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Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Act first, think later

Daf Yomi Nedarim 44

It was a frigid winter’s evening.  Moishe was going door to door putting out his hand for a few kopeks to feed his starving children, when he knocked on the door of Feivish the miser.
‘What do I have to lose?’ he said to himself as he walked up the foreboding path, ‘Worst come to worst, he’ll say no.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.’
Feivish opened the door and stood there in the nice, warm entrance of his house.  After hearing Moishe’s plea, he proceeded to spend the next half hour lecturing him about the importance of getting a job, while Moishe stood outside shivering in the freezing cold.
Feivish concluded his soliloquy with a stern voice, ‘I’d love to help you, but I think I’d only be hurting you by supporting this begging habit you’ve developed.  The best thing I can do for you  now is to send you off with my tough love and hope you will heed my words and find something constructive to do with your life.’

Beraisa: One who declares his field ownerless may retract his declaration within three days.  Henceforth, he may no longer retract.
The Gemara asks: What is the reason that he may no longer retract? 
The Gemara answers: In order that we do not forget the law of hefker (ownerless property), whereby an ownerless field is not subject to the laws of tithing.
The Gemara asks: If so, hefker should take effect from day one!  Why do we wait three days?
The Gemara answers: Due to cheaters who would simply declare their fields hefker, in order to relieve themselves of their obligation to tithe, and then immediately reclaim the “ownerless” tithe-free land.

Why aren’t these cheaters honest with themselves?  If they don’t want to give the tithes, they should simply refuse to give the charitable payments.  Why all the fuss with disowning and reclaiming the field?

The answer is that nobody thinks of themselves as stingy.  They recast their self-perception as clever.  They have an answer for everything.  They insist on lecturing the beggar instead of simply giving him the much needed funds.  They would never miss their charitable dues – instead they find ways to ‘legally’ avoid their responsibilities; in this case by declaring the field hefker!

Are you being honest with yourself when it comes to tzedakah and other mitzvos?  Or are you looking for ways to justify your lack of will to do the mitzvah?  It’s easy to rationalize behaviours that suit ourselves.  You can always find excuses why you shouldn’t hand over the gelt; why you needn’t go to minyan (“It’s too late, I need to get to work so that I can have more money to support Jewish causes”); why you can’t join the volunteer committee (“I don’t do meetings”).  But you are only cheating yourself. 

It’s time to let go of the excuses.  No more rationalizing away what you can’t be bothered doing.  May you merit a life of ‘naaseh v’nishma’ – doing first and asking questions later!