By Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss
Once again, I turn my reader’s attention to the Orchos Chaim l’HaRosh. In Number 68, he declares that for a successful life, “Tzedek tzedek tirdof,” one should vigorously pursue acts of charity and kindness. Here, the Rosh provides us with an insight on how a Torah Jew is different from a contemporary secular American. In the non-Torah world, one pursues every opportunity for pleasure and fun. The proliferation of travel brochures, food advertising, the movie industry, music and computer games, romance and mystery novels, is the stuff that the average American is busy pursuing. The Rosh educates us, citing the aforementioned verse in Devarim, that we on the other hand should seek every opportunity to help out our fellow man. As a way to persuade us, he cites the reward that one who pursues charity, “Yimtza chaim, tzedakah, v’chavod,” will find life, get more charitable opportunities, and honor.
It is my humble opinion that the numeration for each of the 154 recommendations in this sefer is not random. This lesson, Number 68, is the gematria of ‘chaim,’ life. We are taught, “Tzedaka tatzil m’maves – Charity saves one from death.” The sequel of the verse “Tzedek tzedek tirdof” is “Lema’an tichya – In order that you should live.” The reason why charity is rewarded with life, man’s most precious commodity is as follows. When we give $100 to charity and we earn $50 an hour, we are actually giving away two hours of our life. Since Hashem pays measure for measure, he rewards us in his grand way with a much greater addition of life.
The number 68 is also the gematria of chacham, a wise person. We are taught, “Eizahu chacham? Haro’eh es hanolad – Who is wise? He who can look ahead.” The giver of charity shows a maturity of foresight. Most people have a hard time giving away their hard-earned cash for that which does not promise them immediate gratification. As the Gemora teaches us at the end of the first perek of Baba Kamma, “Ein zeria ela tzedakah – The term ‘planting’ (homiletically) refers to charity,” like the farmer who spends thousands of dollars on seeds and then just buries them in the earth without any immediate return. So too, one parts with his precious cash and doesn’t see any instant benefit. But, the wise person knows that the only money which is his for all eternity is that which he gives away to help others.
The Rosh goes on to recommend that we should make sure to give a little charity before we start to pray. This is based on the verse “V’ani b’tzedek echezeh ponecha – And I, with charity, will behold Your face.” The reason for this charitable preface to tefila is multi-faceted. First of all, as it says in Shulchan Orech, when we come to ask Hashem for our requests, we should view ourselves as paupers begging for mercy. As we say in our Monday and Thursday Tachanun liturgy, “Lo b’chesed v’lo b’maasim baunu lifonecha k’dalim u’charashim d’facknu d’lasecha – Not with acts of kindness or virtuous behavior do we come to advance our cause but rather like the needy and the beggar do we knock at Your door.” Therefore, if we help the needy before we approach in the guise of a pauper, Hashem will be more moved to accede to our requests according to His divine methodology of midah k’neged midah, meting out to every individual measure for measure.
Furthermore, the posuk says, “V’ani tefilosi l’cha Hashem eis ratzon – And I, my prayer should come before You, Hashem, at a favorable time.” We are taught that a favorable time is right after we perform a mitzvah. Thus, when we give charity before we pray, we create a time of favor thereby ensuring that there will be a much better chance that our requests will be fulfilled.
The Rambam, who in the 14 sections of his magnum opus wrote on every one of the 613 mitzvahs, writes something incredible about the mitzvah of tzedakah. I quote, “Chayiv adom lizaheir b’mitzvas asei shel tzedaka yoser mikol mitzvos asei shebaTorah – One is required to be more careful with the commandment to give charity than regarding any other positive precept in the Torah.” This is truly amazing bearing in mind that it means one’s care in this area trumps such positive commandments as Torah, tefillin, Shabbos, and honoring parents, to name but a few. So, let’s see if we can tweak our lifestyle to be on the lookout on a daily and hourly basis how we can help our fellow man (spouses, parents and children are also included). In that merit, may Hashem bless us with long live, good health, and everything wonderful.
Sheldon Zeitlin takes dictation of, and edits, Rabbi Weiss’s articles.
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