Parashat Re'eh- Judaism is Not a Supermarket
**This week's Parasha has been dedicated L’iluy nishmat Natan ben Shoshana HaLevy by his children.
The Torah in Parashat Re’eh speaks of the Misva of giving charity, in several different contexts. One of the intriguing features of this Misva is the unusual repetitive form that the Torah uses in presenting this Misva. It instructs, "Aser Te’ser" ("You shall surely tithe" – 14:22); "Patoa’h Tiftah Et Yadecha" (You shall surely open your hand" – 15:8); and "Naton Titein" ("You shall surely give" – 15:10).
The simple explanation for this repetitive form is that we naturally feel a degree of hesitation and reluctance to part with our hard-earned assets. Earning a living is difficult, and many people live in a constant state of anxiety about finances – making them feel ambivalent about giving charity, even if they sincerely want to assist those in need. The Torah therefore formulates its commands of charity with special emphasis, recognizing that people need an extra "push" when it comes to making charitable donations.
However, some have suggested an additional interpretation.
Many times, we are moved and inspired to give due to our feelings of compassion for those in need. When we see an emaciated, disheveled pauper in tattered clothing, we naturally feel pity and genuinely desire to help. When we attend a fundraiser and hear about the plight of the people in need of help, we are emotionally stirred and roused to write checks. This is, without question, admirable, and those who give out of compassion and pity are worthy of our respect. But the Torah is indicating to us that there is an additional component to giving charity – simply to fulfill G-d’s command of Sedaka. We are to give not only out of our natural feelings of compassion for the recipient, but also to obey G-d’s command. Giving out of compassion is certainly a Misva – but we must give also out of a sense of strict obedience to Hashem who commanded us to give.
There are lofty intentions that we can have when performing a Misva. They are all precious and valuable, as long as we don’t forget the most basic and important intention – that we perform the Misva because Hashem commanded us to.
The Gemara in Masechet Yoma tells of a woman named Kimhit, who had seven sons who all served as Kohen Gadol in the Bet Ha’mikdash. The Rabbis asked her what she did to deserve this special distinction, and she replied that she conducted herself with exceptional modesty. The Gemara then tells that many other women followed her modest practices, but did not receive such great reward. The Ben Ish Hai (Rav Yosef Haim of Baghdad, 1833-1909), in his work Ben Yehoyada, explains that the other women did not receive such great reward because they conducted themselves this way in order to earn the reward. After hearing about how Kimhit was rewarded for her special level of modesty, they wanted to do the same – in order to earn that same great reward, and for this very reason, the reward did not come. As the Mishna in Abot famously teaches us, we are to serve Hashem without expectation of reward. Our primary intention must be to serve Hashem, to fulfill His will. The fact that a Misva is Hashem’s will should be enough of a reason to perform the Misva.
Some people approach Judaism as though it is a supermarket: they go in for the purpose of getting what they want. They perform Misvot so that Hashem will grant them the things they desire in life – wealth, health, successful children, and so on. But this is a very juvenile – and distorted – perception of Torah life. G-d does not owe us anything, no matter how many Misvot we observe. We are His servants; He is not our servant. We are to feel privileged and fortunate to fulfill the will of the King of kings, to have been chosen as His special servants. This should be all the motivation we need to fulfill the Misvot.
As in the case of Sedaka, there might be different reasons why we want to perform a certain Misva, and some of them may even be legitimate and noble. But we must never forget that the most important reason is simply the fact that Hashem commanded us to perform Misvot. This is all the motivation we need to obey His will.