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Shabbat Parashat Ki Tavo| 5764

Public Relations as a Matter of Choice or Not?

Harav Yosef Carmel

The first part of Sefer Devarim contains the commandment to give ma’asrot (tithes) (Devarim 14:22). This week’s parasha goes a step further. Before Pesach on the fourth and seventh year of the shemitta cycle, Jews would go to the Beit Hamikdash to announce that they kept all of the laws of ma’asrot properly (ibid. 26:12-14). This process is known as viduy ma’aser.
 The explicit assertion of proper fulfillment of a mitzva seems unusual. Is it not presumptuous and haughty to praise oneself in such a way? Rishonim already dealt with the problem, and we will bring some of their approaches.
 In our times, we have expressions to the effect of, “Talk is cheap.” But this is not the Jewish outlook on the ideal or perhaps even the norm. The Sefer Hachinuch explains viduy ma’aser based on the opposite assumption. The crowning glory of mankind, above other creations, is his ability to speak. There are, therefore, people who are particularly fearful of degrading their speech, even when they are less concerned about their actions in the same area. Because of the crucial nature of the mitzva of ma’asrot, the Torah wanted to strengthen the likelihood that they would be given honestly by requiring a clear assertion in the Beit Hamikdash to that effect.
 The Abarbanel’s approach seems more in line with our times’ unfortunate realities. He says that the viduy ma’aser encourages one who is dismayed by the prospect of parting with a part of his produce. The person is compensated by the fact that his donations will be duly noted and publicized in no less important and public a place than the Beit Hamikdash. 
 This approach corroborates a p’sak of the Rashba (Shut I, 681), brought by the Rama (YD 249:13). A member of the community contributed money for the expansion of the local shul and demanded that his gift be mentioned on the building’s wall. The Rashba was asked if the community could deny the demand. He cited precedent from the Talmud and even from Tanach, which regularly mentioned those who did good deeds by name, as evidence that it is proper to reward those who do mitzvot by publicizing those mitzvot.
 However, even after seeing the Rashba, one may still claim that it seems unfortunate that the ulterior motive of public acknowledgment should be necessary on such an ongoing basis. Further study of the p’sukim may uncover why it is particularly appropriate in this context. The Torah describes the recipients of the ma’asrot with the words, “They will eat in your gates and be satiated” (26:12). Who says that by giving a tenth of one’s produce to the poor, they will reach the point of satiation? Apparently, the Torah is describing a higher level of giving than the mandatory tenth on the third and sixth years. It is indeed appropriate to allow people to publicize their gift in order to encourage them to give on such a high level.
 We should note that the Jewish people have gone beyond the call of duty throughout the generations to use their wealth for good causes. Ya’akov Avinu promised a tenth from everything he would receive to Hashem, even when the Torah required it only from a few types of produce. To this day, many pious Jews fulfill the custom of ma’aser kesafim without resorting to various legitimate leniencies.
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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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