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    The ethics of offerings – Vayikra

    steal robbery crimeThe portion says, “When any of you brings an offering to the Lord…” (Lev. 1:2).

    The sages remark that the verse can be understood as saying, “When anyone brings an offering, it shall be his own…”

    A donation to the sanctuary must belong to the donor. Someone who wants to give an offering may not do so if, for example, he has stolen the item he wants to donate.

    Naturally, people will object and say that such a thing is quite inconceivable. But in fact it is not only conceivable but tempting.

    A person’s means can possibly be the outcome of a situation or deal in which they have gained resources or even a reputation at the cost of other people. If that person now announces a generous donation to a good cause, the gift is tainted and not really his to give. It is not relevant that the cause is in desperate need of funds or support.

    There is a sentence in Tanach that says, “The stone cries out of the wall…” (Habakkuk 2:11). In our context the message can well be that if, say, a synagogue is built using an ill-gotten donation, the bricks and stones of the building will shout out and the building will have no peace.

    The moral of the story is that it is better to remain poor but honest, and if you realise that you will be the even indirect cause of people suffering, it is better to live with your own conscience and leave other people in peace.

    Not even for the sake of generosity to a good cause can Jewish ethics justify a person transgressing the rule, “When anyone brings an offering, it shall be his own”.

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