Is Flipping Burgers Charity?
by Rabbi Aron Moss
I know we are meant to give one tenth of our income (after tax) to charity. What if I volunteer my time for a charity? Can I deduct that from my ten percent?
There are two distinct types of charitable acts - Tzedakah and Chessed. The first really means justice, doing that which is only just and fair. The second means kindness, doing more than is fair, acting out of the goodness of your heart.
One tenth of your income is not really yours. It was entrusted to you temporarily, so you can have the privilege of helping the needy. So it is only fair that you pass it on to its rightful owner. This is tzedakah.
But beyond the obligation to give tzedakah, we must do acts of chessed. This is the kindness we do with our own time and money, like helping our friend move house, visiting someone who is unwell, or hosting a guest in our home.
Volunteering your time could be tzedakah, and it could be chessed, depending on the circumstances. The question is, would you normally have been paid for your time? A computer technician who offers to fix a charity's computer system pro bono can deduct the amount he would have earned from his ten percent tzedakah obligation, because he would normally have been paid for the work he did. But if that same guy manned the barbecue at a charity event, that is chessed, not tzedakah. He is not usually paid to flip burgers, so it's not deductible from his tithing obligation.
Another difference between tzedakah and chessed: For an average income earner, there is a maximum amount one should not exceed when giving tzedakah, which is one fifth of one's income. Otherwise you may endanger your own financial stability. But when it comes to chessed, there is no limit to the kindness you can do.