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Parashat Re'eh 5755
Tithe that you may thithe yet again.
Be careful to tithe ("Asser Te'asser" -- lit., "tithe, you shall tithe") all the produce of your seeds that comes out of the field every year. (Devarim 14:22)
R. Yochanan said: What is meant by the double expression "Tithe you shall tithe"? It should be read as "Tithe ('Asser') so that you will become rich ('Titassher')"...
R. Yochanan's nephew asked him, "How do you know that tithing makes one rich?" He replied, "Go and try it, and you will see for yourself!" "But," the nephew protested, "is one permitted to put Hashem to a test?" R. Yochanan answered, "I have a tradition from R. Hoshayah that in this one case it is permitted to test Hashem, as it says (Malachi 3: 10), 'Bring all your tithes to the storage house, and test me by this -- see if I do not open up the windows of the heavens and pour out upon you endless blessings!" (Taanit 9a)
Rav Yochanan, based on two verses in the Scriptures, asserts that proper tithing bears with it the promise of monetary success. The verse in our Parasha in which this concept is alluded to is specifically referring to the *obligational* tithing of *agricultural* produce that was grown in Israel (-See Shabbat 119a). Nevertheless, the Sages in various places reaffirm this promise of wealth as a dividend of any type of charity or gift to the poor. A person who gives charity, is guaranteed to be repaid even more than the amount he gave (see Tosafot ad loc.).
What is it that prompted R. Yochanan to interpret the phrase "Asser Te'asser" in a way which necessitates changing the letter "Sin" into a letter "Shin?" Is he really suggesting to change the Massoretic reading of the verse? In general, such emendations, even when they are purely homiletical in nature, are suggested by some compelling textual inference (see Parasha-Page of Ki Tetze, 5755).
Rabbenu Chananel (in his commentary to the Talmud, loc. cit.) explains the logic behind Rav Yochanan's reading. Rav Yochanan did not derive his idea that "charity enriches" by changing the diacritical markings into "Titassher". Rather, he is bothered by the double expression of "Asser Te'asser" (lit., "tithe, you shall tithe"). In explanation, Rav Yochanan suggests that the extra word was meant to imply that one who tithes his produce will be rewarded with the opportunity to give additional tithes -- that is, he will be blessed with increased prosperity. (Such interpretations of double verbs are not uncommon -- see Rashi on last week's Parasha -Devarim 11:13- and Bava Metzia 32a -YB.) Rav Yochanan *expressed* this idea by transposing the characters of the verse with other, similar ones, producing the pun "Tithe so that you will 'Titassher' [= become rich." He did not *derive* the thought, though, through that transposition.
Give charity, and you will become wealthy.
In any case, the concept that giving charity makes one moer wealthy can be used to explain a passage from the Gemara (Bava Kamma 17a, based on Hosea 10:12): "The word 'sowing' in scriptures can sometimes be understood to mean 'giving charity.' " What connection between sowing and charity could suggest an interchanging of meaning between the two words? Perhaps the answer is that in both cases a small amount of one's possessions is ostensibly "thrown away" and "wasted," only to produce an eventual yield of many more times the original outlay.
The theme that charity is represented by "sowing" is found elsewhere in the words of Chazal [our Sages]. In Bereishit 26:12 we read: "Yitzchak sowed in the land of the Philistines and he received that year [a yield of] one hundred times, for Hashem blessed him." The tract of land that Yitzchak cultivated was estimated to be able to produce "x" bushels of grain, and instead it produced "100x." But why did Yitzchak assess the expected yield of the field in the first place? Rashi (quoting Midrash Rabba) explains that this was done in order to establish the amount of tithe necessary for that produce. Another Midrash elaborates on this theme:
Why did "Yitzchak sow" -- by himself? [Did he not have many servants who could have done this labor for him, as the following verse states?] The verse should be understood as follows: Yitzchak "sowed" the *produce* of his fields, by tithing it and giving charity to the poor! (Pirkei d'Rabbi Eliezer, beginning of Chap. 33)
According to this Midrash, the second half of the verse -- "he obtained a yield of one hundred times" -- corroborates Rav Yochanan's thesis. Yitzchak's charity was rewarded by Hashem in kind, with increased prosperity and bounty. His *spiritual* sowing was the cause of his unusual success.
This is also the meaning of a verse in Hoshea (10:12), which says, "Sow for yourselves 'Tzedaka' [=charity], and you will reap [Hashem's] kindness." This verse is another reaffirmation of Rav Yochanan's theme: "Sow charity by giving to others, and *you* will receive charity from Hashem in return."
A beautiful allusion to this idea is suggested by the famous Kabbalist, Rav Menachem Azarya of Pano (Ma'amar Chikkur Din, Part 3, Chap. 20). In Shabbos 104a the Gemara uses a code system known as At-Bash, whereby each letter, according to its order in the alphabet, is interchanged with the letter in the corresponding place starting from the other side of the alphabet. Thus the first letter (Aleph) becomes the last (Tav), Bet becomes Shin, etc. The tradition of the sages tells us that secrets of the Torah and the Hebrew language can sometimes be brought to light by transposing letters according to the At-Bash system.
Rav Menachem Azarya ("The Rama," for short) of Pano points out that the word "Tzedakah" -- Tzadi, Dalet, Kuf, Heh -- when transposed into its At-Bash equivalent comes out to be the exact same word spelled backwards -- Heh, Kuf, Dalet, Tzadi! This may be meant to demonstrate that whatever charity a person gives is bound to return to him in the opposite direction, as "charity" from Hashem!
Give charity, and Hashem wil safeguard your wealth.
Tosafot (Taanit 9a), however, seems to suggest a different approach to prompted Rav Yochanan's interpretation of the verse. According to Tosafot, the key word in the verse is "*all* the produce of your seeds." Tosafot, it seems, read the verse as follows: "If you give your tithes you will be able to tithe *all* of your produce the *following year*." Your fields will not produce less in the future than they did in the past. The implication of this reading is that in order to *remain* rich, you must take care to tithe properly. Tosafot (ibid.) in fact quotes Midrashim to the effect that a person who does *not* tithe his produce, will end up producing only "that which comes out of the field every year" in tithes -- that is, he will collect a yield of only ten percent of what the field used to produce. (NOTE: My reading of Tosafot is far from explicit in his words. It is my own interpretation of Tosafot's implicit intent -MK)
This theme -- that not only will giving charity increase a person's wealth, but withholding charity will cause the *loss* of wealth, is also mentioned a number of times in the words of Chazal.
In Ketubot 66b a popular saying of the people of Jerusalem is recorded: "The way to 'salt' (= preserve) money is to diminish it (=give charity)."
In Betzah 15b the Gemara says, "Rav Yochanan... said: If someone wants to ensure that his property will remain his, let him plant an 'Adar' (lit., a type of cedar tree). What is an 'Adar'? As it says in Tehillim (93:4): 'Hashem is mighty ('Addir') on high.' " Rabbenu Chananel explains that the Gemara means to interpret Rav Yochanan's "Adar" as a pun. He didn't mean that we should plant cedars, but that we should "plant" our money with the Mighty One on high ("Addir"). Giving charity is like depositing your money in a celestial bank, where it is safe from worldly burglars or accidents. It is considered as if one has given his money to the Mighty One on high for safekeeping, as it says (Tehillim 85:12) "Charity ('Tzedek') peers out from the heavens." (See also Bava Batra 10a.)
Give charity, and Hashem will protect you.
Beyond granting monetary success and protecting one's possessions, giving Tzedakah even protects one's life.
In Mishlei (10:2; 11:4) we read, "Tzedakah saves from death." The Gemara (Bava Batra 10a) explains that Tzedakah saves a person from two kinds of death: from "death" (i.e., non-participation) in the world to come, and from dying an unnatural death. In Shabbat 156b the Gemara extends the power of Tzedakah to preventing (that is, postponing) death altogether. (See the Gemara in Shabbat ibid., which records a number of true stories that illustrate this fact.)
It is for this reason that the Gemara (Rosh Hahsanah 16b) tells us that before Rosh Hashanah a person should give charity. Charity, the Gemara tells us, is one of the three things that have the power to change an evil heavenly decree concerning a person's fate. Even if it has been decreed that a person is to pass away during the coming year, giving charity may change that decree and extend his life.
Perhaps this is what the Gemara means in Sanhedrin 35a when it says, "If a fast day is declared and Tzedakah is not given on that very day, it is as if innocent blood had been shed." Why should the withholding of charity be compared to bloodshed (see Rashi ad loc.)? According to what we have said, we may suggest the following explanation. A fast day called for by the prevailing rabbinic authorities is usually declared in the face of a current or imminent disaster. If a catastrophic heavenly decree is indeed in store for the fasters, then by not giving Tzedakah to prolong their own lives that are at stake, it is as if they have shed blood -- their own blood.
In Bava Batra 10a we learn that Rav Elazar used to set aside a small amount of money for charity before his prayers. The explanation for this practice is perhaps also based on this same theme. A person asks his Creator for health and long years to use for the service of Hashem, when he prays. In order for these prayers to be fully effective, a person must complement them with the life-giving effects of Tzedaka.
Measure for measure is the reward for giving charity.
We know that when Hashem grants man a reward or punishment He does it according to the principle of Midda Keneged Middah -- there is always some sort of correspondence between the deed done and the recompense given (Sanhedrin 90a; see Parasha Page, Tisha B'av 5755). There is an obvious connection between giving Tzedakah and obtaining wealth -- both have to do with the transferral of money. But what is the relationship between lengthening one's expected lifetime and the giving of charity?
Perhaps the answer to this is, as the Gemara says:
"Poverty is comparable to death itself, as it says (Shmot 4:19), 'The people who had sought your life are now dead.' We know that they were still alive, and only lost their power and influence. This indicates that one who has lost his money is considered as dead." (Nedarim 7b)
If losing one's money is tantamount (in some sense) to death, then it follows that giving a poor person money is tantamount to granting him life. Now we can understand very well that an appropriate reward for Tzedakah is the lengthening of the giver's life in return!
This thought is actually expressed almost explicitly in the Midrash:
"Charity saves from death." This shows that a person is granted reward in accordance with the good deeds that he did. A person, by giving Tzedakah, intends to ensure that the poor man should live and not die. Therefore Hashem sees to it that the benefactor should also live and not die. (Tanna D'Vei Eliyahu Zuta, Ch. 1)
If so, perhaps we may extend this train of thought to lend new support to Rav Yochanan's derivation from the verse in our Parasha. Charity saves from "death," not only by adding years to the giver's life, but also by ensuring that a person's wealth will remain with him, thereby protecting him from the "death" of suffering poverty!
Let us see to it that we take care to tithe our income regularly, in order that we may preserve both our money and ourselves!
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