“Money doesn’t grow on trees,” was one of the first lessons we all learned about spending. The second was probably “Spend wisely,” and “Start a savings plan.” These lines all make sense, and are very much in line with the Torah’s outlook on money and spending. Numerous places in the Torah illustrate the prudence the Torah exercises when demanding an expenditure. This principle is derived from this week’s parasha. In the following article, we will take a closer look at this judiciousness, a concept which Chazal call “The Torah spares the Jewish people’s money”, HaTorah chasa al mamonam shel Yisroel – what passuk it is derived from, and what it includes. Were activities in the Beis Hamikdash done frugally in order to save Jewish money or is the opposite concept true – the Beis Hamikdash, source of all plenty, was not a place to scrimp and save. Does it make a difference if the sum being saved was large or small? How does this rule apply to us– does it require one to be stingy, or is it a general obligation to live modestly? And why not spend the money if I have it? Is there a halacha that forbids one to waste his money? Of this and more, in the following article.
The Torah Spares Yisroel’s money
In this week’s parasha we find the Jewish nation parched and thirsty. After Miriam hanevia‘s passing, the well from which they had been drinking for years, disappeared, and the entire nation was left without water. So were their animals. “The people quarreled with Moshe, and they said, ‘If only we had died with the death of our brothers before the Lord. Why have you brought the congregation of the Lord to this desert so that we and our livestock will die there?'” (Bamidbar 20:3-4). Following their complaint, Hashem tells Moshe: “Take the staff and assemble the congregation, you and your brother Aharon, and speak to the rock in their presence so that it will give forth its water. You shall bring forth water for them from the rock and give the congregation and their livestock to drink.” (ibid, 8). And indeed, they drank: “…An abundance of water gushed forth, and the congregation and their livestock drank” (ibid 11). It is true the animals need water, but of what importance are livestock, when the people are dying of thirst?
The Gemara (Menachos 76b) derives from the repetitious mention of the livestock that the Torah spares Yisroel’s money. Although it was the people who were in danger of dying from thirst, the Torah also shows concern for the livestock. Hashem instructs Moshe to perform a miracle, to draw water from the rock – an open miracle — also for the livestock. Here we see the great extent to which the Torah is careful with another’s property – and how we should act as well.
The Noda Biyehuda (Tanina, Yore Deah 160) notes that usually Hashem minimizes performing a miracle outside of the world’s natural order. Producing water from a rock certainly meets the definition of a miraculous occurrence, and as such, the water produced should have been a minimal amount, sufficient only for those for whom it is unquestionably necessary? Had it not been for the Torah’s desire to spare Yisroel’s property, this miracle would have occurred in a much smaller scope, and there wouldn’t have been enough water for the livestock.
The Maharam Chaviv points out that this approach is true only according to the opinion that tza’ar ba’ali chayim – the mitzva to refrain from causing pain to animals – is a rabbinic mitzva, m’drabonon. If it is a mitzva m’doraisa, we would not have to say the miracle happened in order to prove the extent of care Hashem exercises in order to spare Jewish property, but perhaps it was done in order to prevent tza’ar ba’ali chayim, a mitzva m’doraisa worthy of an outright miracle. According to this approach, the concept of “The Torah spares Yisroel’s money” must be derived from elsewhere.
Nevertheless, regardless of the source, the Torah certainly exercises extreme caution when dealing with Jewish money. This rule has several halachic ramifications, as we will see.
Mitzvos Illustrating Hashem’s Care for our Money
Tzora’as of the home is a miraculous phenomenon, a sickness that plagues buildings and dwellings. Any item under the roof of a home with tzora’as becomes ritually impure, and since “the Torah spares Yisroel’s money” the Kohen is warned to order the house emptied of its contents before declaring the house impure – “The kohen shall order that they clear out the house, before the Kohen comes to look at the lesion, so that everything in the house should not become unclean…” (Vayikra 14:36).
What money is being saved in emptying the house? Most utensils (in ancient dwellings) can be immersed in the mikve and made pure again. The only items in a home that could not be made pure (obviously, before electronic devices and refrigerators!) were clay vessels – the ancient equivalent of disposables. These simple, disposable dishes, cheap property of a ba’al aveira who had spoken lashon hara, were the reason for a specific mitzva, and an entire passuk! The Torah exercises tremendous caution to not waste this rasha’s property, to prevent him from a needless loss. How much more so is the Torah careful with expensive property, and the property belonging to righteous people!
Rabbenu Bachye mentions three additional mitzvos where this rule is apparent:
- Families and neighbors all gather to eat the Koraban Pesach. “If the household is too small for an entire lamb, then he and his neighbor who is nearest to his house shall take [one] according to the number of people, each one according to one’s ability to eat…” (Shemot 12:4). Since the lamb can only be eaten on that first night of Pesach and anything left over must be burned, the Torah commands us to gather in larger groups so that no meat will be wasted.
- Certain fats, although not permitted for consumption, are permitted to be traded and used: “The fat of carrion and the fat of an animal with a fatal disease or injury, may be used for any work, but you shall not eat it” (Vayikra 7: 25). This is because the Torah is careful with Jewish money.
- Another halacha pertains to the body of a dead animal – “You shall not eat a carcass. You may give it to the stranger who is in your cities, that he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner…” (Devarim 14:21). Anything you have has importance and value.
On numerous occasions, this rule is applied in a way that contradicts another rule, and chachomim are forced to choose which rule overrides.
The other rule is that in the Beis HaMikdash; we are told not to scrimp and be stingy. In the Mikdash, the Place of Wealth – one does not, for example, fix a broken vessel because it is Hashem’s residence.
The Gemara in Menachos (89a) records a dispute regarding the amount of oil used in the menorah – the issue is whether it is better to fill it with more oil than necessary because there is no scrimping in the Place of Wealth – or should it be filled with an exact amount so nothing is wasted under the rule “The Torah spares Yisroel’s money”? The Teshuva Meahava remarks that this contradiction of rules appears in numerous other places in the context of the Mikdash. The Maharam Chaviv (Yom Truah Rosh Hashana 27a) describes how rabbonim ruled each case separately.
The shofar in the Mikdash is one such example. On fast days, the shofar that was used was silver plated. But on Rosh Hashana it was gold plated. One reason for this was (Maseches Rosh Hashana 27a) because “The Torah spares Yisroel’s money”, but on holidays, the day’s honor overrode that principal and the shofar was gold-plated.
At times, this rule is used to rule leniently (see for example Beis Yosef Yore Deah 69:1; 73:1; 131:1) as we will see further on, while in many places one must not be lenient under this rule, as we are told in the Gemara (Maseches Chulin 49b and others) “There is a Torah prohibition and still you say, ‘The Torah spares Yisroel’s money?'”
In the following section we will provide a sampling of these rules’ application from numerous halachic fields.
A Loss — Definition
The Yerushalmi (Terumos,8:9) writes that the chachomim allowed for certain leniencies when stringency would cause a monetary loss, under the above-mentioned rule. Nevertheless, if the loss would be a small one, one should not take the lenient path. The Sdei Chemed (Klalim, Ma’arechet hey: 93) quotes this discussion, and writes that it depends upon the source of this halacha – if it is deduced from this week’s parasha regarding the livestock – the loss was a large one, while if it is learned from the parasha discussing the utensils in the house with tzora’as the loss is of a smaller scope.
In this context, the Sde Chemed writes an interesting inquiry: Maharam Chaviv asserted that the passuk from where we learn the rule “The Torah spares Yisroel’s money”, depends upon whether tza’ar ba’ali chayim is m’doraisa or mi’drabonon. This means that what kind of loss the Torah wishes to prevent depends upon this discussion – if tza’ar ba’alei chayim is mi’drabonon, the reason for the miracle was because the Torah spares Yisroel’s money, thus indicating that the loss the Torah is referring to is a large one — livestock. But if the rule is learned from the house with tzora’as, and the reason for the miracle with the well was tza’ar ba’alei chayim which is m’doraisa, since the loss refers to the clay houseware – a small loss, we deduce that the Torah is careful to prevent even a minute monetary loss.
Save Your Money
This rule doesn’t merely allow one to be lenient and not spend money on certain mitzvas, or obligate us to show honor to others’ finances: it also admonishes us to protect our own money. We are told in the Mishna (Erchin 28a) “A person may dedicate, for sacred or priestly use, some of his flock and some of his cattle, and some of his Canaanite slaves and maidservants, and some of his ancestral field. But if he dedicated all that he has of any type of property, they are not dedicated, i.e., the dedication does not take effect. This is the statement of Rabbi Eliezer. Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya said: ‘If for the most sacred cause a person may not dedicate all his property, then certainly a person should spare his property and not give all of it to others’.”
Rashi (Maseches Ta’anis 20b) notes two reasons for the prohibition to feed food fit for humans to animals. One reason is because the Torah is careful to prevent wasteful loss – one is not allowed to waste good food on animals and the other is to show gratitude to Hashem for what he has given us.
The Machtanzis Hashekel (185:1) differentiates between the two reasons in their halachic ramifications. If the ruling is because of the display of ingratitude – one may not give edible food to animals even if he has nothing else to feed them. But according to the other explanation, the prohibition against feeding edible food to animals is only when cheaper feed is available. Where there is nothing cheaper to feed animals, there is no issur in feeding them food fit for human consumption. This is the source of the accepted custom to feed bread to chickens – people follow the second explanation.
This rule appears also in several places in monetary law. We will mention two places:
- The Mishna (Sanhedrin chapter 4:1) admonishes dayanim when judging dinei nefashos to carefully examine and cross examine the witnesses, quizzing them on minute details to ensure no contradictions exist in their testimonies. On the other hand, for dinei mamonos, Chachomim instituted that it is unnecessary to cross examine (although m’doraisa it was). The Yerushalmi explains the reason: “Rabbi Yochanan says the reason is because the Torah spares Yisroel’s money.” The commentaries disagree how to understand Rabbi Yochanan’s words. Korban Ha’eida explains that the dayanim are not instructed to question witnesses extensively regarding monetary disputes because if they will and the witnesses will trip up and make a mistake, effectively cancelling their testimony – the lender will lose his money. Additionally, if it will be difficult to collect a loan people might refrain from lending money to their fellow out of fear of losing their money. Therefore, because Torah is careful to spare Jewish money – the questioning was cancelled.
Pnei Moshe explains this institution differently. According to him, Rabbi Yochanan meant that after the Chachomim cancelled the requirement to question witnesses, dayanim didn’t have to ask them even one question. Nevertheless, because the Torah is careful with Jewish money and the lender might end up paying what he is not obligated to pay, the dayanim need to question the witnesses slightly to see how much money is owed.
- Rabbi Yitzchok Elchonon, in Nachal Yitzchok (Choshen Mishpat 15:2) explains why the Chachomim differentiated between a monetary demand to return a loan or theft — both of which require the defendant to swear, and a monetary demand for keeping a promise to give money– which does not require the defendant to take an oath. For loss of a loan or theft the rule that the Torah spares Yisroel’s money is applied, and as a result the defendant is required to take an oath – so the claimant would not lose his money. However, if the case only involves a promise one made to give a gift – since this is no actual loss the rationale of “The Torah spares Yisroel’s money” is not applicable and therefore no oath is taken.
Saving Money in the Mikdash
From drashos on different psukim we see that also in the Mikdash the Torah was careful to prevent waste of money. Here we will discuss two examples:
- The Gemara in Menachos (76b) derives from various psukim that it is permitted to purchase wheat in the marketplace to produce the fine flour for the Lechem Hapanim. Despite it being more honorable to purchase the flour ready-made–since the fine flour is very expensive in the market, and the amount of flour necessary for every week is quite large – 345.6 liters of wheat (according to Reb Chaim Naeh – 200 liters every week) it is permitted to save money and buy wheat because “The Torah spares Yisroel’s money.”
- The Mishna (Menachos 86a) writes that the olive oil for the menorah must source from the first pounding of the olives, while for the menachos it can be sourced from the second or third pounding. The reason menachos are exempted from the obligation to use oil from the first pounding is because (ibid, 86b) – “The Torah spares Yisroel’s money”.
- Another example again from the menorah: the Gemara (Menachos 88b) derives from a special drasha that the place where the wicks are threaded into the menorah also must be made of pure gold. The Gemara explains that a special drasha is required because the Torah is usually very careful with Jewish money, and this part of the menorah gets blackened from the fire, causing waste. As the Torah is usually very careful not to cause waste, this case requires a specific passuk.
Prudent Spending – Reasons
Why is the Torah so careful when spending money? Why the caution? Rav Dessler (Michtav M’Eliyahu part II, p. 217; part III, p. 250) quoting Rav Eliyahu Meir Bloch explains that money is a tool given by Hashem to a person, to be used for service of Hashem and fulfillment of one’s mission in life. Money is a vehicle to create a Kiddush Hashem, give tzedakah and allow one to spend his life immersed in Torah study. As a medium for completing one’s mission in the world, money – along with the spiritual mission linked to it – is passed on after death to one’s sons, especially to the firstborn, the one charged most heavily with carrying on the spiritual legacy. This is the reason that the sons inherit their father – they are also charged with continuing their father’s mission in the world.
Money, therefore, is not just a result of a flip in the wheel of fortune. Money has importance and as a heavenly tool we are charged not to waste it – it comes with a specific purpose and we must protect it and use it with due diligence to make sure that only a Kiddush Hashem will stem from it.
In this article we glimpsed how the Torah regards money, and the caution one must exercise when spending it. If this is said even for mitzvos, how much truer it is when spending money on unnecessary things. One must always judge the situation if it falls into the category of saving Jewish money, or the mitzva to spend it –as we learned two weeks ago in the article regarding hidur mitzva. This may require clear ruling and asking a rav is always recommended.
This rule is applicable also when one tries to do better – the Yerushalmi admonishes one to be careful not to be excessively scrupulous just like he must refrain from excessive spending – just as one should not permit what is forbidden, the flip side – forbidding what is permitted – is equally wrong. And although the general guidelines for one who wishes to come closer to Hashem is to be more stringent even in cases that were not ruled le’halacha, nevertheless applying them practically requires halachic discretion – if, when and how.