Getting Ready for the Day of Judgement
As we get closer and closer to Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment, we try to prepare ourselves in every possible way. Of course, we engage in the making of a cheshbon hanefesh, a personal accounting, so that we may determine areas in which we need to do teshuvah, repentance, and other areas in which we need to improve. We also try to find projects of compassion and kindness, for the Gemora tells us, “Kol hamracheim al habrios, merachamin alov min HaShamayim” - Whoever has mercy on his fellow man will be shown mercy from Heaven. We also should muster the courage and strength to forgive those who have wronged us, for it is the Divine way to judge midah kneged midah, measure for measure. Therefore, if we look away from the misdeeds of others, Hashem then will likewise look away from our sins.
Prayer is also most effective at this time of the year. As we know, Elul is an acronym for “Ani l’Dodi v’Dodi li” - I am to My Beloved, and My Beloved is to me. This means that if we attempt to come close to Hashem, Our Beloved, He reciprocates in full measure. Prayer is one of the most direct ways to come close to Hashem. At this time of the year, we should ask Hashem that He rev-up our teshuvah motors, as when we say in the Shemone Esrei “V’hachazireinu b’tshuva shleima lifonecha” - Give us the impetus to return to You in perfect repentance.
We should also ask Hashem for forgiveness heavily in the Shemone Esrei bracha of “S’lach lonu.” We should pray, too, for the knowledge to know what needs to be improved and for what needs to be changed in the bracha, “Atah chonein laadom daas.” And, when we say these prayers, we should not restrict them solely to ourselves. Rather, we should pray that others as well should be motivated to repent and better themselves.
Thus far, we have looked at two of the three ingredients that repeal any evil decrees - for like we say in Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur liturgy, “U’Tshuvah, u’Tefilah, u’Tzedakah maavirin es roah ha-gezeirah.” We’ve talked about repentance, and we’ve covered prayer. Now let’s take a serious look at the third ingredient, tzedakah.
The Gemora teaches us that “Tzedakah tatzil mimoves” - Charity saves one from death. This is particularly important when we pray for life on the Yom HaDin, the Day of Judgment. Since Rosh Hashanah is also the time when Hashem distributes our annual income, it behooves us to beef up on our tzedakah output, for the Torah promises us “Aser t’aser” - You shall surely give tithes, which the Gemora homiletically explains “Aser bishvil shetisasher” - Give tithes and you will become wealthy.
At this point one might wonder: Wait a minute! I know a lot of people who diligently give charity and are not wealthy! To the contrary, they are still struggling. This question is dealt with in several ways by a variety of commentators. The Chofetz Chaim explains that while a person might give charity, he doesn’t get the Divine reward of wealth unless he gives in proportion to his means. Thus, when there is a Hatzolah appeal in shul and everyone, rich and poor alike, calls out one hundred dollars, this is not the proper spirit of tzedakah. As an example, the Chofetz Chaim cites the daughter of Nakdimon Ben Gurion who was found picking barleycorns out of dung in order to survive. The Gemora asks how such a thing could have happened to the daughter of a great philanthropist. The Gemora answers that indeed Nakdimon gave a lot - but not according to his ability.
The Marchazu, in his response, answers that one isn’t rewarded with wealth unless he gives his charity happily. As the Torah says, “Lo yeirah levovcha bsidcha lo” - Let it not hurt your heart when you give charity to him. This is indeed a great challenge for many people because, although we do give money when people knock on the door, call on the phone, or ask us in shul, too often we give it grudgingly or with a frown. In order to receive Divine reward, we need to train ourselves to give tzedakah with a smile.
My favorite answer is the explanation of the Haflaah. He explains that the blessings of wealth for giving charity are not apparent in the bank book or in one’s investment portfolio. He quotes the Gemora which says that the reward will be “shetisasher,” one will become “asher,” wealthy. The Mishna says in Pirkei Avos, “Eizehu ashir? Hasomeiach b’chelko” - Who is wealthy? He who is satisfied with his lot. Thus, concludes the Haflaah, the reward of charity is a sense of satisfaction and wellbeing. This is indeed the prophecy in Malachi - that for giving charity, Hashem will open up the skylight in Heaven, “V’harikosi lachem bracha ad bli dai,” which the Gemora explains to mean that Hashem will shower reward upon the Baal Tzedakah until his lips will tire from saying ‘enough.’ This, the Haflaah says, is a poetic way of expressing an attitude of fulfillment and wellbeing.
So we discussed the powerful potency of tzedakah, both as a protection from death and as a means to become wealthy. The posuk says, “Noson titein v’lo yeirah levovcha b’sidcha lo ki biglal hadavar hazeh yivorechecha Hashem Elokecha” - You should surely give to the poor and it should not hurt you to give to him, since because of this mitzvah Hashem your G-d will bless you.
The Sfas Emes, zt’l, zy’a, sympathizes with the effort it takes to give away our money happily. After all, we work hard for our money and there never seems to be enough to go around. He gives a profound bit of psychological advice to help us give our tzedakah without pain. He suggests that we have a second wallet or purse designated solely for tzedakah. We should then remove our charity money and put it in that wallet. He explains that that won’t hurt so much since the money is still in our possession. (Furthermore, even if it does hurt, that’s okay because the Torah just cautions us that it shouldn’t hurt when we are giving it to the poor person.) Afterwards, when the poor person asks us for money, it doesn’t hurt at all when we take it out of the tzedakah wallet since we’ve already separated and designated it for charitable purposes.
The Sfas Emes brilliantly deduces this from the language of the verse. He explains that this is why the Torah says, “noson titein,” in repetition; because first we should give it to our charity wallet, and then from there we should give it to the poor. The posuk then continues, if you do it in this way, “V’lo yeirah levovcha b’sidcha lo” - It won’t hurt you when you give it to him.
The Chida, zt’l, zy’a, also comments on the repetition of “noson titein.” He explains that one of the most powerful ways to give tzedakah is matan b’seiser, giving in secret. Even in a case if Hashem is, chas v’shalom, angry at us, the Gemora in Bava Basra (10b) cites the reassuring verse, “Matan b’seiser yichpeh,” because giving charity in secret squelches the Divine wrath.
Pure matan b’seiser is when the giver doesn’t know to whom he is giving and the poor man doesn’t know from whom he is receiving. Too often nowadays, people give charity but expect power in return. They want a say in how the yeshiva is run or in what direction a shul should go. Or, if they are giving to the needy, they like the feeling that the people should be indebted to them. This is not the pure spirit of tzedakah. Thus, the Chida explains, the posuk says “noson titein” to allude to the fact that there should be two separate givings. First, the one who gives the charity should give it to a gabbai tzedakah, a charity collector and, second, the charity collector gives it to the poor person. This is true matan b’seiser.
The Chida offers another explanation for the repetitive “noson titein.” He cites the famous question of the Rambam. If one has a hundred dollars, should he give it in entirety to one poor person or should he give one dollar apiece to one hundred poor people? One might reason that it’s better to give a hundred dollar bill to one person and make a meaningful impact, but the Rambam decides to the contrary. He explains that it’s better to give one dollar to a hundred people for, instead of doing one maiser mitzvah, one mitzvah action, he is doing one hundred of them. And, instead of combating his yeitzer hara once, he is conquering it one hundred times. This, explains the Chida, is another reason why it says “noson titein,” to allude to the fact that one should make sure to do multiple givings.
All of us receive letters in the mail that have on the outside of the envelope a picture of a noted Rabbi or Rosh Yeshiva and a caption about some tragic story. Either they appeal for a father who is sick and unemployed or a mother who is blind, or a child who never walked, etc. Even without opening them, many of us consign these letters to the trashcan. This is a great shame. For the most part, these mass mailings for tzedakah do not rely on large donations. They rely on the concept of “Kol prutah u’prutah mitztaref cheshbon gadol” - Every little bit adds up to a large amount. If everyone would put in at least five dollars, each of these campaigns would be a major success.
But that’s only part of the story. If we look at the annual pie chart of our budget, we will realize that a sizable slice is taken up by insurance: Medical insurance, car insurance, dental insurance, home owners insurance, and so forth. These envelopes provide us with a cheap insurance not provided by Geico or Traveler’s but by Hashem Himself. When we help people overcome a variety of maladies, we are ensuring through the Divine justice of midah kneged midah, measure for measure, that we will be spared the same suffering.
In the zechus of our multi-pronged attempts to get ready for the Day of Judgment, may Hashem bless us with a kasiva v’chasima tova u’mesukah, that we be written down and sealed for a good and sweet year.
Sheldon Zeitlin transcribes Rabbi Weiss’ articles. If you wish to receive Rabbi Weiss’ articles by email, please send a note to ZeitlinShelley@aol.com.