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Shabbat Parashat Ki Tavo 5783

Parashat Hashavua: Publicizing those who Perform Mitzvot

Harav Yosef Carmel

In Parashat R’ei, the Torah commands to tithe agricultural produce (Devarim 14:22). In our parasha, the Torah teaches a mitzva to, twice during a Shemitta cycle (Erev Pesach of the 4th and 7th years), finish dispersing various tithes (ibid. 26:12). As part of the process, the landowner declares that he performed all of the obligations correctly (ibid. 13-14).

Such an explicit declaration of apparent self-congratulation requires explanation, as it appears to be going on a limb and being boastful. Can/should a person really announce that he did everything he was supposed to?

Rashi, commenting on one of the declaration’s elements (“I have done according to all that You have commanded”) lends insight. He explains that the person is saying: “I was happy and made others happy.” It is thus not a matter of boasting about keeping the mitzva but of reminding oneself what he needs to do. (We know from the tochacha that failure to perform mitzvot with joy is a serious matter – ibid. 28:47). This teaches us: 1. Giving makes one happy; 2. There is no real simcha if one does not make others happy.

The Sefer Hachinuch (#607) takes a different approach. Because speech is so fundamental to a human being’s uniqueness, some people are more careful about what they declare than what they do. Therefore, making a person declare that he tithed properly helps ensure that he actually will do these mitzvot properly. Therefore, the point is not self-congratulation but self-prodding to do the mitzva well.

Abarbanel has a novel approach, which has an interesting practical side. In order to make it easier to fulfill this costly mitzva, a person gets to publicly announce his proper performance of contributing to those who deserve to receive. According to him, we allow and recommend positive publicity as an incentive for doing the mitzva.

There is a parallel discussion in a halachic context. The Rashba (Shut I:581) ruled that a community may not prevent one who donated for a shul’s expansion from putting his name on the wall. He reasons: not only is it the minhag, but it is the way of the Rabbis and even the Torah to publicize those who do good things, which shows it is the “way of pleasantness.” The Rashba proves this from the story of Yossi ben Yoezer. He bought a fish in honor of a child’s birth, and they found a pearl in its stomach, which he donated to the Beit Hamikdash, and the donation was publicized.

Public praise can encourage donations (see Bemareh Habazak II:17). This idea is also inferred by the pasuk in the context of giving tithes: “they shall eat in their gateways and be satisfied.” What guarantee is there that giving tithes will be enough to satiate the needy? Perhaps, the pasuk is hinting that the ability to publicize donations encourages a situation in which people will give more than a tenth, thus resulting in sufficient funds.

We point out that generosity has a long history in our nation. Yaakov Avinu promised to give 10% from everything he received (Bereishit 28:22) even though the Torah requires it only from certain agricultural produce. So too in our days, fine Jews give 10% of their income to charity without first subtracting their necessary expenses. It is permitted to publicize, in this way, that we emulate Avraham Avinu, the ultimate granter of favors.

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