If a poor person asks for charity and I give some money to that person, but he then returns it to me, (because he doesn't feel it is enough, or any other reason) have I accomplished the mitzvah of tzedakah or not? Meaning, does it technically count as tzedakah and then, by him returning it, is that second act a gift on his part, or has he annulled my mitzvah as if it didn't happen?

  • It may be possible to ask this more broadly as: can someone prevent you from doing a mitzvah to them, but I'm not sure how many other common situations this would occur in. – user1668 Jul 16 '12 at 13:11
  • I could have sworn that we've had a question along these lines before, but I can't find it. – Isaac Moses Jul 16 '12 at 14:20

The Rashba (Shut Rashba 1:18) discusses which mitzvot do not have a special blessing recited prior to performing them. He writes:

וכן אין מברכין על מצוה שאינה תלויה כולה ביד העושה. מפני שאפשר שלא יתרצה בה חברו ונמצא מעשה מתבטל. כגון מתנות עניים והלואת הדלים ונתינת צדקה והענקה וכיוצא בהם.‏
Similarly, one does not bless prior to a mitzva which is not entirely dependant on the doer for perhaps his friend will not accept the act and it will turn out that his action is nullified. [This applies] for example to [the mitzvot of] leaving agriculural gifts for the poor [ie Leket Shichecha and Peah], loaning money to poor people, giving Tzedaka, giving gifts to a freed slave and other similar ones. (emphasis and translation mine)

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    I don't think this directly addresses what I'm asking, those are cases where the recipient refused, I am asking about where it was initially accepted and then returned. I don't think that's the same thing. – user1668 Jul 16 '12 at 14:42
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    @PM I think you need to clarify exactly to what degree he accepted it. "because he doesn't feel it's enough" sounds like a refusal to me. – Double AA Jul 16 '12 at 14:44

You accomplished the maaseh mitzvah, and Hashem rewarded you for it by giving back the same amount that you gave. If only the reward for giving tzedaka would always be so simple!

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    Do you have a source for your first statement? A possible counter-argument would be that you need to try harder. (I'm not making that argument; I'm just saying I wouldn't be surprised to see it in rabbinic writings.) – Monica Cellio Jul 16 '12 at 14:20
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    it sounds like the gist of this argument is what is fundamentally at the root of the question. is performing a mitzvah act enough or does it require that the ostensible goal of the mitzvah be accomplished? – user1668 Jul 16 '12 at 14:33

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