WC Fields once wrote: “A rich man is nothing but a poor man with money.”
This sentiment is the embodiment of the philosophy the Torah tries to engender in us when it says: ‘Do not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your needy brother.’ (Devarim 15:7)
We all know that we have a duty to give tzedakah and yet the Torah recognises an all too familiar psyche, the failure to respond to the needs of those less fortunate than ourselves.
The very next verse exhorts a remedy: ‘But you shall surely open your hand to him and shall surely lend him sufficient for his need.’
This double expression of the requirement to give charity implies that we should give freely and without restraint.
Someone who believes their wealth has been achieved solely by the work of their hands is anxious to hold onto to it tightly, to close their hand. The feeling is that such riches are self-earned and need to be closely guarded. This is the mistake that the verse comes to rectify.
The realisation has to be that our financial situation is not all of our own doing – it is not solely the work of our hands. For that reason God instructs, ‘open your hand’.
Just as God determines what makes its way into our hand, so does God determine what should leave our hand.
It’s a strange phenomenon that not only do we have the capacity to ignore our duty to others, but we can also find somewhat ‘legitimate’ excuses for not giving.
Rashi adds insightfully, “Even a hundred times”. If the only way to be charitable is to give repeatedly, then so it has to be done. One act of charity does not make a charitable person. The only way is through continuous acts of charity.
Rabbi Alex Chapper is the community rabbi of Borehamwood & Elstree Synagogue
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