THE STAMP FOR LIFE
Rabbi Norman Schloss
In this week's Torah portion we come across the obligation incumbent upon every individual to contribute to communal needs.
In this week's Torah portion we come across the obligation incumbent upon every individual to contribute to communal needs. The portion begins with the commandment regarding everyone's pledges towards the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), the first "building fund" campaign in Jewish history.
Two types of contributions could be made to the Mishkan. There is the equal contribution that all have to make. This points out to us that when it comes to giving tzedakah, we all have an obligation, no matter what our financial status might be. Even a poor person is obligated to, in some way, help his fellow man by giving tzedakah. In this way, the poor person also realizes that everything comes from Hashem and that nothing really belongs to him. The second type of contribution is the free-will donation. For this, each individual is obligated to look into his own pocket and give accordingly. This requires a realization that all of one's good fortune emanates from Hashem's blessings and not from one's own doings.
Regarding this, there is a seemingly strange comment made by the rabbis in the Talmud: "For the righteous person, his money is more beloved than his very being." How are we to understand that a righteous person is so attached to money? Rabbi Meir Shapiro, the great Torah scholar of Lublin in the first part of this century, explains that only a righteous person recognizes the vast potential of money - how it can be used to sustain life, to strengthen Torah study, and help establish centers of Torah observance. These are all areas that one cannot maintain through his physical being alone. One who recognizes this can truly appreciate the power of accomplishment that money has. This is not so with others. Many people seek to acquire wealth as a means for satisfying themselves. As the saying goes, "He who dies with the most toys, wins." They realize the potential of money only for the sake of fulfilling their own bodily needs, and do not recognize the obligation that having money brings with it.
Rabbi Paysach Krohn, a renowned writer and speaker on Torah topics, relates a story which pinpoints this theme: There was once a rabbi going around collecting money for a worthwhile cause. He came to a particular person's home to ask for a donation. The man replied to the rabbi, "I am already overextended. I can't give any more tzedakah." The rabbi responded with the following story:
A man from a small town decided that he wanted to send a package to his relative overseas. When he came to the post office, the clerk informed him that the package was too heavy and could not be sent. Chagrined, the man told the clerk that he would take the package home, take out some of the items, repack it and then bring it back for shipment. "No need to," said the postal clerk. "We'll just put more stamps on the package and then you can send it as it is." Said the man from the small town, "Foolish clerk, if I put more postage on the package it will weigh even more!" Little did he realize that it was the stamps that make the whole system work. Not only would they not contribute extra weight to the package, their very presence enables the package to be sent.
The same is true with giving tzedakah. Rather then being a burden that one cannot bear, tzedakah is the very vehicle that enriches. Only by recognizing fully the potential that our tzedakeh money has, can we truly enjoy whatever Hashem blesses us with. This is what the Torah promises us, "Aser t'aser" - Give your share (aser) in order that you shall become wealthy (t'asher).
Rabbi Norman Schloss writes from Atlanta.
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