Parshat Reeh תשפ”ב

 This week’s portion discloses the secret to becoming wealthy. (It’s the oldest get rich scheme in the book!) The verse says (Deuteronomy 14:22): 

כב) עַשֵּׂר תְּעַשֵּׂר אֵת כָּל תְּבוּאַת זַרְעֶךָ הַיֹּצֵא הַשָּׂדֶה שָׁנָה שָׁנָה

            22) You shall surely tithe the entire annual crop of your planting, the produce of the field. 

            The issue here is the double wording in the Hebrew עשר תעשר  – aser te-aser, which allows a play on words (that really only works in Hebrew). The Midrash (Tanchuma 18) says.

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 be lacking.

            The Torah is telling us that the secret to becoming wealthy is to take a tenth of your earnings and give it to charity. 

            Create wealth by giving away money? That’s counter-intuitive. When you give away money you have less, not more. How could giving away money make you rich? 

The Talmud (Beitza 16a) teaches us that a person’s income for the year is determined during the ten days from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur.

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. 

            Even though a person may work many hours to earn extra money, at the end of the year he will not have one penny more than Hashem decided that he will have at the beginning of the year. He will somehow lose the “excess” money. At the end of the year, after calculating his losses, he thinks to himself, “It sure is good that I worked so hard to earn all that extra money, because had I not, after calculating my losses, I would have wound up with nothing.” Little does he realize that the only reason that he had to suffer the losses is because he had too much money. Had he not worked so hard and earned only what he was supposed to, he would have had no losses.  

            With this foundation, we can understand how giving away money makes one rich. 

            Turnus Rufus, a Roman general, asked the great Sage Rabbi Akiva a question (Bava Batra 10a): 

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 

            “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 (hell) through them.”  

There are two identical verses (Proverbs 10:2, 11:4) that inform us,

וּצְדָקָה תַּצִּיל מִמָּוֶת

2) And charity saves from death.

One verse declares that charity saves from death, and the other teaches you that it saves from the difficult judgment of Gehinam.  

Therefore, said Rabbi Akiva, without poor people, there would be nobody to give charity to (!), and we would be unable to save ourselves from death and Gehinam.

            Hashem loves the poor, yet withholds their sustenance so that those with money have with whom to perform the mitzvah of tzedakah

Since a person is obligated to give one tenth of his earnings to charity, Hashem gives him 10% more than the amount of money that He allocated him on Rosh Hashana. This way, after tithing, he winds up with the exact amount that Hashem determined he should have. Putting it into dollars and cents, for every $100.00 that a person receives, $90.00 of it is for him,

– his personal allocation – and the extra $10.00 is for the poor. 

This is a beautiful system. The wealthy person fulfills the mitzvah of tzedakah and, through it saves himself from Gehinam, while the poor person receives the money that Hashem determined that he should have on Rosh Hashanah.

            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. 

            In a perfect world, if all the wealthy gave a tenth of their earnings to the poor, everyone would receive the exact allocation determined by Hashem on Rosh Hashanah. The poor would receive the money Hashem allotted them on Rosh Hashanah in the form of charity from the wealthy, and the wealthy would remain with the exact amount that they were supposed to have. However, aside from the mitzvah of tzedakah that the wealthy have, Hashem is relying on them as His agents to provide the poor with their yearly allocation. 

Because, though, we do not live in a perfect world, and many wealthy people do not tithe, there are many poor people who do not receive their yearly income because Hashem’s agents of distribution have taken for themselves the extra money given them for the poor. When the wealthy person fails to allocate the $10.00 to a poor person, he ruins the system, and now Hashem must find a different distribution agent. Hashem then looks for a reliable and trustworthy administrator, one who faithfully tithes, and then doubles his money knowing that he will give the extra 10% to the poor. With a dearth of reliable agents, the same reliable people must be called upon again and again to execute for Hashem and provide the poor with their sustenance. For every 10% that they give out to the poor, they keep 90% for themselves. That’s a pretty good return. This is how giving a tenth of one’s earnings to the poor makes the donor wealthier. 

And don’t think that the person who kept the $10.00 earmarked for the poor gets to keep the extra money. Because he was only entitled to $90.00 in the first place, he will lose the extra $10.00 somewhere and remain with only the $90.00 that was meant for him. Since he is not giving the extra money to the poor, he will receive only $90.00, the amount of his allocation. 

This is the second statement of the sages quoted above: Take a tenth so that you should not be lacking. If you do not tithe, you may find your income dwindling. Since you are not giving the poor their money, Hashem will give you only what you were supposed to have in the first place. 

Giving charity to the poor is one example of how the concept works. The same idea applies to all forms of charity needed to support Hashem’s holy causes. Enough extra money is given to the wealthy to support all the needy charitable causes through the additional tenth of their earnings. 

Being armed with this information makes it so much easier to part with the money and give it as charity to the poor. When a person knows that it wasn’t his money in the first place, and that an extra 10% was given him as an opportunity to save himself from Gehinam by giving it as charity, it takes away the feeling that he is sacrificing some of his hard-earned money. 

            In the world at large, a person sees his earnings as the product of his own ingenuity and hard work. Seeing himself as the source of his money, his 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 money for himself just like I did!” 

            The Torah teaches us that this is not the case. Hashem is the source of your money, not you. No matter how hard you work and how ingenious you are, at the end of the day Hashem is the One who gives you the wisdom to understand your business and make the decisions that make you wealthy. All of your wealth is a gift from Hashem.

This idea is expressed explicitly last week’s portion Ekev. 

Following the Biblical commandment to bless Hashem after eating a satiating meal, to say the “ברכת המזון” – Birkat Hamazon – the Grace after meals, the Torah says (Deuteronomy 8:11-14,17,18). 

(יא) הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ פֶּן תִּשְׁכַּח אֶת יְדֹוָד אֱלֹהֶיךָ לְבִלְתִּי שְׁמֹר מִצְוֹתָיו וּמִשְׁפָּטָיו וְחֻקֹּתָיו אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם:

(יב) פֶּן תֹּאכַל וְשָׂבָעְתָּ וּבָתִּים טֹבִים תִּבְנֶה וְיָשָׁבְתָּ:

(יג) וּבְקָרְךָ וְצֹאנְךָ יִרְבְּיֻן וְכֶסֶף וְזָהָב יִרְבֶּה לָּךְ וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר לְךָ יִרְבֶּה:

(יד) וְרָם לְבָבֶךָ וְשָׁכַחְתָּ אֶת יְדֹוָד אֱלֹהֶיךָ הַמּוֹצִיאֲךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים:

(יז) וְאָמַרְתָּ בִּלְבָבֶךָ כֹּחִי וְעֹצֶם יָדִי עָשָׂה לִי אֶת הַחַיִל הַזֶּה:

(יח) וְזָכַרְתָּ אֶת יְדֹוָד אֱלֹהֶיךָ כִּי הוּא הַנֹּתֵן לְךָ כֹּחַ לַעֲשׂוֹת חָיִל לְמַעַן הָקִים אֶת בְּרִיתוֹ אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע לַאֲבֹתֶיךָ כַּיּוֹם הַזֶּה

12) Lest you eat and be satisfied, and you build good houses and settle, 13) and your cattle and sheep and goats increase, and you increase silver and gold for yourselves, and everything that you have will increase , 14) and your heart will become haughty and you will forget Hashem your G-d, who took you out of the  land of Egypt from the house of slavery, … 17) and you will say in your heart, “My strength and the might of my hand made me all this wealth!” 18) then you shall remember Hashem, your G-d, that it was He Who gave you the strength to make wealth, in order to establish His covenant that He swore to your forefathers, as this day.

Onkelos’s Aramaic translation of these words reveals what is going through this person’s mind. 

(יז) ותימר בלבך חילי ותקף ידי קנו (נ”א, כנש) לי ית נכסיא האלין

(יח) ותדכר ית יי אלהך ארי הוא יהב לך עצה למקני נכסין בדיל לקימא ית קימה די קיים לאבהתך כיומא הדין:

17) And you will say in your heart, my strength and the might of my hand has acquired all of this wealth for me. 18) then you shall remember Hashem for He is the one who gave you the advice (wisdom) to acquire your wealth …

Yes, you are calling all of the shots and doing a perfect job at it, executing successful deal after successful deal. But where does your acumen come from? How come only you see things as clearly as you do and understand which factors are essential to the success of the deal and which are inconsequential? How many other people sit in the same chair as you but make mistake after mistake? Hashem is endowing you with the wisdom necessary to make the proper decisions that will result in your increased revenue. Hashem is sitting by your side, guiding your decisions. Don’t think for a second that you alone are the source of your great wealth. Without Hashem guiding your every transaction, you would earn nothing. 

Therefore, the Torah warns us, don’t forget Hashem! You owe everything to Him.

So why was this placed right after the commandment to say the Birkat Hamazon? Because the Birkat Hamazon is the antidote to becoming haughty and thinking that you are the source of your money. The essence of the Birkat Hamazon is that we must thank Hashem for our food because He is the source of our sustenance! When we mean this sincerely, we are protected from thinking that we are the source of our wealth. If we were, why would I be thanking Hashem for our food? He has nothing to do with our wealth. It is all me! I did it all with my brilliant business acumen. Saying the Birkat Hamazon with humility and sincerity counteracts the haughty thoughts and keeps a person’s perspective on his financial matters in check.   

If Hashem is the source of my wealth even after I have put in all the work to produce it, why must I work at all? Why can’t I just sit home and wait for the money to come down the chimney?

The Torah nevertheless, requires one to work. In the Shema we say (Deuteronomy 11:14), 

וְאָסַפְתָּ דְגָנֶךָ וְתִירשְׁךָ וְיִצְהָרֶךָ

14) …That you may gather in your grain, your wine and your oil.

But why? Isn’t Hashem the source of our income? 

The answer to this question is best articulated by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato in his classic work מסילת ישרים  – The Path of the Just (Chapter 21).

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.” (The words 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, one has opened a channel through which Hashem’s blessing can flow to him, so 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 revenue; it is just like a tax that we must pay so that Hashem will send us our allocation. 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? 

To understand it we must return to the sin of 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 as a correction for the sin. How does working for a living 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, and it was crystal clear that it came directly from Hashem. Similarly, it was clear to see that everything came directly from Hashem, and so Adam saw 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 receives payment for his efforts. His wages seem to be the direct result of the work that 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 that 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, but, rather, it is Hashem’s goodness and His blessing to us that gives us our earnings. 

            Giving charity is one of the ways in which we display that we understand this principle. Giving a tenth of our earnings shows that we understand that we will suffer no loss as a result of giving, since it wasn’t ours from the start. I am merely Hashem’s agent to deliver the money to the poor person for whom it was earmarked. 

            Hashem has even given us the right to test Him 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. With this we strengthen our trust in Hashem. Test Him! Start giving a tenth of your earnings (properly calculated) and see if things don’t improve!

            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, throughout the Torah, Hashem commands us to provide the needy with whatever he is lacking. This week’s portion (Deuteronomy 15:7-10) is one of those places. 

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. 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): 

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: 

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. 

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