Photo Credit: Jewish Press

In this week’s parsha, when Hashem instructs Moshe Rabbeinu to build the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, He commands him, “Take for Me offerings of gold, silver, copper, etc. Many of the commentators ask why it says take for Me,” instead of “give to Me.” The almost universal answer is that it’s only what we give away that becomes really ours. As Chazal teach us, “Neither silver nor gold escort a person to the eternal world; rather, only his mitzvos and good deeds escort him.” So, the only “things” we “take” with us are that which we have given away for G-dly purposes such as the Mishkan, shuls, yeshivas and the poor.

The Gemara relates in Baba Basra [11] that there was a severe famine during the reign of King Munabaz. He opened the royal coffers and gave of his ancestral personal wealth to his people. The royal family was aghast and exclaimed with alarm that he was squandering not only his wealth but the wealth of all of his ancestors. Munabaz answered wisely, “My fathers saved below while I save above in Heaven. My fathers stored where other people could reach it while I store away to a place which is beyond the reach of man. My fathers’ savings paid no dividends while my savings are secure in the next world and pay dividends in this world.” The Arizal adds that while other mitzvos can be extinguished by sin, the rarified mitzvah of tzedakah is not lost even via sin.


The Otzros Peninei HaTorah writes a related vignette. There was once a Jewish man who was a highly placed noble in a gentile king’s realm. This pious man was greatly favored by the king, and as a result he was subjected to the envy and hatred of his gentile peers. In order to discredit him, they spun lies about his dishonesty and greed to the king. After the king was repeatedly hounded with these reports, he had to audit the Jewish noble. To the king’s shock and chagrin, his Jewish friend reported that his net wealth was only one-tenth of what it truly was. After inspection, the king grew very angry and arrested the noble and put him in a dungeon. When the king angrily brought up the Jewish advisor from the dungeon to face formal charges, the king accosted him, saying, “How could you lie about your wealth?” The Jew calmly told him, “You asked me for my true wealth. I keep a record of a tenth of my money which I give to the poor and the needy and I realize that it is only that money which is really mine, for that money is put away to be mine forever. The rest of the money is fleeting and can be gone in seconds for, as you see, the king confiscated it all overnight.” The king asked to see his tzedakah portfolio and saw that it was exactly as the Jew had reported and, of course, released him with great honor.

It would do us all well to absorb this lesson. Many are so excited to salt away money in high yielding mutual funds, successful real estate ventures, gold and silver, or even astute stock-option maneuverings. We must realize that all of this is for a fleeting 120 years. The money, however, that we use to help a struggling relative, a neighbor out of work, our local schools that can’t make ends meet, and our shuls (which are floundering especially now during the covid era) is money that will be ours forever.

I’ve said this before: It is considered very mature to salt away money for our retirement. But let’s ask ourselves: If we retire at 65, how long will retirement be? Another 50 years? It’s true that such behavior is an act of foresight. However, let’s consider the following. Our eternity will be infinite – trillions upon trillions of years will only be its infancy. Doesn’t it behoove us to have a solid mechanism of investing at least a tenth of our money for our eternal future? To remind us of this, the Jewish shroud, the kittel, has no pockets (much to the displeasure of the father who tries to hide the afikomen in his kittel at the seder). This is to drive home the message that we don’t take any money with us except for that which we give away.

The importance of being wise with the mitzvah of tzedakah can be seen in the words of the great Rambam. He writes an astounding statement. “One is required to be careful with the positive commandment of tzedakah more than any other positive commandment of the Torah.” What a premium the Rambam puts on this mitzvah. He means to be careful even more than with the positive commandments of Torah, Shabbos, tefillin and kashrus to name but a few. Other benefits of this mitzvah are: “Charity saves from death,” “One who increases their charity increases their harmony,” and “You should surely tithe,” which the Gemara interprets as, “Aser bishvil she’tisasher – Give tithes in order that you will become wealthy.”

In the merit of upping our game with this glorious mitzvah may Hashem bless us with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.


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