“This year’s Yom Kippur appeal is dedicated to renovating the shul’s beis medrash, announced Rabbi Dayan. “We need to raise a total of $100,000 to cover the renovation. We ask everyone to give generously so that we can meet our goal.”
The gabbai walked around the shul distributing pledge cards, while Rabbi Dayan continued to talk about the importance of Torah study in the shul.
When Rabbi Dayan finished, the gabbai collected the cards and announced the pledges. His assistant kept rough track of the total. When the gabbai finished, the assistant said: “We raised about $80,000 so far.”
“We need another $20,000 to reach our goal,” announced the gabbai. “Is there anyone who hasn’t donated yet and would like to pledge?”
A few people raised their hands and called out various sums of money.
“We need another $12,000 to reach our goal,” announced the gabbai. “Anybody else? We’re almost there!”
“I’ll add $1,800,” someone else said.
The gabbai waited a minute. “Getting closer,” he said. “Just another $10,000!”
There was silence in the shul. Finally, Mr. Hoffman spoke up: “I’ll add $10,000.”
“I would like to congratulate the community for its generosity,” said Rabbi Dayan. “May the zechus of Torah stand for us all in the year to come.”
After Yom Kippur, the gabbai and his assistant tallied the donation. “The total comes to $105,320,” said the gabbai.
“The small donations must have added up to more than I expected,” said the assistant. “We were only short $5,000 at the end, not $10,000. I wonder what Mr. Hoffman will have to say about that!”
“What’s the difference now?” said the gabbai. “Mr. Hoffman already pledged, so just leave it!”
“But Mr. Hoffman donated $10,000 only to help us reach our goal,” objected the assistant. “Had he known we had $95,000, he would have sufficed with adding $5,000, not $10,000.”
The two approached Rabbi Dayan and asked: “Is Mr. Hoffman required to pay the full $10,000?”
“A monetary transaction made in error is void,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “Regarding hekdesh, a pledge to the Temple made in error, Beis Shammai maintain it remains valid, whereas Beis Hillel maintain the pledge is void, as any other transaction. The halacha follows Beis Hillel. Similarly, a pledge to charity made in error is not binding.” (C.M. 232:1; Nazir 30b; B.B. 120b; Rama Y.D. 232:6, 258:2)
“How do we know the pledge was in error, though?” asked the gabbai. “Perhaps Mr. Hoffman intended to donate $10,000 regardless!”
“Rabbi Meir Arik, in Imrei Yosher [II:138], addresses a similar question,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “Although unstated intentions, devarim shebalev, are often not considered, where circumstances clearly indicate it we follow the presumption. Here, Mr. Hoffman clearly donated in response to the gabbai‘s erroneous statement that $10,000 was missing, so his donation was in error.” (C.M. 207:3-4; Pischei Teshuvah Y.D. 232:2)
“Does Mr. Hoffman have to give the missing $5,000, at least?” asked the assistant.
“In principle, a vow that is partially void due to an error is completely void,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “Imrei Yosher, while suggesting that this rule might not apply regarding pledges to charity, which are valid without an utterance, is inclined to hold that there is no distinction and the entire pledge is void. Nonetheless, if the person states, when he finds out, that he intends to give the missing amount, it is like a new pledge.” (Nedarim 66a; Y.D. 229:1, Tzedakah U’Mishpat 4:7)
“I would suggest, though,” concluded Rabbi Dayan, “that perhaps Imrei Yosher addressed only a case where the extra amount was not needed. However, when an arbitrary goal is set for a cause, but any additional amount is needed and welcome, we would less easily assume that the donor had no intention to give beyond the amount missing from the goal, if he did not state so when he donated.”