October 22, 2022

Ketubot 68

Today’s daf (Ketubot 68a) quotes a Beraita which teaches that someone who ‘[temporarily] blinds their eye, or bloats their stomach, or [temporarily] injures their leg [for the purpose of soliciting charity] will not depart from the world until these [self-created injuries] come upon them [as permanent injuries], and one who accepts charity but does not need it will end up leaving the world in a state of being in need of charity’.

This teaching forbids all forms of misrepresentation and deceit which enable someone to personally benefit from charity when they are not in need, and it is codified as the halacha in the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 255:2).

At the same time, the Shulchan Aruch (ibid.) then proceeds to teach us two further laws. Firstly, someone who is in grave need of charity (as defined by the fact that ‘they cannot live unless they receive charity’) yet refuses it is regarded as living a reckless life and committing a form of suicide. And secondly, someone who is in great need of charity – who should accept such funds but still chooses not to as they don’t wish to burden their community – is considered to be praiseworthy.’

Unfortunately there are those who do mispresent themselves and deceive others in order to be the recipient of charity. However, the category of person that I’d like to discuss is someone who is in need yet who refuses – and this is because, as evident from the words of the Shulchan Aruch, there seems to be a very thin line between acting recklessly by not receiving charity, and between acting righteously by making the choice not to receive charity.
To be clear, it is important to understand what the Shulchan Aruch means by ‘they cannot live unless they receive charity’ – because this apparently seems to be a very dire situation. However, it is important to note that when we speak of ‘they cannot live’, it doesn’t just mean that they are unable to physically live, but also that they are unable to sustain themselves and their family (see Shach’s commentary on Shulchan Aruch). Simply put, if someone cannot pay for the basic demands of personal and family life, they are in this category.

At the same time, while there may be those who choose to refuse charity, the Aruch HaShulchan (Yoreh Deah 255:2) makes it clear that this should not be for reasons of pride. In fact, refusing charity for reasons of pride is itself considered reckless.

Clearly it would take more space than this to summarize all the laws of charity. But what I wish to stress here is that while we should be wary of charlatans, if you are in a situation of need, then there are situations not only when you may but, in fact, you must accept what is being offered to you, and while pride can sometimes get in the way, it shouldn’t when the need is real.

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