A Taste of Torah in Honor of Shabbat
by Rabbi Avi Weiss
Shabbat Parshat Chayei Sarah
22 Cheshvan, 5758
Jewish organizations rely heavily on individual donors.
Often, however, ethical dilemmas arise when dealing with some contributors.
For some beneficiaries these ethical struggles are
irrelevant. After all, many agencies are so strapped for resources that they must raise
massive amounts of money to survive. In some circles, the attitude seems to be, Take
the money ; never mind where it comes from.
It shouldn't be this way. Charities should be more selective about their financial
sources. While donors perform a mitzvah in giving, recipients play no less a role in
the mitzvah by providing the opportunity to give. In Jewish tradition it is an honor
to give. Hence, recipients have the right, as well as the obligation, to develop
criteria for donors.
Donations--large or small--should come from ethical
endeavors only. This idea accords with an age old tradition recorded in the Talmud.
The obligation for the lulav ritual (the commandment to take lulav and etrog on Sukkot)
cannot be fulfilled with a stolen lulav.
A more difficult policy to implement is the idea that even money earned ethically should
be rejected if given by someone who lives contrary to Jewish values. This principle raises
the question of who, for the purpose of receiving tzedakah, falls into this category?
Where is the line to be drawn?
Spousal abuse? Intermarriage? Eating on Yom
Kippur? Violating the Sabbath? Tax evasion?
I believe the litmus test should be the way in which
potential donors conduct their relations with others. We should leave it to God to
decide who is sinning against Him. But in the area of interpersonal relationships,
we must take a stand and say that we will not be party to the mistreatment of others.
This point is illustrated in this week's portion Hayei
Sarah. Commentators ask why Abraham the Patriarch preferred a wife from his
birthplace for his son Isaac rather than a woman from Canaan. After all, both were
places of idolatry, and Abraham and Isaac were living in Canaan.
Rabbeinu Nissim answers that in Canaan, people
mistreated each other. In Abraham's birthplace, they may have sinned against God,
but there was respect and love between people.
"In other words," explains the great biblical
scholar Nechama Leibovitz, "it was not the ideas and beliefs of the family of the
girl destined to be the mother of the nation that were apt to endanger the whole nation,
evil deeds." Organizations must likewise avoid the endangering influence of
contributors who harm other people.
Those who donate must be given credit and honor; they
play a critical role in the Jewish community. But we must remember that giving is a
privilege, and the recipient of tzedakah also bestows an honor. There is after all, an
ethic of taking.
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