At the recommendation of others and a few years after having become frum, I’ve decided that I would like to give tzdaka in the format of ma’aser. My question is twofold:
1. Do I need to estimate what the sum total of my earnings from jobs held in the past (13 years, roughly) is and then take 10% of that amount and donate to charity? Or should I just commit to giving 10% of earnings from here on out?
2. In addition to past earnings, a much bigger part of my wealth is investments and cash that I received from my parents. Their will was that I don’t use the money for yeshiva tuition. Further, I gather that in general they want me to use the money for my own well-being and to save it to use for that of my future family, and not to support Torah institutions or other people.
How should I approach giving ma’aser from this second component of my wealth?
I am very impressed with the level of your commitment and sincerity. A similar question was once asked to R’ Moshe Sternbuch shlit”a, and his reply to the person was “Fortunate is the king who has such children”!! Regarding your question, you should commit yourself from here on, and you don’t have to give for your past earning or presents, since you never commited yourself. Just a few points though. It is important that when you accept upon yourself to give maser, that it be done “bli neder”- (without making a vow), you will get the same reward for giving the money, but without the stigma of it being a vow. There are other things that are worthwhile to have in mind when undertaking to give maaser, that will make things easier for you in the future. There is a text that is brought in the sefer Sharei Tzedek (Chapter 88-24) which is helpful to say when one accepts upon himself to give ma’aser.
“הנני מקבל על עצמי בלי נדר מצות מעשר כספים, והריני מוכן ומזומן להפריש מעשר מממוני כמו שאמרו חז”ל ואסמכוה אמצות עשה שצוני בוראי ית”ש בתורתו הקדושה להפריש מעשר שנאמר עשר תעשר את כל תבואת זרעך, ונאמר וכל אשר תתן לי עשר אעשרנו לך. ומפיל אני תחינתי לפניך מלך רחמן, שתתן לי תמיד פרנסה טובה, וכלכלה, ועושר, וכבוד לי ולזרעי עד עולם. ואין דעתי לנהוג כן לעולם רק כשארצה ואין כוונתי להתפיס את הכסף המופרש לצדקה גם כשאתננו לתוך הקופה המיוחדת לכך רק כשיבוא לידי עניים ואני מכוון בזה שאוכל לתת את המעשר באומד ובאם אוסיף לתן יותר מהמחויב יהיה בתורת צדקה בעלמא ולא בתורת מעשר ובאם ארצה אחשב את תוספת המעשר על חשבון הריוח העתיד לבוא. ודעתי שאוכל להוציא ממעות מעשר גם לדבר מצוה ובכלל זה גם מצות הלואה לעניים ולעשירים. והריני קובע בזה זמן לעשית החשבון של המעשר עד עשרת ימי תשובה שבכל שנה ושנה.”
Here is the English translation for this: (This may be said in English, as this is not an official prayer, but a way for the person to express himself.)
“I hereby accept upon myself, without making a neder, the mitzva of giving a tenth of my money, and I am prepared to separate ma’aser of my money as chazal have said and adjoined it positive commandment as you have commanded us to separate a tenth as it says, “ Give a tenth of the crops of your field”, and as it says “and from all that you will give to me I will tithe a tenth”.
And I beseech you, merciful King, that you should give always give me a good livelihood, sustenance, wealth, honor, to me and my children forever.
I am not accepting to do this forever, only when I want. I also do not mean to officially make the money charity, even after it is placed in the tzedakah box, but only when it reaches the poor persons hand. It is also in my intention that I should be able to separate the tenth with an approximation. If I should give more than my obligation, it should be considered charity, but not ma’aser, and if I so wish, that extra should be credited to future ma’aser. It is also in my intention, that I should be able to use the maser money for mitzvos, such as lending to the rich and poor. I am also setting aside a time to make the calculations, until the Aseres Yimei Teshuva of each year.”
Regarding your second question, if your parent would allow you to give maaser from the money that they already gave you, will not be an issue now, because you weren’t giving maaser then. However whatever profits you will make from the investment of that money will be subject to maaser.
Shevet Halevi 9-201(1), Ketzos Hashulchan 212-5, Derech Emuna pg. 123, Teshuvos V’hanhagos 2-483.