Write a check to G‑d, but make it payable to me.

It is a common complaint against religious institutions of every persuasion; they claim to be representing the L-rd, bringing His word to the heathen, but all they really care about is money!

Many people are heartily sick of being hit up by men of the cloth to finance their vision. Not that they have anything against the mission itself, you understand, they just wish it didn’t entail forking out their hard-earned every time a clergyman comes knocking.

A famous rabbi out fundraising one night was asked this very question. “Rabbi, you walked straight into my house, looked me in the eye, and asked me for a donation for your yeshiva. That’s not polite. Other people come in, talk to me for a while, repeat a Torah thought, and then gently broach the possibility of my supporting their good works.”

The Rabbi explained; “They talk, ‘Torah, Torah, Torah’; meanwhile all they are thinking about is money. Me, I came straight to the point, because all I care about is the Torah my students will be learning and the money I’m requesting is only a tool to enable that. I might talk ‘money, money, money,’ but I’m thinking ‘Torah, Torah, Torah.’”

I don’t question their right to support, only the chutzpah of collecting "for G‑d"We read in the Torah of the many annual tithes and donations the Jews were commanded to bring to the Temple as an offering to G‑d were, in fact, given to the priests, the kohanim. On the face of it, this looks like a spectacular example of a religious bait-and-switch. Elsewhere1 we were told to bring it to the house of the L-rd, and now we find that the priests get to enjoy our donations, which we earned with our sweat and toil and trustingly forwarded to the Temple. How does supporting the kohen equate with donating to G‑d?

In fairness, no institution can be expected to survive on well-wishes alone. The kohanim were left landless when Israel was divided, and the deal was that they’d act as the nation’s teachers and clergymen in return for their annual tithes. I don’t question their right to support, only the chutzpah of collecting "for G‑d" and directing it to another cause.

A report just came out from the tax office totaling the percentage of Australians who claimed for charitable deductions on their latest return, and the average amount donated. The figures sounded pitifully low. In an age of unparalleled wealth and opportunity not enough of us seem willing to give till it hurts.

Or maybe that’s the problem. Maybe it hurts too quickly. When we look at our total income, and deliberate how much to give away, every cent feels like it’s coming straight out of our own pocket. And who can blame a person for putting his own needs first?

However, if one follows the Torah prescription and separates ma’aser — a minimum 10% tithe off the top, before one even banks the paycheck — it is as if the charity money never belonged to us in the first place. Charity now is a separate fund for us to divide and distribute. It’s not ‘generosity’ to choose to give to one worthy cause or another; that was taken care of when you gave it to the house of G‑d, now it’s just a matter of forwarding it to the kohen; the Synagogue, the homeless shelter, wherever you choose, in your role of treasurer in charge of distributing G‑d’s money.

And when we achieve this recognition, that a percentage of our earning never belonged to us but to G‑d, and we discharge this privilege with honesty and integrity, then we prove ourselves deserving of G‑d’s blessings, and demonstrate our worthiness to be entrusted with a greater measure of His bounty to hand out in the future.