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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 the poor.

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 upon you.

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 15:7-9

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 person.

In addition to the physical act of giving charity, we must perform this mitzva with heart and soul. The Torah states;

You shall 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.

Devarim 15:10

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).

The Talmud 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 "good."

Aser Te'aser

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."

Tzedaka is 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."

"Tzedaka Tatzil 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.

The Midrash 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 find it!"

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 her through.

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 life.

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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