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Monday, 29 June 2015

How to escape giving charity

Daf Yomi Nedarim 34


A couple of years back, a congregant asked me if I could give a shiur (class) on Shabbos morning before davening. 
“In my old shul,” he said, “the rabbi would give a class.”
“In your old shul,” I asked him, “did the rabbi leyn (read the Torah) every week?”
“No,” he replied.  I then explained to him that I’d love to offer an early-Shabbos morning class, but that just wasn’t possible, because I needed that time to prepare the leyning.  He graciously understood and accepted where I was coming from.

Some months ago, we began our daily Daf Yomi class in the shul.  Rabbi White from the Kollel gives the shiur six days a week, but since the Kollel is on the other side of town, he’s unable to give it on Shabbos.  His solution was simply to frontload the Daf on Friday and backload it on Sunday and essentially cover seven days’ worth of learning in six.  While I certainly appreciated his gesture, I maintained that the beauty of Daf Yomi is the discipline of daily learning and so it was vital that we provide a shiur seven days a week.  To that end, I approached some of the local rabbis to create a roster for the Daf on Shabbos, each of us giving the shiur once every three weeks.

But now back to my original conundrum: How could I give a shiur on Shabbos morning when I had leyning to prepare?

Mishnah: One who vows to abstain from deriving any benefit from his friend may pay his half-shekel tax and repay his debt and return his lost item.
Rabbi Ami and Rabbi Asi were debating the particulars of the case.  One said that one may only return a lost item when the possessions of the owner are prohibited to the finder.  We are not concerned for the rare situation of “Rav Yosef’s coin.”
Rashi explains: If one is occupied with the mitzvah of returning the lost item and he encounters a beggar, he is not obligated to give anything, since ‘one who is occupied with a mitzvah is exempt from another mitzvah.’  Rav Yosef explains that there is thus a financial incentive to return a lost item, in that one will be exempt from giving the charity!  Consequently, if the finder has sworn off benefit from the owner of the lost item, he would not be permitted to return it to him, since he is thereby gaining a financial benefit!

Picture the Gemara’s situation: A fellow is running around town sticking up posters with a photo of the poor little puppy he’s found.   A pauper stops him and asks for a dollar to buy a sandwich, because he hasn’t eaten in two days. 
‘Sorry, mate, I can’t help you today,’ he responds, ‘I’m busy returning this puppy and so I am absolved from all other mitzvos.’

Unfortunately, that’s how some people are.  You ask them to help out with something and they tell you how busy they are doing other important things.  It’s just not possible, given their current schedule.
‘Rabbi, I would love to help decorate the shul for Purim, but I’m just so busy with other community commitments.’  The message of the Talmud is that you have the time if you want to have the time.  While the Gemara’s example might sound a little extreme, how often do we make excuses when the truth is all we had to do was to rejig our commitments?

When I was first asked to give a Shabbos morning pre-davening shiur, I thought, ‘no way.’  There was absolutely no way I could fit it into my already-packed Shabbos morning schedule.  But now that I wanted a daily Daf Yomi shiur in the shul, all of a sudden I was able to figure out how to give the shiur on Shabbos morning and still prepare the leyning

How did I do it?  I simply made sure to prepare the leyning and the shiur earlier in the week, so that I could wake up on Shabbos morning, review each of them one final time and head off to shul to give the shiur.  Ultimately, it was all a matter of good scheduling and planning.


It’s time to stop using the excuse that you’re busy doing too many other mitzvos to do another mitzvah.  Most of the time it’s simply a matter of good scheduling and better planning.  May you merit being a source of assistance and volunteerism, somebody that everyone can always count on to be there!