The shul was packed for Yizkor service. For Mr. Reuven Black this year was particularly poignant; it marked the tenth Yahrzeit of his father, who had passed away shortly after Pesach. He had decided to do something special in memory of his father.
People began calling out their Yizkor pledges, which were being dedicated to the shul: “Twice chai! Five hundred dollars! Ten times chai!” Mr. Black straightened his tie and cleared his throat: “Ten thousand dollars to the shul in memory of the tenth yahrzeit of my father, z”l.” The astonished gabbai beamed with delight and wished him a hearty “Yashar koach.”
Two weeks later, Mr. Black served as chazan on occasion of his father’s yahrzeit. Towards the end of leining, he prepared himself for Maftir. He expectantly listened to the gabbai, “Ya’amod Shimon ben Moshe – Maftir.” “Shimon ben Moshe?” Could he have heard wrong? Then he saw his neighbor, Shimon Katz, who also had yahrzeit that week, walking to the Torah
Mr. Black was crestfallen; his face turned white. After such a donation to the shul, why had they not given him Maftir? What a disgrace to his father’s memory! Immediately after davening, he confronted the gabbai: “Don’t you remember my Yizkor pledge? Doesn’t my father’s memory deserve Maftir for that?”
The gabbai stammered, “I apologize. You had Maftir last year, and I had written down that this year Shimon should get Maftir.” “Who cares!” protested Reuven. “I made a special donation to the shul this year on occasion of the tenth yahrzeit.” He raised his voice, “If the shul doesn’t properly appreciate the donation, I’m going to give the money to a different charity!” He turned around and left the shul.
The gabbai tried to compose himself. Perhaps he should have given Mr. Black Maftir again, but he didn’t expect such a response. He waited a month, but no check was forthcoming…
Gingerly, the gabbai approached Reuven: “I apologize if you feel slighted,” he said. “Nonetheless, you are required to honor your pledge to the shul.”
Mr. Black paused for a moment. “I intend to honor the pledge in my father’s memory – but not to this shul! It says in Gemara Arachin (6a) that if a person pledges money to charity – until it is handed over to the gabbai, it is permissible to change it.” The gabbai was baffled; he would have to leave this for the Rabbi to deal with.
Later that evening, Rabbi Dayan invited Mr. Black to his office. “The Shulchan Aruch (C.M. 204:7) writes that it is proper for a person to honor his verbal commitments to another, even if not legally binding, and you pledged to our shul.” Reuven, however, wouldn’t hear. “I feel no moral obligation to the shul after the disgrace to my father’s memory by ‘cheating’ him of Maftir.”
Rabbi Dayan calmly explained that Maftir is a merit to the deceased because the son leads the community in the blessing and reading of Maftir. “You served as chazan, and saying Kaddish additional times was also a tremendous merit.” Mr. Black, however, remained unimpressed: “I have already made up my mind. And since the money hasn’t been given to the gabbai yet, I am legally allowed to change it to another shul.”
“Not so simple,” responded Rabbi Dayan. “Although Tosfos in Arachin first explains that before reaching the gabbai’s hand it is permissible to ‘change’ the pledge completely to a different purpose, they conclude that it is only permissible to ‘exchange’ the actual coins and use them until the charity is needed. The Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 259:1) cites the second interpretation.”
Mr. Black remained adamant. “But what’s the difference whether I give to this shul or another; either way I’m giving the same amount and kind of charity?”
Rabbi Dayan smiled. “You’re raising a fascinating issue, one that poskim wrestled with through the generations. Machaneh Ephraim (Tzedakah #7) and Ketzos HaChoshen (212:4) suggest that it should be possible to give the charity to someone else. However, Radbaz (IV: 1204) and Shach (C.M. 87:51) insist that you are required to give it to the person or shul to which you pledged. This is based on the principle of Amiraso LaGavohah k’amsiraso l’hedyot – A pledge to the Almighty is tantamount to an act of transaction with a person, and is legally binding.”
“Bottom line, can I still do what I want?” asked Mr. Black.
“Well,” concluded Rabbi Dayan, “the Chasam Sofer (Y.D. #237) and Beis Yitzchak (Y.D. 82:13) rule that the majority of poskim require you to fulfill your pledge to the designated recipient. Therefore, you should give the money to the shul.”
Mr. Black remained silent. Rabbi Dayan escorted him to the door and added softly, “Reuven, consider also that one of the greatest merits you can give your father is to follow in the footsteps of Aharon and avoid dispute.” “I’ll think about it,” said Mr. Black.
A week later, Mr. Black handed the gabbai a sealed envelope. Inside was a check for $10,000 and a note: “In true merit for my father, I am enclosing my pledge and also ask forgiveness for having gotten angry at you.”
Rabbi Meir Orlian is a halachah writer for Machon L’Choshen Mishpat. The Machon, which is headed by HaRav Chaim Kohn, is committed to providing awareness, education and services in all areas of monetary issues that arise in our daily lives. For general questions, comments, or additional information, please call (877) MISHPAT (647-4728) or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For questions regarding a halachic monetary issue, please call (877) 845-8455 or email email@example.comRabbi Meir Orlian