14 Aug There’s Nothing Like Tzedakah
The critical month of Elul is upon us. All prudent Torah Jews are focused on the upcoming Day of Judgment, Rosh HaShanah, and are trying to prepare accordingly. After the two most direct methods of preparation, namely tshuvah and tefilah, repentance and prayer, there is one mitzvah of the remaining 611 mitzvos that is most potent to abrogate and nullify an evil decree. If your guess was Talmud Torah, the study of Torah, it was a good try but it is the wrong selection. Although Torah study is indeed powerful, it is unable to cancel an evil decree. Rather, it is only a shield against retribution. As the Mishnah states in Pirkei Avos, Torah study is, “K’sris bifnei haperonios – Like a shield before retribution,” but is nevertheless unable to annul the decree itself. Nor can powerful mitzvos such as tefilin, kashrus, or the like accomplish such an urgent feat.
The only mitzvah that has this awesome capability is the mitzvah of tzedakah, the giving of charity. As we say in our Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur liturgy, tzedakah accompanies tshuvah and tefilah in its ability to be maavirin es haroah gezeirah, to remove an evil decree. It therefore behooves everyone to upgrade considerably their tzedakah output at this critical time. As the Gemora teaches us in Masechtas Baba Basra, “Tzedakah tatzil mimoves – Charity saves one from death.” The sacrifice of parting with our hard-earned money can indeed save us from a year of fraught with life-threatening situations.
In talking about giving charity, the posuk says, “Aser ta’aser – You should tithe your produce.” My grandfather, Rabbi Menachem Yurovitz of blessed memory, said a clever gematria on this verse. Aser means to take a tenth. In this gematria, it means literally to “take a tenth of the value of the letters from the following word, ta’aser, spelled tof, ayin, sin, and reish. Accordingly, the numerical value of the letter tof is 400, and a tenth of 400 is 40, which is represented by the letter mem. Ayin is 70, and one tenth of that is seven, or the letter zayin. The letter sin has a value of 300, and one tenth of that is 30, or the letter lamed, while reish is 200 and a tenth of that is 20, or the letter chof. So one tenth of the word ta’aser gives us the letters mem, zayin, lamed and chof, which spells mazloch, which means “your fate.” The posuk is revealing that one can determine his or her own fate by properly giving charity.
A key to successful philanthropy is to give according to your means rather that to gauge your donations by whatever everyone else is giving. Many people fall short of Hashem’s expectations for them because they don’t give in proportion to the largess that Hashem blessed them with. In a similar vein, the Rambam says that a man should give gifts to his wife according to his means. One who makes a six-figure income better come up with a more impressive gift than an occasional hallmark card and chocolate. So too, one who can afford expensive cars and luxury vacations should not think that he can acquit his obligation by calling our 100 dollars during the shul appeal like the civil servant who sits right alongside of him.
When we design our request to Hashem for the coming New Year, the smart person asks Hashem for a year that he or she should be satisfied and happy with their lot. That is a very wise decision. There is no better way to influence Hashem in fulfilling this request than the giving of much tzedakah. For the Novi says that as a reward for proper charity, one will be blessed as the verse states, “V’harikosi lachem bracha ad bli dai,” and as the Gemora interprets this to mean, “Sheyiblu sifsoseichem milomer dai,” which means Hashem will, “Shower you with blessing until your lips get tired from saying enough.” This is a poetic expression for the blessing of satisfaction.
So as Rosh HaShanah gets closer and closer, let’s keep our eyes open for tzedakah opportunities. In a dignified way, let’s offer help to a neighbor who is out of work, to a widow who is struggling, to a yeshiva that is behind in paying its rabbeim, to our rabbi who is underpaid, and to our shul that often is on the bottom of the charity totem pole. Let’s put a few dollars in all those envelopes that we get in the mail during Elul, for each of these enterprises will be successful if everyone just helps in a little way. Let’s remember, when calculating our tzedakah budget, that, “Aniyei ircha kodem – The religious institutions of our own city must come first.” This ensures the equitable distribution of the tzedakah dollars of Klal Yisroel.
In the merit of our vigorous charity giving, may Hashem bless all of us with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.
Please learn, give tzedaka, and daven l’iluy nishmas of Miriam Liba bas Aharon.