Parshat Terumah / Shabbat Zachor
A Time to Give
Davening and Tzedaka
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The Torah portion of Terumah tells how G-d instructed the Jewish people to donate towards the building of the Mishkan (the traveling Tabernacle in the desert), as the verse says (Ex. 25:2), “Speak to the children of Israel, and have them take for Me an offering; from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity, you shall take My offering.”
The Chatam Sofer explains the emphasis on generosity as follows:
Everything in this world belongs to G-d who created all of it. Therefore, it would seem to be impossible to give anything to G-d. The only thing we can “give Him” is the generosity which accompanies our physical giving. So, if a poor person gives a small sum but gives it generously and happily, he has given something very significant. Whereas a wealthy person who gives a large sum but does so begrudgingly has contributed nothing to G-d since G-d owns everything of His and everything is His.
This is why G-d showed Moshe a fiery gold coin to illustrate the donation (of the half shekel) coin to the Mishkan (see Bamidbar Rabbah 12:3). The message G-d was sending is that if we contribute enthusiastically (with fire), He will respond commensurately with warm Divine blessings. This is why the half-shekel donation was given equally by every Jew (see Ex. 30:12), to indicate that the most important thing is to give with enthusiasm.
This article will focus on one of the opportune times to give tzedaka (charity) — before davening.
The Talmud (Bava Batra 10a) says that Rabbi Elazar would give a coin to the poor before praying.
It is noteworthy that this is referring to Rabbi Elazar ben Pedat, who was quite poor himself (see Taanit 25a).
Thus, the Shulchan Aruch writes (O.C. 92:10), “It is good to give tzedakah before praying.”
Merits to Receive the Divine Presence
The Talmud says that in the merit of giving a coin to the poor, one merits to receive (experience) the Divine presence, as King David said (Tehillim 17:5), “As for me, I will behold Your face through charity.”
In this vein, Rabbi Dostai, son of Rabbi Yannai, taught: “Come and see that the attribute of the Holy One, Blessed be He, is not like the attribute of flesh and blood. When a person brings a great gift to the king, it is uncertain whether the king will accept it from him or will not accept it from him. Even if the king does accept it from him, it is uncertain whether the person who brought the gift will get to see the face of the king or will not get to do so. But the Holy One, Blessed be He, does not act in this way. Even when a person gives a mere peruta (a small coin) to a poor person, he merits to receive the Divine Presence.”
Several reasons are offered as to why giving tzedaka before davening is important:
- When we daven, we hope to be in the presence of the Divine shechina. As such we give tzedaka beforehand to merit this experience (Ben Yehoyada).
- In addition, by giving the coin, we merit Divine favor which will increase the likelihood of our prayers being answered (Maharsha).
- Rabbi Dovid Shlomo Eibeshitz explains (Arvei Nachal) that the words of the prayers come from a very sublime spiritual source (the second hei of G-d’s name). As such, we should only recite these words when we have feelings of love and fear to G-d which would place us in an elevated spiritual state. Giving tzedaka helps us achieve this state.
- The Baal Hatanya explains (Epistle 8 in the fourth section of Tanya) that G-d, in His kindness, constricts His infinite light and shines it towards every Jew in a limited manner so that he can experience G-d’s presence during his or her prayers. In order to merit this revelation, which is like spiritual “life,” we must bestow (physical) life towards someone else (by giving tzedaka). In a similar way the Rebbe Maharash explained that “Davening must be with life (energy). By giving to the poor before davening, thereby giving him life, one’s davening is suffused with a great increase of ‘aliveness’ (enthusiasm).”
Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad explains (in the Ben Yehoyada) that the souls in Gan Eden that were never born into this world also gaze at the Divine presence, but they feel embarrassed to do so as they didn’t do anything to deserve it.
But when the souls are born into this world and they perform mitzvot (such as giving tzedaka) they then earn the right to that Divine experience. This is why the Talmud (above) says that one who gives tzedaka “merits” to be in the Divine Presence, i.e., he has earned it.
The Kli Yakar (on Deut. 14:22) writes that by giving tzedaka before praying we are also fulfilling another Talmudic dictum:
The Talmud says (Brachot 8a) that before praying one should enter into two “Petachim (doorways or openings).”
This can be interpreted to mean that he should open both his heart towards the poor man and his hand to give generously.
(In this merit the person’s heart will be open during his prayers, and G-d will open His hand to fulfill his requests.)
Putting it in the Pushka
Although the Talmud says that Rabbi Elazar would give a coin directly to the poor person before praying, one can fulfill this concept by placing the coin in a tzedaka box (pushka) as well, as long as that pushka is for poor people.
In fact, the Shach points out (Y.D. 249:1) that this form of giving has an advantage in that the poor man isn’t embarrassed by receiving assistance directly.
If the only pushka available is for another charitable cause it is customary to give to this pushka as well (Tzedak Umishpat by Rabbi Yakov Blau, chapter 1 note 4).
- Three coins
The Kaf Hachaim (O.C. 92:45) recommends (for Kabbalistic reasons) that one give three coins before praying and three coins at Vayevarech David (see below). In addition, he recommends (also for Kabbalistic reasons) that, at each of these points, one first give two coins and then a third (ibid 51:44).
When possible one should give tzedaka while standing (ibid).
- Hashem’s Name
By giving tzedaka to a poor person, one forms the four letters of the name of G-d — Havayah. Here is how:
- The coin is like the letter Yud.
- The five fingers of the giver’s hand is like the letter hei (which has the numerical value of five).
- The arm of the giver represents the letter vav.
- And the five fingers of the recipient’s hand represent the last hei of Hashem’s name.
No Poor Person
As mentioned above, one can place the money in the puskah if there is no poor person nearby.
One who has no pushka nearby but wants to fulfill this Kabbalistic reenactment of G-d’s name can pass the money that he is setting aside from his right hand to his left hand (ibid).
One who wished to set aside a small coin (or bill) but only has a larger coin (or bill) can pass that larger coin (or bill) from his right hand to his left in the manner mentioned above while intending to set aside a certain amount for charity. One can do this procedure for several days and then when all of the value of the coin has been dedicated to tzedaka, one can then give the coin to the poor (ibid).
Alternatively, one may simply decide in his mind that he will give a certain amount of tzedaka after the service (Piskei Teshuvot 46:1)
The Rebbe Rashab
The Rebbe Rashab would often seek out a pauper before davening to give him food (Hayom Yom ibid).
Loans and Other Acts of Kindness
Giving a loan to a poor person is considered tzedakah for this purpose as are all acts of kindness (Halichot Shlomo quoted in Piskei Teshuvot 46, footnote 19). See here for a story of the Tzemach Tzedek in this regard.
The Arizal would give tzedaka when saying the words “Veha’osher vehakavod milfanecha ve’ata moshel bakol – and the wealth and the honor is before You, and You rule over everything (Magen Avraham 51:7).” This verse is in the paragraph of Vayevarech David, several paragraphs before Yishtabach.
Same or Different Concept?
From the perspective of halacha (Jewish law), one may fulfill the concept of giving tzedakah before praying by giving in Vayevarech David as this prayer is well before the Amidah which is the “prayer” to which the Talmud is referring. Nevertheless, there is a preference for giving the tzedakah before the service begins as this will cause less of a disturbance of the prayers. It is possible that the Arizal said to give tzedaka during Vayevarech David because, at that time it was customary for the Chazzan to only begin leading the services from Yishtabach and on. As such, the section of Vayevarech Davidwas then being recited by every individual privately and giving the tzedaka then did not disturb the service.
From a Kabbalistic perspective, however, the concept behind giving during Vayevarech David is different than the concept of giving before davening. (The details of this are beyond the scope of this article.) This explains why the Shulchan Aruch HaRav mentions them separately, first in the section about Pesukei Dezimrah (51:11) and then again in a section about the Amidah (92:10) as there is reason to give tzedaka twice, once before beginning the prayers and once during Vayevarech David (Sha’arei Halacha UMinhag vol.1 page 102.)
Collecting during Davening
It is best for the poor not to collect tzedaka during (other parts of the) davening as this can disturb the prayers (see Mishnah Berurah 92:36). In fact, some say that one need not contribute to collectors at all during davening based on the principle that one doing a mitzvah is exempt from other mitzvot (Derech Emunah quoted in Tzedaka Umishpat, ibid). Despite this, it is permissible to give them if they do collect – except for during the Amidah (ibid). (One should make sure not to talk during the parts of the prayer when it is forbidden to do so.)
According to the Arizal it is proper (but not essential) to give tzedaka before Mincha (Kaf HaChaim 51:44).
The Lubavitcher Rebbe
The Lubavitcher Rebbe would place coins in the pushka (charity box) on his way into shacharit and mincha (morning and afternoon prayers). Often, at that time, he would give out coins to young children so that they could give tzedaka as well.
He would not give again during Vayevarech David.
Not before Maariv
Some say that it’s not appropriate to give tzedaka before Maariv (evening service) as night time is a time of Divine judgement (Birkei Yosef 325:1). Despite this, if a poor person asks for a donation at night one should give them (Tzedka Umishpat ibid based on the Chatam Sofer). (See also Sha’arei Halacha Uminhag vol. 3 page 271.) In addition, the Lubavitcher Rebbe says that one may place money in a pushka at night since it does not reach the poor at that time (ibid page 273).
By giving tzedaka, may we soon merit to the coming of Moshiach, as it says (Isaiah 56:1), “Keep justice and practice tzedakah, for My salvation is near to come, and My benevolence to be revealed.”
Wishing You a Shabbat Shalom Umevorach!