April 13, 2024
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April 13, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Rav Chaim Volozhin zt”l would regularly send a messenger to collect money on behalf of his yeshiva. One solicited potential donor insisted on sending his donation directly to Rav Chaim instead of giving the money to the messenger. While the solicitor did not take offense at the individual’s insistence, his behavior seemed strange. It was a common custom for messengers to collect money on behalf of institutions as is the common practice today. In the accompanying letter which was sent with the money to the yeshiva, the man stated that he wished for his donation to be used completely by the yeshiva, and did not want the messenger to receive any of his funds as commission. The objective of this donor was so that his tzedakah would be used completely by the institution for its daily functioning and physical upkeep. The donor objected to the rationale that an individual should be paid from “tzedakah” money. Rav Chaim returned the donor’s money and told him that his request could not be granted as his reasoning was rooted in the practice of idol worshippers. He explained that when idol worshippers donate funds, they send them directly to their place of worship without any intermediary. Rav Chaim, however, stated that the Jewish custom was that another Jew should benefit from the benefactor’s act of benevolence. He brought the proof of his assertion from the Gemara which is rooted in Parshat Emor. It states that the only type of offerings that were accepted from idol worshippers were elevation offerings and not peace offerings. This reason is because peace offerings are eaten by the kohanim as well as the person bringing the korban. Idol worshippers wish for their offering to be given exclusively to God and not to be shared by others.

I vividly remember my zaide z”l regularly writing checks to tzedakah when receiving solicitations in the mail. I cannot recall him ever throwing out an envelope instead of sending a little something in return. Today, we are often inundated with solicitations via in-person visits, telemarketers, emails and postal mail. It can be virtually impossible to give to everyone. Each of us has organizations or projects that are close to our hearts which we support more than the others. With the increase in the number of organizations, as well as the increased need in the greater Jewish community, many of us have become more cautious and skeptical about where we give our tzedakah. Some of us have expressed concerns about the amount of overhead spent on fundraising. At the same time, there are organizations that promote in their advertising minimal overhead costs associated with the solicitation process. While we should be diligent when deciding where to give, it is important to keep in mind that nominal overhead costs should not be a significant factor in our decision, as it does not take away from the mitzvah of tzedakah which we fulfill. The story of Rav Chaim Volozhin and his approach to raising funds for his yeshiva serves as a lesson to us that Hashem is gratified by the process of tzedakah, from the time of the request to the time a commitment is made. In the merit of this mitzvah may we and our families be blessed to always have the ability to give, when solicited or unsolicited.

By Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler

Eliezer Zwickler is senior rabbi of Congregation AABJ&D in West Orange, NJ. Rabbi Zwickler is also a psychotherapist-LCSW in private practice focusing on couples therapy. Listen to Rabbi Zwickler’s webdvar on the Nachum Segal Network at 9pm each Motzei Shabbat, or on his YouTube channel (ezwickler). Rabbi Zwickler can be reached at [email protected].

 

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