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By: Meoros HaDaf HaYomi
Buying a lottery ticket for a charitable cause from ma’aser money
Many charitable institutions raise funds by promising prizes to be awarded in a lottery among the contributors. HaGaon Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (Responsa Igros Moshe, O.C., IV, 76) was asked if a person could purchase such a ticket from his ma’aser money or if the ticket should be considered as having a monetary value to its holder and thus forbidden to be purchased from ma’aser.
Two types of tickets: Rav Feinstein remarks that we should divide this question into two parts – i.e., two types of lottery tickets. Some institutions issue a fixed amount of tickets, promising that at a certain date or when all of them are sold, the raffle will be held. In such a lottery even the first purchaser knows his chances of winning.
Nonetheless, there is another sort of ticket: Some institutions do not limit the amount of tickets and fix no final date for the raffle. It is obvious, then, that such tickets have no monetary value. A person who purchases such a ticket has no investment, as he has been promised nothing. It is not an investment but a form of charity and may be purchased from ma’aser.
What is the nature, though, of the first type of ticket? First of all, we must examine if we can define the value of something whose worth is unknown. In other words, is a lottery ticket regarded as an item of monetary value although the vast majority of purchasers win nothing?
Estimating the worth of an item whose value is unknown: Rav Feinstein proves from our sugya that we can regard such an article as having value. Our sugya explains that we can estimate the worth of a kesuvah of a woman who has not been divorced by examining the amount merchants would be willing to invest to purchase the rights to the kesuvah once it can be realized. The merchants examine the state of the couple’s health, their relationship and the like. They then estimate the wife’s chances to survive her husband or get divorced and earn her kesuvah. We thus see that we can regard an item whose worth is unknown as an article of monetary value. One should therefore not purchase a ticket of the first sort from ma’aser as the purchaser immediately gets the worth of his investment.
The winner of a lottery: Rav Feinstein adds that if a purchaser of the second type of ticket wins a prize, he should better return the cost of the ticket to his ma’aser money (see Derech Emunah on Matenos ‘Aniyim, Ch. 7, in Beiur Halachah, s.v. V’echad).
Reasons for Shemittas Kesafim
By: Rabbi Moshe Donnebaum
As strange as the mitzvah of relinquishing one’s loans may seem, there are important lessons in regard to this commandment. The Sefer HaChinuch explains that the first useful benefit to be gained is the characteristic of generosity. There is none so generous as he who gives without hope of receiving anything in return. So too, relinquishing a loan with no benefit or gain in mind imbues a person with this noble character trait.
The second lesson mentioned in the Chinuch relates to the mitzvah of bitachon - trust in Hashem. Anyone who, upon command, relinquishes all outstanding debts, is continuously strengthening his level of trust in Hashem. The creditor displays trust that any losses incurred will be fully reimbursed to his allocated and pre-determined wealth. The knowledge of G-d as the source of all livelihood and provider of all one’s needs is confirmed, and substantiated when releasing a debtor from his debts.
The Chinuch continues that the mitzvah of Shemittas kesafim is also a ‘barrier’ to keep away from robbery and any desire to own the possessions of one’s neighbor, via a kal vachomer. If the Torah decrees that one should leave a loan in his neighbor’s hand concerning money that is rightfully owed to him, then certainly he may not obtain his neighbor’s belongings, in any way, without his neighbor’s consent.
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