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Monday, 28 April 2014

Is it better to give money to the synagogue or the homeless shelter?


Beitzah 29

Sadie, the sisterhood president, was addressing the synagogue board.
“Let’s have a fundraiser for the youth homeless shelter!”
“We can’t do that,” responded the vice president, “we need to raise money for our own needs.  Let the homeless shelter worry about the homeless shelter!”

Since measuring is proscribed on a holy day, Rabbi Yehuda says that shopkeepers should avoid using measuring cups on Yom Tov.   Although, the halacha permits filling up a measuring cup without mentioning a precise measure, Aba Shaul ben Botnis would fill his up prior to the festival.

In fact, he would always fill the jugs of wine the night before in order to ensure that his customers received their complete measure and were not short-changed.   His concern was that if he poured out the wine at the time of purchase, they might lose out due to the foam that would gather on top or due to the wine that would remain on the sides of the original vessel.  Aba Shaul was a pious individual indeed!

Most of the time this strategy worked, but occasionally people would come to his shop when he had run out of prepackaged goods.  They would insist on taking their purchases without waiting for the foam or residue to settle. 

One day, Aba Shaul arrived at the Holy Temple in Jerusalem with his pious friends in tow.   He brought three hundred barrels of wine and his friends brought three hundred barrels of oil that they felt should be donated to the Temple since they calculated that over time this amount of foam and residue had accumulated and was not strictly speaking theirs.

The rabbis told them, ‘You really don’t need to do this, but if you insist, then your donation should not go into the Temple coffers, but should be used for public works.’

Our mission in this world is tikkun olam – to make the world a better place.  Sometimes we get so caught up in our own little parochial needs that we forget that the purpose of having strong Jewish institutions is in order to create and sustain a robust, flourishing society.

The rabbis’ message to Aba Shaul and co. was that Temple donations are wonderful, but it’s only a means to an end.  The purpose of our holy service is to make the world a better place.  Sometimes you need to contribute to the Temple and other times you must ensure that you are making equal contributions to society.

Public works are necessary for a vibrant G-dly society.  Such needs include good roads, libraries, universities, hospitals, museums and so on.  You were not placed on this earth merely to improve your own little lot.  You were placed here to create an incredible societal structure! 

That means feeding the homeless – Jewish and non-Jewish.  That means educating the people – Jewish and non-Jewish.  That means healing the people – Jewish and non-Jewish!


By the time you leave this world, you need to be able to say with pride that you are leaving a better world than the one into which you entered.  Invest in G-d’s handiwork – you can and must make a difference in all aspects of this precious world!