In this week's Parsha,
the Torah commands us about the Mitzva of Tzedaka
- charity. The Torah tells us that we must be charitable
and share our wealth with the stranger, the orphan, the widow and
If there shall be a needy person among you, any of your brethren
in any of your cities, in the Land that HASHEM, your God, gives
you, you shall not harden your heart or close your hand against
your destitute brother.
Rather, you shall open your hand to him; you shall lend him his
requirement, whatever is lacking to him.
Beware lest there be a lawless thought in your heart, saying, "The
seventh year approaches, the remission year, " and you will look
malevolently upon your destitute brother and refuse to give him
- then he may appeal against you to HASHEM, and it will be a sin
Every person is required
to give tzedaka according to his ability. Even a poor person
who is himself supported by tzedaka, must give tzedaka.
A person who can only give a little should not hesitate to give,
because a little from him is like a great deal from a wealthier
In addition to the
physical act of giving charity, we must perform this mitzva
with heart and soul. The Torah states;
surely give him, and let your heart not feel bad when you give him,
for in return for this matter, HASHEM, your God, will bless you
in all your deeds and in your every undertaking.
There are many different
ways of doing kindness through tzedaka. One may perform an
act of tzedaka by giving money to the poor, but there also
are other ways to give tzedaka. Helping someone out is another
way of giving. Help with good advice is also tzedaka.
But in all cases it
must be done with a smile.
As the Kli Yakar
notes that whenever the Torah writes about giving to another
person - be it tzedaka, ma'aser (tithes), a loan,
or supporting a slave, it always uses the double form of the verb
- in these respective cases, paso'ach tiftach, aser te'aser,
nason titain, and ha'aneik ta'anik respectively. The
reason for these double expressions, writes the Kli Yakar,
is because the act of giving is twofold. One part is giving with
the hand - be it money or food. The other is giving with your mouth
- which is the conveying of a positive attitude when giving. In
other words, the mitzva of tzedaka has not been fully
carried out if the recipient feels ashamed and put down.
In a similar context,
the Rambam (Maimonides) writes that there are there are eight
degrees of tzedaka. The highest is to aid a person by offering
him a gift or a loan, by entering into partnership with him, or
by providing work for him, so that he may become self-supporting.
The second degree is where the giver and recipient do not know each
other. The third is where the giver knows the recipient, but the
recipient does not know the giver… and in only the fifth, the giver
and recipient do know each other. Implicit in the Rambam's
hierarchy is the prime importance of not undermining the recipient's
self respect (Hilchot Matnot Aniyim 10:8ff).
teaches us, "Whoever gives charity to the poor is blessed with six
blessings; and whoever speaks to him soothing words is blessed with
eleven blessings. Thus, one who gives charity in a manner that comforts
the poor person receives seventeen (6+11) blessings! This has the
same numerical value as the Hebrew word, "Tov," which means
Our sages tell us
that the mitzva of giving the Ma'aser (tithes) to
the poor and needy is expressed in this Parsha with the words,
"Aser Te'aser" "you shall tithe." … (14:22) which can also
be read as "Aser Te'asher" which means "give Ma'aser
and you shall be wealthy." As our Sages add, "Aser bishvil she'tis'asher"
"Tithe so that you shall become wealthy." The Torah tells
us that through giving tithes (charity) one will gain wealth. One
never loses when he gives charity. This is more than a reward or
a blessing. It is, rather, a consequence of one's giving.
In an anecdotal remark
to a community that was not sufficiently giving, the Maggid
(Preacher) of Kelm once said, "Hashem assures us that "Ki
lo yechdal evyon mikerev ha'aretz", - "For destitute people
will not cease to exist within the Land;" (Devarim 15:11)
"In other words, there
will always be poor people. If we do not see to the needs of the
poor, they will unfortunately not survive. Someone will have to
replace them. It quite possibly might be you."
a commandment that carries with it a certain element of Emunat
(belief in) Hashem. We are told that we will not lose
out financially from giving charity. This is taken to the extreme
that this is one of only two mitzvot for which we are allowed
to test Hashem, namely that we are allowed to give tzedaka
with the mindset that we are expecting reward in return.
At the root of it
all is the notion that while it is often very hard for people to
part with money that they have worked hard to earn and is "rightfully"
theirs, there must be the realization that all money comes ultimately
from Hashem and that not only do we have the obligation to
do with it as He commands, but also that He will take care of us
for following His words.
Giving to the poor
is not viewed in Judaism as an altruistic, generous act. It is instead
seen as an act of justice and righteousness; doing one's duty by
giving to the poor what is due to them.
It is every Jew's
obligation to give tzedaka. The spiritual benefit of giving
to the poor is so great that the poor person actually does the giver
a favor by giving him a chance to do this mitzva.
The second verse of
Shmot (Exodus), Parshat Terumah (25:2) reads: "Speak
to the Bnei Yisroel so that they may take [for] Me an offering…'
Rather than say "give me", it literally reads "take [for] Me".
R. David of Kotzk
uses this verse to teach the meaning of a folk saying: "A fool gives
and a wise man takes."
This saying, he teaches,
refers to a person who gives tzedaka. A fool who gives tzedaka
thinks that he is giving, while a wise man who gives realizes that
he is taking - he is the one who benefits most by his action.
"The mitzvot are
compared to a candle," it says in Proverbs. Our sages explain the
comparison as follows: "Just as from one candle a person can light
many candles without diminishing any of the light from the original
candle, so too, through the performance of the mitzva of
giving charity, one's wealth is not diminished."
MiMavet" - "Charity," say our Sages "saves from death."
Even when a decree of death has been passed in heaven, through giving
tzedaka one can nullify that decree.
tells that Rabbi Akiva was once traveling on a ship when he noticed
in the distance another ship which was sinking.
Rabbi Akiva knew that
there was a scholar on the sinking ship who would no doubt drown.
But when Rabbi Akiva came to shore and visited the synagogue, he
saw the man engaged in study!
"How were you saved
from the sinking ship?" Rabbi Akiva asked him.
"Your prayers must
have helped me for I was thrown from wave to wave until I found
myself on shore."
"What good deed did
you do to merit being saved?" asked Rabbi Akiva.
"As I boarded the
ship, a poor man came and asked for food. I gave him a bread. The
poor man said to me, 'Just like you have saved my life, may Hashem
save your life.'"
Upon hearing this
Rabbi Akiva reminded everyone the words of Shlomo Hamelech
(King Solomon) "cast your bread upon the water and in time you will
Another story about
Rabbi Akiva and his family, in this case his daughter.
The Talmud tells us
that astrologers had forecast gloomy projections for this child.
The astrologers had told Rabbi Akiva that his daughter would die
on her wedding night. While this troubled Rabbi Akiva greatly, he
had faith in Hashem and his daughters' good deeds to carry
The morning following
her wedding, Rabbi Akiva rushed to her room to see that she was
OK. What a pleasant surprise it was to find that the previous night,
when she took her pin out of her hair, she placed it in a hole in
the wall, inadvertently killing a poisonous snake poised for attack.
Rabbi Akiva, who realized
that this was no coincidence, asked his daughter if she could remember
any particular act of kindness she had done on the previous day
that warranted this tremendous miracle. His daughter proceeded to
tell her father a remarkable story. The daughter explained that
the previous night at the wedding, when all the guests were busy
dancing and being happy, a poor man appeared at the door begging
for help. Rabbi Akiva's daughter then told how she took her own
portion and gave it to the poor man to eat.
Upon hearing this,
Rabbi Akiva kissed his daughter on the head and told her that this
act of chesed (kindness) warranted the saving of her own
A story is told of
a Chasidic Rabbi whose followers stated emphatically that
every night their rabbi went up to heaven. Another Jewish group,
Mitnagdim (opponents of Chasidim), ridiculed the Chasidim
about this belief. One particular Mitnaged thought the idea
so preposterous that one night he decided to hide under the bed
of the rabbi to confirm firsthand the impossibility of such a thing.
At about 2 a.m., the
rabbi arose, put on his coat, and took an ax in his hand. The frightened
but well-hidden doubter followed the rabbi into the forest. Keeping
his distance, he watched as the rabbi began to chop down trees then
cut the wood into logs suitable for burning. He marveled as he saw
the rabbi deliver his secret offering to the widows and the infirm
in the town.
The next morning in
synagogue, when the Chasidim spoke of their rabbi going to
heaven, the former nonbeliever surprised his group of followers
and said, "Yes - to heaven, if not even higher."
This wonderful story
eloquently captures the essence of the idea of charity or giving.
Hidden in each Hebrew
word, is a three letter root which reflects the idea behind the
word. There is no literal Hebrew word for charity. The root of tzedaka
is "tzedek", which means "justice" and righteousness, Synonyms
for tzedaka are justice, truth, and kindness, making clear
the importance of the redeeming qualities of giving tzedaka,
and tells us that giving charity is the just and right thing to
do in Hashem's eyes.
Did you know that
the root of the Hebrew word "to give" is "Natan" - "Nun,
Taf, Nun"? Notice that you can read it backwards and forwards.
What does that tell us? That through giving, you get back.
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