Torah for the Times    

Friday, August 17, 2012 - 29 Menachem Av, 5772

Torah Reading: R'ei (Deuteronomy 11:26 - 16:17)
Candle Lighting Time: 7:32 PM
Shabbat ends: 8:33 PM

Character Refinement Can Wait

Five and Ten

One of the primary sources in the Torah for the Mitzvah of giving Tzedakah—loosely translated as charity, but more accurately as “righteousness”—is in this week’s parsha, R’ei.

The Torah states: “You shall always take the tithe from all the produce of the seed crop that the field produces.” The straightforward understanding of this verse is that it refers to the tithing of one’s crops. However, our Sages applied this verse to the conventional giving of Tzedakah from our general income as well.

According to Jewish law, we are obligated to give at least one tenth of our income to Tzedakah. It is preferable, however, to double that amount and give two tenths of our income to Tzedakah.

These two levels of giving are derived from the above-mentioned verse when translated more literally: “Separate a tenth, [indeed] a tenth, of your produce…” The repetition of the word “tenth” is interpreted by our Talmudic sages to suggest that we ought to give minimally one tenth of our earnings to Tzedakah, but preferably one fifth.

Another Talmudic interpretation of the repetition of the words: “a tenth, [indeed] a tenth” is based on a variant reading of the Hebrew word: t’aseir: In this novel translation the verse reads: “Tithe so that you will become rich.”

There is a principle, established by the Rebbe, that whenever two interpretations are given to the same words or verse, they are interconnected. What connection can we find between the interpretation that encourages us to give two tenths of our income to Tzedakah and the interpretation that encourages us to give Tzedakah as a way of achieving wealth?

Another question:

Tzedakah is so important that the Talmud tells us it is the equivalent of all the other Mitzvos combined. In addition, it is identified as the Mitzvah that will bring about the Redemption. If so, how can the Torah encourage us to perform such an important Mitzvah for the ulterior motive of tithing in order to become rich?

On the most basic level, the answer to the question is that the Torah was concerned with the welfare of the poor and needy. The Torah is not concerned about the motives of the giver as much as it is concerned about the needs of those who are hurting. Character refinement can wait; a person without food, clothing or shelter cannot!

The Poor Man’s Entreaty and the Rich Man’s Impudence Revisited

We can find a deeper and more insightful answer to this last question in light of a point made in the parsha thought for parshas Va’etchanan that referred to the verse from Proverbs: “The poor speaks entreatingly but the rich responds impudently.” The Midrash, incredibly, compares the entreating poor individual to Moses and the rich person who speaks impudently to G‑d. This was understood to mean that Moses acted like a poor man who did not demand entry into the Promised Land. G‑d, however, wants us to act like the rich who act with impudence. G‑d wants us to employ “kosher” chutzpah to demand of Him to bring an end to the suffering and misery associated with galut and bring us the Redemption without delay!

Two questions still arise:

If the Midrash’s reference to G‑d as the rich person who speaks impudently was intended to teach us to speak with chutzpah, why does the Midrash apply this teaching to G‑d and not directly to us?

Second, why does the verse ascribe chutzpah to the rich?

Defining Wealth

To answer these questions we must first define wealth.
True wealth does not exist in our realm. No matter how much one has in terms of material or even spiritual resources there is always something he or she is lacking. A billionaire might be lacking in health. A poor and sick person can be rich in love and kindness. The only true source of inexhaustible and unmitigated wealth is G‑d. And to the extent that we are connected to Him, we get a taste of that wealth and the chutzpah that goes along with it; i.e., the power to make demands and have our demands met.

We can now have a deeper appreciation of what the Torah means when it intimates that we ought to give Tzedakah so that we become wealthy. Perhaps, our sages were hinting to us that if we want to acquire true wealth, i.e. a taste of G‑dly wealth, we must do G‑dly things, specifically the Mitzvah of Tzedakah.

Generally speaking, this means that by performing any Mitzvah—which is defined as a Divine commandment and connector to the Divine—we, in turn, become Divine.

However, of all the Mitzvos that we can do to become G‑dly and “wealthy” one Mitzvah stands out because it is the ultimate Divine act—the act of Tzedakah. The act of giving requires one to have possessions. Indeed, the more one has the more he or she can give. G‑d is the ultimate “Wealthy One” and the ultimate Giver of Tzedakah. All of what we have is a product of Divine beneficence. It is a manifestation of the Divine source of true wealth. And when we emulate G‑d in this regard, we too are accorded the title of being truly wealthy.

This sheds light on a famous story of a great and wealthy sage who advised a certain king. When the king asked him for an accounting of his possessions, the Sage indicated a much smaller amount than his real wealth. The rabbi was charged with the crime of hiding his true worth from the king and was duly imprisoned. But knowing the integrity of the Sage, the king demanded an explanation from the Sage as to why he reported only one fifth of his true worth. The Rabbi answered that the only money he really owned was the money he gave away to Tzedakah, which was a fifth of his income.

All the money or other earthly possessions—even intellectual, cultural and even spiritual possessions—do not really make you rich. Only the things that we share with others—money, knowledge, warmth etc.—are indicators of our wealth. It represents Divine wealth that has enduring value.

Thus, our Sages say, if you want to acquire true, enduring and pure wealth give Tzedakah.

Tzedakah Brings Redemption: Why?

And thus, our Sages also state that when we give Tzedakah we hasten the process of Redemption.
One explanation for this, in light of the above discussion of the nature of true wealth, is that while every Mitzvah makes the world more G‑dly and renders it better equipped to experience the Redemption through Moshiach, only the ultimate rich man possesses the G‑d-given holy chutzpah to demand it.

Connecting the Dots

We can now also understand the connection between this interpretation of the verse that we should give Tzedakah in order to acquire wealth with the alternate interpretation that the preferred manner of giving is to give two tenths.

When one gives the bare minimum, he or she is not demonstrating the Divine trait of wealth. By giving and then giving again, one demonstrates that his or her manner of giving is not just satisfying the minimum requirement. It is instead the first step in breaking out of the parameters of the impoverishment of exile that stifle us and keep us from enjoying true G‑dly wealth. 

To be sure, even if we act poorly and fulfill our minimum requirements of Tzedakah, Moshiach will still take us out of exile. In fact, one of the scenarios described in the Torah for Moshiach’s arrival is that he will come as “a poor man riding on a donkey.” This is not a reflection of Moshiach, but rather of the impoverished resources we bring to bear in the pursuit of our Redemption.

We prefer, and therefore strive, however, to come before G‑d as rich people and be able to say to Him, “we are a wealthy and deserving people because of all the cumulative good we have done through the millennia, particularly the lavish way we have given and given.” This way Moshiach arrives majestically and leads us into the ultimate age of G‑dly wealth that will envelop the entire world.

Moshiach Matters 

What kind of changes will occur when Moshiach comes? Since Moshiach encapsulates only good, joy and Simcah, it is clear that any change that will brought about my Moshiach in the world will only be positive and good. Whoever is suffering, will see and end to that suffering; whoever is successful will see an even greater increase in that success. (From www.geula.org.il)

Moshiach - It’s a Jewish issue. For more info, visit www.moshiach.com