For the week ending 1 June 2013 / 22 Sivan 5773

Give It All You Got

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Melissa

Dear Rabbi,

I am challenged by giving. I know it's right to help others and to be charitable. But I always have this gnawing feeling that by giving to others I'm depleting my time or money from myself. Could you please help me with this?

Dear Melissa,

In truth, we believe that everything that we have is ultimately from G-d. And G-d bestows upon us what we have in order to use it according to His will. So since G-d certainly wants us to share with others what He has given us, doing so will not deplete what He's given; actually it will justify His giving us even more.

Furthermore, since our resources are granted to us from G-d, and G-d's resources are limitless, we will never deplete our blessing by giving according to His will. Surely, He defines in the Torah to whom we are to give, when and how much. And one who gives irresponsibly and indiscriminately will not be extended such Divine credit. But generally, one who gives of his time and wealth to others according to the teachings of the Torah need not be concerned.

One well-known teaching on the subject notes that the word "v'natnu" (Ex. 30:12), referring to the requirement to contribute to the Tabernacle, is spelled the same way forward and backward: vav-nun-taf-nun-vav. This indicates that when one gives according to the will of G-d, he actually gets back from G-d in return.

Similarly, the Torah makes a very enigmatic statement (Num. 5:10): "Everyone's holy things shall belong to him; whatever a man gives to the kohen shall be his (i.e., the giver's)". How are we to understand this? Clearly, if a person gives what he's supposed to give to the kohen, it then belongs to the kohen. Why does the Torah assert that it still belongs to the giver?

One answer is that while the object is certainly acquired by the kohen, the giver receives full reward for having given it. Why? Because it was actually never his. Rather, it was deposited by G-d into his possession for the purpose of giving it to the kohen. Therefore, only after giving it can it be considered "his" – meaning his mitzvah of giving. In fact, if he were to withhold this relatively small amount which is due to the kohen, Rashi tells us that G-d would see to it that the rest of his wealth would actually be depleted such that what belongs to the kohen is all he'd have left.

This implies a very powerful message. All we really have is what we've been given to give to others. If we give it, it becomes ours in the sense that we get the reward for having given it. If we withhold it, it becomes ours in the sense that it's all we'll be left with - but even then it really belongs to someone else.

A rabbi and advisor to the ruler once expressed this idea to another advisor who was a rabid anti-Semite. Capitalizing on what he thought was a great opportunity, the evil advisor questioned the rabbi's fidelity to the king and challenged him to ask the rabbi about the quantity of his wealth. The king later inquired of the rabbi, who, after thinking for a while, replied with a relatively modest sum. After the anti-Semite demonstrated to the king that according to royal records the rabbi was worth much more than he declared, the king instructed the rabbi to report to the torture chamber of the palace to ask the torturer if he had fulfilled the king's orders. Little did the rabbi know that this was actually a signal to the torturer to execute the one being sent, i.e. the rabbi.

On his way to the chamber, the rabbi received a pressing message requesting him to perform a brit mila in the community, which, given the urgency of the request, he decided to do. After some time, the anti-Semite, gleefully anticipating the results of his machinations, went to the dungeon in order to inquire whether the torturer had fulfilled the king's orders – at which point he summarily seized the anti-Semitic advisor and executed the orders as signaled.

When the king heard of this unusual turnabout, clearly indicating Divine intervention, he realized the rabbi must have been innocent. But he nevertheless challenged him to explain why his declared worth was so short of the royal records. The rabbi explained that one should not consider his properties and possessions as his – what a person really owns, and therefore what he answered, was a tally of all the charity he had given. That, he declared, is a person's true wealth!

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