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3 Adar I 5763 - February 5, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
The Value of Tzedokoh

by R' Yerachmiel Kram

"Speak to Bnei Yisroel that they bring Me an offering" (Shemos 25:2).

Why wasn't the Mishkan built from materials descended from Heaven?

The basis of bringing down the Shechina and having it repose among mankind was accomplished by Jewry through its overcoming the natural propensity to acquire and accumulate material possessions, which is an innate human trait, and donating generously to the building of the Mishkan. The Jews raised themselves by a handsbreath above the ground level of that desire to accrue and stockpile material goods by donating quantities of silver, gold, blue and purple [dyed wool] for the Sanctuary of Hashem.

This form of donation requires explanation. Midrash Shemos Rabba 42:3 tells of the prodigious ability of R' Shimon Bar Yochai to create silver and gold. It is told there that one of his disciples traveled abroad and returned heavily laden with silver, having succeeded in his business ventures. R' Shimon Bar Yochai discerned signs of envy upon the faces of the other disciples who had been studying Torah out of deprivation all the while. He led them all out to a valley and commanded the valley to fill itself up with gold!

The valley obeyed the charge and was miraculously filled with that precious metal, before the students' amazed view. "Whoever wishes to, can help themselves of this gold," R' Shimon told them, "but know that whatever you take for yourselves now will be lacking in your portion of the World to Come."

Needless to say, those saintly tanoim did not touch the gold. They returned to their studies, satisfied with their meager lot.

If R' Shimon was capable of producing gold so easily, surely Moshe Rabbenu was likewise able to do so. He could have easily asked for the desert to fill up with gold, silver and copper for the use of the Mishkan. Why was it necessary for the Jews to bring quantities of colored animal hides, acacia trees etc. and not have these descend from Heaven like their food?

Why cause them all the bother when everything could have been so easy?

Why didn't the precious avnei miluim, which descended with the manna, fall directly by the site of the Mishkan?

The answer is very simple. The Jews had a positive commandment to donate. Had Moshe filled the desert miraculously with gold and silver, the Jews would have forfeited this mitzva.

Which brings us to a different question: why was this commandment necessary in the first place? Why couldn't all these precious materials needed for the Mishkan just materialize, as did the gold in the times of R' Shimon?

We can go one step back and ask, as did indeed Chazal, about the source of the Jews' great wealth, part of which was donated for the Mishkan. The Midrash explains that together with the manna, each person found precious gems that descended from Heaven as well. It was these gems, and their sale or barter value, that went towards the building and outfitting of the Mishkan.

We see, thus, according to this Midrash, that the materials for the Mishkan did come by supernatural means -- from Heaven. If so, why couldn't they descend directly to the site of the Mishkan? Why were they allocated to private people and only afterwards, reach the Mishkan as their respective donations?

Why doesn't Hashem sustain the poor amply? So that the rich will be given the test and opportunity of doing so.

This question was asked upon a different occasion and under different circumstances by the wicked Roman official, Turnusrufus. According to the gemora, he asked R' Akiva, "If your G-d loves the poor, why doesn't He support them?"

Admittedly, this attitude is a very self-centered, egotistical approach whereby every person takes care primarily of Number One, namely, himself.

Turnusrufus was not satisfied with this taunting, somewhat rhetorical question and apparently sought to legitimize his self-serving world outlook with an ethical-religious justification. He was saying, in so many words, that if we believe in a Creator and in personal Providence, then each person should be receiving his allotted sustenance directly from Heaven. Furthermore, if Reuven was destitute and starving, this was his ill fortune, a Divine decree, and by giving him charity, not only wouldn't it be considered a good deed, but one would even be defying G-d's will! He would be sustaining one who was rejected by the Creator, a person to whom the Creator denied provisions.

R' Akiva replied that Hashem commanded us to sustain the poor in order to test those of us who are more fortunate. This test was to provide credit to the rich in the World to Come for their good deeds. (Bovo Basra 10a).

This, of course, is the identical reply that applies to the donations for the Mishkan. Undoubtedly, Hashem could have told Moshe to fill the desert with those materials required for the building and outfitting of the Mishkan, in the same way that He commanded him to extract water from the rock or to sweeten the bitter waters at Moroh.

But the building of the Mishkan required a measure of sacrifice and elevation, of overcoming one's natural and innate stinginess. Hashem desires and is interested in the erection of the Mishkan in the same measure as He is interested in sustaining the hungry and destitute. But their succor must come from the people, from the benevolence of the individual and the person overcoming his stinginess and self interest.

A place for the repose of the Shechina can only be built through subduing one's heart and defeating those selfish traits that repel the Shechina.

The appeal for the Mishkan's donations was also designed to create an opportunity for people to give.

We can now better understand the manner in which the precious gems arrived at the House of Hashem. To be sure, they could easily have fallen directly into the area allotted for the Mishkan, had Hashem so wished, and thus be incorporated directly into their designated places, since in any case their arrival was supernatural. What difference did it make, then, how they reached their ultimate destination?

If we understand that Hashem created an exercise in giving by first allowing these treasures to come into the possession of individual Jews, we see that it made a difference on the personal level of each one. Here they were donating something that belonged to them.

A man of that generation arises one morning to find by his allotted portion of manna several valuable diamonds. They are ownerless, his for the taking, and he does exactly that. He gathers his daily portion and with it, the gems he found, and takes it all home.

Several days go by and he hears an announcement appealing for donations of precious materials for the building of the Mishkan. He cannot help but feel an internal struggle raging within him before he parts with them. This struggle would have been bypassed had the gems fallen directly on the site of the Mishkan. But this battle, precisely, is dear to Hashem, and its positive results were necessary to create a place worthy of our having Hashem reside in our midst, here on earth, and not getting a ready-made Mishkan without any input or outlay of our own.

The giver must realize that what he is donating is not really his to begin with.

The manna and the gems serve merely as an allegory, as a road mark for future generations. The manna stands for a person's livelihood, which is earmarked by Heaven for his use. The precious gems really belong to others - - the needy and destitute -- but they are temporarily entrusted in the hands of those who are expected to withstand the trial, to fight their evil inclinations of greed and acquisition, and part with their possessions to help others who are less fortunate.

The `gems' are not the private property of the giver at all, but a deposit resting temporarily in his hands. When they reach the hands of the poor man, they are actually arriving at their destination. They were destined to reach him, in any case, but were rerouted through the giver in order to enrich him with the opportunity of giving charity.

If the potential donor is not wise enough to part with this money and transfer it to its rightful address through giving charity, he will have to part with it through some other means. There are dental expenses and lawyer's fees which will chip away at his portion. The money which he could have willingly given to charity will be extracted from him in other, painful ways which could have been avoided.

This is the meaning of the story told in Bovo Basra 10, regarding the conduct of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai. It was revealed to him in a dream that his nephew's family was destined to lose the huge sum of seven hundred zuz. Rabban Yochanan tried -- and succeeded -- in getting his nephew to donate this amount out of his own good will to various charities. On the eve of the following Rosh Hashonoh, a tax collector came unexpectedly to his house and confiscated seventeen zuz. The members of the family were concerned that they would have to pay similar sums in the future, but Rabban Yochanan assured them that they would not.

When they asked him how he knew this to be true, he told them about his dream and explained why he had taken pains to have them donate so generously to several charities during the year. It was decreed in Heaven, he told them, that they part with this sum, and far better that they part with it willingly and gain the mitzva of tzedokoh than have it dissipate for no constructive reason whatsoever.

They checked their records and learned that their donations had fallen short of the seven hundred zuz by a mere seventeen zuzim. In other words, they had given away six hundred and eighty-three to charity. The sum that had been missing had duly been claimed by the royal tax collector.

When Rabban Yochanan was asked why he hadn't specifically told this to his relatives to begin with, he replied that it was necessary for them to have given the charity from their own free will, and not as a safety measure to keep it out of the hands of a tax collector etc. Thus, their intent had remained pure.

We learn thus that charity is a `recognized' form of expense in the reckoning of losses that are decreed upon a person by Heaven. And the converse is obviously true as well. If this money is not transmitted towards the upkeep of orphans and widows etc., it will fatten the bank accounts of doctors, dentists and lawyers or go towards repairs that would not have been necessary. Much more preferable to spend it on charity to begin with, out of one's own good will, than to have to part with it through other, less desirable means, and thereby gain the mitzvah in the process.

These proverbial precious `bonus' stones arrive at everyone's home together with his prescribed manna- sustenance allotment. A person has to be wise enough to utilize them properly, to let them reach their destination and not hold on to them. He must remember that this money is not his -- only his to transmit onward. The funds rightfully belong to the poor and Hashem only channeled them his way as a test. If he is wise, he will relinquish them willingly.

When a donor parts with the money -- it is not his money that he is giving.

The donations for the Mishkan were considered as something taken from Hashem.

This is what the Torah writes with regard to the laws of lending: "If you lend money to My people, to the poor by you" (Shemos 22:24). It means that when you lend money to a Jew, you must remember that this money is not really yours, but belongs to "the poor by you." It is his money that is temporarily deposited in your care.

We shall now examine this portion from a grammatical point of view. The early commentators made a point of explaining the terminology of the command, "And they shall take unto Me a donation." Wherefore the word "take," when a donation is an act of giving? The Torah should have said, "And they shall give unto Me a donation."

Several answers have been proposed to this question. The Toldos Yitzchok and the Alshich explain it according to what is stated in the gemora, that one who gives a gift to another should feel privileged and honored that the recipient agreed to accept the gift. In other words, he actually received something instead of having given it.

In this context, Chazal also said that if a woman gave a coin to a distinguished person and the latter said that he wished to betroth her with the goodwill which she is enjoying from the fact that he deigned to accept the coin -- in this case she is legally betrothed [by virtue of her having received the honor of his acceptance, even though she did not receive any tangible thing] (Evven HaEzer 24:9). The giver has become enriched by the privilege of his donation having been accepted.

This is the identical principle of "And they shall take unto Me a donation" and not "They shall give unto Me." The very fact that Hashem agrees to accept a donation from flesh and blood is an act of kindness on His part, rendering, in effect, that donation as a gift and privilege to the giver!

The Ketzos HaChoshen continues in this vein, in his famous introduction to Shev Shmaatsa. He quotes the words of the Ran which determine that the actual acceptance of a gift by a distinguished person only applies with an outright gift which will remain in the pocket of the famous person who received it. Such an act of giving leaves the donor with a pleasant, rewarding feeling.

But when the gift is expected to be returned, the giver does not harbor the same glowing, gratifying feeling since he is aware that the gift will return to him.

Now we can better understand the meaning of the words, "unto Me," and Rashi's interpretation "for My Name's sake." Charity is sometimes given for ulterior motives, like when a person pledges a sela "so that my son will live." Nevertheless, this is regarded as pure charity and the giver is considered a complete tzaddik.

This principle holds true in all cases of charity, except with regard to the giving for the Mishkan. In this giving, the donation had to be purely for the sake of Heaven and for no other reason whatsoever. Only by wholeheartedly donating this gift, without expecting any recompense of any form, can the donation towards the Mishkan be valid and be accepted. But if the person is giving his donation with the thought of reward, even in the World to Come, it is not considered a pure gift, but a gift that will be eventually returned. And then the acceptance of the prominent person of this gift is not considered a gift, but a privilege which is its own reward.

In other words, even if a person gives his donation for the Mishkan for any other additional reason besides for the sake of Heaven, it will be reckoned like any other act of charity, but then it won't be a donation to a prominent person, which is considered an act of receiving from him.

Giving charity in several steps

The word "take" mentioned here can be explained yet another way.

From Onkelos' commentary we learn that the donation had to be set aside before it was actually given. In every instance, Onkelos translates the verb lokach according to its simple connotation, as in "And you shall take from the waters of the Nile." Or "And you shall take this staff in your hand." Or "From the sheep and from the goats shall you take." Here, however, he translates that verb as a "setting aside," a separation for the sake of donating. It is incumbent upon the giver to decide to set this aside and then to duly give it as his donation.

The continuation of the verse states, "From each man whose heart prompts him to give shall you take My offering." This deals with the collection of the money and goods by the charity collectors. And here we find Onkelos translating this selfsame verb in his usual manner, of taking the donation.

Sometimes people find it difficult to give. One may feel the sum is too great for him and he has compunctions or reservations. Such a person is permitted to divide his donation into smaller chunks. First comes his initial decision, then the setting- aside of the donation, and finally, the actually giving in several stages.

Doing it by stages can help the charity collectors, as well. They make a fervent appeal on Shabbos morning before the reading of the Torah, but only come to collect the pledges after Shabbos is over. By dividing this into separate stages, it makes it easier for a person to get used to the idea of parting with his money -- and then doing so in practice.

So this is what the Torah advises: First to separate the donation, to set it aside, and only afterwards, to give it to those people appointed to collect the pledges.

"For because of this thing Hashem your G-d shall bless you in all of your works and all the undertakings of your hands."

It seems, in the light of what we have said, that the Torah wished to hint to us delicately but intensely through the use of the word "to take" rather than "to give" that money which is ostensibly given for charity was not really our possession to begin with. It was entrusted to us to be given. We are the trustees to see to it that it is transferred, or taken, from one place to another. This is actually how we should regard money given to charity.

We must always remember that the money is not ours, even though we had to wage an inner battle to part with it. It may be in our possession but is actually meant to be given. It is a security by us. Our only role is to take it from one place and deposit in another.

Thus, the money that is "taken" is aptly so. It is separated, set apart, but is, nevertheless, money that belongs to Hashem but which happens to be in your pocket at the moment until it is rightfully transferred to its intended address.

When this is our attitude, the giving becomes much easier. This is the commandment of the Torah: "You shall verily give and let your heart not pain you in giving him, for because of this thing Hashem your G-d will duly bless you in all of your doings and all of your undertakings" (Devorim 15:10).

Hashem will not bless you only for the actual parting with your money, for you have not given of what is yours, only transferred money to its rightful address. This alone does not warrant special blessing. But you do deserve blessing for your acknowledgment of this, "Let your heart not pain you in giving him."

That is, give the poor man with a smile on your face and a genial attitude, as if you are returning property that belongs to him, which was incidentally in your possession. "For because of this thing Hashem your G-d will duly bless you." For your attitude, your pleasant demeanor and generosity in not begrudging him your donation. This in itself testifies that you are fully cognizant of the real Owner of this money, and therefore, you deserve that Hashem bless you in all of your endeavors and undertakings.

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