10 Aug 2023 Re’eh 5783: Giving With Compassion
In this week’s parsha, Parshas Re’eh, we are commanded regarding the mitzvah of giving tzedaka.
כִּי–יִהְיֶה בְךָ אֶבְיוֹן מֵאַחַד אַחֶיךָ, בְּאַחַד שְׁעָרֶיךָ, בְּאַרְצְךָ, אֲשֶׁר– ה אֱלֹקְיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ—לֹא תְאַמֵּץ אֶת–לְבָבְךָ, וְלֹא תִקְפֹּץ אֶת–יָדְךָ, מֵאָחִיךָ, הָאֶבְיוֹן – If there will be among you a needy person, from one of your brothers in one of your cities, in your land Hashem, your G-d, is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, and you shall not close your hand from your needy brother;
כִּֽי־פָתֹ֧חַ תִּפְתַּ֛ח אֶת־יָֽדְךָ֖ ל֑וֹ וְהַֽעֲבֵט֙ תַּֽעֲבִיטֶ֔נּוּ דֵּ֚י מַחְסֹר֔וֹ אֲשֶׁ֥ר יֶחְסַ֖ר לֽוֹ – Rather, you shall open your hand to him, and you shall lend him sufficient for his needs, which he is lacking;
נָת֤וֹן תִּתֵּן֙ ל֔וֹ וְלֹֽא־יֵרַ֥ע לְבָֽבְךָ֖ בְּתִתְּךָ֣ ל֑וֹ כִּ֞י בִּגְלַ֣ל | הַדָּבָ֣ר הַזֶּ֗ה יְבָֽרֶכְךָ֙ ה אֱלֹקְיךָ בְּכָל־מַֽעֲשֶׂ֔ךָ וּבְכֹ֖ל מִשְׁלַ֥ח יָדֶֽךָ – You shall surely give him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him; for because of this thing Hashem, your G-d, will bless you in all your work and in all your endeavors (Devarim 15:7-8, 10).
Tzedaka, one of the longstanding foundations of our people, indicates the care, concern, empathy and achdus each person feels for another. To ensure the pillar of tzedaka will never cease from our nation, Hashem commanded us to give, and not to close our fists.
Commenting on the words אֲשֶׁ֥ר יֶחְסַ֖ר לֽוֹ, that which he is lacking (v.8), Rashi teaches: אֲפִלּוּ סוּס לִרְכֹּב עָלָיו וְעֶבֶד לָרוּץ לְפָנָיו – you must even provide him with a horse to ride upon and a servant to run before him (if that was his standard of living before he became poor).
To provide for those in need is much more than giving material goods; we must ensure that we maintain the kavod, the dignity, of the person on the receiving end. The Gemara (Kesubos 111b) teaches that it is better to show the whites of your teeth (a smile) to the pauper, than to give him milk. While clearly we are required to provide him with milk (i.e.: foodstuffs) as well, Chazal teach us that we must do so with kindness, consideration, sensitivity and warmth. Hence, a smile is priceless when caring, and doing, for others.
R’ Samson Rafael Hirsch teaches, “The mitzvah addresses the community and the individual alike. The duty of caring for the poor devolves equally upon the community and the individual, and it depends on both….
“There may be no other mitzvah that requires the continuous, simultaneous activity of the community and also of the individual as does this mitzvah of caring for the poor. The requirements of this mitzvah cannot be met by the individual alone, or by the community alone. Each must strive to outdo the other, and both must work side by side, if the goal set by this mitzvah is to be attained. This signs on houses warning beggars to keep out because the occupants are already contributing to public relief funds are not in keeping with the Jewish spirit emanating from this mitzvah. [This is an interesting comment of R’ Hirsch, when we keep in mind his commentary is often a window into history of the Jewish community in Germany of almost 200 years ago.]
“…Again and again, the needy man is referred to as achicha, your brother. Every needy person who stands before you – even if you do not know him – is your brother, a child of your Father in Heaven, and when he turns to you, he does so with a letter of recommendation, as it were, from G-d, Who is the Father of you both… Furthermore, give with a cheerful heart, for the manner in which you give raises or lowers the value of the gift immeasurably” (RSRH, Commentary to Devarim 15:7, 10).
As prepare to enter into Elul, the final month of the year which is upon us, we would do well to internalize these lessons of tzedaka. As we well know, teshuva (repentance), tefillah (prayer) and tzedaka (charity) ma’avirin es ro’ah ha’gezeirah (erase the evil decree).
R’ Paysach Krohn tells over the following moving story, originally told by R’ Zvi Tress of Toronto, who was told the story by a Satmar chassid of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Upon meeting R’ Zvi of Toronto, the man said, “I must tell you a story about your father (Reb Elimelech “Mike” Tress, the legendary Agudah activist) that happened many, many years ago.” The man proceeded with this incredible story. He was a Satmar chassid living in Williamsburg, and he had lost his job because he was a Shabbos observer. As much as he tried, he could not find a job. He could not even afford to buy food for his family. Someone told him to go to the Agudah office and speak to a fellow named Mike, who could possibly help him. “I was a Satmar chassid, I wasn’t going to go to the Agudah office and certainly not speak to a man named Mike to help me find a job,” he recalled.
“After two weeks of abject poverty, he felt he had no choice and he went to see Mike. “When Mr. Tress saw me, he said warmly, ‘How can I help you?’ ‘I have no food for my family, I need a job,’ I answered. ‘What do you do?’ Mr. Tress asked. ‘I am a glazier,’ the chassid replied. ‘That’s very good,’ Mr. Tress said, ‘I know a glazier just a few blocks from here who needs a worker. Here, give him this note and he’ll give you a job.’ Mr. Tress wrote the note, folded it up, gave it to the chassid, and sent him on his way. And indeed, the man was hired!
“That first Shabbos when I had food on the table, I couldn’t believe it. I was so happy. And then every week I was paid on time, and getting a salary made me feel like a person again. Then, after two months my boss called me in and said, ‘Go back to Mike Tress and tell him he doesn’t have to send me any more money to cover your salary. You are a wonderful worker, from now on, I will pay your salary myself” (The Glittering World of Chessed, p.38-39).
When we take care of Hashem’s children with warmth and compassion, we daven that in return, Hashem will likewise take care of all of us – His children and nation, Am Yisrael. In the merit of tzedaka, may we all be inscribed and sealed for a year that is always good and only sweet!
בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,