A Unique Challenge
‘Tithe, You Shall Tithe…’
Our daf relates an encounter between R. Yochanan and Resh Lakish’s young son. R. Yochanan asked the young man (as was customary) to repeat a verse he was taught that day. The young man responded by citing Devarim 14:22, “Aser te’aser eis kol tevuas zar’acha ha’yotzei ha’sadeh shanah shanah – Tithe, you shall tithe the entire crop of your planting, the produce of the field, year by year.”
The young man asked R. Yochanan why the Torah repeats the word aser. The sage replied that the repetition teaches us “aser bi’shvil she’tis’asher” – that if we tithe we will become rich. When the young man asked R. Yochanan how we know this statement is true, R. Yochanan told him to test it out. The young man objected that the Torah (Devarim 6:16) adjures us against testing Hashem: “Lo senase es Hashem Elokeichem ka’asher nisisem bamasah – You shall not test Hashem, your G-d, as you tested Him at Massah.” R. Yochanan replied that this instance is an exception, citing Malachi 3:10: “b’chanuni na b’zos – try Me with this.”
With A Caveat
May one give charity for the purpose of attaining wealth? The Meiri (ad loc.) explains that R. Yochanan meant that a person can feel certain that he will attain wealth as a reward for giving ma’aser; he did not mean that a person is permitted to perform that mitzvah solely for the sake of benefiting himself. The Meiri also notes that, no matter the motivation, it is possible that a person will not become wealthy because of his sins.
Without A Caveat
The Sefer Hachinuch (mitzvah 424) disagrees, arguing that Malachi 3:10 teaches us both that 1) Hashem will reward someone who gives ma’aser with wealth regardless of his sins and 2) that it is permitted to give ma’aser in order to test Hashem (to see whether the promised reward will come about).
The Radvaz (Vol 3:883) explains that although normally we may not test Hashem, Hashem made giving ma’aser an exception so as to improve the lot of the poor who will receive more funds as a result. The Radvaz actually writes that the exception applies to all charity – not just ma’aser.
The Tur (Yoreh De’ah 247) and Rabbenu Yonah (Avos 3:13) rule like the Radvaz. The Beis Yosef argues that the exception only applies to ma’aser, not regular charity (see his commentary to the Tur). Ma’aser, according to the Shelah (cited by Pishchei Teshuvah ad loc.), refers only to ma’aser tevuah, not ma’aser kesafim.
A Final Thought
The Rema cites Beis Yosef’s view as that of a “yesh omrim.” Clearly, then, the Rema believes one may test Hashem regarding all charitable giving.