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The Special Importance of Sedaka

King David proclaims in Tehillim (17:15), "Ani Be’sedek Eheze Fanecha" – "I shall behold Your countenance in righteousness." The Gemara in Masechet Baba Batra (10) explains this verse as revealing a fundamental precept relevant to Sedaka (charity) – that whoever involves himself in charity earns the privilege of beholding the Divine Presence. King David here teaches us that "Be’sedek," through the great merit of Sedaka, "Eheze Fanecha" – one is rewarded with the privilege of beholding a revelation of Hashem.

This concept is seen in other sources, as well. Parashat Vayera begins by telling us that Hashem revealed Himself to Abraham Abinu: "Vayera Elav Hashem." The Sages explain that G-d came to Abraham to perform "Bikur Holim" (visiting the sick), as Abraham was recovering from the painful procedure of circumcision. Of course, Hashem does not visit every ailing righteous person. Why, then, did He appear to Abraham Abinu at this time? The answer is provided in the continuation of the verse, which tells us that Abraham was sitting outside his tent, in the heat of the day, looking for wayfarers in need of hospitality. As Abraham made a special effort to involve himself in Hesed (kindness), he was worthy of beholding a revelation of G-d.

This can be seen also in the Misva of Aliya Le’regel, which requires making a pilgrimage to the Bet Ha’mikdash every Pesah, Shabuot and Sukkot with special sacrifices. The Torah commands that on these three occasions, "Year’eh Kol Zechurcha" ("all your males shall be seen" by G-d), and the Gemara interprets the word "Yera’eh" to mean not only that we are seen by Hashem on these occasions, but also that we see Him. (The word "Yera’eh" can be read as "Yir’eh" – "will see.") However, the Torah adds, "Lo Yera’u Fanai Rekam" – we cannot come to the Bet Ha’mikdash on the festivals "emptyhanded." In order to behold the Shechina (Divine Presence), we must offer sacrifices. We earn the great privilege of seeing G-d’s presence only by giving. For this reason, the Arizal (Rav Yishak Luria of Safed, 1534-1572) taught that nowadays, when we do not have the Bet Ha’mikdash, we must give charity before every Yom Tob. Just as we needed to bring sacrifices in the Bet Ha’mikdash to behold the Shechina on the holidays, nowadays we must give charity in order to have this special privilege.

The Ba’al Shem Tob (1698-1760) taught that the Shechina descends upon a person when he gives charity because the Divine Name is symbolically formed through the act of giving. The small coin, or bill, which one gives represents the first letter of Hashem’s Name, the letter "Yod." One takes the coin or bill in his hand, which has five fingers, and thus corresponds to the letter "Heh" (which has the numerical value of 5). The outstretched arm as one gives the money represents the tall, straight letter "Vav," and the needy person’s hand which receives the charity symbolizes the final letter "Heh," thus spelling the Name of "Havaya" ("Yod"-"Heh"-"Vav"-"Heh"’). Therefore, by giving charity, we bring Hashem’s presence.

In light of this teaching, the Kabbalists instruct that if one is placing Sedaka money in a charity box, instead of giving it directly to a needy individual, he should first transfer the money from one hand to the other. If one is placing the money into a box, there is no final "Heh," as the recipient does not receive the money directly from the donor. Therefore, in order to form the final letter, one should move the money from one hand to the other and then place it in a box. This practice is alluded to in the verse which commands giving charity, "Naton Titen" ("you shall surely give" – Debarim 15:10). The phrase "Naton Titen" alludes to two acts of giving – moving the charity money from hand to the next, and then placing it in the Sedaka box.

Moreover, the Kabbalists teach that in order to create the Name, one must initiate the process of giving. If one waits for the needy individual to come and outstretch his arm, requesting assistance, then the sequence of the letters is distorted. The Name must begin with the letter "Yod," which, as mentioned, corresponds to the money which one gives. Therefore, one must not wait for the person in need to come and ask for help, and should instead approach the poor person and outstretch his arm with the donation, in order to spell the Name the right way. This is alluded to in the aforementioned verse in Tehillim, in which David says, "Ani Be’sedek" – "I, through charity," referring to his initiating the donation of charity. The verse continues, "Esbe’a Be’hakitz Temunatecha" (literally, "I shall be satiated by Your image when I awaken"), which can be understood to mean that if we must be "awakened" by a needy person asking for help, rather than initiating the donation, then we see only "Temunatecha" – a vague image. If we give only after we are approached, then we form the Name, but the letters are jumbled, so we do not behold Hashem clearly. It is only when "Ani Be’sedek," when we initiate the giving of charity, that "Ehezeh Panecha," we see Hashem’s countenance clearly.

This verse also teaches us another vitally important concept relevant to charity. The Gemara tells that Rabbi Eliezer would make a point of giving charity before prayer, based on this verse in Tehillim – "Ani Be’sedek Eheze Fanecha," which could be read to mean that David came to "see G-d" in prayer after fulfilling the Misva of charity ("Be’sedek"). The great merit of this special Misva helps ensure the prayer’s acceptance. Indeed, the Pele Yoetz (Rav Eliezer Papo, 1785-1828) writes that synagogues should place a charity box near the entrance so that everyone can give money to charity immediately upon entering. Even if not, one should try to at least set money aside for charity before each prayer, and this will help the prayer achieve the desired result.

This concept may be explained in light of the Arizal’s teaching that before one prays, he should declare that he accepts upon himself the Misva of "Ve’ahabta Le’re’acha Kamocha" ("You shall love your fellow as yourself"), and proclaim his love for all his fellow Jews. This has been explained based on a parable of two brothers who lived in different countries, one of whom was very wealthy, and the other underprivileged. One day, the underprivileged brother decided to sell the little he had to fund a trip to his wealthy brother, certain that his brother would generously assist him.

After the long, grueling journey, the impoverished man came to his brother’s home and knocked on the door.

"Who are you?" the brother asked.

"What do you mean? I’m your brother."

"Sorry, I have nothing for you. Good luck." He slammed the door.

Sometime later, the wealthy brother went to visit his aging father, whom he had not seen in quite a while. When he arrived, he knocked on the door. The father opened the door and asked, "Who are you?"

"Who am I?! I’m your son!"

"If you don’t recognize your brother as your brother," the father said, "then why should I consider you my son? If you’re not his brother, then you’re not my son."

If we want a loving relationship with our father, then we need to treat our brothers like our brothers.

When we pray, we come to G-d as a child coming before his loving father, asking for what we need. In order to do this, we must first affirm our commitment to fulfill the command of "Ve’ahabta Le’re’acha Kamocha," to regard all our fellow Jews as our brothers – for only then can we come before G-d and say that we are His children.

This is why it is important to give charity before prayer, too. By giving charity, we are showing that we care about our fellow Jews like our brothers. And once we have made it clear that they are all our brothers, we can then stand before Hashem and ask Him to care for us like a loving father.


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