Thursday, August 13, 2009

RE’EH 5769

Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Camp Dora Golding

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R’ Bentzion Dunner of London was a tremendously charitable philanthropist with a heart of gold. Jews from al over the world would knock on his door for financial help, and R’ Bentzion would not disappoint them. In addition, he would always lend a patient and caring ear before contributing generously. On the night of Purim 2008 he distributed more than a million pounds to charity. He gave multi-millions of dollars to Bobov and Skver and over fifty million dollars to charity in 2007. He often said that he viewed himself as a ‘gabbai tzedakah’; that G-d had granted him wealth merely so that he could be in charge of disseminating it to those in need.

On March 21, 2008, R’ Bentzion was driving with his three children from Golders Green to Bournemouth, with his wife following in a second vehicle. He suddenly lost control of his car, which veered off the road and into a ditch, killing R’ Bentzion instantly. Miraculously his children survived.

A relative of R’ Bentzion approached the great sage, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky shlita, and asked him, “Does it not say1 “Charity saves from death”? How could a person who dedicated his life to charity and never spurned a needy person, have died so young2 and so tragically?”

Rabbi Kanievsky replied curtly and emphatically, “He was supposed to die twenty years ago!”3

The mitzvah of giving charity is one of the hallmarks of Judaism. The amount of charitable organizations and the donors who support them are a testament to our dedication to helping our brethren. The amounts of charity given by the most generous non-Jews are laughable when compared with the charity given by the average Torah Jew who gives ten percent of his income to charity. But even greater than how much we give is how we give it. A Jew must do his utmost to ensure that the recipient does not feel shamed or embarrassed for his neediness. “Who is like Your People Israel, one Nation in the land?4

“If there shall be a destitute person among you… you shall not harden your heart or close your hand against your destitute brother… You shall surely give him, and let your heart not feel bad when you give him, for it is because of this matter that Hashem, your G-d, will bless you in all your deeds and in your every undertaking.”

The Sages constantly impressed the tremendous importance and merit involved in giving charity:

  • “We are obligated to be careful in regards to the mitzvah of charity, more so than any other obligatory mitzvah… The throne of Israel is not prepared, and the law of truth does not stand except with charity… Israel will not be redeemed except with charity…”5
  • “The mitzvah of charity is tantamount to all other mitzvos.”6
  • “One is obligated to give charity with joy and a good heart.”7
  • “One who gives charity with a doleful face loses his merit”8
  • We do not recite a blessing when giving charity because we are obligated to give joyfully and most people lack that level of joy and enthusiasm when giving.9

Why is this mitzvah so valuable that it is equal to all other mitzvos? Also, why are there so many nuances and additives involved in giving charity? Isn’t it hard enough to give up one’s hard-earned money; why should one be obliged to give joyfully?

The Nesivos Sholom explains that charity is not merely about giving away money. The ability to give away one’s own resources in order to help another must be rooted in faith in G-d. If one truly believes that he will get whatever he is destined to receive from G-d (as long as he does his part) it will be far easier for him to give.

This idea is expressed in the Mishna10, “Rabbi Elazar of Bartosa said: Give Him from His own, for you and what is yours are His”. Whenever one gives charity he is essentially giving back to G-d what is anyways His. G-d ensures that money and resources are granted to whomever He deems should have it (for whatever reason). Our role in giving charity is only that we have an opportunity to overcome our nature and receive merit and reward for taking part of G-d’s Work, as it were. But in the end, our actions and efforts notwithstanding, every penny only ends up where, and to whom, G-d wants. This attitude and mindset is an integral part of giving charity.

One who gives charity dolefully or begrudgingly demonstrates that his faith is somewhat wanting and he has not fully fulfilled the mitzvah of giving charity. On the other hand, one who is able to feel joy when giving demonstrates that his faith in G-d is strong. Such a person has essentially achieved the underlying goal of all mitzvos, i.e. to fulfill the Word of G-d by subjugating ourselves to His Will and demonstrating our faith in Him. Therefore, when fulfilled properly, the mitzvah of giving charity is equivalent to all other mitzvos.

Every Jew is innately kindhearted and benevolent. It is part of our genetic makeup, dating back to our patriarch Avrohom11. But there are certain Jews who dedicate their lives to being charitable and helping others. The truest level of chessed (kindness) is accomplished by one seeks to help others altruistically, for the sole purpose of being a giver.

The great Chassidic Master, Rabbi Mendel Rimanover, was once learning with his students when he was interrupted by an impoverished individual who begged him for charity. The man appeared completely bedraggled and disheveled, his clothing was torn, and his face looked gaunt. Rabbi Mendel immediately turned to his gabbai (sexton) and instructed him to go into his private room and take a gold coin from his coat to give to the poor man. When the poor man received the sparkling and expensive coin, his face lit up. He thanked the Rebbe profusely and left in a state of great joy.

Rabbi Mendel immediately resumed his studies. But about five minutes later he stopped again. After a moment of silence, the Rebbe again called over his gabbai. He asked him to please hurry and find the poor man who had just left his home and ask him to return immediately. The gabbai rushed out and soon found the poor man wandering through the market place, apparently trying to decide the best way to spend the generous donation he had just received. When the poor man heard that the Rebbe wanted him to return he looked crestfallen. He was certain that the Rebbe realized that he had given him too much and wanted to exchange it for a silver coin.

The poor man begrudgingly made his way back to the Rebbe, his eyes downcast. But as soon as he walked in the Rebbe apologized for bothering him to return and handed him a second gold coin. The poor man was beside himself with joy and confusion. “Holy Rebbe, if the Rebbe had intended to give me such a magnanimous donation in the first place why didn’t the Rebbe just do so?”

Rabbi Mendel explained, “When I originally gave you the gold coin it was given wholeheartedly. However, after you left I realized that I had really given it to you out of compassion. I felt pained by your appearance and was struck by pangs of compassion. That would mean that I had given the coin to you in order to fulfill my own need to assuage my conscience.

“In parshas Re’eh when the Torah commands that one give charity it says, "נתן תתן" which literally means “give you shall give”. The redundant wording teaches us that if one gave charity out of feelings of mercy and compassion he must give again altruistically. It was for that reason that I called you back, so that I could give you that second coin purely out of a desire to help a fellow Jew.”

There’s giving and then there’s giving!

“The mitzvah of charity is tantamount to all other mitzvos.”

“Give you shall give to him, and let your heart not feel bad”


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