Parshas Re'ey
Deuteronomy 11:26 - 16:17

Guidelines On Giving ©

By Dr. Akiva G. Belk

This study of the weekly parsha is dedicated in the loving memory of Mrs. Rachel Student, may she rest in peace.

An extremely wealthy man was asked a question by his friend. His friend asked, "John, you have everything that you could possible need. Is there anything that you want?"

John replied, "Yes! I need one more dollar."

Holy reader, money is a powerful tool. I am referring to the power of what one can do with money. Carefully notice that the term is M O N E Y as opposed to wealth. Why? Many of us have money as opposed to wealth...Everyone is not wealthy. That being the situation, the term money as in substance is more inclusive. It is to this broader group that this week's Torah parsha speaks. The Torah speaks to those with substance / money and those with wealth / money.

Now one MUST understand that the context of what we are discussing from the Torah parsha is directed to the Jew. It is necessary to make this clarification because other religions point to Jewish beliefs as being "Old Covenant" beliefs while proclaiming their beliefs to be "New Covenant" beliefs. Now they may do as they choose. Yet it is important for our readership to understand that what they teach about Mah Sar, "TITHE", DOES NOT EXIST within the contents of their "New Covenant" beliefs. The teachings of Mah Sar are exclusive to Judaism!!

I find it utterly amazing that certain religions teach that the Jewish people are bound by laws while their religion walks in grace... "NO LAWS." Yet they do an immediate about-face and teach the Torah requirement of tithing. Holy reader, the distinction of Mah Sar is important! Non Jews are NOT bound by any command requiring Mah Sar. So the first point of today's Torah lesson is that only a Jew is required to give tithe... In addition to Mah Sar a Jew is required to make Ni Daw Reem, "[Money] PLEDGES" and Ni Daw Vawh, "[Money] DONATIONS."

The Torah discusses tithes, pledges and donations in this week's parsha. We read, "You may not eat within the gates of your [city] your grain tithe, your olive oil [offering], your wine [offering] and your firstborn [offering] of your cattle and your flocks and all your pledges that you pledge and your donations and the terumah offering of your hand." Deuteronomy 12:17

In addition to the fact that this is a Torah command it is also an inference to the Jew regarding our responsibility. So Jews of substance money and wealth money are required to pay tithes, make pledges and give donations according to the Torah. Now this inference is directly connected to the existence of the Bais HaMikdosh, the Holy Temple. Even though the Bais HaMikdosh does not presently exist, thus temporarily altering certain aspects of paying tithes, making pledges and giving donations, there still are valuable principles to learn and follow with regards to substance money and wealth money.

I think of tithes, pledges and donations as tools we use to support and build Jewish programs. On the other hand unfortunately, these tools can be and sometimes are used to manipulate our religious leaders which is NOT good. Often this occurs with the wealth money.

Both substance money and wealth money are powerful in their own way. Let me demonstrate: Both the family with substance money and the family with wealth money purchase from grocery stores even though these stores may be entirely different. Both are consumers. However the main difference here is that there are many more families with substance money making purchases than families with wealth money making purchases. That being the situation, distributors and manufacturers appeal to the masses, those with substance money making purchases. In this situation substance money is very powerful.

Now those with wealth money wield much influence. They are fewer in number and as a result have a direct impact in many areas. When a person of wealth money makes a contribution of a million dollars to a charity it has immediate impact and has strong identity! With substance money, ten thousand families contributing one hundred dollars each is a million dollars. Substance money still has great impact but virtually no identity. So the point is, who is going to receive more attention, people with substance money or people with wealth money? Who will religious leaders give greater heed to... 5,000 families giving 100.00 each or five families giving a million dollars each?

Unfortunately this poses several problems. It can give the impression that substance money is not important which is wrong! It can also create an attitude of dependence on wealth money by religious leadership and by people of substance money. One must ask the question, 'What drives the system?'

Back to the point: Jews of substance money and wealth money are required to pay tithes, make pledges and give donations according to the Torah. When Jews of substance money throw the towel in on using these tools they in effect are handing the reins of influence over to Jews of wealth money. Substance money is making a statement, 'We don't count!" G-d forbid! In so doing substance money is forcing religious leadership to place greater reliance on people with wealth money. In so doing we create a dependence on wealth money. That is why the Torah DOES NOT lighten the responsibility for people with substance money. As a group we are extremely powerful. Even if we had zero power that does NOT alter our responsibility.

I have already stated that the tool of tithing has been greatly altered due to the fact that we do not have our Bais HaMikdosh, so we will discuss the tools of pledging and donating. The first aspect I would like to address is GUILT versus RESPONSIBILITY. It sickens me when an organization uses guilt to acquire pledges and donations. THIS IS SINFUL! THIS IS WRONG!! Jewish leadership needs to teach Torah-founded principles on the responsible use of pledging and donating. Soliciting money through guilt is the exact opposite of responsible giving!! Chassidim, I encourage every one of you to say NO TO GUILT SOLICITATION with absolute confidence. Any rabbi, organization or mashulach that stoops to the manure piles of guilt to gain your support is violating our precious Torah!! I have seen the tactics of various forms of guilt used over and over. I strongly encourage you NOT to give one cent to anyone employing guilt.

Dear readers, we should feel guilty for our sins. We should feel guilty if we fail to give responsibly. BUT we should NOT feel guilty and we should NOT be made to feel guilty if we do not support a particular rabbi, organization or mashulach. That is sinful!

What is it to give responsibly? I am angered when I hear religious leadership making appeals to their followers like, 'Give till it hurts!' The Torah does NOT teach such giving. This form of giving creates unnecessary suffering! It causes pain! THAT IS WRONG! THAT IS SINFUL! That is NOT Torah! That is some other religion... Our Torah teaches responsible giving. Just as we budget our substance for food and shelter we also budget for charity. In Judaism support for charity has a place alongside our obligations for food and shelter. In other words, support for charity is planned, NOT INVOKED by guilt or quick talking solicitors. That being the situation, let's examine forms of responsibility.

One sees a beggar holding a sign at a street corner saying, 'Food for Work' or 'Broke, need help!' or 'Stranded! Can you help?' According to this week's parsha we are required as Jews to assist a destitute brother or sister. However let's think about this for a minute. Our Torah responsibility is to assist another Jew. The person holding that sign may or may not be Jewish. We don't know! Yet we feel some form of emotion. We may feel like they are trying to fleece us. We may feel like we should help. We may feel guilty. The point is, budget for such occasions. Responsible giving requires responsible budgeting. Here is what I mean. Can you budget $365.00 per year for street people? If so you can contribute one dollar a day or seven dollars a week. Depending upon the number of street people you brush arms with will determine if you give 6 $5.00 bills, 30 singles or 120 quarters. That is what your budget allows. That is what you can do. Responsible giving means one MUST work within the constraints of their budget. When you do this you are in fact making a pledge to assist street people throughout the year.

Maybe your budget will only allow for a $10.00 contribution per month. That simply means that you will either contribute less to each requester or that you will need to give selectively {not every requester will receive a contribution}.

This is the type of responsible giving the Torah teaches when using the word Ni Daw Reem meaning vows or pledges.

Now what does one do if they are invited to a fundraiser? What does one do if they know that the purpose of this fundraiser is to solicit pledges? What does one do when requested to attend such a dinner or event? Well, the first question we must ask ourselves is did we budget for a pledge of this type? If we did, did we commit our entire budget? If so, can we make a pledge for a future budget? Dear reader, the point here is multifaceted. If we cannot pledge, should we not even consider attending the event? Why not? Should we attend an event for which we know in advance that we cannot pledge? Should we give false hope to the sponsor? Should we allow ourselves to be tempted into doing what we have not planned for? If we do not pledge will we feel guilty? If so, we should pass on this event.

Holy reader, we are taught by the Torah not to take a pledge... a vow lightly. A pledge is a commitment that will be depended upon. Because a pledge must not be taken lightly one should NOT make a pledge they cannot fulfill. That being the situation one must budget to pledge. If one has not budgeted to pledge, they are not prepared to make a commitment and in that sense may not be able to fulfill any commitment that they make. So to invite a person who has not budgeted to pledge may be wrong especially if they make a vow that they cannot keep. If we are tempted to make a pledge we have not budgeted for, that may be irresponsible. On the other hand, it may simply mean reducing our fun money, not our grocery money. No harm done!

Chassidim, we Jews do not give tithe, we owe tithe. Our tithe does not belong to us. It is similar to the FICA deduction that comes with living in America. Tithe is required of Jews like FICA is required of people living and working in America. Pledging is also required but on a different level. Pledging is not an automatic deduction like our tithe is. Pledging is a carefully thought out, sound business decision. Pledging is not an act of emotion invoked by a persuasive rabbi or guilt maneuvers of some solicitor!

Now we consider donating. Donating is not pledging. Donating does not require the same intense budgeting as pledging. Donating is NOT planned for. Otherwise it would be considered pledging. So one must ask the question, where does the money used for donating come from? The answer is very simple. Hashem's blessing. Excess! In other words, we budget to spend $100.00 for groceries but only spend $95.00 We got in on a 2 for 1 special on cereal, saving $5.00. That savings was not budgeted for. That extra five resulted because of Hashem's blessing. Now, holy reader, every Jew must train themselves to recognize Hashem's blessing. When we are blessed by Hashem what are we supposed to do with that extra unplanned for blessing? We are Ni Daw Vawh, we are "to donate," we are "to give charity." Hashem begins a cycle of blessing in our life and we are expected to continue that cycle of blessing!

Cycles of blessings come in many special packages. Employment bonuses are another cycle of blessing. Holiday turkeys, gift certificates, raises, reduction in utility bills or auto expenses, etc. are all blessings from Hashem. It is from these blessings that we draw funds from to continue this wonderful cycle of blessings. Try it! The cycle of blessing is wonderful and it works!

Story: Old Brownie Broke Down
Holy reader, my office phone rang after writing just six lines of this discussion. It was my son calling to tell me that our family vehicle that he was driving broke down. He was almost fifty miles from home conducting family business. We towed the vehicle back to our local repair shop. The repairs cost nearly $400.00. Thank G-d it wasn't worse. Now, dear reader, one of the items that failed was our water pump. I could have been upset but I wasn't. Why? Because we plan for repairs. We belong to an auto club. The towing charge was part of a package that we purchased. It was already paid for. Thank G-d! Even though we would spend almost $400.00 for the repair it was budgeted for. The money was already set aside! So how can I be so joyful at what appears to be such bad news?

We are planning to take a trip in this vehicle. We would have had a problem that may have been much worse. I believe that problem was avoided. Thank G-d! In addition, our vehicle is fifteen years old. This was the original water pump. Most water pumps do not last for over 184,000 miles. This was a clear example of Hashem's blessing. I do not know what the actual savings is from the prolonged life of this water pump or our six year old hoses and belts, but I recognize each of them to be the result of Hashem's cycle of blessing. Our ancestors experienced Hashem's cycle of blessing in the BaMidbar thousands of years earlier when the soles of their shoes did not wear out for over forty years. Dear reader, when Hashem blesses us we are required to pass that cycle of blessing along.

So we see from our discussion how the tools of tithes, pledges and donations are intended to work for ALL Jews. Now let's utilize these tools in accordance with the Torah's intention. And if at any time in the future someone attempts to place guilt within your soul reread this discussion and give them a copy. The Torah teaches responsible giving for all Jews not emotional giving fueled by guilt.

May Hashem bless you as you continue / begin to employ these wonderful tools for supporting Judaism!

Good Shabbos!

Dr. Akiva G. Belk

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