Among the many wonderful traits of the Jewish people, helping those in need of financial assistance is one of the most prominent. From free-loan societies (gemachs), to rabbis’ discretionary funds, to local Federations, and many other sources, Jews tend to help those in need. Considering how often the Torah reminds us to care for those less fortunate, be they the stranger, the widow, the orphan, or anyone else who is in need, it is only natural that Jews tend to be more sensitive in this area.
When one is giving, however, does it really matter why one is giving? Or is the giving itself enough? Parashat VaYakhel offers a clue, in discussing the various gifts brought by the Israelites for the construction of the Tabernacle in the wilderness (the Mishkan). “Take from among you gifts to the Lord,” declares Moses to the Israelites. “Everyone whose heart so moves him shall bring them – gifts for the Lord: gold, silver, and copper” (Exodus 35:5).
Commenting on the specific mentioning of these three valuable metals, R’ Baruch HaLevi Epstein (1860-1942, Pinsk, Belarus) in his book Mekor Baruch, says that gold, silver, and copper represent three levels of giving charity (tzedakah). The gold level of tzedakah is, not surprisingly, the purest level, according to the Mekor Baruch. It occurs when the giver is of sound mind and body, and is giving simply because he feels that it is the right thing to do. He is not giving in order to curry favor with his fellow man, nor with God. He is giving not out of fear, but out of love. The silver level, on the other hand, is tzedakah given because the giver begins to sense his own mortality, whether due to old age, or due to a serious illness. As he comes to the realization that his days may be numbered, he gives tzedakah as a way to appeal to God’s mercy. Finally, we get to the copper level, in which tzedakah is donated only after the giver has passed on to the next world. In this life, he held on to as much wealth as he could. It was only after he died that he allowed his earnings to help others.
Let us all strive to “go for the gold (level),” and not silver or copper. No matter how much we can give, let us do so with a cheerful disposition, and as generously as we can. Let us not wait for the realization that we are but dust, and to dust we shall return, in order to spur us to give. Certainly, let us not wait until we have left this world in order to let God’s beneficence to us begin to help others. In this merit, may God bless us with all that we need, and more, so that we may continue to help others in need. May we enjoy good health for many years to come, so that we may maintain giving tzedakah at the best level – the level of gold.
(Based on ב. יאושזון, מאוצרנו הישן – שמות-ויקרא, p. 212)