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Home » Re'e

Re’eh: Charity From The Heart

Submitted by on August 21, 2011 – 3:08 amNo Comment | 7,042 views

Unhappy Giving

I have a confession. I can’t stand being thanked for giving charity. I just hate it when the person to whom I gave a dollar smiles and heaps lifelong blessings upon me. I usually make a dismissive gesture, wait till they walk away, heave a small sigh of relief and return to my routine.

Ouch. I now realize how wrong that is. I know why I reject the compliment. I feel that I don’t deserve a compliment for doing what every human being ought to do, but the poor fellow who offered the compliment has no idea why it was rejected. I might have given a dollar, but in the exchange I might also have crushed a spirit. I didn’t mean to crush it, but I did. Is this a Mitzvah?

Technically the answer is yes. Charity is about giving to the poor and whether I showed friendship or crushed a spirit, the recipient received money. But every Mitzvah has a body and a soul. I might have given the Mitzvah its body, but I robbed it of a soul. The soul of charity is to share love and concern. To give not only money, but also dignity. In other words, charity should be given with heart.

Speaking of charity the Torah states, if there will be a destitute person in your midst, “Do not harden your heart or shut your hand against your brother the destitute. Rather you must open your hand repeatedly” (1) Note that the Torah begins with the exhortation against hardening our hearts rather than closing our hands. Though the commandment is to open our hands repeatedly, for charity is technically about the physical gift, there is much more to charity than physical giving. It begins with the heart for true giving is from the heart.

Why is the heart central to this mitzvah?

The Bond of Brotherhood

It is easy to proclaim a feeling of concern for the destitute. We click our tongues and make sympathetic noises before moving on to the next point in conversation. But true feeling cannot stop at the mouth – it must find expression in the hands. A feeling not translated into action is not a genuine feeling.  Conversely, giving without feeling is factually a gift, but it doesn’t create a bond. It fails to remind donor and recipient that they are brothers. Forging this bond is the essence of charity, which is perhaps why the Torah in the above quoted verse repeatedly emphasizes that the destitute is our brother.

Bridging A Spiritual Divide

On a deeper level we can explore charity as a mitzvah that dramatizes the transformation of intangible to tangible. A donor, who hears of a poor person’s plight, is moved to sympathy and a desire to help. Sympathy and concern are intangibles that have no bearing on the real world unless they are given physical expression. They are dramatic and intense, but they are emotions. When one finds a way to pour this emotion into concrete aid to the poor the spiritual becomes physical reality.

In charity there is a clear crossroads at which we decide whether to cross the spiritual physical divide. Another point about charity is that no matter how generously one gives, the act of giving never captures the full grandeur and intensity of the donor’s concern. No matter how much is given, the emotional depth is always greater.

This is all reflective of the way in which G-d created our world. Before creation there was only a desire on G-d’s part to create. The desire did not create a physical world, it was merely a desire. G-d then decided to give His desire expression and chose to create.

At first, creation took on a spiritual expression through the myriads of lights and energies that G-d radiated forth. But G-d was not satisfied with these lights because He wanted a physical universe. To create the physical G-d crossed the divide between the intangible and the tangible. To do this G-d dimmed the intensity of His radiance to make space for the physical.

The two things that are true of charity are thus also true of creation. Firstly, the spiritual desire was not given concrete expression until G-d made the decision to cross the divide. Secondly, the physical universe that emerged did not capture the infinite and exquisitely radiant lights that were present before creation.

The Pillar

We now understand why charity is one of the pillars on which the world stands. (2) Every time G-d grants us a blessing He decides whether the flow of blessing will cross the divide into physical reality and take concrete form in our lives or remain in spiritual form to be enjoyed by our souls. Every day G-d makes a decision about continuing the act of creation. He decides whether to extend the act that channels spiritual energy into physical reality or remain on the other side of the divide.

When we give to charity we make the same decision that we ask G-d to make when we beseech Him for life and blessing. The more often we translate our intangible emotions into tangible giving, the more often G-d showers blessing upon us and our families. The more often we give the more determined G-d is to continue the act of creation.

Charity is a pillar of creation because it gives us the opportunity to create. In charity we create an act of kindness, whereas before there was only kindness now it has become an action, it has assumed physical form. When we decide to cross this divide and translate our spiritual energy into physical giving, G-d does too. In other words, our charity stimulates a corresponding charitable desire within G-d.

This is only true, however, when our charity reflects a charitable emotion. When the act of giving is done without feeling we may have technically provided for the poor, but we have failed to bridge heaven and earth. We have failed to engage G-d on the highest levels and thus failed to stimulate a spiritual flow that results in blessing for ourselves and for the whole of the world.

This is why giving from the heart is crucial. This is why it is so important to communicate joy when giving to the poor. (3) This is why I resolve to smile and accept any compliment I am given for my charity. This will give the recipient a chance to see that I care not only to give, but also about them. It will also give them a chance to give me a little something in return and thus retain their dignity. (4)


  1. Deuteronomy, 15:7 -8.
  2. MIshnah, Avos 1: 2.
  3. Maimonides
    (HIlchos Matnos Aniyim Chapter 10) states that giving with a scowl is
    indeed a mitzvah, but it is the lowest possible form of the mitzvah.
    Furthermore, if one has no money to give, one must apologize for being
    unable to give and use the opportunity to reassure the poor and
    strengthen their spirit.
  4. This essay is based on Iggeret Hakodesh #4.
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