by R. Moshe Kurtz
Lomdus on the Parsha: Terumah
Based on the Acclaimed Sefer Chavatzeles HaSharon
Q: Is the mitzvah of charity diminished when performed for an ulterior motive?
Tell the Israelite people to take for Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved. (Exodus 25:2)
“Me,” means for My Name. (Rashi, citing Medrash Tanchuma, Terumah 1).
When one gives a charitable donation does it need to be purely with the intention of performing the mitzvah of tzedakah? The Talmud (Pesachim 8a) would seem to answer this question in unequivocal terms:
It was taught [in a baraisa] that one who says: [I am contributing] this sela to charity so that my son will live, or so that I will be a member of the World-to-Come, this person is a full-fledged righteous person.
Thus, we are explicitly informed that giving charity in order to reap associated benefits does not detract from its standing as a legitimate mitzvah. However, many later authorities understand that when God wished for the Jewish people to contribute toward the Tabernacle the use of the phrase “for me,” which the Medresh interprets as “for My Name,” connotes that such donations may only be made exclusively for the sake of God, and no ulterior purposes. This is, of course, in sharp contradistinction to the typical case of charity for which the Talmud is comfortable with the benefactor bearing additional interests.
The Shev Shemaysa (Introduction, no. 10) likens the donation for the Tabernacle to the case of a woman becoming betrothed to an adam chashuv, a man of considerable stature. Generally, in order to effectuate a halachic act of betrothal, the groom will give something of minimal monetary worth (shava perutah) to the bride, and in exchange the bride gives herself over to him. However, the bride cannot play the active role in “acquiring” the groom, so to speak. This is derived from the verse: “A man takes a woman [into his household as his wife] and becomes her husband (Deut. 24:1).” However, in a somewhat curious fashion, the Talmud (Kiddushin 7a) teaches us that there is an exception to this arrangement in which the bride may present the money to the groom instead of the groom transferring it to her. When the groom is considered to be a man of significant standing, the bride is deriving gratification from the fact that such a prestigious individual was willing to accept her gift. Thus, while it is the woman who is performing the physical act of giving, she is still classified as recipient in such a case.
The Ran (ad loc., 3a) notes that this only applies in a case when the woman presented the man with a matanah gemurah, an absolute gift. However, if she gave it to him and stipulated that it was on condition that it be returned to her (matanah al menas l’hachzir) there would be something lacking in the nature of the gift and the resultant gratification, thus not constituting an effective betrothal. On this basis, the Shev Shmaysa reasons that God specifically instructed the Jewish people to contribute to the Tabernacle with the singular intention of bequeathing their possessions to God – who is the anthropomorphically speaking, the ultimate “Adam Chashuv” – and thereby reaping the truest form of gratification.
However, there is still a point about this entire premise that should be puzzling us: Why should additional motivations negate the validity of a mitzvah? R. Elchonon Wasserman (Koveitz Shiurim, Pesachim, no. 171) infers based on the Talmud in Pesachim (38b) that certain processes, such as baking matzah, do indeed require exclusive designation. However, the Responsa Beis Yitzchak (O.C., no. 7) notes that processing hides for the purpose of creating both tefillin (phylacteries) as well as divorce documents does not detract from the intent required for the mitzvah of tefillin. If so, why should donating to the Tabernacle with the impetus of deriving fringe benefits, whether they be metaphysical or social, detract from the ideal mitzvah intent which is presumably still present?
To resolve this purported halachic inconsistency, R. Mordechai Carlebach suggests that we create a dichotomy between (A) commandments that require only kavanah (intent for the mitzvah) and (B) commandments that necessitate being performed lishmah (for the sake of the mitzvah).
(A) A mitzvah that requires only kavanah is not negatively impacted by additional motivations. For example, R. Wasserman concedes that if one sounds the shofar in order to both fulfill the mitzvah and create music the mitzvah of shofar would not be compromised since the necessary kavanah remains present. (B) However, in the case of matzah and tefillin there is a more demanding requirement of lishma, which requires that the very object (cheftzah) be exclusively designated for the sake of the mitzvah. Thus any additional purposes that are mixed into the equation would detract from the exclusive nature that lishma requires by its definition.
We may suggest that whereas the general mitzvah of tzedakah requires only kavanah or is perhaps fully result-oriented (see our discussion on Parshas Vayeira), donating with the additional intent of deriving associated benefits would not compromise the mitzvah. However, the contribution being made to the Tabernacle, and Temple, required a form of consecration of the object itself and thus the exclusivity of the designation was indispensable in order to fulfill the mitzvah of donating lishmah.
We can observe in Jewish law that one’s intention is not the sole factor, but the source of the donation is also taken into consideration. The Torah explicitly rejects the donation of a harlot’s wage to the Temple as it is derived through illicit means (Deut. 23:19, see alternative rationales provided by the commentaries ad loc.). The Rema (O.C. 153:21) expands this proscription to all synagogues, which bear the status of a mikdash me’at, a minor manifestation of the Temple (see Megillah 29a).
In either event, while there are benefits in this world for performing the Torah’s commandments,we should always remember the words of the Antignos Ish Socho (Avos 3:1): “Do not be like servants who serve the master in the expectation of receiving a reward, but be like servants who serve the master without the expectation of receiving a reward, and let the fear of Heaven be upon you.”
Note: This series is not intended to dispense practical halachic conclusions. The Torah presented here is but a small extraction from the breadth of the sefer Chavatzeles HaSharon and is not affiliated with the author in any official capacity. Translations are adapted from Sefaria, Chabad.org, Mechon Mamre, and my own. Contact: [email protected]