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V'etchanan 5772

V'etchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11 )

by Kalman Packouz

GOOD MORNING! Want to try something fascinating? Ask a friend, "What should we do about the starvation in Somalia?" Chances are you'll get one of the following answers: "What starvation?" "What's Somalia?" "I am too poor or unable to do anything about it." "I've got other priorities." What you probably will never hear is "It's not my problem." Intuitively, we know we are responsible for the world -- and each other. We may be overwhelmed or preoccupied, but we know that we should do something if there is a need.

That is what the Torah calls "Tzedakah" (often translated as "charity"). The correct translation is "righteousness." We are not only pre-wired to feel the responsibility, the Torah directs us to "observe the commandments of the Almighty and to go in His ways" (Deut. 28:9). We are commanded to emulate the Almighty -- just as the Almighty takes care of us though we are less than perfect, likewise we are commanded to take care of humanity.

What is the source of the Mitzvah of tzedakah? The Torah states, "If there be amongst you a needy man from amongst your brethren within any of your gates in your land which the Eternal your God gives you, you shall not harden your heart nor close your hand from your needy brother. You must definitely open your hand to him, and must definitely lend him on pledge sufficient for the needs in which he is lacking" (Deuteronomy 15:7,8).

How much of one's income should go to charity? One is obligated to give a tenth of his income to charity. It is meritorious to give a fifth (Yorah Daiah 249:1). There are many examples of giving ma'aser (a tenth or tithe) in the Torah. Abraham gave Malkizedek one-tenth of all his possessions (Genesis 14:20); Jacob vowed to give one-tenth of all his future acquisitions to the Almighty (Genesis 29:22). There are also mandated tithes to support the Levites (Numbers 18:21,24) and tithe for local poor (Deuteronomy 26:12).

How much should one give to an individual? The Vilna Gaon taught that the principle of supplying each person according to his needs is hinted to in the verses written in the previous paragraph. When a person shuts his hand, his fingers give the appearance of all being the same length. When a person opens his hand, however, he notices that each finger is a different length. So too with charity. Every poor person has different needs and our obligation to each one is in accordance with his unique situation. "Do not shut your hands" (verse 7); that is, do not give equally to every individual. "You shall surely open your hand" (verse 8); that is, notice that everyone is different, and give accordingly.

How does one separate ma'aser? It is often hard for people to part with their money. In the first paragraph of the Shema it says, "You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, all of your soul and all of your money." The Rabbis in the Talmud ask, "Why does it say, 'All of your money?' The answer: for some people, parting with their money is more difficult than parting with their life. (For those old enough to remember Jack Benny -- who was Jewish -- now you know the source of the joke for his "I'm thinking it over" response when challenged by a robber "Your money or your life!")

One easy method for those who receive a paycheck with taxes deducted is to take one-tenth of the paycheck and deposit into a separate philanthropic account. It keeps the accounting honest and makes it easier to fulfill the Mitzvah. If one has investments he needs to make an accounting semi-annually or at least annually.

If you would like to learn more, may I suggest the following books: The Tzedakah Treasury by Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer, Ahavath Chesed, Maaser Kesafim and Love Your Neighbor. They are available at your local Jewish bookstore, at or by calling toll-free to 877-758-3242. You may also explore and for more!

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Eight Levels of Tzedakah
by Maimonides (in descending order)

  1. Give a present, lend him money, take him as a partner, find him work before he needs to ask for charity.
  2. Give charity where neither the giver nor the receiver know the identity of the other.
  3. Give where the donor knows the recipient's identity, but the recipient is unaware of the donor's name.
  4. Give where the recipient knows the donor's identity, but the donor does not know who is the recipient.
  5. Give before being asked.
  6. Give after being asked.
  7. The donor gives less than he should, but with a pleasant countenance.
  8. The donor gives begrudgingly, but does not express this to the recipient. The Code of Jewish Law (Yorah Daiah 249:3) states that if a person outwardly shows his displeasure, he loses the merit of giving.


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Torah Portion of the Week

Moshe pleads with God to enter the Holy Land, but is turned down. (Remember, God always answers your prayers -- sometimes with a "yes," sometimes with a "no" ... and sometimes with a "not yet".) Moshe commands the Children of Israel not to add or subtract from the words of the Torah and to keep all of the Commandments. He then reminds them that God has no shape or form and that we should not make or worship idols of any kind.

The cities of Bezer, Ramot and Golan are designated as Cities of Refuge east of the Jordan river. Accidental murderers can escape there to avoid revengeful relatives. They then await there until tried.

The Ten Commandments are repeated to the whole Jewish people. Moshe then expounds the Shema, affirming the unity of God, Whom all should love and transmit His commandments to the next generation. A man should wear Tefillin upon the arm and head. All Jews should put a Mezuzah (the scroll is the essential part) upon each doorpost of their home (except the bathroom).

Moshe then relays the Almighty's command not to intermarry "for they will lead your children away from Me" (Deut. 7:3-4).

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Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states:

"And these things which I command you this day shall be upon your heart" (Deut. 6:6).

What lessons for life can we learn from this verse?

Rabbi Shalom Schwadron frequently said in the name of his Rebbe, Rabbi Yehuda Leib Chasman: "Just as with the commandment of tefillin when it says 'on your hand' it means without any obstructions, so too when the Torah says 'on your heart' it means without any obstructions. You must remove faulty character traits and emotions from your heart before you will experience love for the Almighty."

The Kotzker Rebbe commented on this verse: At times your heart might be closed and the concepts and ideas you accept intellectually do not penetrate and become part of you. Still, keep them on your heart. Once they are "on your heart" -- then as soon as your heart opens up, they will immediately fall right in!


(or go to

Jerusalem 6:59
Guatemala 6:13 - Hong Kong 6:45 - Honolulu 6:51
J'Burg 5:23 - London 8:27 - Los Angeles 7:34
Melbourne 5:16 - Mexico City 7:53 - Miami 7:48
New York 7:51 - Singapore 6:58 - Toronto 8:20


Be hard-headed and soft-hearted
--  David Packard


With Heartfelt Thanks to

Sam Pearson III

McTairie, Louisana


With Great Appreciation to

Jesse Jones

Lansing, Michigan


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