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Posted on August 8, 2003 (5763) By Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann | Series: | Level:

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 &copy 2003 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.