It’s that time of year again. Yup, the time when it seems like at least 10 direct mail solicitations arrive in the mail every day. Most not-for-profit organizations send solicitation mailings before Rosh Hashana, as it is a time that people often feel moved to give to charitable causes.
A friend once asked me: What if he contributes to a cause that turns out to not be quite as charitable as they seem to be?Does it still count as performing the mitzvah of tzedakah (charity)?
There may be two approaches to this pertinent question, a legal one and a philosophical one. To my friend that day, and in this article, I offer a possible philosophical perspective, based on an analysis of a verse in Lamentations 3:22, “The kindnesses of G-d have surely not ended.”
Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch, notes (Iggeret HaKodesh 10) a grammatical peculiarity in the verse. The word which has been translated above as “not ended,” תמנו, would more properly be rendered as, “we have not been brought to an end.” If the verb had meant to indicate that the kindness of G-d has not ended, then it should have been written in the third person plural, rather than the first person plural.
What is the meaning behind this grammatical anomaly?
Tzedakah is perhaps the most unique of all 613 commandments. Every commandment in the Torah has a specific limit. For example, the strands on a tallit, the tzitzit, are meant to have a certain proportional length; a cup of Kiddush wine has a minimum size; a shofar must be a certain minimum length; a lulav also has a miminum length; the examples go on and on.
However, tzedakah is unlimited in nature. Ok, so you’re wondering: What is this Torah column guy talking about? I heard that you are supposed to give 10% and not more than 20% of your income to charity?!
True. However, imagine that you were, G-d forbid, ill. You would certainly be willing to go to any length and expense to be cured. So too, Rabbi Schneur Zalman write, one is permitted according to Jewish law to give all ones funds to charity if he feels that he needs to do so because he is “spiritually” ill, and requires the merit of the charity to be healed. This is in accordance with the verse, “Whatever a man has he will give on behalf of his soul” (Job 2:4).
We can now return to our initial question: Why does the verse “The kindnesses of G-d have surely not ended,” which we noted would be more accurately rendered as, “we have not been brought to an end.” The Hebrew word translated as “surely not ended,” (or the alternative “we have not been brought to an end”) is etymologically related to the word perfect or whole.
It is because we are not perfect and whole without any fault or iniquity, that we must behave in accordance with “G-d’s kindnesses,” which are endless in nature.
In order that we should merit this infinite kindness, we must emulate G-d’s infinite kindness. Tzedakah is the infinite emulation of G-d’s unbounded kindnesses.
I thus answered my friend that day, that even though some people asking for charity may not be as charity-worthy as he may hope, nevertheless, there is something positive about giving anyway, for by giving boundlessly, we emulate the Creator, thus meriting, in turn, that he behave as such with us, even if we don’t deserve it.
So the next time you receive a pre-Rosh Hashana direct mail solicitation, consider opening it up rather than placing it directly in the garbage, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll consider making a donation even if you’re not sure if they’re 100% worthy of your hard-earned cash. Because hey, that’s what G-d would do.