The guaranteed blessing for those who give maaser (tithes) from their earnings is dependent on the diligence with which they work * Those who set aside maaser for unworthy purposes will not receive the blessing of maaser kesafim (tithes from profits) * Maaser kesafim should not be used to pay for children’s tuition, even for enrichment classes * The National-Religious public must create an inexpensive and effective educational framework to assist families, and to enrich the children’s Torah world with study and lessons outside school hours
In this week’s Torah portion we learn about the mitzvah to give maaser kesafim (tithes from profits), as is written (Deuteronomy 14:22): “Aser taaser” (“Take a second tithe”). Our Sages said in a homiletic explanation: “’Aser taaser’ – ‘Give maaser and you will be wealthy’ (Taanit 9a). Ostensibly, one could ask: Aren’t the mitzvot meant to be kept le’Shem Shamayim (for the sake of Heaven) and not to receive a reward? If so, how could our Sages say “‘Give maaser and you will be wealthy’’?
Rather, the enrichment of one who gives maaser from all his profits is itself a mitzvah, and there are a number of aspects to this: First, because from all of his profits – he continues to give maaser. Second, by giving maaser, one merits receiving inspiration and blessing that helps him use the rest of his money properly, in a way that will benefit establishing a family, strengthening his marriage, educating his children, creating good conditions for engaging in Torah and mitzvot, and bettering society. Third, there is a Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God) in that a Jew who keeps the Torah merits revealed blessing. And, as we have learned throughout the Torah, that in the merit of Israel walking in the ways of God, they will be granted a nice livelihood from their labor.
Unfortunately, there Talmidei Chachamim (Torah scholars) who do not understand this Torah foundation, and instruct their students to degrade the value of avodah (work) and parnasa (earning a living), and thus we find Torah observant Jews who live in poverty, and this constitutes a chilul Hashem (desecration of God), for it is written in the Torah that those who observe Torah and mitzvot will merit blessing, and seemingly, the reality is contradictory.
One is Permitted to Test God in This
Our Sages said (Taanit 9a), that one may test God in this – that a person can give maaser, and see for himself that he will get rich. And although the Torah says “Do not test God your Lord” (Deuteronomy 6:16), this is the only mitzvah one is permitted to test God, as it is written (Malachi 3:10): “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it” (see, Peninei Halakha: Likutim 2: 6, 8).
The Blessing Comes Naturally
Like all the blessings written in the Torah, this does not mean that a person who gives maaser will become rich miraculously. Because freedom of choice is the foundation of human life in the world, and if all those who fulfill mitzvot were to merit revealed miracles – free choice would be eliminated. Therefore, the Divine blessing is revealed in the world naturally, in a way that man invests all his talents and energy in his work, and God sends him a blessing in the work of his hands, as the Torah says: “God your Lord will then bless you in everything that you do” (Deuteronomy 14:29).
However, a person who is negligent in his work – even if he gives maaser kesafim, he will not get rich. According to the effort a person makes at work, so is the blessing: one who works like others, neither lazily nor over-diligently, will receive a mediocre blessing in his mediocre work. But whoever works diligently, and puts a lot of thought into advancing his dealings – will merit great blessing by way of maaser kesafim.
Those Who Give Incorrectly
In practice, from what I have observed, the words of the Torah have been fulfilled by the vast majority of those who give maaser kesafim, and they receive the blessing of wealth. Admittedly, there were cases in which I was approached by people who tried giving maaser and were not negligent in their work, but nevertheless, did not merit blessing – the burden of earning a living was extremely difficult, and they came to consult with me about what to do.
However, in all these cases it turned out that they had not acted properly, and gave the maaser to purposes that are not considered tzedakah (charity), such as to relatives who were not really in need, or to dubious organizations, or they gave donations to yeshivas that educate their students improperly, and not in line with the parents’ worldview – for example, the parents recognized the sacred value of yishuv ha’aretz (the settlement of the Land of Israel), while the yeshiva to whom they donated, did not. How can they receive a blessing from a donation to study that rejects their way of thinking? Just as the Torah commanded that each person give his terumot and maasrot to Kohanim and Levites who guide him and whom he follows, so too a person should donate to yeshivas that share his views. And if a person gives tzedakah to unworthy purposes – he does not receive reward for it, and occasionally, there is even a side of transgression, because he helps ovrei aveira (assisting a transgresser) to continue to deceive the public (see Bava Kama 16b).
In addition, usually people who do not give maaser for the right purposes, also tend to spend their money negligently. Apparently, these things are interdependent: since they did not give tzedakah properly, they also did not merit spending their money properly, and ultimately, lose on both ends.
Children’s Education Should Not be Paid from Maaser Kesafim
Here we come to a painful problem. Many people are mistaken and think it is possible to use maaser kesafim for the education of children, and this is wrong. A person is not allowed to pay the costs of one of his mitzvot from maaser kesafim. For example, it is forbidden to buy tefillin from maaser kesafim, tzitzit, arba minim (the four species for Sukkot), and the like. It is also forbidden to pay for the Torah education of children from maaser kesafim, since it is a mitzvah from the Torah that parents make sure their children learn Torah and are educated to keep mitzvot and have good middot (virtues), and as long as they have not completed putting them on the path of Torah, they have not fulfilled the mitzvah. Today, education is more complex than in the past, and in order to put children on the traditional path of Torah-true Judaism, parents must look after their Torah study and education up to the age of eighteen, and for boys, up to the age of about twenty.
Thus, the payments that parents spend for their children during all those years cannot be accounted as maaser kesafim. It is true that in Shulchan Aruch Harav (Hilchot Talmud Torah 1: 7) it is written that if parents sent their child to study Torah in another city, then the payment for the study cannot be accounted as maaser kesafim, but payment for food costs could come from maaser. However, his remarks were made about young boys who were already used to bearing the burden of earning a living, and consequently, their upkeep beyond what was acceptable could come from maaser kesafim. Today, however, the generally accepted practice is to support children up to the age of eighteen, and it is even required by law, and thus, cannot be paid for with maaser kesafim.
However, with regard to the post-eighteen-year stage, b’shaat ha’tzorech (when necessary), the amount relevant to his upkeep in dormitory can be considered as ‘maaser kesafim’.
Hidur of Education Should Not be Paid from Maaser
Some parents pay for Talmud Torah for their child from maaser kesafim, claiming that they could have sent him to a free State-Religious school, therefore the extra payment for Talmud Torah is calculated from maaser kesafim. However, this claim is also incorrect, and just as someone who can buy plain tefillin for a thousand shekels but chooses to buy mehudarot (highest level) tefillin for two thousand shekels – cannot pay the extra from maaser kesafim, so too, one cannot pay for the extra hiddur in education from maaser money. This is because maaser money is meant to support talmidei chachamim who study and teach the general public, and not their own children – similar to how in the past the Kohanim and Levites who would teach Torah to all of Israel were supported by terumot and maasrot, and not as a payment for the education of their children.
True, there are rabbis who permit paying for Talmud Torah from maaser money. However, beyond the fact that I think they are wrong as far as halakha is concerned, it seems clear that if we examine whether those who listen to them receive the blessing of wealth, we see they don’t. And since concerning the parsha of maaser it is said “test me in this,” and investigating shows there is no blessing, this is not the correct purpose of masaer kesafim.
The Poor are Exempt from Maaser Kesafim
Although a poor person is exempt from the mitzvoth of maaser, someone who has a reasonable salary, and even less than the average, is not considered poor, and consequently, is obligated to give maaser, and it is forbidden for him to pay for the education of his children from maaser money.
And who knows what damage has been caused by this mistake, that as a result of paying for Talmud Torah from maser money, numerous schools were forsaken, and thus Clal Yisrael was hurt, because many children did not receive a good education, and the parents also did not merit receiving the blessing of wealth in giving maaser. Perhaps if they had made sure to donate the maaser for Torah teachers to Clal Yisrael and for the poor, and had taken care to improve the State-run schools for the public at large, then the masses of Jews would have come closer to Torah and mitzvot, and all would have risen together, for “a few who fulfill the mitzvot of the Torah cannot compare with the many who fulfill the mitzvot of the Torah” (Sifra, Bechukotei 1:2).
However, when it is impossible to raise the school to the required level, and it is not possible to provide a suitable Torah education, there is no choice but to send the children to a private Talmud Torah, and if the parents are not able to pay for Talmud Torah and in addition, set aside maaser kesafim, then law for the parents is similar to that of the poor, who are exempt from maaser. However, since in practice they do not give maaser, they will also not merit receiving the blessing of wealth. Therefore, if possible, it is better for them to move to a place where a good education can be provided within the school, and thus, they will be able to fulfill the mitzvah of maaser.
Reduce the Cost of Education
The Dati Leumi (National-Religious) public could make a kiddush Shem Shamayim (sanctify God) in the right combination of Torah and mitzvot with science and work and serve as an example and role model for the foreseeable blessing of those who walk in the ways of Torah – who are privileged to give value and meaning to parnasa (earning a living) and contribute to yishuvo shel ha’olam (the welfare of society), and as a result, are privileged to rejoice in all the good that God has created. However, the high costs of education sink many into a state of poverty and deprivation, preventing them from giving maaser and becoming wealthy. Incidentally, economic hardship can also cause children to leave religion. Therefore, we must strive to build an effective and inexpensive educational system based on State frameworks, that will be enriched by the community with numerous and varied Torah classes in all synagogues (today, via Zoom) before the Mincha and Maariv prayers, as is Jewish tradition. In this way, Torah knowledge will increase, as well as economic blessing, and parents will be able to provide their children with an excellent education, live well, and sanctify Shem Shamayim through their good lives.
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This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.