Parashat Re'eh: The Long-Term Reward of Torah Study and Sedaka
This week’s parasha, Parashat Re’eh, teaches about the commandment to give maasrot. "You shall set aside every year a tenth part of all the yield of your sowing that is brought from the field" (Devarim 14:20). Of course, while the Torah relates to an agrarian society, and the farmer is expected to separate tithes from his produce, nowadays we are expected to give sedaka (charity) from our earnings.
The gemara (Taanit 8b) teaches that unlike other commandments, one can expect to receive a reward for giving sedaka. Regarding this, the Talmud relates the following story:
Rabbi Yohanan found the young son of Reish Lakish. He said to the boy: Recite to me your verse that you studied today in school. The boy said to him: "’Aser teaser’ - A tithe shall you tithe." The boy further said to Rabbi Yohanan: But what is the meaning of this phrase: "A tithe shall you tithe"? Rabbi Yohanan said to him: The verse means: Take a tithe so that you will become wealthy.
The Midrash, without explanation, connects this commandment to another verse in Kohelet (10:2): "A wise man's understanding is at his right hand, but a fool's understanding at his left." What message does the Midrash intend to convey? How does the commandment to give sedaka relate to "a wise man’s understanding is at his right hand"?
The Kedushat Tzion offers an interesting suggestion. He first notes that the gemara, in several places, asserts that "the words of Torah are poor in one place and rich in another place." Seemingly, the gemara means that while in one place it may be difficult to understand a passage of Talmud, elsewhere, where one can find more interpretations. However, there is a deeper interpretation of this passage. When one begins to learn gemara, he struggles to understand its language, style, and concepts, and may even become very frustrated. He should realize that eventually, after practice and hard work, the Torah opens up, and one can see its depth and beauty. Therefore, the rabbis teach that the Torah is "poor" when one begins, but "rich" after time. Similarly, the Talmud (Megilla 6b) states that we believe one who says, regarding learning Torah, "I toiled, and I found something." The commentaries explain that if one works hard and toils when one is young, eventually, Torah insights will come to him with ease, as one who finds something.
The same is true, says the Kedushat Sion, regarding sedaka. When a person first gives charity, he feels the sacrifice. Sedaka is "poor in one place." However, the Torah promises that eventually, after giving much sedaka, it will not be difficult; rather, it will be "rich in a different place," as he will be blessed with wealth.
The Kedushat Sion notes that elsewhere, a different verse (Mishle 3:16) says: The length of days is in her right hand, and in her left hand riches and honor. He employs this verse to explain the Midrash cited above. The right-hand represents the long road; that is the road of the wise man. The wise man can see the long-term benefit and understands that when he gives sedaka, he may receive the reward only after a long time. However, the fool looks for "riches and honor," and is frustrated when he gives sedaka and does not receive an immediate reward. The Kedushat Sion explains that this is the intention of the Midrash.
Furthermore, we may suggest a deeper understand fo the gemara cited above. When Rabbi Yohanan asked the student what he was studying, the young talmid responded "aser taaser"- he felt that like sedaka, he was giving without receiving any benefit. Rabbi Yohanan explained to him that Torah study may be "poor" in the beginning, but will be "rich" in the end. When a person gives sedaka, at first, he feels the sacrifice, and only later receives the benefit. Similarly. Rabbi Yohanan explained to the child that when learning Torah, at first one may feel only frustration, but eventually, he will see the wealth.
It is important to add that the reward described above also corresponds to the manner in which one give sedaka. Later in the parasha, the Torah says, "but each with his own gift, according to the blessing that the Lord your God has bestowed upon you" (Devarim 16:17). The commentaries ask, what does the Torah mean "kematnat yado kevirkat Hashem" – like the gift of his hand, like the blessing of God? Why doesn’t the Torah simply say that if he gives a gift, he will receive the blessing of God. The simple understanding is that the blessing a person receives is in accordance with the amount that a person gives. However, some suggest a deeper explanation. R. Shimshon Raphael Hirsch taught that a person is measured by the manner in which he gives. Here too, the blessing of God is dependant upon the manner in which he gave the gift, i.e., by his initiative or only after being asked.
The message of this verse is that a person who gives sedaka, generously and properly, will one day be rewarded, and will continue to be able to give sedaka with greater ease and without sacrifice.