ישיבת כרם ביבנה

The Mitzvah of Tzedaka

הרב אריה שטרן

In our parsha the Torah expands at great length upon the obligation to help and to support our destitute brethren who cry out for help. It says (Devarim 15:7-11):

If there shall be a destitute person among you, any of your brethren ... 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 his requirement to him, whatever is lacking him ... For destitute people will not cease to exist within the Land; therefore I command you, saying, "You shall surely open your hand to your brother, to your poor, and to your destitute in your Land." In the book of Mishlei (21:21), Shlomo Hamelech deals with the importance and the reward of the mitzvah of tzedaka, and says, "One who pursues tzedaka and kindness, will find life, tzedaka and honor." The gemara comments on this in Bava Batra (9b-10a):

R. Yehoshua b. Levi says: Anyone who does tzedaka regularly will have children who possess wisdom, wealth, and aggadic eloquence. Wisdom -- as it says, "will find life." (Rashi: And regarding wisdom it says, "For one who finds me [wisdom] finds life.") Wealth -- as it says, "tzedaka." Aggadic eloquence -- as it says, "and honor," and it says, "The wise inherit honor." (Rashi: Since they are orators and captivate the audience, everybody honors them.)

We would like to understand, though, in what way does the reward relate to the mitzvah? How does the compensation of "midah keneged midah" (quid pro quo) express itself here, that in the merit of tzedaka one will have children who have wisdom, wealth and aggadic eloquence?

We would like to offer an explanation based on the Maharal (Netivot Olam, Netiv Hatzedaka, ch. 1). There are two types of people, a person who receives and a person who gives. The first type is one whose nature is to constantly check what he can take from others and give to himself. This person puts himself in the center, and always seeks ways to benefit himself and his interests. In contrast, the second kind of person looks around him to see how he can provide for others and sacrifice of himself for them. This person puts others in the center, and always seeks ways to benefit others and their interests.

The person that is discussed in the pasuk, "One who pursues tzedaka and kindness," not only provides and gives of his money to others, but even pursues opportunities to give to others. In other words, this trait is embedded deep in his inner nature and personal character. He therefore merits that G-d should give him children who themselves are able to give to others from what G-d grants them. They are children who possess wisdom, to whom G-d grants understanding and intellect, and they teach others wisdom and knowledge. Similarly, they are children who possess wealth, to whom G-d grants money and assets, and they use this gift to give and to help their poor brethren. Finally, they are children who possess agaddic eloquence, to whom G-d grants an inspiring and convincing oratory ability, and they use this ability to make the Torah beloved on the people. It comes out, then, that the reward of a charitable person is "midah keneged midah." Just as he gives and contributes to others, so too his children will be of the kind of people who give and contribute.

Based on this we can understand the greatness and special importance of charitable people, since when giving tzedaka a person trains and accustoms himself to be a giver and not a taker. This trait has very broad implications, because it distinguishes between a spiritual person and a material one. The nature of the physical body is to receive and to take -- to eat, drink and enjoy. In contrast, the nature of the soul is to give, to provide and to help. When a person gives tzedaka to the poor, he accustoms himself to contribute and not to receive. Through this, he strengthens the soul over the body, and he becomes more and more spiritual.

This is the meaning of the pasuk in Mishlei (16:7), "Through kindness (chesed) and truth iniquity will be forgiven." At first glance, this pasuk requires explanation. What is the connection between kindness and atoning sin? How does kindness rectify the negative impact of sin? However, based on the above, we can explain as follows: When a person sins he strengthens his material aspects over his spiritual aspects. Sin is atoned for and rectified through purifying the material and strengthening the spirit. A person who is involved in kindness, which means providing and giving to others, counteracts the bodily desires to receive and enjoy. Through this, the negative influences of sins are removed, and they are atoned for. (Based on Maharal Netivot Olam, Netiv Gemilut Chasadim, ch. 1)

We can explain this issue on a deeper level. The greatest Provider and Giver is G-d, the Creator and Director of the World, who sustains and provides to all, and satisfies to every being its needs. In His great goodness we lack nothing and, with G-d's help, we will never lack anything. In truth, this is the reason that the nature of the soul is to give and to provide, since the soul is a part of G-d above, and just as G-d gives and does not receive, so too the soul.

Accordingly, a person who provides and gives imitates his Creator, as the Torah commands, "Go in his ways." (Devarim 28:9) Therefore, Chazal taught (Yalkut Shimoni Ruth #602):

"May Hashem reward your deed ... under whose wings you have come to seek refuge." (Ruth 2:12) Great is the power of those who do deeds of kindness, that they do not seek refuge under the wings of the earth, nor under the wings of the morning light, nor under the wings of the sun ... but rather in the shelter of G-d, as it says, "How precious is Your kindness, O G-d! Mankind takes shelter in the refuge of your wings." (Tehillim 36:8) As a result of this, it is understandable that one who gives tzedaka, and provides and gives of his own to others, merits to rise and to reach very lofty levels, as the gemara says (Bava Batra 10a):

Shlomo son of David was asked, "Until where does the power of tzedaka reach?" He said to them: Go and see what David, my father, stated, "He distributed widely to the destitute, his tzedaka endures forever; his pride will be exalted with honor." (Tehillim 112:9) Rava said, from here, "He shall dwell in heights; in rocky fortresses is his stronghold; his bread will be granted, his water assured." (Yeshayahu 33:16) The intention of the gemara is to teach us that a person who contributes achieves very high levels, since one who worries only about himself is a small-minded person who cannot rise to a place beyond that in which he is found. But one who contributes and is concerned about others is found constantly above his personal level. This is what it says, "He shall dwell in HEIGHTS," and it says, "His pride will be EXALTED with honor."

 

 

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