you earned a thousand dollars and then pay another advance to charity. The only caveat is that you must stipulate your intentions verbally. Otherwise, the charity is a gift and the new income generates a new tithe.

It is also permissible to make a loan to a poor person and keep your own tithings in lieu of payment. However, should the debtor grow rich or pass away, the arrangement becomes null and the tithes must be allocated to another poor person.

An heir tithes from the inheritance though the testator already tithed on that money when it belonged to him or her. This is similar to any purchase. The seller must tithe on his profits even though the buyer may very have tithed before him.

Alacrity

The key is to never procrastinate. The Talmud tells us about Nachum Ish Gam Zu who had three donkeys packed with food. When a poor man asked him for food, he told him to wait until he unpacked his donkey. In the meantime, the poor fellow passed away. Nachum never forgave himself.[7]

An acquaintance shared with me that his father used to take care of orphans though he had nothing for his own children. When his mother demanded why he puts others first, his response was, the orphans don’t have parents to look after them, but our children do. Once, when he borrowed money for food, he met a new family that had just moved to town and he loaned the money to them. When he came home, he explained, they are new and no one will lend to them. I can find someone else to give me a loan.

When an opportunity for charity arises, we should respond with alacrity and not wait until we have figured out how much we owe. No one has ever gone poor from giving too much charity. If anything, it has made us rich.

[1] Babylonian Talmud, Baba Batra 11a.

[2] See also Sifsei Kohen 247: 3. For most of the laws in this essay, see Yoreh Deiah 247 – 251.

[3] See Tanya Iggeret Hateshuva chapter 4 about exceptions to this rule.

[4] If we have nothing to give, when solicited, we must be solicitous and comforting, never rejecting.

[5] For the business section in this essay see Pischei Teshuva and Beis Lechem Yehudah on Yoreh Deiah 249.

[6] Tosafos, Kesubos 50a.

[7] Babylonian Talmud, Taanit 21a.

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