Talmidav Shel Aharon
09-5767 Mitzvah 38
December 25, 2006
Mitzvah 38 – It is a positive commandment to give to the poor
Hafetz Hayyim: As it says in Scripture: “Your shall surely open your hand etc.” (Deut. 15:8) and the Sages interpret this to mean even many time when necessary. And Scripture says further, “then you shall uphold him, the stranger and the sojourner (referring to the non-Jew who follows the 7 laws of Noah) that he may live along with you” (Lev. 25:35) and it states further “That your brother may live along with you” (Lev. 25:36)
One has to give according to what is suitable for the needy person and according to what he is lacking. If he as no clothing, his is to e clothed, and so provided with other things that he needs. If the donor’s means are not enough, he is to give him as he is able to: even a poor person who is sustained by charity has a duty to give charity to someone else.
A poor man who is related to him takes precedence over everyone else. The poor of one’s house take precedence over the poor of the town; the poor of his town take precedence over the poor of another town for Scripture says: “you shall surely open your hand to your brother, your poor man, and to your needed person in your land.” (Deut. 15:11)
If someone sees a penniless person seeking alms and he hides his eye from him and give him no charity, he disobeys this positive mitzvah and violates a negative commandment. It is a very severe transgression and he is called a scoundrel, a sinner and a wicked person.
We are duty bound to be more careful of the Mitzvah of charity than about all the other positive commandments; for charity is a distingu9ishing characteristic of the descendants of Abraham. The throne of Jewry is not properly established, nor can the faith of truth endure except though charity, since Scripture says, “Zion shall be redeemed with Judgment and those of her that return, with charity.” (Isaiah 1:27) So if anyone is merciless, his lineage has to be suspected; for the cruel lack of mercy is found only among the idolaters as Scripture says, “they are cruel and have no compassion” (Jer.50:42” All members of Jewry are as brothers (see Deut. 14:1) and if a person won’t have compassion on his own brother, who will take pity on him? To whom should the poor in Jewry life up their eyes beseeching help – to those who hate and persecute them? So their eyes look only to their brethren.
Now, it is necessary to give charity with a cheerful face, happily. Nothing bad ever results from charity. No one becomes poor from giving it, as Scripture says, “the work of righteousness shall be peace.” (Isaiah 32:17)It is necessary to calm and cheer a poor man and it is forbidden to rebuke him or raise one’s voice to him in shouting, because his heart is broken. And woe to anyone who shames a poor person.
If a person coerces other to give charity, his reward is greater than the reward of the one who gives. And whoever acts with compassion will be treated with compassion (see Deut 13:18) As for redeeming people in captivity, there s no greater religious duty than that. Whoever hides his eye from that transgresses many positive and negative commandments.
This is in effect at all times and it every place for men and for women.
In this lengthy message, the Hafetz Hayyim tries to stress the importance of Tzedaka, Charity. As we can plainly see, there are many quotes from Scripture that relate to acts of Tzedaka, to note the reward for giving and the punishment for closing one’s hand to the poor.
While the translator equates Tzedaka with “charity”, there really is a difference. Charity implies giving when one is moved to give. Tzedaka is based on the word for “justice”, and implies that we have an obligation to give, not just because our heart is willing.
Since the Hafetz Hayyim has gone on so long with the details of giving, I will keep my remarks short. He has clearly outlined the responsibility for every Jew to give. What he does not say is where the money should go. He notes that one should support one’s own family first and then the causes in one’s own city. Only then should we be concerned with needs elsewhere. He also notes that Jewish causes should come before secular ones since it should not be expected that non-Jews should give to Jewish causes.
One should give cheerfully, and never, ever embarrass a poor person. This is equal to killing the one embarrassed and is a serious crime. One should not be mean or cruel to the poor, but helpful and supportive. Note also that, according to Maimonides, the highest form of Tzedaka is to help a person get a micro-loan or a job so that they will break out of the cycle of poverty that keeps them begging for money.
Finally, collecting funds to redeem a captive is one of the highest forms of Tzedaka. This reflects the ancient practice of kidnapping a person and selling them into slavery. To this very day, the State of Israel will do whatever it can to bring home captive soldiers. The only limit to this is that the Sages warn not to pay too much or offer too much to redeem a captive lest the captors make a career kidnapping and ransoming Jews.
In sum, we all have an obligation to support those who are in need. We can choose who we will support, but we can’t turn our eyes away from the poor. This is one of the Mitzvot that point to the very essence of being a Jew: At the end of the day, we help and support each other.