Wednesday, April 08, 2020

This week’s parsha discusses the idea of donations: “Take from yourselves an offering for the Lord; every generous-hearted person shall bring it—Hashem’s offering: gold, silver, and copper.” Rabbeinu Bachya in the beginning of the parsha discusses the idea of tzedakah, describing how while on one hand a part of us wants to refrain from giving tzedakah, the intelligent part of us knows that we should. Rabbeinu Bachya also cites statements from Shlomo Hamelech’s Mishlei in which he says, “One who gives generously, ends up with more” (11:24), and “he who gives to the poor will not lack” (28:27).

By citing these verses from Mishlei, Rabbeinu Bechaya and Shlomo Hamelech himself seem to indicate a nature of ours that includes an extent of fear that is involved when it comes to giving charity. Therefore Shlomo Hamalech comes to “calm us down” and give us confidence, saying in multiple places that we will ultimately gain by giving, and not lose. In truth, however, Rabbeinu Bechaya and Shlomo Hamelech are not the only one with this seeming agenda that attempts to calm down our conscious that may at times feel hesitant and perhaps fearful of giving tzedakah. In fact, there are many other statements brought by others, all of which seem to target this hesitancy. The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch writes that a person will never go poor from giving tzedakah, and no evil or bad will come from giving tzedakah, and that tzedakah pushes off evil decrees and adds life. Shlomo Hamelech indeed writes that “tzedakah saves one from death” (Mishlei 10:2). Even the Shulchan Aruch, who is known for being a work of halacha, seems to diverge from his typical style, writing that a person will never go poor from giving tzedakah, and no evil or bad will come from giving tzedakah, and that anyone who has mercy on the poor, Hashem will have mercy on him (Yoreh Deah 247:2-3).

Why are there so many sources that all seem to have the same goal in mind, namely, to encourage us to give charity through using persuasion geared at providing us a sense of security that is entailed in the area of charity? Rav Henoch Leibowitz explains that charity is something that we want to strive to do wholeheartedly. If we approach it with the sense of “I have to do this because Hashem told me to do it,” one might come to give tzedakah begrudgingly; however, once we tame our selfish desire by understanding that we won’t lose and that we will gain, this will help us to remove the part of us that objects, which will thus enable us to wholeheartedly give. Therefore, I thought that similarly it’s important for us to be reminded constantly from many sources that we have nothing to fear by giving tzedakah, and that we can only gain. Once this fear is resolved, we will hence be able to give generously, as the pasuk says, “Every generous heart…”

To live by Shlomo Hamalech’s promise that “one who gives generously ends up with more” requires emunah, and sometimes stories can enhance and reinforce that belief. I heard a story from R’ Ashear. There was once a wealthy man by the name of R’ Bornsteen. One time, two charity collectors came to him for a donation, and in that meeting he related to them how he became so wealthy: He said, “I began my life with just 400 rubles. I had to sustain myself, so I went out to the marketplace to buy merchandise. On my way, I noticed a woman crying in the street, and asked her what was wrong. She said her daughter was ready to have her wedding but they could not come up with their share to pay for the marriage, and now the other side is postponing the wedding. She explained that this situation could potentially ruin the entire shidduch. I asked her how much she needs, and she said she needed 400 rubles—the exact amount of money I had. I took out all my money and gave it to her and said, ‘Here, your daughter could now get married.’ I was left with nothing but happiness inside that I did such a great deed. And then, just a few minutes later, out of nowhere, a man approached me and said, ‘I have some merchandise I am selling cheap, you can buy it and resell it for much more.’ I told him I have no money, but he said ‘It’s OK, I trust you; you can buy on credit.’ I took the merchandise and went to the market and sold them easily. Indeed, I came back and paid him what I owed, and then he gave me a lot more merchandise and said I can pay him back later. I sold every last piece and made a fortune. But this time when I came back to pay him he was gone. Never did I see him again. I am positive it was Eliyahu Hanavi sent by Hashem to help me in the merit of that tzedakah.”

Indeed, “one who gives generously ends up with more...”

Binyamin Benji is a graduate of Yeshivat Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan and Wurzweiler School of Social Work. He can be reached at [email protected]