Question: Is it permissible to donate a sum of money to charity in the merit of which someone should become healed or for any other personal request or is it improper to do this since the Mitzvah is not being performed for the sake of Heaven, rather, for one’s personal purposes?
Answer: The Gemara in Masechet Pesachim (8a) teaches us that our Sages said: “If one says, ‘I am hereby donating a certain amount of money to Tzedakah in order for my son to live,’ he is a completely righteous person” and there is nothing wrong with doing so.
The Gemara (Baba Batra 10b) states that charities donated by the kings of the nations of the world is only for their own personal benefit, as it is written in the book of Ezra that the king would donate charity so that Hashem would do good for him and his children. The Gemara questions this, for it seems based on the above statement that if one donates Tzedakah “in order for my son to live,” such a person is completely righteous that there is nothing wrong with donating charity for a personal reason. The Gemara explains that there is a difference between the Jewish nation and the kings of the nations of the world, for when the Jewish nation does so, they intend to donate this money for the sake of Heaven as well since if the person the relative has donated Tzedakah for does not end up being healed and instead passes away, the relative who donated the charity does not regret donating the sum; rather, one humbly accepts the decree from Heaven. On the other hand, regarding the kings of the nations of the world mentioned in the Gemara who would hope for Hashem’s goodness, if they would know that Hashem would not accept their prayer in this world, they would regret ever donating the charity.
Based on this, the Gemara teaches us that there is nothing wrong with one who donates a sum of money to charity in order for one’s son to be healed, for ultimately, one intends to donate the money even if, G-d-forbid, one’s son does not recover. One is merely requesting that the merit created by the money donated to charity help one’s son recover; however, this is regardless of one’s will to donate money to charity because doing so is a great Mitzvah.
Similarly, Rashi in his commentary on the above Gemara in Pesachim explains that we do not say that because one donates this sum of money in order for one’s son to be healed that this action is considered not for the sake of Heaven; rather, we say that one has fulfilled the Mitzvah of giving charity as his Creator has commanded him and one intends this to serve one’s own purposes as well, i.e. for one’s son to live.
Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l proves from here that any action one performs for the sake of Heaven and intends for this to be for one’s own benefit as well, for instance, one who eats on Shabbat in honor of Shabbat and in order to make the holy Shabbat enjoyable as per Hashem’s command while also having in mind one’s own personal enjoyment, we do not say that one is performing the Mitzvah not for the sake of Heaven; rather, since one’s intentions include doing so for the sake of Heaven as well, it is indeed considered that one is doing so for the sake of Heaven and one’s reward shall be great. Many other great Poskim write accordingly.
This concept has other far-reaching ramifications regarding the Mitzvah of Yibum (levirate marriage). This Torah commandment entails one brother marrying his deceased brother’s widow if the deceased brother left over no children in order to establish a name for the deceased brother. The Gemara in Masechet Yevamot (39b) tells us that Abba Shaul maintains that if the brother does not intend for this to be for the sake of Heaven, rather, he wishes to marry his brother’s widow because of her beauty, wealth, and the like, he may not marry his deceased brother’s wife, for the Torah only permits him to marry her when he intends to do so for the sake of Heaven. However, if this is not the case, this constitutes a severe prohibition.
It is nevertheless common that the deceased’s brother claims that although his intentions are not purely for the sake of Heaven, he nonetheless intends to fulfill the Mitzvah of his Creator in order to establish a name for his deceased brother as well. In this scenario, is it considered that he is doing so for the sake of Heaven or not? Based on what we have discussed above, we can prove that as long as some thoughts of doing so for the sake of Heaven are mixed into one’s intentions, one is in fact considered to be doing so for the sake of Heaven and we sometimes suggest to the brother that he perform the Mitzvah of Yibum by marrying his deceased brother’s widow and establishing an everlasting name for his brother, in accordance with the opinion of Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch.
Summary: One may donate charity in order for a relative to recover from an illness, for one intends to do so for the sake of Heaven as well, in order to fulfill Hashem’s commandment. The same applies to the fulfillment of any Mitzvah which one performs for one’s own benefit as well. If one intends to perform a Mitzvah solely for the sake of Heaven, this is an especially unique Mitzvah, for such Mitzvot cause Hashem great satisfaction and are the most desired by Hashem.