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"And Yitzchak sowed in that land, and in that year he reaped a hundredfold; and Hashem blessed him" (Bereishis 26:12). Rashi explains that they had estimated how much it should have yielded and it yielded one hundred for every measure which they had estimated. Rashi further brings the teaching of the Sages that the estimate was made for the purpose of the tithe. Indeed, the Rambam (Hilchos Melachim 9:1) writes that it was Yitzchak who instituted the practice of tithing (although the Ra'avad argues, the Midrashim confirm the Rambam's view).
We may find it odd that Yitzchak, whose attribute was Justice, was the one to institute tithing and not Avraham, whose attribute was Loving-Kindness. However, I remember the words of a great Rabbi who argued that the Hebrew word "tzedakkah" is mistranslated in English as "charity." Actually, he said, "chessed" is "charity," whereas "tzedakkah" means "righteousness." The difference, he explained, is that "charity" indicates an act which I am not obligated to do, but I do it out of sheer kindness. That is not what tzedakkah is all about. Were I to give the needy my money, then it could be classified as an act of charity. However, the Talmud (Bava Basra 10a) teaches that Hashem gives the rich man the money which was actually allotted to the poor in order that he may earn a mitzvah by giving it to them. Consequently, the rich man is not giving the poor of his own money but, rather, returning to the poor man what is rightfully his. This cannot be classified as an act of "charity" but as an act of "righteousness."
According to this, it is fitting that specifically Yitzchak, the Pillar of Righteousness, as opposed to Avraham, the Pillar of Loving-Kindness, was the one to institute tithing.
Actually, though, the practice of tithing is an excellent strategy to triumph over the Yetzer Hara (the Evil Inclination). Rather than have to do battle with him every time one is approached for help, fighting the feeling that he is being asked to give of his own for someone else, the simplest, practical method is that whenever one receives his earnings (salary, presents or any other income) he should immediately take off ten percent and place it in a separate tzedakkah account. That way, psychologically, he will always relate to that money as not his own, and he will have no problem distributing it properly.
Of course, one needs special virtues to merit distributing his tzedakkah properly. A philanthropist from Canada once told me that he was advised by a great Rabbi to say one chapter of Tehillim daily (any chapter) specifically with this request in mind: that his tzedakkah money goes for proper use.
But even some who give a lot of tzedakkah often forget a very important cause.
Someone once showed me a fantastic story in a book; I believe it was one of Pesach Krohn's. I don't remember the exact details but I will relate it as best I can.
There was a chassid (follower) of the Kapishnitzer Rebbe, ztvk"l, who was quite a generous donor to all good causes. One day, his secretary told him that a Rabbi Heshyl was waiting to see him. The man said to send him right in but was shocked when the door opened and in came the Kapishnitzer Rebbe himself. Jumping to his feet, the startled man asked why the Rebbe had troubled himself to come to him and had not sent for him to come to the Grand Rabbi instead. The Rebbe, who was known for his outstanding love of Jews, replied that he had come to discuss with him a very important matter of tzedakkah. The man was even more bewildered and asked if he had ever refused the Rebbe's many requests for help for any individual. However, the Rebbe explained that today he was asking for an unusually large amount: $50,000 to help a family that was destitute and was suffering greatly. The wife was sick, the daughter had to get married and, to top it all off, the landlord was threatening to evict them for being so behind in their rent payments. "I felt," said the Rebbe, "that, although you are quick to respond to all my requests to help people, this particular case would be hard for you to execute. Therefore I decided to come myself and visit you at your office to impress upon you the importance of making the extra effort to help them."
"I just cannot understand," the man continued to argue, as he withdrew his checkbook from his pocket and filled in the amount the Rebbe had specified, "why the Rebbe couldn't simply pick up the phone and instruct me what to do. It hurts me that the Rebbe thought I might disobey him when he knows how much I distribute to every needy person and institution in town. Now, to whom should I make out this check?" he sighed.
"To your brother!" replied the holy man.
When the prophet Yesha'ayahu admonished us to give tzedakkah to the needy, he added a special admonishment: "Do not hide yourself from your own flesh" (Yesha'ayahu 58:7). The prophet knew our weaknesses and addressed them. And we must know them too and find ways to deal with them. Tithing is one way of many.
May we always use the money Hashem trusted with us in the proper manner so that we will be truly happy in this world and in the World-to-Come.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network