My sister is a pet person and goes out of her way to treat her pets and has been known to pick up stray animals and get them to the vet for treatment. Sometimes this treatment can be very costly. The pets move into the house however months later the pet seems to become a financial expense along with the other animals she has. This causes a lot of problems because my sister does not budget her money and asks me to help her and loan her money to help with her activities to keep the pets fed and meet medical needs. What should I say to her?
We have a soft spot for both sisters and animals, so we feel for your dilemma. However, we make a firm point of answering the questions that Happy Warriors ask us not based on our feelings, which we consider unreliable, but upon the very specific Bible-based rules clarified in ancient Jewish wisdom.
One of these rules is that our charity obligations are best depicted by a series of concentric circles, rather like a darts board. In the smallest inner circle are our immediate family. In the next circle are our friends and extended family. In the next are the people living in our neighborhood, and in the one after that are the people of our town. And with each circle, our obligation diminishes. Were it not for this hierarchical principle for charity, we’d owe the same thing to a starving person we’d never met, on another continent six thousand miles away as we do to our hungry brother or sister. But we don’t.
Obviously, a sibling is only one step removed from a parent or child so the obligation to help is still fairly high. However, as we shall shortly explain, it is not at all limitless.
One of the wonderful things about how God created human beings is the individuality with which He endowed each of us. This extends to the charities we choose to support. While we may wish many worthwhile charities well, our finite resources of both time and money demand that we limit those we actually help.
Sometimes, a relative, friend or co-worker solicits our donation for a charity of his or her choice. Assuming that they are not asking us to support something which we oppose on principle, most of us will give a token amount in recognition of our caring about the relationship, even if this is not a charity that would rank high on our personal list.
Your sister is taking this idea to an extreme. Money is fungible. That means that money given for one purpose can easily be used for another. Foolish westerners, for example, sometimes feel a tug to donate to “humanitarian causes,” without doing due diligence. The person who wants to believe that they are feeding a hungry child may actually be contributing to white slavery, the building of missiles, and other heinous activities. Fortunately, your sister’s caring for sick animals does not fall into this category, but the principle applies.
It sounds like you are generously willing to help your sister with her needs. However, she may have needs such as an unpaid electric bill because she uses her funds on the strays that she takes in. In effect, she is asking you to support what she sees as her good deeds.
From your question, we think that in order to defend her self-respect, she asks you for ‘loans’ rather than for gifts. It is possible that the likelihood of her being able to pay back such loans is rather low. Please do not loan her money, but even if the sum you are willing to donate is smaller than the amount you might make available as a loan, we say make it a gift. That way your relationship with your sister stands less chance of being damaged.
We recommend that you decide exactly how much assistance you are willing to cheerfully and open-handedly give your sister each month, based not on how she spends it but instead in recognition of your relationship. At that point, she may indeed use the money unwisely in your opinion. However, both of you must be clear that there will be no more money coming than you originally pledged.
If you can stay firm in your resolve not to give more than you said you would, we hope that your sister will learn to take better care of recognizing her own limitations.
Being nice doesn’t mean being manipulated,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin
In memory of Sigal Etach age 27, among all those butchered on October 7, 2023. Sigal did not escape the terrorists when she had a chance to do so, choosing to stay behind to help a friend,
With prayers for the release of all the hostages, in good health, among them Gong Sae Lao, age 26, who had come from Thailand to work and send money home to his family.
BONUS: This week, we are opening the comment section to all readers.
Should co-workers ask each other to donate to charities that they support?
Scroll down to leave your comment below.
We Happy Warrior members can both read and write comments HERE.
Not a member yet? Ask the Rabbi is a reader-supported publication.
To support our work, consider signing up for a Basic membership and join the conversation.
The Art of Making Challah
$16.95 On Sale for $12
Thanksgiving is approaching. It is a time of joy, celebration, and sharing a meal with friends and family. What a great time of year to up your baking skills and learn how to bake the traditional Sabbath and holiday bread known as Challah! Join Susan Lapin and have some fun as she walks you through each step of the process in this video tutorial (including her favorite recipe).
“I just took my second batch of challah out of the oven, it came out just as beautiful as the first batch. Thank you so much for sharing your recipe and giving a video tutorial. It makes me feel like I have a friend here in the kitchen with me!” – Jen.