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Torah Attitude: Parashas Tetzaveh: Why does G'd not provide for the poor?


In order to acquire Torah one must love righteousness. G'd loves righteousness and justice. The extra letter "hay" that is added in the word "tzedakah" represents G'd's Four Letter Name. G'd does not provide for the poor because He wants to give the affluent an opportunity to gain a merit. The Torah obligates the affluent to look after the needs of the poor. Deal honestly with people and pray to become rich. Even when G'd's reigns with kindness and mercy, He does not totally eliminate judgment, but blends them together. When G'd punished Adam and Eve for their sin, their punishment was a blend of judgment and mercy. G'd is aware of man's weakness, and therefore decided to reign over the world with a blend of judgment and mercy, putting the Four Letter Name before "Elokim". The verse "He loves righteousness and justice" uses "tzedakah" for righteousness with the "hay" of mercy.

Love righteousness

The Mishnah continues to enumerate various things that a person who wants to acquire Torah needs to love. The first one is that he must love righteousness. The Hebrew word that the Mishnah uses for "righteousness" is "tzedakot", which is the plural form of "tzedakah". In general, the word "tzedakah" means "charity". However, grammatically the word "tzedakah" is the female form of the word "tzedek" which is translated as "righteousness". Sometimes the word "tzedakah" is translated as "merit" (see Devarim 6:25). There is a connection between these two translations of "tzedakah". For when a person does a righteous act, such as giving charity ("tzedakah"), it is a merit for him. Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon, the Mashgiach of Lakewood Yeshiva, points out that the Mishnah uses the plural form of "tzedakot". This indicates that the Mishnah is not only referring to giving charity but to any kind of righteous act. The Mishnah teaches that only a person who loves and appreciates righteousness, such as taking an interest in assisting the needy and being honest in business affairs, has the ability to acquire Torah.


In Tehillim (33:4-5) it says: "For the word of G'd is upright He loves righteousness and justice." Again, we find that the Hebrew word used for "righteousness" is "tzedakah". This verse is the basis for what we mention in the eleventh blessing of Shemoneh Esrei, that G'd loves "righteousness ("tzedakah") and justice". When it says that G'd loves these character traits, it first of all means that G'd conducts Himself with a combination of righteousness and justice. But, it also teaches us that G'd expects us to conduct ourselves in a similar manner. A person who loves righteousness will himself act accordingly, and also try to insure that others do the same. In the commentary, Tiferes Yisrael, Rabbi Yisrael Lipchitz explains that such a person will be pained if he sees other people fighting each other, or doing any kind of injustice.

"Tzedek" and "tzedakah"

Rabbi Shimon Schwab, the late Rav of Kehal Adas Yeshurun, Washington Heights, New York, explains the difference between "tzedek" and "tzedakah". "Tzedek" refers to righteousness according to the strict letter of the law, as it would be exhibited in justice by a court. The extra letter "hay" that is added in the word "tzedakah" represents G'd's Four Letter Name. This name refers to G'd's conduct of mercy. As such, the word "tzedakah" indicates a righteousness that is based on mercy. He quotes the Zohar (Beshalach 62b) that explains that a poor person's sustenance is based on strict righteousness of "tzedek". However, G'd, in His great mercy, obligates the affluent to give charity to the poor. With this act of "tzedakah", the righteousness of "tzedek" is combined with the "hay" of mercy to provide the poor person with his needs.

Opportunity to gain merit

The Talmud (Bava Basra 10a) relates that the wicked Roman general, Tornos Rufus, once asked Rabbi Akiva, "If your G'd loves the poor, why does He not provide for them?" Rabbi Akiva answered, "G'd wants to give the affluent an opportunity to gain a merit that will save them from the punishment in the World to Come." This corresponds to what we mentioned above, that the word "tzedakah" also translates as "a merit".

Affluent obligated to look after the poor

It is beyond human comprehension to understand why some people are blessed with affluence, whereas others live in poverty. Only G'd, Who sees the total picture of the world from the beginning of Creation to the End of Days, knows the true justice of this situation. To the human eye, the imbalance of the distribution of wealth appears to be unfair. As King Solomon says (Koheles 9:11): "Not to the wise comes the bread, and not to the smart the wealth." However, the Torah takes care of this and obligates the affluent to look after the needs of the poor (see Shemos 22:24 and Devarim 16:7-12). In this way, through the donations of "tzedakah" of the affluent, the righteous balance of the world is restored, even from a human point of view. For at the end of the day, a society based on Torah law will provide the daily needs for every individual.

Undiluted righteousness

G'd specifically wants to involve those who are blessed with riches to look after the needy to give the wealthy the merit for their act of "tzedakah". This is hinted at in Parashas Va'Eschanan (Devarim 6:25) where it says: "And this shall be for us 'tzedakah'", which translates both as "an act of righteousness" and as "a merit" (see also Devarim 24:13). For reasons only known to G'd, He will conduct Himself with strict righteousness, when He provides for the poor. And at the same time He gives the affluent the opportunity to act with mercy, thus providing them with a merit. Obviously, at the end of the day, it is G'd Who, in His great mercy, orchestrates that the poor shall be taken care of through the charity of the affluent.

Honest dealings and prayer

This does not mean that we have no way of making a difference in our financial situation. The Talmud (Niddah 70b) relates that the community of Alexandria asked Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Chanania several questions. One of them was, "What shall a person do in order to become rich?" He answered them, "He shall get involved in commerce and deal honestly with people". They said to him, "Many tried this and did not succeed." Concludes the Talmud, "He must also ask for mercy by the One Who is the owner of all the riches, as it says [Chagi 2:8): 'The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine, says G'd'; for one without the other [getting involved in honest business deals without praying, or vice versa] will not be sufficient." We have many opportunities in our daily prayers to pray that we shall be able to provide for our needs without the assistance of other people. In the third blessing of Grace After Meals we ask G'd that we should be amongst those who are blessed directly from the hand of G'd. As we say, "Please, HASHEM our G'd, do not make us needy, not to the gifts of human beings, and not to their loans, but only to Your full, open, holy and generous hand, that we shall not feel shame and be humiliated forever."

Judgment and kindness

In the above-mentioned blessing in Shemoneh Esrei, we pray: "And reign over us You G'd alone with kindness and mercy." We here ask that G'd shall reign on His own without the Heavenly court. For in His infinite wisdom, G'd has established a Divine court that conducts its justice with strict, undiluted righteousness (see Rashi Bereishis 19:24). Obviously, G'd is above the Heavenly court, and has the ability to reign on His own with kindness and mercy. However, the Talmud (Bava Kama 50a) teaches that even when G'd's reigns with kindness and mercy, He does not totally eliminate judgment, but blends them together. As we continue in the above prayer and say, "And justify us in judgment."

Adam and Eve

We find this conduct right from the beginning of Creation. When G'd punished Adam and Eve for their sin, they did not die immediately as the strict judgment would require. Instead, they were expelled from the Garden of Eden, and they were punished with several curses, but only died many years later. Thus their punishment was a blend of judgment and mercy.


Throughout the six days of Creation, G'd is referred to in the Torah as "Elokim". Immediately after that, G'd is described with both the Four Letter Name and "Elokim" (see Bereishis 2:4). Rashi (Bereishis 1:1) explains that "Elokim" refers to G'd's conduct of strict judgment, whereas the Four Letter Name refers to G'd's conduct of mercy. Rashi further explains that throughout the Creation, G'd is referred to as "Elokim" because the main purpose of Creation is that man should merit his rewards, even when the conduct is based on strict judgment. However, G'd is aware of man's weakness, and therefore decided to conduct the world with a blend of judgment and mercy. By putting the Four Letter Name before "Elokim" we are given to understand that G'd prefers to conduct the world with mercy rather than with strict judgment.

G'd loves righteousness and justice

This is also why it says in the above-mentioned verse in Tehillim that "He [G'd] loves righteousness ["tzedakah"] and justice." "Tzedakah" with the "hay" of mercy comes before justice. And this is how we conclude the above-noted blessing: "Blessed are You, HASHEM, Who loves righteousness ["tzedakah"] and judgment."

Abraham loves righteousness and justice

The Talmud (Sotah 14a, see also Shabbos 133b) teaches that the Torah obligates us to emulate G'd and follow in His ways. As it says (Devarim 13:5), "And you shall follow HASHEM your G'd." Just as G'd loves righteousness and judgment, so must we. G'd chose Abraham to be the first Patriarch of His chosen nation because he exhibited these character traits and made sure to educate his children to embrace them as well. As it says (Bereishis 18:19): "For I have loved him because his instructs his children to do righteousness ("tzedakah") and justice." G'd expects us to follow in His ways and emulate our great Patriarch. The Torah is referred to as "the judgments of G'd" (see Tehillim 19:10) and thus represents justice. The Mishnah teaches us that only when we exhibit a love for righteousness will we be able to blend righteousness with the justice of Torah and thus we will have the capacity to truly acquire Torah.

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.

Shalom. Michael Deverett

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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel