When Are Our Charitable Donations Due?
By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim
When you make a vow to the Lord, your God, you shall not delay in paying it, for the Lord, your God, will demand it of you, and it will be a sin for you. (Devarim 23:22)
Maimonides codifies this Mitzvah as one of the 613 commandments. He explains that this Mitzvah applies to a person vowing to bring all donations made to the Temple in Jerusalem. There is a positive commandment to bring one’s temple obligations on the first pilgrimage festival (Pesach, Shavuot, or Sukkot) that follows one’s donation. If one delays bringing their donation to the temple beyond the Three Pilgrimage Festivals, one transgresses the negative commandment of “…you shall not delay in paying it….”
Early commentators understand these commandments as applying to commitments made to charitable causes as well. Indeed, the Halachah clearly follows this view as codified in the Code of Jewish Law. (Yoreh Deah 257:3.) The Code points out that because these charitable commitments are not dependent on the Temple, one is obligated to fulfill commitments to the poor immediately. In the case of making a charitable commitment to a specific person, one can delay payment until seeing the person. In the case of a verbal commitment to a charity collector or charity institution, one must pay immediately when called upon to fulfill one’s commitment. In fact, the Shulchan Aruch states that if one delays in doing so, the negative commandment is transgressed.
However, if one specifically resolves to set aside an amount for charity (to be distributed as various needs arise), this prohibition is not transgressed. For this reason, our sages advise that when committing to a charity, one does so by stating that one is doing so without making a vow and/or specifically stating that one is not committing to give immediately (that is, one is not subjecting themselves to the prohibition of delaying). Even when doing so, one should fulfill one’s commitment within Three Pilgrimage Festivals of the commitment.
This discussion is extremely apropos as we approach Erev Rosh Hashanah where the custom is to annul our vows and enter the Day of Judgment with a clean slate. Let us fulfill our past commitments, increase our charitable donations at this time (bli neder, “without an oath”), and, in so doing, may we merit a Shana Tova U’metukah.