This week’s portion discloses the secret to becoming wealthy. (This is the oldest get rich scheme in the book!) The verse says:
ספר דברים פרק יד
כב) עַשֵּׂר תְּעַשֵּׂר אֵת כָּל תְּבוּאַת זַרְעֶךָ הַיֹּצֵא הַשָּׂדֶה שָׁנָה שָׁנָה
22) You shall annually tithe the entire crop of your planting, the produce of the field.
The issue here is the double wording in the Hebrew עשר תעשר – aser teaser. Making a double play on words (that really only works in Hebrew), the Midrash says.
מדרש תנחומא ראה – פרק יח
יח) עשר תעשר עשר בשביל שתתעשר עשר כדי שלא תתחסר
Take a tenth so that you should become wealthy. Take a tenth so that you should not lack for anything.
The trick to becoming wealthy is to take a tenth of your earnings and give it to charity!
Create wealth by giving away money? This sounds counter-intuitive. Shouldn’t it be the opposite, that when you save your pennies, they accumulate to make you a wealthy person?
The answer to this riddle is found in a debate between the great Sage Rabbi Akiva and Turnus Rufus, a Roman general:
תלמוד בבלי מסכת בבא בתרא דף י/א
וזו שאלה שאל טורנוסרופוס הרשע את ר”ע אם אלקיכם אוהב עניים הוא מפני מה אינו מפרנסם?
א”ל כדי שניצול אנו בהן מדינה של גיהנם
This is the question that the evil Turnus Rufus asked Rabbi Akiva.
“If your G-d loves poor people, why doesn’t He give them their sustenance?”
Rabbi Akiva responded. “So that we should save ourselves from gehinam through them.”
That is, without poor people, there would be nobody to give charity to, and we would not be able to save ourselves from death and gehinam.
There are two identical verses (Proverbs 10:2, 11:4) that inform us,
משלי פרק י פסוק ב
וּצְדָקָה תַּצִּיל מִמָּוֶת
2) And charity saves from death.
One is to tell you that charity saves from death, and the other is to teach you that it saves from the difficult judgment of Gehinam.
Hashem loves the poor, yet withholds their sustenance so that those with money can perform the mitzvah of tzedakah, charity. In other words, Hashem provides the needy with their sustenance through the excess that He gives to the wealthy. Since they must give a tenth of their earnings to the poor, they act as Hashem’s agents to give the poor people their food. This is a win-win situation. The poor person receives his allocation, and the wealthy person has the mitzvah of supporting a poor person through his charity.
With this information, the Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisroel Meir Hakohen Kagan,זצ”ל explains how giving a tenth of one’s earnings to the poor, makes a person wealthier.
Because Hashem is relying on the wealthy to support the poor, in reality, for every $100.00 that a person receives, only $90.00 is for him and $10.00 dollars for a poor person. If he doesn’t give the poor person the $10.00, Hashem has to deliver it to him in another way. Hashem thus looks for someone else who is a reliable and trustworthy administrator of the extra money that Hashem gave him to give to the poor, and doubles his money knowing that, through him, the “extra” will reach the hands of the needy recipient. Because the number of people giving a tenth of their earnings to charity is very small, Hashem has to repeatedly use the same reliable people. This is how one becomes wealthier through giving charity.
By the way, don’t think that the person who kept the $10.00 earmarked for the poor keeps that extra money. Because he was only entitled to $90.00, he will lose the extra $10.00 somewhere along the line.
This concept is predicated on the concept that Hashem provides a person’s livelihood and that Hashem has decided how much he will earn during the year. This is the perspective of an educated Jewish person. In the world at large, on the other hand, a person sees his earnings as the product of his own hard work, so the common attitude is, “I worked so hard for my money, why should I give some of it to someone else? Let him go to work and earn his money just like I did!”
The Talmud (Beitza 16a) teaches us that a person’s wages for the year are determined from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur.
תלמוד בבלי מסכת ביצה דף טז/א
כל מזונותיו של אדם קצובים לו מראש השנה ועד יום הכפורים תני רב תחליפא אחוה דרבנאי חוזאה
Rav Tachlifa the brother of Ravnai the seer said: All the food that a person will receive this year is determined from Rosh Hashana until Yom Kippur.
This does not mean that a person can sit home all day, not go to work, and wait for his money to come down the chimney because his yearly wage is predetermined. He must still go to work. But why?
This sounds contradictory! On the one hand, one must work for the money to come in, yet, on the other hand, he must acknowledge that Hashem exclusively provides his sustenance. Who is it, me or Hashem?
The answer to this conundrum is best articulated by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato in his classic work מסילת ישרים – The Path of the Just (Chapter 21).
ספר מסילת ישרים – פרק כא – בדרכי קניית החסידות
כאשר ידע כי ודאי אי אפשר שיחסר לאדם מה שנקצב לו, וכמו שאז”ל במאמריהם (ביצה ט”ז): כל מזונותיו של אדם קצובים לו מראש השנה וגו’, וכן אמרו (יומא ל”ח): אין אדם נוגע במוכן לחבירו אפילו כמלא נימא, וכבר היה אדם יכול להיות יושב ובטל והגזירה היתה מתקיימת, אם לא שקדם הקנס לכל בני אדם, (בראשית ג): בזעת אפך תאכל לחם, אשר על כן חייב אדם להשתדל איזה השתדלות לצורך פרנסתו, שכן גזר המלך העליון, והרי זה כמס שפורע כל המין האנושי אשר אין להמלט ממנו
When a person knows that it is impossible to receive less than what Hashem has decided to give him, as the Sages have said, “A person’s livelihood is predetermined on Rosha Hashana,” and the Sages have also said, “A person cannot touch even a hairsbreadth of something that is earmarked for his friend,” he should really be able to do nothing and still receive his full allotment, except for the penalty that has been levied against all humanity, that being – “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your bread.” (What Hashem told Adam in the Garden of Eden after he sinned.) This has placed on all mankind the necessity to exert some form of effort to earn his living. For that is the decree of the Exalted King. But it is very much like a tax that the human race must pay and cannot escape.
על כן אמרו (ספרי): יכול אפילו יושב ובטל תלמוד לומר: בכל משלח ידך אשר תעשה, אך לא שההשתדלות הוא המועיל, אלא שהשתדלות מוכרח, וכיון שהשתדל הרי יצא ידי חובתו, וכבר יש מקום לברכת שמים שתשרה עליו ואינו צריך לבלות ימיו בחריצות והשתדלות
Therefore, the Sages have said, “I might think that one doesn’t need to do anything to earn his livelihood. To negate this thought the Torah said, ‘In all the endeavors of your hands.’” Not that the effort that he puts forth helps at all; it is just a necessary component, and once the obligation to put forth effort has been satisfied, he has opened a channel through which Hashem’s blessing can flow to him, and he doesn’t need to spend lots of time on his livelihood.
In summary, although we must work for our living, the work itself doesn’t produce the wealth; it is just like a tax that we must pay. The real source of our livelihood is the grace of Hashem.
What is behind this unusual relationship between our hard work to earn a living wage, and the blessing from Hashem that should come anyway?
A very deep reason underlies this system, and it goes back to Adam in the Garden of Eden.
Our Sages teach us that all of Hashem’s punishments are מדה כנגד מדה – measure for measure. (This does not mean that Hashem gets back at the sinner “tit for tat.”) Rather, every sin that a person commits causes a negative effect in the world. This negative effect works against Hashem and those who keep the Torah because it gives the erroneous impression that evil is also an option. Hashem designs his punishments to counteract and correct the evil effect of the sin. In this regard, they are measure for measure.
When Adam sinned by eating from the proscribed tree, Hashem punished him with the “tax” of having to work for a living. But how does having to work to earn a livelihood correct the sin?
Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler in מכתב מאליהו – Strive for Truth explains. Adam in the Garden of Eden was on a very high spiritual plane. There, everything came to Adam in a “miraculous” way. For example, the angels would prepare his food for him, such that it was eminently clear that the only true reality is Hashem. There was no “Nature,” no cause and effect.
Adam felt that to serve Hashem this way was too easy. If, however, he could reveal the truth of Hashem’s existence even when it was hidden from sight and was cloaked in Nature, something that looks like an autonomous reality, he would be serving Hashem in a much greater way. Upon eating from the tree of knowledge of good and bad, Adam brought the force of evil into himself, plunging himself and the entire world into a state where the physical world looks like reality, totally obscuring Hashem’s presence.
When a person has a job, he goes to work, puts in his hours to produce what he is supposed to produce, and gets paid for his work. His wages seem to be the direct result of the work he has done. Yet, nothing could be farther from the truth. The pay is Hashem’s gift, part of his allocation for the year, and the work is merely the tax he had to pay to get it. Our job in this world is to understand that reality, revealing Hashem as the source of all our blessing, in spite of “Nature.” This is how having to work for a living corrects Adam’s sin. We need to undo what he did by understanding that it is not the work that brings us our sustenance, rather, it is the goodness of Hashem and His blessing to us, that gives us our earnings.
Giving charity is one of the ways in which we can display that we understand this principle. Giving a tenth of our earnings shows our trust in Hashem that we will suffer no loss as a result and that we are relying on the principle that all the blessing that we have is indeed from Hashem.
Hashem has even given us the right to test Him out in this. The prophet Malachi (3:10) says:
ספר מלאכי פרק ג
י) הָבִיאוּ אֶת כָּל הַמַּעֲשֵׂר אֶל בֵּית הָאוֹצָר וִיהִי טֶרֶף בְּבֵיתִי וּבְחָנוּנִי נָא בָּזֹאת אָמַר יְדֹוָד צְבָקוֹת אִם לֹא אֶפְתַּח לָכֶם אֵת אֲרֻבּוֹת הַשָּׁמַיִם וַהֲרִיקֹתִי לָכֶם בְּרָכָה עַד בְּלִי דָי
10) Bring all your tithes into the storehouse so that there may be food in My house, and put Me to the test with that, says Hashem, if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you blessing immeasurable.
Hashem promises that we will see His blessing as a result of our tithing. This is a way we can strengthen our trust in Hashem. Test Him! Start giving a tenth of your earnings (properly calculated) and see if things don’t get better! But, to work, it must be a full tenth.
There is yet another way in which we show Hashem that we rely only on Him for our sustenance: by keeping the Shabbat. When the Shabbat sets in, we act as if all our work is done, and we don’t worry about our livelihood for a full 24 hours. That I am keeping the Shabbat and not pursuing my livelihood will not affect my bottom line one bit. I will not come out with one penny more than this year’s allocation by working on the Shabbat, and I will not come out with one penny less by not working on the Shabbat. The allocation for the year is given to be earned only when it is permissible to work and earn money. Besides, one will never suffer for keeping a law of the Torah, as Hashem will not punish him for doing the mitzvah that he was supposed to.
The Chofetz Chaim gives a parable of what it is like to withhold one’s charity or to work on the Shabbat.
A merchant received a large delivery of wheat. He hired a worker to unload the wagon, paying him 50¢ for every sack that he brought into the store. As he brought the sacks in one at a time, the merchant would put a penny in a bowl on the table to keep track of how many sacks he brought in. At one point, the merchant dozed off at the table, and, upon noticing this, the worker dipped his hand into the bowl on the table and quietly stole a good few pennies. When he got home, he bragged to his friends how he robbed the merchant of so many pennies without him even knowing it. “Idiot!” they yelled. “You only stole from yourself! Each one of those pennies that you took was worth 50 cents!”
The same idea applies to the one who takes the pennies that are earned on Shabbat or earmarked for charity. He may have a few shiny pennies in his hand, but he has cheated himself out of so much more.
Giving a tenth of our earnings to the poor is just one of the many mitzvot in the Torah commanding us to help out our destitute brother. Time and again, Hashem commands us to provide the needy with whatever he is lacking. This week’s portion provides one of those places.
ספר דברים פרק טו
ז) כִּי יִהְיֶה בְךָ אֶבְיוֹן מֵאַחַד אַחֶיךָ בְּאַחַד שְׁעָרֶיךָ בְּאַרְצְךָ אֲשֶׁר יְדֹוָד אֱלֹקֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ לֹא תְאַמֵּץ אֶת לְבָבְךָ וְלֹא תִקְפֹּץ אֶת יָדְךָ מֵאָחִיךָ הָאֶבְיוֹן
ח) כִּי פָתֹחַ תִּפְתַּח אֶת יָדְךָ לוֹ וְהַעֲבֵט תַּעֲבִיטֶנּוּ דֵּי מַחְסֹרוֹ אֲשֶׁר יֶחְסַר לוֹ
ט) הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ פֶּן יִהְיֶה דָבָר עִם לְבָבְךָ בְלִיַּעַל לֵאמֹר קָרְבָה שְׁנַת הַשֶּׁבַע שְׁנַת הַשְּׁמִטָּה וְרָעָה עֵינְךָ בְּאָחִיךָ הָאֶבְיוֹן וְלֹא תִתֵּן לוֹ וְקָרָא עָלֶיךָ אֶל יְדֹוָד וְהָיָה בְךָ חֵטְא
י) נָתוֹן תִּתֵּן לוֹ וְלֹא יֵרַע לְבָבְךָ בְּתִתְּךָ לוֹ כִּי בִּגְלַל הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה יְבָרֶכְךָ יְדֹוָד אֱלֹקֶיךָ בְּכָל מַעֲשֶׂךָ וּבְכֹל מִשְׁלַח יָדֶךָ
7) If there shall be a destitute person among you, any of your brethren in any of your cities, in the land that Hashem you G-d gives you, you shall not harden your heart or close your hand against your destitute brother.
8) Rather, you shall open your hand to him and you shall lend him his requirement, whatever he lacks.
9) Beware, lest there be a lawless thought in your heart, saying, “The seventh year approaches, the remission year” and you will look malevolently upon your destitute brother and refuse to give him – then he may appeal against you to Hashem and it will be a sin upon you.
10) You shall surely give him, and let your heart not feel bad when you give him, for in return for this matter, Hashem your G-d will bless you in all your deeds and in your every undertaking.
It is remarkable to see how concerned Hashem is for the poor and needy. Hashem is more concerned about them than He is about His own respect. This is the hallmark of our Torah and Hashem who wrote it. It is all about helping the other person in any way that we can.
Hashem commands us to rejoice on the holiday of Sukkot. The verse says (Deuteronomy 16:14):
ספר דברים פרק טז
יד) וְשָׂמַחְתָּ בְּחַגֶּךָ אַתָּה וּבִנְךָ וּבִתֶּךָ וְעַבְדְּךָ וַאֲמָתֶךָ וְהַלֵּוִי וְהַגֵּר וְהַיָּתוֹם וְהָאַלְמָנָה אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ
14) You shall rejoice on your festival – you, your son, your daughter, your servant, your maidservant, the Levite, the proselyte the orphan, and the widow who are in your cities.
Rashi’s comment on this verse is stunning:
רש”י על דברים פרק טז פסוק יא
יא) והלוי והגר והיתום והאלמנה – ארבעה שלי כנגד ארבעה שלך בנך ובתך ועבדך ואמתך אם אתה משמח את שלי אני משמח את שלך
My four (the Levite, proselyte, orphan and widow) correspond to your four, your son, daughter, slave and maidservant. If you gladden my four, I will gladden your four. Hashem is the father of the orphan and the protector of the widow, since they have no one else to fend for them.
Those of us who are blessed with the ability to help others should certainly rise to the occasion and fulfill Hashem’s will to take care of His needy children.