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Shoftim 5770

Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9 )

by Kalman Packouz

GOOD MORNING! I recently received 2 emails. The first contained an article on Warren Buffet's incredibly laudable and applaudable pledge to give 99% of his Berkshire Hathway stock to philanthropic foundations (Don't worry - he'll still be left with $620 million. And please, don't stop giving to Aish and the Shabbat Shalom Fax - I'll let you know if he starts giving here!) The second email was a list of the 1,000 most generous philanthropists in the USA; about 40% of the names were Jewish.

It's in our Jewish genes to be givers and to take responsibility to make a better world. It's not a surprise that such a high percentage of givers are Jewish. It is our Torah that teaches both tithing and Tikun Olam - taking responsibility to improve the world. Our Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) and Matriarchs (Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah) have been the role models for the Jewish People over the past 3,800 years.

The Hebrew word "tzedakah" best translates as "righteousness" or "justice." It differs from charity which is defined as "an act of generosity or giving aid to the poor." The Torah concept: it is not merely a charitable act to give to the poor; it is the obligation of every single person! Kirk Douglas once put it well when he said, "Tzedakah is not just a good thing; it's the right thing!"

The mitzvah of tzedakah does not only apply to helping just the poor. Whenever one gives pleasure to others - even the wealthy - through money, food or comforting words, he fulfills this mitzvah!

The Rambam, Maimonides, one of the great codifiers of Jewish law set out an eight point hierarchy for giving:

  1. Giving a present, lending money, taking as a partner or finding work for someone before he needs to ask for charity.
  2. Giving charity to the poor when both the donor and the recipient are unaware of each other's identity.
  3. The donor knows the recipient's identity, but the recipient does not know the donor.
  4. The recipient knows the donor's identity, but the donor does not know the recipient.
  5. The donor gives charity even before he is asked.
  6. The donor gives to the poor person after being asked for charity.
  7. The donor gives less than he should, but gives in a pleasant manner.
  8. The donor gives charity grudgingly (he feels displeasure, but doesn't show it).


Drawing from the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law (Yoreh Daiah 251), here are a few important laws regarding giving charity:

  1. Relatives come before close neighbors, then residents of the same city, then residents of other cities.
  2. Some money should be left over to help those in other categories as well.
  3. Feeding the hungry takes precedence over providing clothing.
  4. Providing for the needs of a woman takes precedence over the needs of a man.
  5. A Jew should give charity to poor non-Jews.
  6. If you pledge an amount to a charity, your promise has the binding power of a vow (Y.D. 257:3).

The Torah obligates us to give a tenth of our net income to tzedakah (but no more than a fifth unless one is very well off). It should be given with a joyful and happy countenance. If a poor person asks for money and you are unable to help him, do not raise your voice or treat him unkindly. Sympathize with him and warmly express that you would like to help, but that presently you are unable to do so. It is meritorious to give something to every poor person who asks for a donation, even if it is a small amount.

The reward for doing tzedakah is great! On Yom Kippur we recite in the prayer book that "Three things break an evil decree - Teshuva (returning to the Torah path), Tefillah (prayer) and Tzedakah (acts of righteousness)." Above all, do not give with a frown or regret the acts of tzedakah (or any mitzvah) you do - you lose the merit of the deed!

A wonderful book, The Tzedakah Treasury, by Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer (available at your local Jewish bookstore, at

The Jewish people are known as "bayshanim, rachmanim and gomla chasadim" - morally sensitive, merciful and doers of kindness. It is our national character and our aspiration. However, if we truly care about the world, then we must do our best to keep our people rooted in the Torah which nourishes these ideals.

For more on "Tzedekah" go to!


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Torah Portion of the Week

Topics in this week's portion include: Judges and Justice, Sacred Trees and Pillars, Blemished Sacrifice, Penalties for Idolatry, The Supreme Court, The King, Levitical Priests, Priestly Portions, Special Service, Divination and Prophecy, Cities of Refuge, Murder, Preserving Boundaries, Conspiring Witnesses, Preparing for War, Taking Captives, Conducting a Siege and the Case of the Unsolved Murder.

This week we have the famous admonition: "Righteousness, Righteousness shall you pursue, so that you will live and possess the Land that the Almighty your God, gives you" (Deut. 16:20).

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Love Your Neighbor by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah refers to the ultimate in spirituality:

" love the Lord, your God, and to walk in His ways all the days..." (Deut. 19:9)

What does it mean to "walk in His ways"? Why does the Torah stress "all the days"?

The Sages explain that walking in God's ways means that we must emulate Him by bestowing kindness and being compassionate. Some people mistakenly think that if they do someone a favor, especially a major one, that they have fulfilled their obligation to do chesed (kindness) for the next few weeks. Therefore, says Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan, the Torah stresses that the obligation of chesed is all the days. Every single day of our lives we must go out of our way to do someone a favor. This is how we can be like the Almighty!

It is a matter of focus and thinking ahead. Make it your policy to hold the door for someone. Let a car wanting to enter from a side street the opportunity to enter in front of you. Before you leave your home in the morning, put a coin for tzedakah in a pushka (a charity box). It is so easy, if you plan in advance.


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Don't expect more from someone else
than you expect from yourself.


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