Tzedaka, charity, is one of the foundations of the Jewish people. Our ancestor Avraham was the paragon of doing for others and imbued his descendants with social responsibility and concern.
Jews, despite being a miniscule representation of the world population, are disproportionate in their charitable giving. Wherever they find themselves around the globe, the Chosen People have either created or strongly supported social causes.
All of this raises an interesting observation on this week’s Parsha. In retelling their journeys in the desert, Moshe says:
“שמלתך לא בלתה מעליך ורגלך לא בצקה זה ארבעים שנה”
“Your clothing did not whither from upon you and feet didn’t swell these 40 years”
Moshe reminds the Jewish nation that ALL of their needs, both physical and spiritual, were tended to by HaShem during their time in the desert. They were provided with food and clothing and suffered no ailments.
Rav Shimshon Pinkus, Z”L, points out that this means that there was no need for tzedaka for those first 40 years. How could it be that a nation, built on the principles of caring for others, would be bereft of the actions of charity and kindness?
His answer provides us with an understanding to just how powerful acts of tzedaka and chesed can be.
It is written (Mishlei 10:2) that צדקה תציל ממות “Charity can save one from death”.
Due to the sin of the accepting the report of the spies, it was decreed on the generation in the desert to die off prior to entering the Land. It was a heavenly mandate that even Moshe could not avert.
Rav Pinkus explains that had the people been able to perform charitable acts, they would have overcome from the death sentence resulting from that decree. In order to be able to enter Eretz Yisrael, the people who participated with spies had to die in the desert.
Tzedaka is so powerful that it can reverse a divine punishment. In order to facilitate the fulfillment of the decree and allow entrance to the land, HaShem removed the opportunity to give to each other and took care of all of their needs Himself.
How is tzedaka so powerful that it can protect one from death?
Perhaps it can be understood from the famous saying “money is the root of all evil”. Money represents materialism and all of the potential ills that it can bring. The pursuit of money can often steer a person away from spiritual growth. Money can be “dirty”, both in the literal as well as figurative sense.
What happens when someone uses money for good?
They give of their own to someone who may be less fortunate. Rather than only building their own futures, they “invest” in the improvement of others.
When HaShem sees a person transform the potentially negative aspects of money to good He says, I too will change the bad to good and save them from death.
Everything and everyone in creation has potential, for good or not so good.
It is our choice how to channel our energies, resources and money.
While some might say that “money is the root of all evil”, the Torah teaches us that when used properly, it can be the source for life as well.
May all of our pursuits culminate in good, for us as well as for the world around us.