One of the many interesting lessons we learn from Parashat Re’eh is about giving charity. We read one of the examples of who we should give charity to, as well as how we should do it.
“If, however, there is a needy person among you, one of your kinsmen in any of your settlements in the land that Adonai your God is giving you, do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsman. Rather, you must open your hand and lend him sufficient for whatever he needs ….. Give to him readily and have no regrets when you do so, for in return Adonai your God will bless you in all your efforts and in all your undertakings.” (Deut 15:7-8,10).
The Torah teaches us about the two interconnecting parts to tzedakah (referring to giving charity in this case) – the giver and the recipient. In many cases the giver becomes detached from the recipient; and this can often be on purpose, so as not to embarrass the recipient. Sometimes the detachment is because the giver has no concern for the receiver, there might even be resentment towards the person looking for assistance. However, the mitzvah of tzedakah supersedes pre-judgement and a contribution is given.
The Torah teaches us an important lesson here. In addition to the mitzvah of giving, one should identify with the recipient’s needs too. Acknowledge the true situation of the person to whom you are giving. Understand why you are helping them. Know that when you give tzedakah, you should not be holding a grudge. We may have once been in their situation or perhaps we may one day be in need of help. Recognising their plight, and showing compassion towards their challenges brings the mitzvah alive, and helps provide the giver with a feeling of productive achievement, knowing they are doing the right thing.. All of these actions support Maimonides’ Eight Levels of Tzedakah.
The statement of “give to him readily and have no regrets” reminds us that when we give, we do so with an open heart and only the best intentions. While the recipient would still benefit from the tzedakah even if we gave begrudgingly and not with an open heart, the act of giving would be carried out contrary to the intention behind the mitzvah.
We learn this through the rest of the statement; “for in return Adonai your God will bless you in all your efforts and in all your undertakings”, a theme consistent with a number of other texts in this week’s parasha – when we behave in accordance with the laws set out for us, which includes doing them with the right intentions, our reward is God’s blessing in all that we do, especially when helping others.
Rev Sam Zwarenstein