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For the week ending 1 November 2008 / 3 Heshvan 5769

Chesed l’Avraham

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman - www.rabbiullman.com
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

From: Abraham in L.A.

Dear Rabbi,

I remember that my grandfather, of blessed memory, used to mention Rabbi Meir when he gave tzadakah. I don’t know exactly what he was saying, but I think it had something to do with asking G-d to help him give the charity in the name of Rabbi Meir of the gemara. Can you please tell me if there is such a custom and what it might mean? I admired my grandfather, who I was named after, very much and want to continue his ways, but I was told there is no basis for the way he did this. I find this hard to believe since he was a very learned and pious Jew. Thank you for any help you can give me on this question.

Dear Abraham,

The main character trait of Abraham was chesed — loving-kindness. You and your grandfather’s namesake, Avraham Avinu, would be very proud of you for going in his ways of charity and loving-kindness.

And yes, there is a widespread custom to mention Rabbi Meir while giving charity. In Hebrew the phrase is “Eloka d’Meir aneini” which means: “May the G-d of Rabbi Meir answer me”.

But what does this mean and what does it have to do with giving charity?

The Talmud (Kiddushin 36a) records a difference of opinion regarding the explanation of the verse, “You are sons to the L-rd your G-d” (Deut 14). Rabbi Yehuda explains, when you go in the ways of G-d, then you are called sons. If you don’t go in the ways of G-d, you are not called sons. Rabbi Meir argues and posits, whether you go in the ways of G-d or not, you are still considered sons, as in the verses “foolish sons” and “unfaithful sons” etc.

When giving charity we recall Rabbi Meir as if to say: G-d, please accept Rabbi Meir’s explanation of the verse and view us as your sons even if we aren’t worthy. This supplication is pertinent to both the giver of the charity and the recipient.

Regarding the giver, one of the reasons for giving charity (aside from the mitzvah of helping others) is to atone for our shortcomings and ward off harm. This is what’s intended in the High Holiday prayer, “teshuva (repentance), tefilla (prayer) and tzadaka (charity) nullify bad decrees”. Similarly, the Sages taught, “Charity saves from death”. Calling upon the G-d of Rabbi Meir while giving charity, then, implicitly recognizes our shortcomings and expresses our hope that G-d will accept our humble repentance and forgive us “as a father has mercy on his son”.

Regarding the recipient, even though we can’t truly judge our fellow man, we are still required to try to dispense charity responsibly by giving it to people who really need it and who will use it for good purposes. However, ultimately, whether a person seems deserving or not, we can’t really know for sure. Calling upon the G-d of Rabbi Meir when we give is as if to say, “Even if this person is not really deserving in your eyes, accept the position of Rabbi Meir and consider him your son nonetheless”.

This is consistent with an analogy made by Rabbi Akiva in a discussion he had with the wicked Roman leader Turnus Rufus. The Roman asked, “If your G-d loves the poor why doesn’t He support them?" Rabbi Akiva answered, “In order to give us a venue for atonement and salvation by giving to them”. The Roman answered, “On the contrary, by giving you’re going against the King’s will”. Rabbi Akiva replied, “This can be compared to king who was angry with his son. He put him in prison and ordered that his son not be given food or drink. One of the king’s servants had mercy on the prince and gave him bread and water. When the king found out, wouldn’t he actually be happy with the person who helped his son?”

So Abraham, keep going in the charitable ways of your grandfather Abraham, and may the G-d of Rabbi Meir answer you!

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