Judaism is full of blessings. We are commanded to recite one hundred blessings a day. Yet, there is no blessing with regards to a certain special mitzvah that we perform quiet often – Tsedaka (charity). Out of all the blessings we make every day no blessing is said before parting with our hard earned cash towards the poor and needy.
The Rambam (Laws of Gifts to the Poor (10:1)) states;
“We are obligated to be careful with the Mitzvah of Tzedakah more so than with any other positive Mitzvah. For Tzedakah is the sign of the truly righteous seed of our father, Avraham, as Scripture states: ‘For I have known him (Avraham) in order that he might charge his descendants… to do Tzedakah… (Genesis: 18:19)’. And the throne of Israel cannot be established and the true faith cannot stand, except through Tzedakah, as Scripture states ‘You shall be established through Tzedakah (Isaiah 54:14).’ And Israel will not be redeemed except through Tzedakah, as Scripture states: ‘Zion in justice will be redeemed, and its captives through Tzedakah (Isaiah 1:27).’”
Giving charity is part of our essence. It is essential and our obligation to be careful with this Mitzvah greater than with any other positive Mitzvah.
Yet there is no blessing for this mitzvah. Why not?
Let’s first take a look at the wonderful festival that is upon us – Purim.
Purim is ripe with beautiful Mitsvot, one of which is giving Matanot LaEvyonim – presents to the poor.
In fact we are told to give to whoever puts out their needy hand towards us on Purim and ensure that they do not walk away empty handed.
Although we always have a Mitzvah to give to the poor, and each festival we are told to ensure that the poor have what they need to rejoice, we are never commanded to go so far as to ensure whoever puts out their needy hand towards us must receive from us.
Why the special emphasis on Purim?
Our Sages have offered several possible answers to explain why we do not make a special Berachah before giving Tzedakah.
First, we do not make Berachot on Mitzvot that have no fixed limits. Tzedakah is a Mitzvah that has no limits. Each time a poor person stretches forth his hand the Torah commands us to open ours.
Second, we do not make Berachot on Mitzvot that involve another person. The common reason given for this is that there is a concern that after the Beracha is made, the other person might change his mind and not wish to accept (in this case) the Tzedakah. Since a Beracha on doing a Mitzvah must be recited before the performance of the Mitzvah, the Beracha will have been said in vain.
But I would like to share with you a third approach.
The story is told of an old Bedouin man with three wonderful sons. Time was moving ahead and the man became ill, he realised his time was up. He gathered together his children in order to give them his last will and testament.
“For you my first son I hand down to you Half of my camels.”
“To you my second son I hand over one third of my camels.”
“Finally to you my third son I hand over one ninth of my camels.”
He breathed his last breath and passed away. The children mourned their father and soon after went to the field to collect the camels. They were surprised to find out that there were only 17 camels!!
How would they be able to share the camels in the correct proportions? It did not make mathematical sense unless they were to kill and share parts of the camel.
Surely that’s not what the father wanted?!
They went to all the wise men of the town but nobody could answer the predicament. Eventually they found their way to one of the great rabbis. He heard their predicament and swiftly replied;
“Go to my backyard and take one of my camels I give it to you as a gift!
Now add it to the 17 and each one should take their share.”
They did as the great man said, with the first born taking nine camels exactly half of 18. The second son took six (one third) and the third son took two camels (one ninth).
Shocked to see that one camel was still left out of the 18 unclaimed, they came back to the great sage and asked him what should be done with the remaining camel.
Gazing towards them with a smile, the Rabbi said, “I am happy to take my camel back now!”
Sometimes in life we think it’s a takers game. If we are all takers then we are all losers. It is only when we decide to give, that we can create, build and successfully live together.
The power of giving is greater than the joy of receiving!
Rabbi Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg in Seridei Aish (Part Two Chapter 46) suggests Tzedaka is not a usual Mitzvah.
Although there are always reasons for performing Mitzvot, nevertheless we perform all the Mitzvot of the Torah in essence because Hashem commanded us to. We are fulfilling His command.
Tzedakah differs in that should it is preferable to be given out of deep seated emotions of love for our fellow Jews, rather than because of the commandment.
Rabbi Yechiel brings a proof for this concept from a statement of the Rambam, who suggests that the preferability of performing certain Mitzvot out of self-directed emotion is the possible reason why there is no Beracha for the Mitzvah of honouring parents.
Purim is a time when our emotions are running high. We drink, feast and thank G-d from the depths of our hearts for all the amazing kindness He has brought us.
It is such a powerful festival that there is a great connection between Purim and the Holiest day in the Jewish calendar Yom Kippur.
The names seem similar – Purim – Kippur – literally translated “like Purim”.
Rav Dessler addresses the connection between Purim and Yom Kippur.
“The worship service of Yom HaKippurim is meant to purify us from our sins and from the defilement of our souls by means of the concept of Yirah – fear. And Purim comes to do the same by means of the concept of Ahavah – love.
And love is a result of the concept of Chesed – of kindness; one who gives more, loves more; since love is a result of the concept of N’divut – generosity. Thus the joy we feel on Purim for G-d’s Holy vengeance against Haman should cause us to recognize that this is the proper time to give generously of ourselves and of our souls to G-d! And from that comes the necessary result of Ahavat Hashem, the Love of God.”
In other words – just give, just give, just give.
Purim is a day when our inner emotions are exposed – believe it or not – we love to give!
That is the day that our soul shines through and our love of G-d emanates.
We can only gain by giving.
Kol Yisrael Areivim – we are all united.
My favorite explanation of all comes from Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dreser (1892-1953) who explains the nature of this commandment’s relationship with the holiday as Purim as follows:
In Parshas Emor the Torah lists the holidays of the year and various Mitzvohs associated with the holidays. However, following the holiday of Shavuos, the Torah interrupts the pattern with the following statement: “When you harvest the harvest of your land, do not completely harvest the corner of your field; nor shall you glean the gleanings of your harvest – to the poor and the stranger you shall leave them – I am the L-rd your G-d (Leviticus 23:22). Several commentaries explain the juxtaposition of laws concerning the care of the poor with the holiday of Shavuos based upon the fact that Shavuos is the holiday of the giving of the Torah. The Torah personality is built upon the concepts of Tzedakah and Chesed. Some go as far to say that Tzedakah and Chesed are not like other Mitzvohs, but are the very foundation of the
Torah. Torah without Tzedakah and Chesed is meaningless. The Talmud actually states (Avodah Zarah 17b): “Rav Huna has said: ‘Anyone who engages only in the study of Torah (to the exclusion of Tzedakah and Chesed) is as if he has no G-d.’” Rashi explains: “to protect him.” Even though the study of Torah is a great source of protection, that is only if that study is by one who is imbued with the traits of Tzedakah and Chesed.
The Unique Nature of Tzedakah and Chesed
Rabbi Yosef Goldberg – Bayswater, NY
This coming Motzaei Shabbos One of the Mitzvohs of the day of Purim is Matanos LaEvyonim – Gifts to the Poor. This Mitzvah is consistent with the theme of unity and harmony among Jews that is very much part of the essence of Purim. We are prone to attack from Amalek only when we are scattered and divided. However, when the Jewish people are in unity, then we are safeguarded from the threats of our enemies.
The Talmud in Tractate Shabbos (88a) states that in the times of Esther and Mordecai the Jewish people had a renewed acceptance of the Torah, this time without the overpowering revelations of Mount Sinai. We know that after the arrival of the Jews at Mount Sinai, they achieved a sense of unity that was always lacking before (see Rashi on Shemos 19:2). Since Purim also stands for a new acceptance of the Torah, the Mitvohs of the day reflect a drive for unity and harmony among Jews.
Another way to relate Matanos LaEvyonim to the concept of the renewed acceptance of the Torah is based upon last week’s lesson. Last week we stated that the concepts of Tzedakah and Chesed are prerequisites for the Torah personality. Receiving the Torah without being imbued with Tzedakah and Chesed is meaningless. Since Purim is a day of new acceptance of the Torah, then Matanos LaEvyonim is intrinsic to this very joyous holiday.
They are to observe these as days of feasting and gladness, and for sending delicacies to one another, and giving gifts to the poor. (Esther 9:22)
The Talmud says Kol Yisrael Araivim — each Jew is responsible one for the other. If the boat is sinking, we’re all going down. But when there is love and unity amongst us, even the wrongdoers become righteous and our enemies cannot harm us! For this reason, on Purim we give charity to anyone who asks, without investigating the validity of their need. (In contrast to the rest of the year, when we are obligated to ensure that our Tzedakah money is being disbursed properly.) On Purim, every Jew is worthy without question.
God treats us as we treat others. On Purim, if we give others the “benefit of the doubt” and don’t check their worthiness, then God doesn’t “check us for worthiness” either. Purim, therefore, is an auspicious time to ask God to bestow gifts of health, unity and a speedy redemption for the Jewish people.
Halachot (LAWS) OF GIVING GIFTS ON PURIM
- Mishloach Manot is fulfilled by sending two types of ready-to-eat food to at least one friend. This mitzvah should be performed on Purim day itself.
- There is a custom to send Mishloach Manot through a third person messenger, since the word Mishloach is related to the word for messenger, Shaliach.
- Matanot La’evyonim is fulfilled by giving money to at least two poor people on the day of Purim. The gift should at least equal the value of a fast-food meal.
- This is not a “family” obligation, but rather each person should perform the mitzvah themselves.
- The money needn’t be given directly to a poor person, but can be given to a community representative — as long as the money is actually distributed to the poor on Purim day.
- Matanot La’evyonim is a special mitzvah, not to be included in the amount of money a person sets aside for charity during the rest of the year.
- Maimonides writes that it is inappropriate to buy expensive Mishloach Manot, if this will come at the expense of larger gifts to the poor.
The Chasam Sofer adds that prayers on Purim are so powerful that G-d answers any heartfelt prayer on this special day – even if we don’t deserve it. He bases this idea on the words of the Ritv”a.
The Ritv”a in his commentary to Megillah 7a quotes the Talmud Yerushalmi which explains regarding the fulfilment of the obligation to give matanot La’evyonim, gifts to the poor, on Purim, that “Kol Ha’posheit Yado Leetol Yitnu Lo – we give to anyone who extends his hand to receive”.
This is to say that on this festive day we give money to everyone who asks, without first checking to see if they truly are poor and worthy of receiving tzedakah funds.