By Avner Friedmann
“If there should be a needy man among you, one of your brothers, in one of your city gates, in your land that Hashem your God is giving you; do no harden your heart nor clench your hand from your brother the needy man. Rather, you should open your hand to him and indeed loan him sufficiently for the need that he lacks.”
The Gemara relates that Turnus Rufus, the wicked Roman governor, once asked Rabbi Akiva, “If, as you say, your G_d loves of the poor, why does He not sustain them Himself?” In other words, the fact that HaShem does not Himself provide for the poor proves that they do not find favor in His eyes. If He is not charitable with them, why should anyone be? On the contrary, by doing so, would we not be going against His will? This being the case, we should never give charity (Tzedakah) or assistance to the poor.
Rabbi Akiva’s answer was that, “HaShem caused there to be needy people specifically to give us the opportunity to be charitable and through this we are saved from the judgment of purgatory”. In other words, HaShem does not cause some people to be poor because they are wicked. On the contrary, they may be very righteous individuals; their poverty gives us the opportunity to give. In this manner, there actually is a partnership between the giver and the receiver of charity (Tzedakah). Even more, the rabbis tell us the by receiving charity the poor do a greater favor for the rich than the rich do for the poor.
The Zohar states, Rabbi Abba said: “HaShem created the world and put man to rule over it so that He can reward him for his good deeds. He created many kinds of people; there are righteous and wicked people, wise and foolish people and rich or poor people, so that each can benefit from the other. He created the world in such a manner that the Jewish people would have the opportunity to perform acts of loving kindness and good deeds towards each other, thus meriting the “World to Come”. The righteous will merit by bringing the wicked to repent, the wise will merit by teaching the foolish and the rich will merit being charitable to the poor.” The Zohar continues, “The charity and good deeds that a person has performed make an impression upon his forehead which is established forever”, as King David said: “He distributes widely to the destitute. His righteousness endures forever.”
When the soul comes down to this world the amount of wealth the person will have during his lifetime is already allotted to him. However, he may not receive it all at once. It may be that Hashem entrusts much of the money allotted to the poor with the rich person. By giving this money to the poor, the rich person also benefits, because through this he has merited to do an act of goodness and kindness.
Each one of us is tested in the way that is appropriate for him. The test of the rich is that he could fall into thinking that, “My strength and the might of my hand brought me all this wealth.” However, in truth, “it was He who gave you strength to earn wealth.” The test of the poor, on the other hand, is to be accepting and grateful to Hashem for all that HaShem has given him. The Midrash states that the challenge of the rich man is to joyfully open his hand to the needy. This is because it goes against human nature to give away what one has worked hard for. However, by giving, he enjoys the fruit of the mitzvah in this world and the principal is saved for the World to Come.
On the other hand, the challenge of the poor man is to suffer the humiliation of relying on others, without becoming upset or rebellious toward HaShem and without resorting to the temptation of theft, G_d forbid. For this he is doubly rewarded for his mitzvot and suffering. However, in truth, both the wealthy and the poor must realize that, in life, the wheels of fortune can always turn. One day you may be up and the next day you may be down, as the verse states, “For God is the judge, He lowers this one and raises that one.”
The Zohar states in the name of Rabbi Yehudah, “Fortunate is he whom a poor person comes to for charity without having to pursue him. The fact that the poor man came to him is a gift from Hashem. It means that HaShem desires his mitzvot. If he receives the poor man respectfully and with a smile, without embarrassing him, this indicated his respect for HaShem, who gave him the opportunity to do this awesome mitzvah. Whoever has mercy on a poor person and feeds him, it is literally as if he restored his soul. Hashem considers it as if he created him.” Moreover, HaShem listens to the prayers of one who is charitable, as it states, “Then you will call and HaShem will respond; you will cry out and He will answer, ‘Here I am!’” Of course, this is only true if the money he gives was earned honestly. If it was not, it would be a transgression rather than a mitzvah.
Now, it is incumbent upon every person to give charity, each one according to his means. The Gemara tells us that, “Whether one is able give a lot or a little, the offering is equally pleasing before HaShem, provided that he directs his heart to his Father in Heaven.”
Ultimately, ever Jew should know that in reality he has nothing of his own. Whatever he gives was not actually his in the first place, because in reality everything, including he himself, belongs to HaShem, as the verse states, “Rabbi Elazar ben Bartota said, ‘Give Him what is His, for you and whatever is yours is His, and as David said, ‘For everything comes from You, and from Your own hand we give to You.’” We are just messengers who do the will of our Master. Charity (Tzedakah) brings peace to the world and brings the redemption closer. May we merit the coming of Mashiach, speedily in our days, Amen.