Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
Charity - Keeping What We Give
And it will be charitable (tzedakah) for us if we are careful to perform
this entire mitzvah before Hashem, our G-d, as He commanded us. (6:25)
The above verse seems to equate meticulous Torah observance ("if we are
careful to perform this entire mitzvah (i.e. the Torah)") with charity
(tzedakah). Perhaps more accurately, it tells us that we will merit
tzedakah only when we are careful to observe all the Torah's mitzvos. Why?
Is it not possible to be a magnanimous donor and contribute generously to
many tzedakos despite lax adherence to other Torah principles? Have we
never met such individuals?
The holy Zohar (Tikkunei Zohar 9b) writes that for each lunar month, there
is a different permutation ("tziruf") of the holy Tetragrammaton, the
ineffable Four-letter name. (There are 12 months, and 12 ways that four
letters can be arranged, since two of them (Hay) are the same.) The tziruf
for the month of Elul - next month, and the month that precedes Rosh
Hashanah - is Hay-Hay-Vav-Yud, which, says the Zohar, is alluded to in the
final four letters of the words of the above pasuk; Utzedakah ti- hiyeh
lanu kiy ("And it will be charitable to us when...") It is important for us
to understand the connection between this verse and the coming month, both
to appreciate the deeper meaning of the pasuk, as well as a means of laying
the groundwork for Elul, a month associated with teshuvah (repentance) and
preparation for the Days of Awe.
There are those who perform charity in order to receive forgiveness for
sin. This is an effective method of repentance (provided one abandons one's
iniquities as well), and is noted by the prophet Daniel (4:24), "Redeem
your sins with charity." One who performs tzedakah as a means of
repentance, however, obviously revokes any further claim to the mitzvah.
You can't have your cake and eat it too, says the old adage, and here, if
we wish or require that our sins be redeemed through charity, then we do
not retain the mitzvah for later merit and reward. This concept is alluded
to in a verse we recite during tachanun and selichos, "To You, Hashem, is
tzedakah, and to us, shamefacedness," i.e. when we approach You with
sin-induced shamefacedness and give tzedakah, through which You grant
forgiveness, we relinquish that tzedakah to You, retaining no further claim.
One, however, who is scrupulous in his mitzvah performance, does not
require that his tzedakah accomplish sin-redemption and forgiveness; he can
thus receive full merit for his charitable deeds. This is the deeper
meaning of the above pasuk: And tzedakah will be ours if we are careful
with all the mitzvos - thereby foregoing the need for our charity to render
its services by acting as our advocate.
If one has sinned, yet doesn't want to "use up" his tzedakah on
forgiveness, preferring that the merit of this lofty mitzvah be preserved
for the World to Come, what is he to do? If he is careful to do teshuva and
repent for previous sins before giving charity, then his sins will be
forgiven through his earnest repentance, allowing his tzedakah to remain
his. During the month of Elul, a month focused on teshuvah and
introspection, we hopefully receive forgiveness for our past errors and
misdeeds, opening the door for a month of tzedakah and chessed which will
truly be considered ours. This is why the tziruf of Elul emerges from the
final letters of the above verse, "Utzedakah ti-hiyeh lanu kiy," as if to
say that through the teshuvah and repentance of Elul, the tzedakah we do
can finally be considered ours! [R' Gedaliah Aaron of Linitz zt"l, Chein Aaron]
The holy Rebbe, R' Zusha of Anipoli zt"l would, as a young man, study Torah
for hours and days on end without ever breaking for a meal. Only when he
felt so weakened by his fasting that he could no longer learn, would he
allow himself to ask one of the local ba'alei batim to be so gracious as to
give him a meal. At some stage, R' Zusha came to feel that asking someone
for a meal was in some small way a breech in his faith, and that if he
truly believed Hashem takes care of all his needs, then Hashem knows when
he needs to eat, and could take care of him without his needing to ask for
it. He decided that he would no longer ask anyone for a meal, but would
rely that when the need arose, someone surely would offer him on their own
accord. For a time this is exactly what transpired: Whenever R' Zusha felt
extreme pangs of hunger, someone would inevitably offer him a meal.
After a few months, however, a problem arose. There was no one around that
in the Almighty's eyes deserved to perform such a holy and exceptional
mitzvah as to sustain the very life of a great and holy tzaddik! You don't
just give away such mitzvos for nothing. Lacking the right "agent," Hashem
implanted two spigots within the tzaddik's mouth; from one he would suckle
milk, and from the other honey. Thus he was sustained for three full
months, until someone (evidently a very worthy individual) came up to him,
threw him a few coins, and said, "Zusha, take these - you look like you
need a good meal!" This unbelievable story was related by R' Zusha himself
to R' Avraham Mordechai of Pintshov zt"l, and recorded by his son-in-law R'
Yitzchak Isaac of Kamarna zt"l in his Heichal Beracha.
Equally fascinating is the lesson R' Yitzchak Isaac derives from the story.
Imagine, he says, that given the choice, Hashem would "rather" perform an
extraordinary miracle, than to allow someone the merit of performing an
exceptional mitzvah he doesn't deserve! Although there were many Jews
through whom the Almighty could easily have sustained R' Zusha, He chose to
take care of the matters Himself, until such a time as someone truly worthy
of this great mitzvah arose.
Having made this point, R' Yitzchak Isaac beseeches the wealthy and
magnanimous Jews of his time to realize that simply having money - and even
giving generously to charity - is not enough. He encourages them to "get up
early in the mornings, say Tehillim, examine their deeds, and implore the
Almighty" to lead them on a path of charity and righteousness, that they
may indeed merit giving generously and wholeheartedly, and that their money
find its way to worthy and virtuous recipients.
Perhaps this amazing nekudah (point) offers us an additional insight into
the above verse: And it will be charitable (tzedakah) for us if we are
careful to perform this entire mitzvah before Hashem, our G-d, as He
commanded us - doing charity is not as simple as just writing a cheque and
making a donation. To warrant receiving a true and pure mitzvah means we
have to first make sure our deeds and characters are in tip top shape.
A wealthy man, unimpressed with a fund-raiser's presentation of his cause,
sent him away with a paltry donation. The fund-raiser couldn't help but to
express some surprise at the extreme lack of generosity. "I suppose your
cause just didn't merit anything more," said the donor. "Perhaps,"
responded the fund-raiser, "you didn't merit giving anything more." How do
we approach mitzvos: With the attitude that the mitzvah has the privilege
of us performing it, or that we have the merit of doing the mitzvah?
Something to think about.
Have a good Shabbos.
This week's publication has been sponsored by
Mrs. Pauline Rubinstein, in memory of her mother Elka
bas R' Pinchas HaLevi, and in memory of her father
Binyamin Ze'ev ben R' Hirsch Tzvi HaLevi.
Text Copyright © 2003 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.