If one visits “The Chessed Fund” one will see entries of families in distress with illness and/or poverty, seeking financial assistance because their burden is too heavy. There are other who remain unknown to suffer alone. Why are there so many illnesses and devastating circumstances afflicting our Jewish Family of Neshomas? What can one do?
Geulah b’Rachamim Program, Volume 2,
Essay #10 Tzedakah and Redemption
May 07, 2018
TZEDAKAH IS A Torah mitzvah. By now, most societies, even those who do not believe in God or Torah, have accepted that helping the poor is a societal necessity. Social Darwinism wants to do away with this, letting “fate” decide who survives and who doesn’t. But, fortunately, most people still have an innate problem with that, and charity still remains an important part of everyday life for them.
It also makes sense, from a Hashgochah Pratis point of view, that tzedakah should be an important merit when it comes to personal protection. The Talmud says that “tzedakah saves from death,” meaning that God is charitable to those who are charitable to other people. He may even save a person who otherwise was supposed to die.
But, does tzedakah have anything to do with redemption? According to the verse, yes:
Yerushalayim will only be redeemed through tze-dakah. (Shabbos 139a)
Tzedakah is great because it hastens redemption. (Bava Basra 10a)
The truth is, tzedakah helps with EVERYTHING, so why should redemption be any different? When a person helps someone in need, they “redeem” them. Poverty is enslavement, and usually results in undesirable obligations to others. If we redeem others, then measure-for-measure God redeems us.
The Vilna Gaon added another important factor in contributing specifically to anything that directly helps the cause of redemption. In fact, he said that God purposely causes the people of Eretz Yisroel to need help from abroad, so that they can have a portion in the redemption itself.
People who live in Eretz Yisroel contribute directly to the building of redemption. They populate the country, build up the cities, plant the land, learn Torah and perform mitzvos there. All of this builds the Final Redemption in the most direct way possible.
People in the Diaspora cannot do ANY of this. But, they can have a portion in ALL of it through their financial contributions to ANY of it. The greater the Mesiras Nefesh—self-sacrifice—they make through their financial gifts, the more of THEM goes into the building of redemption. And, the more directly a cause contributes to the redemption process, the more this is so.
The Talmud shows that just as tzedakah can advance a redemption, the lack of it can bring exile:
The Rabbis taught: There was an incident involving Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai. When he was riding on a donkey and leaving Jerusalem, and his students were walking after him, he saw a certain young woman who was gathering barley from among the dung of the animals of Arabs. When she saw him, she wrapped herself in her hair and stood before him. She said to him: “My teacher, feed me.”
He asked her: “My daughter, who are you?”
She told him: “I am the daughter of Nakdimon ben Guryon.”
He said to her: “My daughter, the money of your father’s household, where did it go?”
She answered him: “My teacher, do they not say such this proverb in Yerushalayim: Salt for money is lacking? And some say: chesed.”
. . . Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai cried and said: “How fortunate are you, Israel, for when they perform the will of God, no nation or tongue can rule over them. But when they do not perform the will of God, He delivers them into the hand of a lowly nation. Not only into the hand of a lowly nation, but even into the hand of the animals of a lowly nation!” (Kesuvos 66b)
The Talmud questions this, citing examples of Nak-dimon ben Guryon’s acts of chesed. It answers:
If you wish, you can say that he acted that way for his own honor. Or, you can say that he did not do as he should have done. As people say, “According to the camel is the burden.” (Kesuvos 67a)
In other words, the stronger the camel, the heavier the load it must bear. Therefore, even if Nakdimon gave altruistically, he did not give as much as Heaven expected him to give. For that, he lost EVERYTHING.
As we did in Spain, in 1492.
As we did in Europe, in 1942.
As we have done so many times throughout our history as a nation.
Until it happened, no one thought it would. Looking forward, we did not see how we could so quickly lose what took us so long to build up. Looking back, we could not understand why we didn’t see it coming. If we had, we might have been more generous with our tzedakah, especially with respect to matters of redemption.
People give to the poor. Their plight is obvious and immediate, and there are specific mitzvos in the Torah commanding us to take care of them. They’ll give to help some make a wedding they can’t afford, because it pulls heartstrings. Everyone should have a memorable wedding day. They’ll certainly give towards education, because that determines the future strength of any society.
But redemption? Which mitzvah tells us to give to THAT cause? Isn’t redemption God’s thing? He’s asked us to take care of the poor and needy. He expects us to help people make weddings. But, where does He ask us to FINANCIALLY “invest” in redemption?
He DIDN’T, and He WON’T.
The approach of most to Torah is that there are things a person MUST or MUST NOT do, because the Torah says so. The rest is purely optional and up to each individual and only for “extra” points. They assume that’s all God ever expects from a person, and they are good with that.
It’s not entirely true, because of something called love of God, love of Torah, and a burning desire for a more perfect world.
When someone only likes another person, they are not concerned about constantly showing their feelings. They only feel compelled to show decency and respect in order to maintain a positive relationship, and that is all they expect from the other person as well.
If someone LOVES a person, then they tend to want the other person to know how much. They perform acts, usually above-and-beyond what is called “normal,” to express their desire for closeness. They make it clear that they enjoy spending as much time as possible with the other person. They will be ZEALOUS on behalf of the relationship.
It’s one of the simplest equations in life. The more a person loves someone or something, the more they are willing to sacrifice to have and protect the person or thing. It even feels GOOD to make the sacrifices, to be zealous for the relationship because it increases its value in the eyes of both sides.
A person has to ask him- or herself: Am I merely a loyal servant, or a LOVER of God? Do I merely learn and obey Torah, or do I love it with my life? Do I accept the world as it is for now, or do I dream of a perfect Torah world, with the Temple at its center and the Divine Presence in clear view for all to experience?
In other words, do you YEARN for the Final Redemption?
That’s not something the Torah is going to command. That is not something the Torah CAN command. The Torah commands us to do everything else with the hope that WE will develop into more than JUST Torah caretakers. It hopes that its mitzvos and narrative will light a flame of passion for God and His rule over ALL mankind, so that we will do whatever is necessary to make it happen from our end. That is what the Torah wants from us, so it can’t give it to us.
If one spouse has to tell the other spouse what to do to show their love and devotion, it won’t work. It’s not about the presents. It’s about the WILL that led to the giving of the presents. The things we do for others are the means by which we reveal to them what we want from them and for them. Ultimately, it really IS the thought that counts.
Dovid HaMelech summed it up when he wrote:
You will arise and show mercy to Tzion, because it is the time to favor her, because the appointed time has come. For, your servants DESIRE her stones and CHERISH her dust. (Tehillim 102:14-15)
If the ancestor of Moshiach referred to desiring and cherishing physical pleasures, there would be nothing to ask about. Everyone does it. But, he was talking about ERETZ YISROEL, and a MERCIFUL redemption, and how the latter is dependent upon the former. You can only desire and cherish a SPIRITUAL reality as a matter of WILL, because it usually comes at the cost of something material.
The more a person desires and cherishes the spiritual thing, the more of a material sacrifice they will be willing to make for it. If they truly anticipate redemption, as the Talmud insists we must, and the Sefer Mitzvos HaKatan says is a Torah obligation originating from the first of the Ten Commandments, they will invest whatever they can to make it happen. THAT is what God looks for. THAT is what God waits for.
People who truly love God and really understand the endgame of Torah intuitively know this. It automatically flows through them. They become zealots for redemption, learning about it, speaking about, and actively doing whatever they can for it.
The Vilna Gaon had much to do in his lifetime, locally and for world Jewry. His learning was about as intense as it could be. He was respected by the Torah world and by the academic world in his time. He could have spent the rest of his life just deepening his already very deep knowledge.
What agitated him, especially once history hit the 5500 mark, was the need to kickstart the Final Redemption. He knew that he lived at a special time in history, and that he therefore had a special role to play in the process of Moshiach Ben Yosef and Moshiach Ben Dovid. He pushed other matters aside to deal with the mitzvah of re-inhabiting Eretz Yisroel to do what had to be done from below so Heaven could do what it must from Above.
He trained his students accordingly. It was this that gave them the ability to withstand all the many difficulties and challenges of being the first to rebuild the “Yishuv,” when most others either would have packed up and returned home early, or not have come at all. They were real with redemption, zealots for geulah, even if it would not come in their time. They gave everything they had in their time to make it happen in our time.
As the GR”A taught, the closer we get to the end, the more the Sitra Achra fights back. THE End is HIS end. He’s not going down without a MAJOR fight, not without doing EVERYTHING he can to slow the pace of redemption, or stop it completely.
And, the Sitra Achra has many ways of doing it. He can use politicians. He can create distractions. He can choke the money supply for redemption, either by drawing it to other places, or by making it appear to those who might have given that it is not a priority. The Sitra Achra is VERY sophisticated in this regard, but people are NOT. The choices they make are THEIRS, but they have little or no idea how much they are influenced by the Sitra Achra and his anti-redemption machinations.
Just ask Yosef’s brothers, who actually sold their future Moshiach into slavery. Just as Dovid HaMelech’s family, who completely turned their backs on their only family member who was fitting to be king and the ancestor of THE future Moshiach.
Did they eventually come to realize their errors and greatly regret their previous words and actions? Big time. Have we learned from their mistakes to avoid repeating them in our time? Not at all.
Who even takes the time to learn about redemption, let alone what the Talmud means when it speaks about anticipating it? Who takes the time to understand the current historic context, and how redemption could fit into it? And, how many people invest in redemption, time-wise, money-wise, or any-wise?
It’s not wise. If investing in redemption brings it closer, our lack of investment must push it off. If zealousness brings God closer to them, a lack of zealousness must keep Him at a distance. This is the question “they” really ask on the Final Day of Judgment with the words, “Did you anticipate redemption?”
“Wait, before you answer that,” they’ll say, “we have this spread sheet that records your all-round investment in redemption, and your level of zealousness to make it happen. Hmmm . . .”