Friday, May 13, 2005

Question & Answer With Rabbi Lazer Brody - Part II - Giving Tzedakah To An Unworthy Recipient

A Simple Jew's asks:

It is recorded in Sefer HaMiddos (chapter Tzedaka, 12) that Rebbe Nachman of Breslov once said, "Giving charity to a poor person who does not deserve it carries no reward."

If a person is sincere and gives tzedakah to a person or organization that appears to be deserving but later finds out that this is not the case, is he still rewarded? Could you explain the reason for this? Is this saying that we need to investigate everyone we give tzedakah to in order to see if they are truly deserving?

Rabbi Lazer Brody answers:

To my very dear and esteemed friend "Simple Jew", may Hashem bless you always!

Your question is a superb one. Any utterance of Rebbe Nachman is solidly anchored in Talmud, Kabbala, and Shulchan Oruch, and the abovementioned passage about charity is certainly no exception.

The Gemorra in tractate Bava Basra (page 10b) says, "One should not give a coin to charity fund unless a person like Rabbi Hanina ben Tardion is in charge of the fund". To understand the full meaning of this Gemorra, we must examine Rashi's commentary in tractate Avoda Zara (page 17b). There, Rashi explains that Rabbi Hanina ben Tardion once accidentally distributed Purim donations (designated for making a collective festive meal for the poor) directly to the poor, to use at their own discretion. When he discovered that the funds were earmarked for a public festive meal, he let the poor keep the money he had already distributed and paid for the entire collective festive meal out of his own pocket. (As an aside, let me remind you that Rabbi Hanina B"T was one of the ten holy martyrs who was killed by the Romans).

Our responsibility, as elaborated in the above two tractates, to give charity to a fund managed by a pious, upright person behooves us to look for a truly worthy cause to use our charity money. This is not only a recommendation, but halacha (see Shulchan Oruch Yora Dea 249:7). The Ram"a further elaborates (ibid., 256:1) that one should not give to a fund managed by a person of questionable integrity, and certainly not give to a "con artist", or a person who is a fake.

The Yerushalmi Talmud in tractate Peah (Ch. 8, 7th mishna) says that we our allowed to give money for food to those who say they are hungry, but if they ask for clothing as well, we must first investigate whether they are truly in need of financial assistance. This principle as well is brought down in halacha (see Shulchan Oruch Yora Dea 251:10.

The latter-day halachic commentaries debate whether it is recommended not to give to those of questionable integrity and need, or whether it's forbidden. Breslever tradition says that giving to someone who is not deserving is like making an offering to idol worship, G-d forbid. That might sound a little strong, but Halacha also specifically prohibits us from giving charity to a person who willfully breaks Hashem's laws (ibid., 251: 1-2).

Hashem always gives a reward for good intentions (Tractate Kiddushin, 40a). Therefore, a person unwittingly gives charity to an undeserving cause, he or she are subject to a reward. But, Halacha requires - as Rebbe Nachman reminds us - that we do our very best to establish that we're indeed giving to a worthwhile endeavor. That means that we have the obligation to investigate. Remember, money that is earned honestly has a special holiness to it - we don't want to pass it on to the spiritual dark side.

May Hashem bless you always with the mitzva of tzedakka, and may you enjoy smashing success in all your endeavors. With warmest friendship, Lazer Brody


Visit Rabbi Lazer Brody's website here.

Question & Answer - Part I can be found here.


At May 13, 2005 at 11:49:00 AM EDT, Blogger PsychoToddler said...

This is very interesting, and may have some real world applications. I'm referring to the sometimes unending stream of Meshulachim that find their way to my door. I never turn anyone away without something. But some of them look incredibly seedy and you have to wonder if they are just con artists. We have the "green" card system here, but I don't think it's that hard to get one. So should we be telling these people that we "gave at the office"?

At May 14, 2005 at 3:59:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Superb point, PT. You are most certainly allowed to give your charity gelt to whomever you like, and you are not required to give a cent to something that doesn't look or smell like a worthy cause. Unfortunately, the con artists make a bad name for the legitimate causes. Not only must we do our best to give to people and/or causes that we trust, but we must pray that we'll succeed in channeling our maaser money in the best directions. (This comment was written in Israel at 10:58 pm local time on Motzai Shabbos).

At May 15, 2005 at 1:20:00 PM EDT, Blogger PsychoToddler said...

So in other words, I should use my discretion.


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