Adapted from Parasha U’pishra by Rabbi Moshe Grylak
Translated and adapted by Rafaella Levine
Most of us work hard for the money we earn. Our pay check represents time out of our lives, and our energy, mental, physical, emotional, or often, all three. It’s no wonder then, that we are connected to that money, or to the things that it buys us. We’ve earned it, and invested parts of ourselves in it.
Which is why it can be so hard to give it away.
This is also why charity plays an integral role in the life of a Jew. Because the harder it is to do something, the more precious it is to our Creator. Giving from our own money is literally offering up a part of ourselves – the sweat of our brow – to our fellow man (and hence, to the Almighty).
We protect the money that we’ve earned, and in doing so, often create blocks towards certain altruistic voices in our heart. After all, if we contributed to every good cause, we’d be on the streets ourselves.
Parshas Re’eh guides us towards balance in this area, and also back to our compassionate instincts, gradually breaking down some of the walls our ego had built in the name of protecting ourselves. No longer must we ignore those inner voices. We can develop and channel our innate desire to give without worrying that we will be taken advantage of.
The following system is based on the belief, one that permeates many, many Torah injunctions, that our actions have an effect on our thoughts, our perspective, and our character. So, with the goal of having a generous, giving heart, the Almighty prescribes a system of physical behaviors – forced generosity – for the effect of training our ego to move out of the way, and allow us to give automatically. The following commandments are presented, intentionally, in this order: 1. Second Tithe, 2. Poor Tithe, 3. cancellation of debts in the shemitah (sabbatical) year, 4. charity. This order displays a deep understanding of the human psyche.
These mitzvoth will gradually train the farmer to overcome his ego and view his fellow as part of his own life.
Every land owner in Israel must separate a tenth of his harvest and bring it to Jerusalem where he and his family enjoy it. If his yield is too heavy, he can sell it and spend the money on food and drink in Jerusalem.
This tithe is separated in the first, second, fourth, and fifth years of the seven-year shemitah cycle.
Here, the money remains his, but his use of a tenth of the crop is restricted. This limitation, which forces him to consume it only in Jerusalem, is enough to teeter the farmer’s subconscious sensation that he is the sole owner of his possessions.
The next stage is a little harder, but it only makes its demand during two years of the cycle.
“At the end of three years you shall take out every tithe of your crop in that year and set it down within your cities. Then the Levite can come… and the orphan and the widow … so they may eat and be satisfied” (Deuteronomy 14:28).
Here, the land owner is required to set aside a tenth of his crop and give it away – to the nation’s needy. Training the heart with these mitzvoth is done gradually. Four years out of the cycle, the Jew enjoys his tithe in Jerusalem, and two years, he peels away at his ego by benefiting the poor.
At this point in his education, the next commandment is, "At the end of the seven years you shall institute a remission” (ibid 15:1).
This mitzvah requires a Jew to lend money to his friend even though there is a risk that he won’t be repaid before the end of the sabbatical year, at which point all debts are remitted. (And don’t forget, all loans to a fellow Jew are a hundred percent interest free.)
This is already a high level of altruism. When we can lend indefinitely, knowing aware of the legal possibility that we might not see the money again, we have mastered our natural ego to a certain extent. Our heart sees our friend’s needs. Our personality blossoms, bursting out of the narrow straits of self-interest.
At this point we are ready for an even purer form of giving: charity.
"You shall surely give him, and let your heart not feel bad when you give him" (ibid 10).
In contrast to a loan which will usually be returned, charity is a gift, often to someone you do not know. You are saying goodbye to your hard earned money; you are investing in the other person.
This educational system of forced giving sprouts a change of character. It develops in those who follow it generosity, and openness and sensitivity to humanity. Through this process, a healthy, happy, nurturing, society flourishes, where people need not know misery, and no one need cause suffering to a fellow human being.