The Torah (Devarim 23:22) teaches that a person who accepts upon himself to bring a sacrifice cannot postpone fulfilling his promise. This mitzva, referred to by the Sages as bal te’aher – “do not be late [in bringing your sacrifice]” – is followed by another pesuk (see Devarim 23:24), that emphasizes the need for one to fulfill all promises that he/she makes as a positive commandment, including – according to the interpretation of the Sages – promises made to charity.
How long does a person have to carry out his/her obligations before being held liable for bal te’aher?
Regarding sacrifices, the generally accepted position of the Sages is that a person has a full cycle of holidays – Pesah, Shavu’ot and Sukkot – to bring the commitments that were made to the Temple. Regarding charity, however, Rava teaches that it must be given immediately after the commitment is made. He explains that, unlike a sacrifice that must be brought to the Temple, poor people are always accessible, so it must be given right away.
Several positions exist in understanding Rava’s teaching.
- According to the Ri”f, the Ritva and others, Rava’s halakha only applies when there are, in fact, poor people located in the vicinity. If no poor people were immediately available, the person would not have to search for a poor person until three festivals had passed.
- The Rashba argues that there is no difference whether a deserving poor person is available or not. In either case there is an immediate mitzvat aseh – a positive commandment – to find a poor person who will accept the charity. Nevertheless, no transgression of bal te’aher, the negative commandment, will take place until after the cycle of holidays has passed. Rava’s statement that poor people are readily available merely explains why the mitzvat aseh is immediately incumbent upon him.
- The Ran explains that the year-long extension allowed to the person who takes upon himself the obligation of a korban only makes sense in the context of sacrifices that will be brought to the Temple, usually during one of the pilgrimage holidays. Rava teaches that this concept has no place in a discussion about charity; therefore tzedaka must be given immediately, and someone who does not do so both misses his opportunity to fulfill the positive command and also transgresses bal te’aher.