Parshas Va’eschanon: Your Mitzvah With His Money


tallisBy Rabbi Tzvi Price
The following scenario would probably qualify as one of the worst nightmares of any shul-goer. You wake up late, and after a mad rush, you are out the door. Huffing and puffing, you make it just in time for davening. However, the entire time you have been having a funny feeling that something just does not seem right. Then you finally realize what your subconscious has known all along. You have forgotten your talis and tefillin at home.

After a quick recalibration, you decide that your only option is to borrow someone else’s talis and tefillin, but it is painfully obvious to you that every person in the room is in the middle of using his. You look around, hoping that somewhere, somehow, you will merit putting on talis and tefillin that morning. Then you see it: a talis bag sitting in a shtender. You recognize the name embroidered on the bag to be someone who davens at the earlier minyan. He probably would not mind if you borrow his, but you are not sure. You wrestle to make a decision. Should you risk the possibility of doing the aveirah of using someone’s things without permission in order to do the mitzvah of davening with talis and tefillin?To find an answer to this halachic quandary, we must start with a concept found in this week’s parsha. The pasuk says, “You shall love Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your resources….” (Devarim 6, 5). One of the most basic ways to ‘love Hashem with all your resources’ is to use your money for mitzvohs- whether it be in fulfilling your mitzvohs or enabling others to perform their mitzvohs. In fact, Chaza”l say that one is allowed to assume that every Jew agrees to use his money in order to perform a mitzvah. Thus, the gemarah in Pesachim 4b states that if someone rents an apartment before Pesach with the understanding that it would be chametz-free, and consequently, the apartment was found to be in need of cleaning for Pesach, the rental agreement is still valid. Since a person wants to do a mitzvah with his money, it is assumed that the typical renter would agree to keep the apartment and hire someone to rid it of chametz since that is a mitzvah. There is a disagreement among the Rishonim as to whether the owner of the property must reimburse the renter for the cleaning expenses.

The Rishonim applied this principle to our case of borrowing someone’s talis and tefillin as well. We find in Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 14:4, that one may borrow someone else’s talis and tefillin without prior permission if one does not have his available. The rationale being that one may assume that the owner of the talis and tefillin would be happy to have a mitzvah done with his property. However, one may not do this on any kind of steady basis.

There are a number of conditions before this halachah applies. Firstly, if you have the ability to contact the owner in enough time to make the minyan, you must do so in order to ask his permission. Secondly, you must not be aware of any special reason why the owner might not want to lend his talis and tefillin to you. If you know the owner to be especially meticulous about his possessions, or somewhat stingy in nature, then you may not borrow his possessions without his prior permission even if the performance of a mitzvah is at stake.

Furthermore, if possible, you should use the talis and tefillin in the place where the owner keeps them, and you are not allowed to take them from one shul to another. When necessary, you may take them from one room in a shul to another room in the same shul. Obviously, you must return them to their proper place when finished. Finally, you should make every attempt to duplicate the way in which the owner folded his talis and wrapped his tefillin. Leaving a thank you note would also be appropriate.

The Aruch HaShulchan strongly argues that the application of this halachah should be limited. In reality, says the Aruch HaShulchan, many people would not want their talis and tefillin worn by another person because of reasons of hygiene and a concern that the wearer will not handle the items with enough care. Therefore, if you find the talis and tefillin in a cubby or shtender, you may not assume that the owner would allow you to borrow them even though you are using them for a mitzvah. If, however, the talis and tefillin had been placed on a table, countertop, or some other relatively unsecured place, then the owner has shown that he is not so concerned about the possibility that someone may use them. In that situation, the Aruch HaShulchan agrees that you may borrow the items.

Similarly, when in a shul or bais medrash, you may learn for a short time from a sefer that is lying on a shtender or table. However, you should not learn from it for an extended period. You cannot assume that the owner would allow you to do so since there is a possibility that the sefer may incur some damage with prolonged use. According to the Aruch HaShulchan, you may not borrow a sefer that has been placed in a shtender or in a bookshelf without first obtaining permission from the owner.

Practically speaking, one should be weary to borrow someone’s talis and tefillin without permission in keeping with the opinion of the Aruch HaShulchan. Unfortunately, the truth is that in a generation that values material possessions over almost everything else, one has more reason than ever to question whether people are happier seeing their property being used for a mitzvah than seeing it safely stored away. Since that is the case, you should not risk the possibility of transgressing the prohibition of stealing in order to do a mitzvah.

However, that does not mean that you and I have permission to feel that way with regard to others using our possessions. The Torah tells us to love Hashem with all our resources, including our money. Frankly, you can get a pretty good indication as to which you love more, Hashem or your money, if you ask yourself the following question. Would you be happy to hear that someone had borrowed your property without your permission in order to do a mitzvah? For our generation, ‘Loving Hashem with your money’ might entail more than many of us are prepared to offer. Now, that is a sobering thought.

{Bais HaVaad/ Newscenter}