KI SEITZEI (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:18) — “Tzedakah — Who Is Doing A Favor For Whom?”

Tzedakah.” They usually translate it to mean “charity.” The actual meaning of the word is “justice.” 

The difference between charity and justice is that when I give charity, I am going beyond what I am required to do; I am doing a favor. When I do justice, I am doing what is expected of me. 

The word “Tzedakah” appears four times in the Torah, one of which is in this week’s Torah Portion. 

When lending money, we are allowed to require collateral in order to insure repayment of the loan. However, if the borrower is poor, and if he has given his blanket or his bedclothes as security, the Torah requires us to return them each evening so that he will have something to sleep in. (Deuteronomy 24:10-13) 

I have always found this to be a fascinating passage. Can you imagine walking into a pawnshop and borrowing $500 against some item of equal or greater value? Each day you come back to the pawn shop and ask for your security back because you need it for the evening. “Don’t worry,” you tell your creditor, “I’ll return it in the morning.” 

What do you think are the odds of receiving your security back before you have repaid the loan in full? What kind of collateral is the borrower giving up if he gets it back every evening? What possible incentive will he have to satisfy his debt if he knows that he will have unlimited nightly use of his deposit? 

Yet, the Torah tells us: “Return it to him at sundown, so that he will be able to sleep in his garment and bless you, and you will have Tzedakah before G-d.” (24:13) As an act of Tzedakah, we must extend this unusual courtesy to a poor borrower. 

Why does the Torah say, “YOU will have Tzedakah”? Isn’t it the POOR PERSON who is receiving the Tzedakah from US? 

The Talmud (Bava Basra 11a) relates the story of King Munbaz who depleted his personal treasury as well as what he had inherited.  He gave away his riches in order to support his subjects during a famine. This did not sit well with his relatives who felt that he had squandered his family’s ancestral legacy. His response: “When my forefathers amassed wealth and continued to build up their treasuries, they were doing it for others. I, on the other hand, by giving these treasures to the poor, am in reality supporting myself, as it says in the Torah, ‘you will have Tzedakah!’ 

What a beautiful thought! We think that when we give Tzedakah, we are reducing what we own. In reality, we are doing just the opposite. 

I once read an article about a rabbi who was the treasurer of his country. The treasurer’s enemies in the government tried to convince the king that he had been embezzling from the treasury. Although the king trusted his treasurer immensely, he felt he had no choice but to ask for a detailed list of his assets. 

When the rabbi returned to the king with the list, the king immediately realized that something was amiss. “This can’t be right,” said the king. Your house is not listed. I know that you own much more than is listed here.” 

“You don’t understand, Your Majesty,” said the rabbi. “I know why you have asked me for this list. I know that I only serve at your pleasure and that at any moment you can confiscate my possessions and throw me into prison. My home and my furniture and whatever money I have is not really mine; it is only temporarily in my care. You asked for a list of my assets; this is a list of everything that I have given to the poor. What I have given to Tzedakah is my real list of personal assets. Because this is something that no one can ever take away from me!” 

And you will have Tzedakah before G-d.”  The more we give to others, the more we have for ourselves.

TORAH TALK

KI SEITZEI (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:18)

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz  

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

“Hard-Boiled Compassion” (2009)

…The former “minister” who perpetrated this depraved deed told reporters that he expected “a great reward in Heaven.”  Personally, I suspect otherwise.  I suggest they bury him in something fireproof…

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…  Maybe you’re not orthodox.  Maybe you’re anti-orthodox.  Maybe you’re offended by the notion of orthodox rejection of non-orthodox clergy.  It doesn’t matter.  Save your arguments for less essential issues.  (Like conversion!  That can be “fixed” later.  This can’t…

 Get involved.  Tell your … friends to take care of this…

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 “The Changing of the Guard?” (2006)

 …I have a chicken coop in my back yard, and, to avoid being too graphic, it is easy to understand that a chicken coop, like a bathroom, is not an appropriate place to hang a Mezuzah.  Chickens are not known to be particularly fastidious about the cleanliness of their surroundings.  Therefore, I never put up a Mezuzah on the front door of my coop.

 I was wrong…

 I began to wonder.  What about protection?  The Mezuzah is more than just a symbol of the fact that G-d protects us.  According to our Sages, the presence of a Mezuzah actually contributes to that Divine protection. …  Does this mean, I mused, that for the last two years my chicken coop has been unprotected???…

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“Far-Away Neighbors and Next-Door Strangers” (2005)

…  We should all participate in relief efforts for all hurricane victims.  But keep in mind that neither FEMA nor the Red Cross is going to help Rabbi Schiff replace his six water-logged Torah scrolls. You and I are going to have to take care of those ourselves…

 

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“Captivating Beauty” (2004)

… The soldier has come into town, having just defeated the enemy.  He is intoxicated by the thrill of victory.  He has showed the enemy how powerful he is; he can do anything!  He sees a beautiful woman among the captives.   

The real problem is not that she is his captive.  The problem is that HE is HER captive! …

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“Hard-Boiled Compassion” (2003)

 …The former “minister” who perpetrated this depraved deed told reporters that he expected “a great reward in Heaven.”  Personally, I suspect otherwise.  I suggest they bury him in something fireproof…

Read more

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“Keep the Fiddler on the Roof!” (2002)

 …Maintaining safety is a very smart thing to do. It is very important to be socially responsible. But why do we say a blessing? Building a fence is not exactly a religious ceremony, is it? …

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“I Could KILL That Kid!” (2001)

 … Since when do we punish someone for what he MIGHT someday do?  Okay, he’s not a great kid, he won’t win any Boy Scout merit badges, but doesn’t murder as a precautionary measure go a bit too far?! …

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“Tzedakah — Who Is Doing a Favor for Whom?” (2000)

 … Can you imagine walking into a pawnshop and borrowing $500 against some item of equal or greater value? Each day you come back to the pawn shop and ask for your security back because you need it for the evening. “Don’t worry,” you tell your creditor, “I’ll return it in the morning.”  …

 Read more.

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This is the weekly message at TorahTalk.org. Copyright © 2000-2013 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on September 8, 2000 at 12:07 pm  Leave a Comment  

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