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Shabbat Parashat Vayakhel| 5764

Ask the Rabbi

Question: If you give someone a present in the form of a donation to charity in his name, can it be taken from ma’aser money?
Answer: This is a fascinating question that we have not found explicitly in halachic literature. There is a related concept that one cannot use an animal that was already set aside for a sacrifice in order to fulfill an obligatory sacrifice (Chagiga 7b). In other words, at times one cannot kill two birds with one stone. However, that is not a halachic source for your case.
 So let’s analyze the case logically from a halachic perspective. The money you give to charity insomeone’s name can count toward ma’aser, if you like. The problem is that then, you’re not really giving your friend a present. The idea of giving a gift in the form of a donation in the recipient’s name/honor is to say as follows: “I know that you care more for the needy than you do about a new tie. So the money that would have gone for the tie, I’ll use for the poor, and it’s as if you gave the donation.” But over here, that isn’t happening, but the following. The money, which anyway had to go to charity and could not be used for a friend’s tie, is going to the same place it would have if your friend didn’t have an occasion. So, in effect, one who uses ma’aser money for a present is unknowingly withholding a present and deceiving his friend.
 There maybe room for leniency in the following cases.
1) A person cannot afford to give ma’aser and is, thus, exempt from that rate of tzedaka, but he really wants to give as much as possible to the needy. So he accepts upon himself the praiseworthy practice of giving ma’aser, but he makes a condition that it will include presents. In this case, one could argue that he is not fully deceiving his friends, because more money does go to charity because of their altruism in accepting the donation instead of a gift. This is because the alternative is that he legitimately would not have accepted the practice of ma’aser.
2) If one picks the recipient of the charity to fit his friend’s preferences, then, in effect, he is giving a gift to his friend, namely, tovat hana’ah. Tovat hana’ah is the indirect benefit that one receives by giving a donation. For example, a donor may get special treatment and even specific favors from the recipient. The donor can benefit from the good feeling of knowing that people he cares about are being provided for, and it is fully legitimate for the recipient to be a friend or relative. A receipt that enables a tax break is certainly tovat hana’ah. Although tovat hana’ah is actually worth money, we don’t say that its estimated value should be reduced from the sum of tzedaka he isconsidered as having given. If one chooses a charity that he would not have given to, because he knows it is beloved to his friend, then he is giving a gift of tovat hana’ah. However,the actual present is not the face value of the donation, but its relative tovat hana’ah.
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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is
dedicated to the memory of R’ Meir  ben
Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld o.b.m.

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