By Rabbi Berach Steinfeld
The posuk in Mishlei, Perek Tes Zayin, posuk chof zayin says “Ve’Sonei Matanos Yichye:” one who does not accept presents will live. The Gemara in Sotah, daf mem zayin, amud bais tell us that when people started accepting more gifts they starting having a shorter life span.
The Gemara in Bava Basra teaches us that partners do not divide a courtyard unless there is sufficient space for each partner to receive at least four amos. If the property is smaller than that, one partner may not say he will take less and the other partner can keep the difference, because the other partner may say he doesn’t want gifts.
In this week’s parsha we see that after Avraham defeated the kings he refused to take money from the king of Sedom. Rabbeinu Bachya explains his behavior by saying that Avraham refused to take gifts. On the other hand, we see that Avraham told Sara please tell Pharaoh we are brother and sister and they will do good to me because of you. Rashi clarifies what is the “good”? Avraham will receive gifts. Avraham accepted gifts from Pharaoh and Avimelech. The question that begs clarification is when are you supposed to accept gifts and when not?
There is a machlokes Rishonim what the reasoning is to explain why one should hate gifts. Rashi explains that if one hates gifts, then he will hate gezel even more and won’t be nichshal in gezel. Rabbeinu Yona concurs and says that a person who hates gifts gets to work on his bad middos such as gezel and the issur of Lo Sachmod etc. It will also cause the recipient not to be able to give mussar to the person who gave him a gift.
Another reason for despising gifts is that when one accepts gifts it may be a lack of bitachon that Hashem can’t provide for him and he must receive gifts. This reason could explain why Avraham accepted the gifts from Pharaoh; Avraham saw it as Hashem giving him these gifts since he passed the test.
Based on the two above reasons there could be many different nafka minos whether one may accept gifts. We will analyze a scenario where one receives a gift from someone he does not even know. If the reason is that he won’t be able to give mussar, it would not apply since he does not know the person who gave it to him. If the reason is because of lack of bitachon, it would apply and one should not accept the gift.
Another difference would be accepting gifts from a non-Jew. If the reason for not accepting the gift is that you won’t be able to give mussar, then it would not apply in this scenario. If it is a problem of lack of emunah, it would still apply.
Wedding gifts and the like would be okay to accept as Chazal teach us the following concept. If one has benefits from a wedding and is not mesameach the chosson, he is oveir on the five kolos. In order not to transgress, one gives a gift to the chosson and is mesameach him that way. If one is employed at a workplace where it is accepted to receive and give gifts, it would be acceptable to do so as it is part of one’s salary. The reason why Avraham did not accept gifts from the king of Sedom despite the fact that he just won the war for him is that he did not want the king of Sedom boasting that he made Avraham rich. That might cause Avraham to have less bitachon in Hashem since it was Hashem who helped him win the war.
There is a famous Yiddish phrase taken from this posuk that says, “Sheine Matanos Ich Ye.” (Nice gift for me, Yes!)