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Since your column seems to address a whole host of issues, I wondered if you could enlighten me regarding a matter that has been annoying me for some time.
I work for a large corporation as one of several female employees of our faith who work together (among a widely diversified staff).
When one of us has an occasion to celebrate or is out on an extended sick leave, we have a longstanding tradition of chipping in to buy an appropriate congratulatory or get-well gift.
This is of course a voluntary undertaking and involves mostly girls who work closely together.
So far so good, you might say. The hitch, however, is that it is usually one person who is assigned (or assigns herself) to head this project, which also translates to being in charge of the “fundraising” for the gift.
Still not a big deal − most girls will reach for their wallets immediately. But there always seems to be the one or two shleppers who say they will “bring it tomorrow” for one stated reason or another. In the meanwhile, the card accompanying the gift lists all the participating well-wishers, even those who somehow never get around to coughing up their share.
Besides placing an unfair burden on the person who has volunteered to coordinate the venture, it is discomforting to have to pester someone about a debt owed − not to mention ending up with a monetary loss. And to be perfectly candid, when all is literally said and done, I for one have a hard time approaching the slacker to ask her to pay up her part of the bargain.
How do I handle such a situation? Sometimes it’s not the money but the principle that is exasperating. Is there anything I can do to shield myself from this headache when it is I who initiates the good-will gesture?
Seeing red about being in the red
The first time you found yourself “in the red” should have served as a lesson in prevention of a recurrence. Whoever the peers who agree to the arrangement, they should each be informed up front of the amount owed AND told on the spot that repeat collection rounds will not be made. The full amount needed to obtain the gift is payable immediately or is to be brought to you in short order.
If this approach still ends up costing you, you have the option of omitting the offending party from any future gift-giving list.
As for reminding the reticent one of an overdue debt – this may come as a surprise to many – your uneasiness in doing so is actually well-founded. The Torah specifically advises us that we are not to remind a person of his/her debt to us.
“Im kesef talveh es ami es he’oni imoch lo tihiyeh lo k’noshe” [Mishpatim 22: 24] We are told that if money is owed to us, we are not to ask for it outright and are not even to hint at it by way of discussion. In other words, if you lent someone money (by laying out another’s share, you have done just that), you are to presume that the person does not have it and that you will thus cause the debtor embarrassment by asking for repayment of the loan.
The Torah further emphasizes the seriousness of this issue as the passuk goes on to say, “v’hayah ki yitzak eilai v’shamati ki chanun Ani − if he will cry to Me, I will hear him for I am merciful toward the impoverished” (This applies to any situation where a personal loan was extended to another.)
In principle (as you have stated, it was not necessarily the monetary issue), by passing on the money owed to you, you may actually be performing a chesed, a kindness. For all you know, the person may not have been able to afford the amount arrived at and was not comfortable saying so.
Thank you for writing and for taking on the type of kindly deed that is sure to brighten the recipient’s simcha or alleviate one’s discomfort due to illness. Instead of seeing yourself as having sustained a loss, consider yourself as having gained an extra measure of merit for having helped a peer avoid an awkward predicament in the event that she was unable to spare the money required to chip in her share.
May we all merit to have a spiritually uplifting Shavuos holiday and to herald the arrival of Moshiach Ben Dovid in our day!