I understand the uplifting value of tzedakah, giving charity, and I try to donate often to honour the memory of those I've loved, who lived lives that have inspired me. Lately, however, I've given tzedakah donations to worthy causes in the hope of achieving something I yearn for and dream about - I want my daughter to get married. Is this still charity, or am I bribing G-d?
There is a fascinating line in the Talmud:
'One who gives charity and says "on condition that my child is healed from sickness" or "that I earn a reward in the afterlife" - that person is completely righteous.'
This means that giving charity in the hope of selfish gain is perfectly fine. But why? Surely one should give with more altruistic motives. Is the donation not tainted when it is done for your own benefit?
Actually no. When it comes to giving charity, your intentions matter little. The main thing is that the needy person or worthy cause is helped. Your good intentions or otherwise make no difference to those who receive your charity.
A philanthropist once came to Rabbi Schneur Zalman, the author of the Tanya, to complain that he felt he was giving charity for the wrong reasons. The man lamented before his Rebbe, "I am indeed generous toward the poor, but it is without any sincerity."
"Without sincerity? Nonsense!" replied the Rebbe. "There is plenty of sincerity. Perhaps you are not sincere in giving charity. But the poor are very sincere in receiving your charity. Even if you don't mean it, they do!"
Don't get too preoccupied with intentions. Actions count more. If you are doing good, even for selfish reasons, it is still good. And if selfish motives are what it takes to keep you doing good, so be it.
Can G-d be bribed? I don't think so. Whether you will receive the particular blessing you seek is up to Him. But one thing is for sure, G-d does not remain indebted. Any good deed, whatever the motive, generates blessing and will be rewarded. Sometimes we see the results, sometimes we don't. But it is our good deeds, not good intentions, that make the world better.