The Merit of Charity

מרן הגאב"ד שליט"א
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וידר יעקב נדר לאמר אם יהיה אלקים עמדי ושמרני בדרך הזה אשר אנכי הולך ונתן לי לחם לאכל ובגד ללבש. ושבתי בשלום אל בית אבי והיה ה' לי לאלהים. והאבן הזאת אשר שמתי מצבה יהיה בית אלהים וכל אשר תתן לי עשר אעשרנו לך.

 

Yaakov swore an oath, saying: “If G‑d will be with me and guard me on the path I walk, giving me bread to eat and returning me in peace to my father’s house, and Hashem will be for me my G‑d, then this stone that I have raised as an altar shall be the House of G‑d, and everything You give me I shall tithe, I shall tithe for You.”[1]

 

Yaakov recognized the great dangers that faced him on his way, and thus made this vow to doubly tithe his possessions, giving one fifth of all his earnings as a gift to Hashem.  Although we are normally discouraged from making vows, Tosefos explains that in times of danger it is quite advisable to make a vow to charity, in order that its merit might protect us from harm.[2]

Whereas all mitzvos earn great reward, tzedakah is the only mitzva for which we may actually test the Creator and see with our own eyes that in reward for tithing our earnings for charity, we are certain to receive His blessing.  The Gemara thus states:

 

אשכחיה רבי יוחנן לינוקא דריש לקיש.  אמר ליה אימא לי פסוקיך.  אמר ליה עשר תעשר.  אמר ליה ומאי עשר תעשר.  אמר ליה עשר בשביל שתתעשר.  אמר ליה מנא לך? אמר ליה זיל נסי.  אמר ליה ומי שרי לנסוייה להקדוש ברוך הוא והכתיב "לא תנסו את ה'." אמר ליה הכי אמר רבי הושעיא חוץ מזו שנאמר "הביאו את כל המעשר אל בית האוצר ויהי טרף בביתי ובחנוני נא בזאת אמר ה' צבאות אם לא אפתח לכם את ארבות השמים והריקתי לכם ברכה עד בלי."

 

Rebbe Yochanan once came across Reish Lakish’s son and asked him which verse he was learning.  “Asser ti’asserYou shall tithe,”[3] the boy answered.  “What is the meaning of this possuk?” he then asked R’ Yochanan.

“Tithe (asser) in order that you may become rich (tisasher),” answered R’ Yochanan.

“How do you know this is true?” asked the boy.

“Try it and see,” answered R’ Yochanan.

“Is it permitted to test Hashem?  Does the possuk not state, ‘Do not test Hashem[4]?” asked the boy.

R’ Yochanan answered, “R’ Hosheia said that this prohibition does not apply to tithing, as the verse states, ‘Bring all the tithes to the silo, and let there by food in My house, and test Me please with this, says Hashem the Lord of Hosts, if I will not open for you the windows of Heaven and pour upon you blessing without end.’[5][6]

 

Tzedaka is truly a wondrous segulah which brings success, good fortune and protection upon those who practice it.  The Gemara states that whereas salt preserves meat, the proverbial salt that preserves wealth is חסד (kindness), or according to some versions חסר (detracting).[7]  The two versions of the Gemara represent two aspects of tzedakah.  On the one hand, tzedakah’s virtue is kindness, since it benefits the poor.  On the other hand, tzedakah has another virtue, in that it trains us to overcome our greed by willingly detracting from our wealth.

Tzedakah furthermore has the power to prolong a person’s life, as Shlomo HaMelech said, צדקה תציל ממות  “Charity saves from death.”[8]  This is the fair and fitting reward, middah k’neged middah, since by giving charity one enlivens the poor by relieving the deathlike depression and despair that accompany poverty.[9]

The power of tzedakah to rescue from death is well illustrated by the Gemara:

 

תניא אמרו עליו על בנימין הצדיק שהיה ממונה על קופה של צדקה.  פעם אחת באתה אשה לפניו בשני בצורת.  אמרה לו רבי פרנסני.  אמר לה העבודה שאין בקופה של צדקה כלום.  אמרה לו רבי אם אין אתה מפרנסני הרי אשה ושבעה בניה מתים.  עמד ופרנסה משלו.  לימים חלה ונטה למות.  אמרו מלאכי השרת לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא רבונו של עולם אתה אמרת כל המקיים נפש אחת מישראל כאילו קיים עולם מלא, ובנימין הצדיק שהחיה אשה ושבעה בניה ימות בשנים מועטות הללו.  מיד קרעו לו גזר דינו תנא הוסיפו לו עשרים ושתים שנה על שנותיו.

 

Binyamin HaTzaddik was the custodian of a tzedakah fund.  One time, a woman approached him during a year of famine.  “Rebbe, support me,” she said.

“I swear by the service of the Beis HaMikdash that there is no money left in the tzedakah fund,” he said.

“Rebbe, if you do not support me, a woman and her seven sons will die,” she said.  He then used his own money to support her.

Years later he fell sick and was close to death.  The ministering angels said before Hashem, “Maser of the Universe, You said that anyone who saves the life of one Jew is considered to have saved the entire world.  Binyamin HaTzaddik saved a woman and her seven sons from death.  How could he die so young?”

Immediately, the judgment against him was overruled and twenty-two years were added to his life.[10]

 

The Vilna Gaon explains this Gemara with a brilliant calculation.  The Gemara states that someone who gives charity to the poor is blessed with six blessings, but someone who comforts the poor with kind words is blessed with eleven blessings.  Since Binyamin comforted eight souls (the poor woman and her seven sons), his eleven blessings were multiplied by eight, for a total eighty-eight.  In Maseches Sotah we learn that even if a person is subject to a decree of death, sufficient merit can preserve his life for another three months.[11]  Binyamin had eighty-eight merits, which multiplied by three months earned him a total of 264 months, or twenty-two years.  He was thus blessed with another twenty-two years of life.

Tzedakah is always an important mitzva, but in times of personal or national danger it becomes the crucial key to our survival.  For this reason, when danger hung over Yaakov’s head, he vowed to tithe his possessions in order that this great merit would protect him.

In our times as well, spiritual and physical danger threaten the Jewish community in Eretz Yisrael and abroad.  Therefore, let us all make extra efforts to be considerate and helpful to one another, with kind words and generous hand, and may we soon merit the fulfillment of the verse:

 

ציון במשפט תפדה ושביה בצדקה

“Tzion will be redeemed through justice, and its captives will return through tzedakah.”[12]


[1] Bereishis 28:20-22

[2] Chullin 2b, Tosefos s.v. Aval citing Bereishis Rabbah

[3] Devarim 14:22

[4] Devarim 6:16

[5] Malachi 3:10

[6] Taanis 9a

[7] Kesubos 66b

[8] Mishlei 10:2

[9] Rosh, Peiah 1:1

[10] Bava Basra 11a

[11] Sotah 20b

[12] Yeshaya 1:27