Give or get?

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Rebbi Nachman wrote (Tinyana 4) that “the benefit of giving charity is exceedingly great”.

 “התועלת של צדקה גדול מאד מאד”

The Talmud (Taanis 9a) expounds the verse “עַשֵּׂ֣ר תְּעַשֵּׂ֔ר אֵ֖ת כָּל־תְּבוּאַ֣ת זַרְעֶ֑ךָ” (make sure to tithe all your crops) with the homograph עשר בשביל שתתעשר (tithe [your crops] so that you become wealthy). Why would someone become rich from giving charity? Obviously, logic would have you think the exact opposite. If I’m giving away my money, then I’ll have less money. How could it be that by parting with what I have, I will receive more?

The Rebbe doesn’t ask this question, but I believe his lesson answers it. It’s a complex lesson with a number of steps, but I’ll attempt to keep it as simple as possible.

If Hashem were to pour His chessed on us, we would have no need to ever work or labor for our sustenance. But when His chessed is held back, it’s necessary to labor for our survival. Unfortunately, for the great majority of us, this chessed is held back and we need to work for a living. As the Talmud (Berachos 35b) explicitly says, “Many tried to do like Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai [who received this chessed without working] and they were unsuccessful”. But the Divine Will is that we shouldn’t have to work for it. In fact, labor and working is the antithesis of that Will, and corresponds to vexation and judgement.

So what can we do to draw down the chessed? We can give charity. Charity reveals that everything in the world is governed through Divine providence (to understand how this is so, see the lesson in detail). When Divine providence is proclaimed, Fear of Heaven is increased. We hear stories about this phenomenon often, when Israeli soldiers do teshuva after seeing open miracles in the battlefield. That’s because the result of seeing the Hand of God, is fearing Him. Then, when someone has Fear of Heaven, he creates a space to receive the chessed of Hashem. Without Fear of Heaven, which condenses and focuses the flow of chessed, we can’t bear to receive the chessed. It will totally overwhelm and destroy us, just like a superabundance of rain can flood and wipe out an entire city. So Fear of Heaven, indirectly attained through charity, is the essential ingredient to receive the flow of lovingkindness.

Sounds easy, right? Just give some charity and let it pour! Sadly, its not as easy as we might think. The Rebbe quotes the Mechilta (Exodus 19:5) that teaches ‘all beginnings are difficult’. Any time someone wants to start serving Hashem with devotion, it will be hard. “One needs many cries and sighs before he can start”. Charity is even harder because charity is always widening the opening further. Every time one gives charity, it is as if he is starting from scratch. (Remember, as we explained in the last post, real charity means overcoming your natural cruelty. Not giving what’s already easy for you).

So how can we do it, if it’s so hard? Interestingly, the evening before the Rebbe gave this discourse (Shavuot 1809) he held a lengthy conversation with his followers, mentioning a number of salient points from this lesson. One of things he stressed to them was desire. “The main thing is desire (רצון) and longing. We must constantly yearn for Hashem”. Reb Nosson (Hilchos Kaddish) explains this to mean that we must pray for it. We should never stop praying to arouse our compassion over our cruelty, so that we can give charity, attain Fear of Heaven and draw down Hashem’s magnificent lovingkindness.

‘ליקוטי תפילות ח״ב תפילה ד

אָנָּא ה’, עָזְרֵנִי לְהַתְחִיל לִתֵּן צְדָקָה הַרְבֵּה בֶּאֱמֶת כִּרְצוֹנְךָ הַטּוֹב, וּבִזְכוּת מִצְוַת צְדָקָה תַּעַזְרֵנִי וְתִפְתַּח לִי וְתַרְחִיב לִי כָּל הַפְּתָחִים וְהַשְּׁעָרִים דִּקְדֻשָּׁה כִּי אַתָּה יָדַעְתָּ אֶת לְבָבִי רִבּוֹנוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם, כַּמָּה קָשֶׁה לִי לְהַתְחִיל שׁוּם הַתְחָלָה בַּעֲבוֹדַת ה’ בֶּאֱמֶת, וְכָל עִנְיַן עֲבוֹדָה וַעֲבוֹדָה שֶׁאֲנִי רוֹצֶה לְהַתְחִיל, קָשֶׁה וְכָבֵד עָלַי מְאד מְאד, עַד אֲשֶׁר “כָּשַׁל כּחַ הַסַּבָּל” וְכַמָּה וְכַמָּה חֶבְלֵי לֵדָה, וְכַמָּה וְכַמָּה גְּנִיחוֹת וּצְעָקוֹת וְשַׁוְעוֹת וּזְעָקוֹת וּצְוָחוֹת בְּכַמָּה וְכַמָּה מִינֵי קוֹלוֹת שֶׁל אָח וַאֲבוֹי, וְכַמָּה וְכַמָּה אֲנָחוֹת מֵעוּמְקָא דְּלִבָּא וְכַמָּה וְכַמָּה כְּפֵילוֹת וְהַטָּיוֹת אָנוּ צְרִיכִין קדֶם שֶׁאָנוּ זוֹכִין לְהַתְחִיל אֵיזֶה הַתְחָלָה בְּאֵיזֶה עֲבוֹדָה וּמִגּדֶל הַכְּבֵדוּת הֶעָצוּם עֲדַיִן לא הִתְחַלְתִּי לְעָבְדְּךָ בֶּאֱמֶת “כְּמוֹ הָרָה תַּקְרִיב לָלֶדֶת, תָּחִיל תִּזְעַק בַּחֲבָלֶיהָ, כֵּן הָיִינוּ מִפָּנֶיךָ ה’ הָרִינוּ חַלְנוּ כְּמוֹ יָלַדְנוּ רוּחַ” וּכְבָר עָבְרוּ עָלַי יָמִים וְשָׁנִים הַרְבֵּה מִשְּׁנוֹתַי הַקְּצוּבִים בְּמִסְפָּר תַּחַת יָדֶךָ, וַעֲדַיִן לא הִתְחַלְתִּי הַתְחָלָה גְמוּרָה בַּעֲבוֹדָתְךָ בֶּאֱמֶת “עָבַר קָצִיר כָּלָה קָיִץ”, וַאֲנִי לא נוֹשָׁעְתִּי אֲבָל עֲדַיִן אֲנִי מְקַוֶּה וּמְצַפֶּה וּמְחַכֶּה וּמְיַחֵל בְּכָל עֵת וּבְכָל שָׁעָה לִישׁוּעָתְךָ הָאֲמִתִּיִּית, כִּי כָּל עוֹד נִשְׁמָתִי בִּי אֲנִי מְקַוֶּה לִישׁוּעָה שְׁלֵמָה בֶּאֱמֶת עַל כֵּן אֶזְעַק וַאֲשַׁוֵּעַ, חֲמל עַל עָנִי כָּמוֹנִי, דַּל וְחָלוּשׁ כּוֹאֵב וְגוֹוֵעַ, “כַּיּוֹלֵדָה אֶפְעֶה, הוֹשִׁיעָה הַמֶּלֶךְ, כִּי קָצַר הַמַּצָּע מֵהִשְׂתָּרֵעַ” רִבּוֹנוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם אַמֵּץ וְחַזֵּק רִפְיוֹן יָדִי, חַזֵּק יָדַיִם רָפוֹת וּבִרְכַּיִם כּוֹשְׁלוֹת תְּאַמֵּץ, זַכֵּנִי בְרַחֲמֶיךָ הָרַבִּים שֶׁאַתְחִיל מֵעַתָּה בֶּאֱמֶת הַתְחָלָה גְמוּרָה, שֶׁאַתְחִיל מֵעַתָּה לִכְנס בַּעֲבוֹדָתְךָ מִיּוֹם אֶל יוֹם, וּלְהוֹסִיף בְּכָל יוֹם וָיוֹם קְדֻשָּׁה וְטָהֳרָה וְחָכְמָה וּבִינָה וָדַעַת אֲמִתִּי וְכָל יוֹם וָיוֹם יָאִיר בְּיוֹתֵר בְּתוֹסְפוֹת אוֹר קְדֻשָּׁה מְרֻבָּה מִיּוֹם שֶׁלְּפָנָיו וְתַעַזְרֵנִי לְהַתְחִיל לִתֵּן צְדָקָה הַרְבֵּה בְּכָל עֵת לַעֲנִיִּים הֲגוּנִים, כִּי הַתְחָלַת הַצְּדָקָה קָשָׁה וּכְבֵדָה עָלַי מְאד בְּיוֹתֵר,  וְאֵין אֲנִי יוֹדֵעַ אֵיךְ לִזְכּוֹת לִצְדָקָה כָּרָאוּי, לְגדֶל רִבּוּי הַמְּנִיעוֹת בְּלִי שִׁעוּר שֶׁיֵּשׁ לִי עַל זֶה, כִּי רָחַק מִמֶּנִּי צְדָקָה




You, and no one but you

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It’s commonplace to question what our personal role is in this world? Of course we’re all here to serve Hashem and perform his mitzvos, but that’s a communal approach. We must believe very strongly that each one of us has something unique to contribute to the world, as the Talmud says (Sanhedrin 37a) “Everyone is obligated to say, this world was created just for me”. Or as I recently heard from Rabbi Yehoshua Gerzi, “the creative God created a world with creations who create”. But for many of us it’s hard to know what our specific task is.

Confusing the issue even more is when we notice others excelling in certain areas with ease. We might think to ourselves, ‘I wish things would come easier for me? Why can’t I naturally be good at anything? Why do I need to fight so hard just to do something so small’?

I saw something very encouraging in Tinyana 4 about this. The Rebbe says, “When someone who is naturally compassionate gives charity, due to his loving nature, it isn’t an act of devotion [to Hashem. In fact,] there are even animals that have compassionate instincts. Rather, the essential devotion is transforming ones cruelty into compassion”.

Let’s first clarify this statement. The loving person who gives charity surely performed a mitzvah. No one is taking that away from him. Every mitzvah brings us closer to Hashem, and this ‘easy’ mitzvah for Mr. Generosity is no different. But the point here is that he didn’t do an act of devotion (עבודה). Meaning, he didn’t work on himself. He didn’t move himself with this act to the next station. In a certain sense, he didn’t improve himself or become his ideal-self through this charitable act.  Whereas the cheapskate who groans in pain with every penny that leaves his hands is molding himself into a new person with his act of charity. Similarly, it might seem that some people have strong faith, but maybe they’re just naturally optimistic? Or what about the people who have a table full of guests every Shabbos? Maybe they just love the action? Or maybe they’re afraid to be alone with their families? On the other hand, other families are more than content to spend Shabbos alone, yet they push themselves to invite guests and share their space.

I found this lesson so validating. It’s another example of how comparing ourselves to others breeds jealousy and is ultimately a fruitless undertaking. Every person is so different and only Hashem knows what’s considered an act of devotion and what was done from a person’s natural instinct. We’re lucky to be in a relationship with an infinitely great God who knows us so intimately. He wants us for who we are, whether we could compete with others or not. In His perfection, He has a 100% unique expectation of us. He wants nothing more from us and nothing less of us. The things that come naturally to us aren’t even necessarily the things that we’re here to accomplish. Those natural talents are useful assets for us, but it’s not absurd to think that by exerting ourselves, even in something totally unfamiliar to us, we can uncover a new part of ourselves that will lead us to our true personal perfection.