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Rabbi Jonathan Ganger
by Published on August 14, 2020

We’ve all had great moments when giving charity where we feel good about it.  There is a feeling of accomplishment that we’ve earned enough money to now give to a person not as fortunate as our self. Then, there are times when we give with  resentment where we feel that we’ve been forced into giving and it isn’t fair that I have to give of my sweat to this person.  It could be that both ways of giving are mistaken and fundamentally misunderstand what tzeddekah is all about. 

One would expect that the mitzvah of charity is straightforward. Find a poor person and give them a donation of some amount.  The Torah doesn’t describe it that way. It takes a simple mitzvah and adds a level of poetics not found by most mitzvos.  It says, “Do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsman. Rather, you must open your hand and lend him sufficient for whatever he needs.”  The idea would have been given easily with the second half of the sentence. Why do we need the first half of avoiding the negative?  What is the idea of closing your hand?  Furthermore, it says later that one must not regret in his heart that he gave. Granted we want people to give full heartedly, but all mitzvoth would be better with a full heart behind them so why specifically here do we care about what a person thinks in their heart?

       The idea is that the way someone gives is indicative about whether they understand what this interaction represents. There are two cosmic forces in the world, chessed and din.  Chessed represents giving without cause, an input into the system. On the other hand, din represents a conservation of energy whereby only what is earned is given; it is a perfect exchange with nothing new added to the system.  Each on their own can’t produce a functioning world. When one never earns anything, a person never truly lives independently and when one only gets what they earn, inevitably they can’t keep up. Furthermore, it takes G-d out of the picture in a sense because if one believes that he has earned it himself, where does that leave G-d?  Given these two ideas, we can now analyze the interaction between a wealthy person and an impoverished one.

A wealthy person represents the part of the creation that embodies chessed.  Granted they may have worked hard, but many people work hard and don’t necessarily earn what they do.  They’ve been given beyond what they put in. On the other hand, an impoverished person represent din.  Each person is given a massive starting place by being given life and can’t really ever fully earn it back, so they don’t and are given a minimum.  Life happens when chessed and din come together whereby a person puts in what they can and are given way beyond that effort. The problem is when a wealthy person thinks that what they have is from the world of din.  It is theirs fully earned and in their hands to give from their hard work. That ruins the whole interaction.  The wealthy person needs to see that what they are giving is not really theirs. It is a part of what they have from beyond, and that is what they are paying forward.  They shouldn’t feel like they are losing a piece of themselves; rather, they are giving that which was never fully theirs in the first place. For this reason, the heart is a necessary component of the mitzvah.  The heart needs to recognize the fullness of the blessing that they have received and pay it forward.