2008-08-27 / Religion Column

Lot's of giving going on—but not enough

RABBI EPHRAIM EPSTEIN Congregation Sons of Israel

Parashat Reeh

This coming Shabbat we will read the Parashat of Reeh. The word Reeh means "to look." This Parashat is always read approximately 30 days before Rosh Hashanah, the Days of Judgment. In it, the Torah requires us to look carefully at the world around us and notice the good and the evil as well as the blessings we experience and the difficult challenges that we face. By doing so we will be inspired to grow and improve ourselves and to appreciate our blessings and approach our challenges with courage and fortitude.

There are 55 mitzvot-commandments found in Parashat Reeh. There are mitzvot regarding everything from kosher consumption, the holidays of Passover, Sukkoth and Shavuot and ritual laws of the Temple. The mitzvah from the Parashat that I would like to focus on in this article is the mitzvah of tzedakah- charity.

Tzedakah is one of the most well known commandments in the Torah. On the high holidays, we will chant the prayer, "Repentance, Prayer and Charity will afford us a pleasant Divine decree." The first passage in Ethics of our Fathers1:1 reads, "The world stands because of three pursuits—The Torah, Ritual Service and Kindness / Charity." Charity has become part of the fabric of Western Civilization. It is estimated that in the United States alone there are over 1.4 million non profit organizations! There really is a lot of giving going on.

Nevertheless, the human inclination is still not to give. There is a mindset that exists and maintains - I worked hard for my money, I have enough stress paying my own bills so why should I part with my wealth no matter how good and just the cause is.

As the Days of Awe approach, I would like to share with you the reasons why people should gladly and pleasantly give Tzedakah. Incidentally, this Parashat also teaches how much to give: "Aser Taaser - One shall tithe their crops/income=10%" (Deut, 14:22). Here are some reasons to give:

• In order to emulate G-d Himself. Just as G-d bestows goodness, life and wealth upon the world, so shall we.

•In order to act as a Divine Agent and distribute money as Gd's emissary to provide for those less fortunate.

• In order to accumulate wealth. The Talmud explicitly states, "Asser Bishvil Shetitaser—Tithe your income in order that you shall wax rich. (Taanit 9A BT) Try it you have little to lose and a lot to gain."

Because one day down the road your family may be in need - if you take care of the community now, the community will certainly take care of you in the future.

Because giving creates a culture of goodness, caring, kindness and gratitude. Children that grow up in a charitable home remember it always and imitate it in the future.

Because giving is enjoyable /fun. The whole world is made up of either givers or takers. Fortunate is the soul that occupies the body of a giver.

The 613 commandments in the Torah were not transmitted to the Jews at Sinai for the benefit of G-d. He does not need our prayers and good deeds. As it says in Adon Olam, "Hu Hayah, Hu Hoveh Vehu Yihiyeh." G-d was, is and will be. G-d was around before all of us, and G-d will be around long after us.

So what exactly is the function of our mitzvot? To benefit us. Giving tzedakah makes me a better person, creates a caring community and will be rewarded in this world and in the world to come.

A great sage once remarked, that if everyone would meet their Torah obligation to tithe their income and distribute it, all those in need would be properly attended to.

May G-d bless our community and the world with a year of peace, serenity and success. May we merit a year of health and sweetness. May we merit sharing our blessings with all those in need. .

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