First I admire the sparkling diamond ring adorning my finger. Then I check my reflection in the mirror and adjust my new custom sheitel. We’re getting ready to go to the airport, to board the plane for our family trip to Israel. Of course, this is all in the realm of fantasy, as I have not yet won these prizes in the numerous Chinese auctions I’ve entered to support the various mosdos and organizations that entice me with their beautiful color booklets. No sooner does one arrive in the mail than I curl up and envision each of these fantastic prizes enhancing my home and existence: new furniture, a renovated kitchen, sheitel or jewelry all meant to add to my already swollen accumulation of gashmiyus. I get it: If the organization simply sent me a letter asking for funds it would probably end up in the trash can, or maybe they would get a small donation. But if they tempt me with material rewards for something that should be giving me spiritual rewards, they are assured of higher returns on their investment. Still, I have a nagging feeling that there is something wrong with this picture. The prizes almost always reflect the world’s vision of beauty (long, luxurious manes of hair, sparkling gemstones, gift certificates to upscale shops); wealth (trips to exotic locations, massive silver ritual objects, home makeovers); and technology (computers, cameras and iPads). Yes, some have added practical items to the list (yeshivah tuition, gas cards and grocery money) to seemingly offset the glitz, but those prizes tend to be a little further down in the booklet. I’m a real pushover. It doesn’t matter if the organization is local or out of town or if the prize is something I really want; I’ll probably buy a ticket. This is even more likely to happen if they have an “early bird package” that lets me get even more tickets for the same money.
While I know that my $18, $36 or $50 donation should probably have gone to a local chesed organization (since “aniyei ircha kodmim,” the poor of your own city take precedence), the lure of the possible win is too great. I know that statistically I don’t have much of a chance, but I make sure to check my phone and email on the day of the drawing to see if perhaps something special is coming my way. (After all, you need only one ticket to win, and if Hashem wants you to…) My connection to some of these organizations is peripheral at best. I know that in my own community there are many people in dire need and wonderful organizations that help them. But they don’t have auctions, so my contributions tend to be more modest. I usually feel guilty when filling out the order forms and tell myself that I should send a check for the same amount to a local chesed fund. And sometimes I even do, but more often than not it gets pushed to the back of my mind until the next auction booklet arrives. Is it really so wrong to want to win a trip to Israel (or perhaps Switzerland) or wish to update my tired old sheitel, or even enhance a mitzvah with a beautiful silver esrog box? Probably not, as I assume these organizations have approbations from gedolim allowing this method of fundraising. But if I’m honest with myself it seems to be the antithesis of “kol kevudah bas melech penimah.” These auctions (to my mind at least) appeal to our base instincts for material goods, and we condone it because the ultimate goal is the mitzvah of tzedakah. But perhaps the time has come to put a stop to this and recognize that the purpose of giving tzedakah is the reward itself, and not the prize that might one day arrive in the mail.