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Monday, 13 July 2015

Giving the rabbi an envelope

Daf Yomi Nedarim 48

Rabbis receive honorariums for a variety of pastoral duties, from weddings to funerals to unveilings.  For many years, I have maintained a policy of submitting all pastoral honorariums to the shul.  The people then get a tax receipt for their donations.  While I certainly acknowledge that many rabbis are terribly underpaid and are entitled to keep the honorariums, I am most grateful that I have a congregation that compensates me in a fair and generous manner, allowing me the wherewithal to pass these payments on to the shul.

Occasionally, someone will hand me an envelope and say, ‘Rabbi, I want you to keep this money.  Don’t give it to the synagogue.  It’s for you.’  Tellingly, such an instruction is more frequently heard from non-members, who don’t appreciate the importance of funding the synagogue institution.  But why would they insist on me keeping the money?  What do they care what I do with it? 

If a person vowed to abstain from deriving any benefit from his friend but now has nothing to eat, the friend should give some food to a third party as a gift and now the original vower may partake. 
One time in Beis Choron there was a fellow whose father had vowed abstinence from him who was marrying off his son. 
So he says to friend, “I hereby gift my property and the dinner to you so that Dad can come and join us at the feast.”
“Well, if they’re mine,” responds the friend, “I hereby consecrate them to Heaven.”
“Seriously?” he says, “Do you think I gave them to you to consecrate?”
“Yeah, I know, you gave me your property, so that you and your dad could eat drink and be merry while I bear the sin!”
The matter came before the Sages who said, “Any gift that were one to consecrate would not be consecrated is not a real gift.

When someone hands the rabbi an envelope and insists that the rabbi keep the money for himself, it’s not a real gift.  If the ‘donor’ is adamant that the money not be consecrated to the synagogue, he has an agenda.  While it might not be the case all the time, in some cases the ‘donor’ is trying to buy the rabbi.   There are certainly well-meaning individuals who sincerely want to help out the rabbi and his family, but sadly sometimes more sinister motives are at play.  And that’s the meaning of our Sages’ ruling, “Any gift that were one to (attempt to) consecrate would not be consecrated is not a real gift.”

Rabbi must remain impartial.  Rabbis must serve their entire flock equally, without showing favour to certain individuals over others.  If some people hand him envelopes while others do not, he runs the risk of developing biases towards them, albeit subconsciously!

When the rabbi receives a set income from the congregation, not tied to performance or any other factors, he can fulfill his Heavenly duties without prejudice.  A good rabbi will want to maximize the income of the congregation and will work hard to generate extra funding for the shul.  Individuals who fail to appreciate the rabbi’s oneness with the synagogue don’t understand the position and role of the rabbi.  The rabbi is the synagogue – his success is the congregation’s success.


Rabbis that can be bought are unable to be effective rabbis.  Rabbis should work hard to maximize consecrated funds.  May we merit rabbis, shuls and individuals that are all working for one singular purpose – for the sake of Heaven!