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Thought for the Day: You May Not Save Yourself with Your Friend's Money... But...

Want a test of your resolve and bitachon?  Some people think it is how willing you are to give up buying coffee from a Starbucks that makes sandwiches.  Others think it is whether you are willing to buy chalav yisrael ice cream in the United States for triple the price and a tenth of the flavor choices that stahm (but glatt kosher) ice cream gives you.  Still others think it is whether you daven at the vasikin minyan during the summer.  Pshaw, I say, pshaw.  You want a real test?  Try davening at the vasikin minyan during the winter -- especially rosh chodesh Teiveis -- when you are going to be later for work.  That really separates the ba'alei bitachon from the rest of the crowd.

So... if you were there this morning (you frummy, you), you would have heard (O. Ch. 694:2 and Mishna Brura there) that any money collected to distribute to the poor for their Purim s'uda, must be given for that purpose and that purpose alone.  The gabbai tzedaka has no right to change it for any other purpose, no matter how important -- it's not his money.  All the more so, any other person should not be able to use money/property entrusted to him by another for personal gain; even to save himself.  The gemara (Bava Kama 117b) brings a couple of cases that at first glance contradict that principle.

The first is a case is someone who has been asked to watch an expensive silver goblet.  Robbers break in and demand the goblet -- or else --- and our (not so faithful?) watchman dutifully hands over.  Rabba paskens that the watchman did the right thing; after all, he has a right to protect himself.  Abayei objects: מציל עצמו בממון חברו הוא/he is saving himself with his friends stuff!  Rav Ashi replies that a judge needs to look at the watchman's financial status.  Had this been a wealthy watchman, then he would have been out of line; as the robber was coming after him.  Being as the watchman was a person of modest means, the robbers were clearly coming after the goblet.  Hence, he was not saving himself with his friends stuff, he was just getting himself out of harm's way.  Tosafos notes further that usually a person is not allowed to directly hand somebody else's stuff over to a robber, but it is a normal expectation when one assigns (or even hires) a watchman that the watchman is not expected to put his life at risk to save the stuff (unless otherwise stipulated, of course).

The second case is a gabbai tzedaka who had been collecting money for paying ransom for captives.  Robbers approached and again threatened, "That money or your life!"  Here again Rabba paskens that he was in the right and Abayei cries foul: מציל עצמו בממון חברו הוא/he is saving himself with his friends stuff!  As we have seen above from hilchos Purim, the trust given to a gabbei tzedaka is only to disburse the funds, but not to decide how the should be used.  The gemara answers that there is no greater "paying of ransom" then to ransom one's own life!  Here Tosafos notes that the gabbai tzedaka was apparently a wealthy man -- since the gemara gave a different answer than before -- but that his own funds were not available; hence he was allowed to use the collected funds to pay his own ransom rather than the originally intended captives.

It seems from the gemara, then, that giving money to a gabbai tzedaka ensures that your money will go for the mitzvah you intended, but not necessarily the particular person (or cause?) for which you originally gave.

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