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"Tsedaka, tsedaka, please give me tsedaka."
Reuven sees the poor man approaching him.
"Another tsedaka collector," he thought. "I wish they would just leave me alone."
The poor man comes closer.
"Tsedaka, tsedaka, please give me tsedaka."
"I have already given tsedaka several times today," thought Reuven. "I have some money to give him, but I just don't feel like it. Is it so terrible if I do not give this time?"
And so, when the poor man asked Reuven for a donation, he just shrugged his shoulders and did not give him anything.
The question is:
Did Reuven commit a sin?
The answer is:
The Gemora (Bava Basra 10a) cites a braysa that speaks very harshly about one who turns his eyes away from a poor person and does not give him tsedaka. This act of cold heartedness is compared to worshipping idols. The Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 247:1 adds to the list of sins. To give tsedaka is a positive mitzvah, therefore if one does not give what he is able to, he spurns this positive mitzvah. There are also two negative mitzvos for purposely ignoring the poor person. "You shall not harden your heart or close your hand against your poor brother" (Devarim 15:7.)
The Shulchan Aruch concludes by citing the story of Nochum Ish Gam Zu, who was traveling to his father-in-law's house with three donkeys. One was laden with food, another with drink, and the third with delicacies. A poor man approached him and asked for food. Nochum Ish Gam Zu asked the poor man to wait until he unloaded his donkey. While he was unloading, the poor man died. Because of this, the Shulchan Aruch states that one must be extremely careful with the mitzvah of tsedaka, because it may lead to the spilling of blood.
This puzzle and answer is for learning and discussion purposes only. Do not rely upon it for psak halacha! Consult a Rav to determine the correct halachic ruling.
"Secretary, with whom is my next appointment?"
"The Head of the Department of Streets, Mr. Mayor."
"Please send him in."
"Yes sir, Mr. Mayor."
The head of the Street Department enters the Mayor's office and warmly shakes his hand.
"Good to see you, Jack. To what do I know the honor of this visit?"
"The streets of our city are in a state of disrepair Mr. Mayor. Potholes abound, traffic lights need fixing, and street lines need repainting. We need an increase in our budget to pay for all of these repairs."
"How much, Jack?"
"Our estimate is about $500,000."
The Mayor thinks for a moment.
"I think we can accommodate that, Jack. Please fill out a formal request, accompanied by a detailed estimate of all expenses. At the next budget meeting, I will make sure that it gets approved."
"Thank you so much, Mr. Mayor!"
"You're welcome and have a good day."
And so it went. Appointment after appointment, most of them requesting budget increases. The Mayor calmly answered all of them, saying that the city would find the money to meet their needs. Then his secretary entered with a piece of paper.
"What is this?"
"A bill from the electric company. They are increasing your rates 20%."
"What?!? 20%?!? That's highway robbery! They can't get away with this! I will fight them to the last penny!
The secretary was astounded. The Mayor, who was normally cool, calm, and collected about money matters, was in a rage over this electric bill.
"Mr. Mayor, may I ask you something?"
"You are always so calm when people ask you for money. Why are you upset now?"
"When people ask for budget money I give it to them. Why not? I did not work hard to earn that money. This electric bill is different. I must pay it from MY pocket with MY money that I worked very hard for."
The verse states, "Take from yourselves a trumah for Hashem, everyone whose heart motivates him shall bring it" (Shemos 35:5). It presents an apparent contradiction. "Take from yourselves a trumah for Hashem," sounds like the trumah is being taken forcibly from the people against their will. "Everyone whose heart motivates him shall bring it," sounds as if they are bringing the trumah willfully from the generosity of their hearts. How is the trumah given? Willingly or forcibly? The Keli Yakar explains that the verse describes two types of people. The first type thinks that he is solely responsible for his wealth. As the verse states, "My strength and the might of my hand made me all this wealth" (Devarim 8:17). He finds it very difficult to part with "HIS" money. Therefore, you must take the trumah from him. The second type of person realizes that everything is from the Almighty. As the verse states, "Mine is the silver and Mine is the gold" (Chagai 2:8). He sees himself as only a treasurer (so to speak) of Hashem's budget. Therefore, he has no problem returning some of Hashem's money back to Him.
Kinderlach . . .
Many people collect tsedaka for many good causes. How do we react to their asking for a donation? Do we give begrudgingly, thinking to ourselves, "Why do I have to give MY money to this man? Can't he work for his money like I do?" Or, do we give with an open heart, thinking, "Hashem gave me a very big mitzvah of tsedaka, and He even gave me the money to fulfill this mitzvah. Now He brought a poor person right here in front of me. How wonderful! I hardly need to do anything to fulfill this important mitzvah. Thank you tsedaka collector for bringing me this mitzvah. And thank you Hashem for being so good to me!
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