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Sunday, 27 December 2015

Are you too poor to tithe?

Daf Yomi Gittin 12

Our patriarch Yaakov has just escaped his brother Esav’s wrath and he is on the way to Uncle Lavan.  It’s getting dark and so he lays his head down for the night in Bethel and has a dream.  Dozens of angels are ascending and descending a ladder that reaches to the heavens.  He suddenly wakes up and exclaims, “How awesome is this place.  It is none other than the house of Hashem and it is the gate of heaven!”  Recognizing the intense holiness of the place, he offers a special prayer, asking the Almighty to protect him on his travels to Charan.  And he concludes with a pledge to tithe one tenth of any earnings Heaven bestows on him.

Concerning the corner of the field that must be left for the poor, the Torah states, “You shall not gather it – for the pauper and for the stranger you shall leave them.”
If a farmer gathered the corner of the field and declared, ‘These sheaves are hereby the property of so-and-so the pauper,’ Rabbi Eliezer says that he has indeed acquired it unto him.  But the Sages say that he must give them to whichever pauper he encounters first.
Why do the Sages maintain that one may not collect on behalf of a specific pauper?  For the Torah states, “You shall not gather it for the pauper.”
But how would Rabbi Eliezer interpret the verse?
The Torah is teaching that a poor man may not gather the corner of his own field and keep it for himself. 

If a person is rich enough to own a field, why would he think that he would be able to keep the corner of the field, which belongs to the poor?  Actually, why does the Gemara itself even call this person a poor man – how could he afford to own a field if he his poor?

Some people, no matter how much they have, they always think of themselves as poor.  Not only are they dissatisfied with their lot – ungrateful for everything that Heaven has blessed them with – but they manage to justify to themselves not giving tzedakah, since they can’t really afford it!  This individual owns an entire field and he still thinks he’s too poor to give away the tithes.

How do you increase wealth?  Not by avoiding your tithing duties, but by tithing meticulously.   When Yaakov pledged to tithe, he declared, “Aser a’asrenu lach.”  The double expression is normally translated into English as “I shall surely tithe to You.”  But our Sages tell us that whenever the Torah employs the double expression regarding tithing, the message is that proper tithing leads to an increase in wealth – “Aser, bishvil shetisasher” – “Tithe in order to become wealthy!”

Withholding your tithes on account of a misplaced belief that you are too poor to give away a tenth of your earnings is not helping the situation.   When you tithe appropriately, not only do you not lose money, the Torah promises that you will be blessed abundantly in return!

You can always justify not giving tzedakah.  One financial advisor friend told me of an individual that everyone thought was extremely wealthy, due to his successful law practice.  In truth, said the advisor, this man was struggling to make ends meet, because no matter how much you have, you can still live above your means.  And so in this individual’s mind, he decided that he couldn’t afford to tithe properly. 

Mind you, at that lawyer’s income level, tithing was indeed a real spiritual challenge.  He was making half a million dollars a year and so his obligation was to separate fifty thousand dollars to charity.  He couldn't imagine where that money would come from.  Fifty thousand dollars is a fortune to give away!  But what’s the alternative?  If he only would make a hundred thousand, he would only be obligated to give ten thousand a year – would he rather that?

You are not poor.   You are way richer than the vast majority of people on this planet.  May you always tithe with the same meticulousness and attention that you give to your business income and expenditure, and in that merit may you be blessed with the means to tithe more and more each year!

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