By: William J Jackson
Welcome to Torah portion 37, “Shelach” (1) and as usually Israel is complaining and will suffer the consequences of her gripping. Here the Israelites are resisting going into the “Land of Milk and Honey” (2), because of fear of her enemies. HaShem wants to destroy the Israelites and start new but Moses intercedes, as usual. Moses has a history of interceding for Israel (Exodus 17:8-13, 32:30-33, Numbers 16, 21:7-9) This is particularly interesting since in the beginning he never wanted the job of being their leader (Exodus 4:1,10, 13, 6:30). Here we will see revealed in Torah that HaShem has more than a soft spot for those that help others, He actually demands it.
Charitability (it’s not just a nice thing to do);
Some of us feel that being charitable and speaking up for the needy is a nice thing to do but we sometimes don’t see it as critical as the Commandments. You know, kind of like doing extra on top of following HaShem’s law. King Solomon hints at this in Proverbs (Proverbs 11:25, 19:17, 31:8-9). In much of the Tanakh it’s implied that being charitable is just basically a good thing to be. Yet, we all know the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Did you ever ask yourself why the residence of this original “Sin City” were killed? Yeah,.. sure,… because of sexual immorality, I was taught that to, but what does the Tanakh say in it’s entirety? There were actual seven reasons for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (3), being non-charitable was one of them. Go ahead check it out in Ezekiel 16:49. “Wow, so not being charitable is a crime?”. Yes and not only that, it’s a crime worthy of death.
Our relationship with the less fortunate:
Let’s leave the prophets for a minute and see what the Torah says. We all know where YHVH gave us the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:1-14, but what we sometimes forget is that was not all that YHVH delivered that day. YHVH also delivered a comprehensive set of laws that dealt with topics like observances, property and social responsibilities, see Exodus 20:19-23:19. Sometimes, us focusing on the 10 Commandments causes us to eclipse the importance of the other laws. In these many rulings HaShem states not only that we will not take advantage of the unfortunates but our lives are in danger if we do so Exodus 22:21-23. As we read on in Tanakh it shapes our understanding of the relationship we are to have with those that are than less fortunate, both being called to protect and love them (Exodus 23:9, Deuteronomy 10:18, 24:17,Isaiah 1:17, Zechariah 7:10). Additionally, we also see that HaShem will deliver justice to those who do not do this; Deuteronomy 27:19, Ezekiel 16:49, 18:10-13, Malachi 3:5. The important piece is that those that are less fortunate than us are not less than us, they are just another version of ourselves (Exodus 22:20, 23:9, Deuteronomy 10:19, 23:8, Leviticus 19:33-34).
Giving a helping hand (even if you don’t want to):
If we read Deuteronomy 22:4 it doesn’t tell us we should help others, it states we have to help others. Actually, in Exodus 23:5 it takes it a step further and says we are to help people we don’t even like. I think that what is implied here is that we don’t just help those we like because although this might make us feel selfless, it doesn’t always mean that we are being selfless. Conversely, when we help people that can’t benefit us our motives are pure, and better yet if we help others that don’t know we are helping them (anonymous) our motives are at there purest. Simply said, the further we remove ourselves from receiving credit for our charitable actions the more pious are our motives. The Hebrew word for charity is “Tzedakah” and in Judaism, based off the principle we just discussed, there are different levels of Tzedakah.
The levels of charity (Tzedakah), from the least meritorious to the most meritorious, are (4):
- Giving begrudgingly
- Giving less that you should, but giving it cheerfully.
- Giving after being asked
- Giving before being asked
- Giving when you do not know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient knows your identity
- Giving when you know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient doesn’t know your identity
- Giving when neither party knows the others identity
- Helping the recipient to become self-reliant
If we are to factor in bible studies, prayers and worship we must factor in charity into our personal lives. T.C. Leach, the writer of “Rise and Shine in the Community”, gives us a comprehensive list of things we can do to be more charitable (5). It is probably a good idea to schedule some serve work into ones life on a routine bases. Aside from penciling in these activities we should also be on the look out to do a good deed, they will sneak up on you throughout the day.
I feel inclined to voice some disclaimers.
1. Be Prudent: First we should always show prudence (caution) when helping out (Proverbs 8:12, 13:16, 27:12). For example if your going to help out the “homeless” it’s wiser to do it with someone or with an organization and not by yourself.
2. Don’t Enable: Another good point is show discretion for those you help. Make sure how you help does not make you an enabler. For example its better to pay bills or for groceries for some people than it is to give them money.
3. Don’t be a Patsy: And finally, just remember “we are to be a welcome mat not a door mat”. Simply said we should help others but not at the expense of our own dignitary. If our good nature is being taking advantage of we need to back off.
Above all else don’t allow these disclaimers to be your excuse to do nothing.