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Friday - Shabbat August 14 - 15

Torah Reading: Rei (Deuteronomy 11:26 - 16:17)
Candle Lighting Time 7:37 PM
Shabbat ends 8:38 PM
Pirkei Avot Chapter 5

We bless the new Month of Elul

Accomplice to Poverty? 

One of the Mitzvot discussed in this week’s parsha is the mitzvah of giving tzedakah. After the Torah mentions Tzedakah, it continues:

“…and your heart shall not feel badly when you give to him, for G‑d, your G‑d, will bless all your work and everything you do because of this.”

A simple question can be asked. Why does the Torah phrase this directive in the negative? Why couldn’t it have phrased it in a positive vein, “And you shall rejoice when you give him?” After all, we know how important it is to do a Mitzvah with joy?


One answer that may be proposed is that when a person gives tzedakah the main thing is for the needy person to receive it. The feelings that we experience when we give tzedakah are not nearly as important as the actual act of giving. The reality is that there are needy people and causes that we can and must help regardless of our feelings. 


This doesn’t mean that our feelings that accompany this Mitzvah are not important. It does mean, however, that our desire for self-perfection and refinement should not cause us to shirk our obligations towards others by saying that we are not doing the mitzvah with the most proper feelings. We should never postpone giving until such time that we give with the perfect emotions. We should give without delay, and work on our feelings and our idealism afterwards, if need be.


Thus, the Torah does not emphasize the joy that must accompany our giving of tzedakah for that would take the focus off the main objective: helping others. The Torah does however mention the negative angle, that we should not feel bad when we give, for that is an integral part of giving. Were we upset that we had to part with our hard earned money, it would show. That, in turn, would make the recipient of our tzedakah feel uncomfortable and degraded. So while we might be helping him or her financially, we will simultaneously be making the beneficiaries of our generosity feel terribly. And as the Talmud explains, an essential part of giving tzedakah is making the recipient feel comfortable about receiving the money.


On a deeper level, one can explain why the Torah emphasizes that we should not have negative feelings when we give tzedakah and fails to mention that we should give with joy.


To understand this we must preface a well known concept that has its roots in classical Jewish sources and has been expanded upon in Chassidic literature. The concept is that, in fact, we do not really give our own money when we give tzedakah. G‑d, in His infinite wisdom, wished to give us an opportunity to be His partner in sustaining the world. Rather than distribute the resources He created directly to all, He chose to give more to some and less to others. In this way, the wealthy can be G‑d’s partners in distributing the funds that were meant to go to the needy in the first place.  


In other words, the money that we earn is given to us in trusteeship. We were entrusted with this money—at least a significant part of it; ten to twenty percent according to Jewish law—until such time that the opportunity presents itself to “return” those funds to the needy, the rightful owners of that money.


This thought can be rather humbling, because it makes us realize that our money is not really exclusively ours and that our giving is not simply an act of generosity and benevolence but a righteous act. When we give tzedakah to the needy, we are actually placing the money where it rightfully belongs. Indeed, this is the true translation of the word tzedakah. It does not mean charity, which implies kindness or going beyond the call of duty, but rather righteousness – it is the correct thing to do, just as returning a lost object is proper and just, not simply an ideal.


For a truly sensitive person, not only can this be a humbling feeling, it can also be depressing. For it posits that the other person was made poor only to give us the opportunity to help them. In a strange way, we become “accomplices” in their pain and suffering. So, even as we rejoice at the opportunity to help these unfortunate people by giving them tzedakah, our joy is marred by the sense of sadness that they had to suffer so that we can partner with G‑d. We might be troubled by this: why couldn’t G‑d distribute the wealth equitably in the first place? Why is there so much unfairness in the world? Granted, as was mentioned above, G‑d created the inequity so that we can reverse it. But still, we might exhibit some of this sadness as we give the tzedakah to the needy individual.


The Torah therefore admonishes us not to harbor these negative thoughts when we give tzedakah. We should reserve these sad thoughts for other times; the times that are designated for soul-searching; when it doesn’t get in the way of our giving and the manner in which we give. When we are trying to uplift the spirits of the downtrodden, we cannot afford to be sad and to upset them as well.


As Jews we must not allow our questions and anguish to get in the way of our observances. This must be balanced by the heartfelt pleas to G‑d:  why is there still suffering in this world? Why has Moshiach tarried so long? How much longer do we have to stay in Galut-exile? But even as we ask these questions, we must not let them bring down our spirit, but continue to do Mitzvot with joy and gladness. It is the combination of sincere complaints to G‑d for every second we remain in exile and joyful dedication to His commandments in these last moments of that exile that become the catalysts that will ultimately usher in the Messianic Age.

  Moshiach Matters  

Before his passing, Jacob said to his children, "Gather together and I will tell you what will happen to you at the end of days." Jacob wished to reveal the date of the Messianic redemption. One could also read this in the sense of "he wished to reveal, i.e., manifest and bring about, the end." In this context there is an important moral for every Jew. We are to follow in the footsteps of our ancestor, and wish and pray for the manifestation of the ultimate end of the exile. (Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe)

Moshiach - It’s a Jewish issue.
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