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Mishpatim 5761


Mishpatim (Exodus 21-24 )

by Kalman Packouz

GOOD MORNING!  GOOD MORNING! Two weeks ago I wrote about the pleasure of giving tzedakah and controlling one's attitude. Below I have elaborated, but there is so much more that one needs to know. Probably the best book for a complete overview is The Tzedakah Treasury -- An anthology of Torah teachings on the mitzvah of charity - to instruct and inspire by Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer (available from your local Jewish book store or by calling toll-free 877-758-3242). (The following is based on Ahavath Chesed, Maaser Kesafim and Love Your Neighbor).


The word "Tzedakah" is often translated as "charity". The correct translation is "righteousness". It is not merely a charitable act to give to the poor; it is the obligation of every single person. There are many Mitzvot (commandments) that come under the classification of tzedakah and ultimately all of the Mitzvot come under the commandment 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.

Maimonides enumerates "Eight Levels of Tzedakah" (from highest level to lowest):

  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.

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 Malkiezdek 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, 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.

Portion of the Week


One of the longest Torah portions, containing 23 positive commandments and 30 negative precepts. Included are laws regarding: the Hebrew manservant and maidservant, manslaughter, murder, injuring a parent, kidnapping, cursing a parent, personal injury, penalty for killing a slave, personal damages, injury to slaves, categories of damages and compensatory restitution, culpability for personal property damage, seduction, occult practices, idolatry, oppression of widows, children and orphans.

The portion continues with the laws of: lending money, not cursing judges or leaders, tithes, first-born sons, justice, returning strayed animals, assisting the unloading of an animal fallen under its load, Sabbatical year, Shabbat, the Three Festivals (Pesach, Shavuot & Succot).

Mishpatim concludes with the promise from the Almighty to lead us into the land of Israel, safeguard our journey, ensure the demise of our enemies and guarantee our safety in the land -- if we uphold the Torah and do the Mitzvot. Moses makes preparations for himself and for the people and then ascends Mt. Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments.


Dvar Torah
from the Babylonian Talmud, Bava Basra 10a

Turnusrufus, the wicked, asked Rabbi Akiva, "If your God loves the poor, why doesn't he support them?"

"In order that we should be saved from Gehennom (Hell) by giving them charity," replied Rabbi Akiva.

"Just the opposite," said Turnusrufus. "This will make you deserve Gehennom. I will give you a parable. A mortal king grew angry at his servant. The king had the servant bound in prison and ordered that no one give him food or drink. A certain man went and gave him food. When the king hears about this how will he react? Won't he be angry? And you are called servants, as it is stated, 'For Me the Children of Israel are servants' (Leviticus 25:55)."

Rabbi Akiva responded, "I will give you a parable. A mortal king grew angry at his son. The king had his son bound in prison and ordered that no one give him food or drink. A certain man went and gave him food. When the king hears about this, how will he react? Won't he send him presents? And we are called children, as it is written, 'You are children of the Lord, your God' (Deuteronomy 14:1)."

CANDLE LIGHTING - February 23:

Jerusalem  4:55
Guatemala 5:51  Hong Kong 6:57  Honolulu 6:14
J'Burg 6:26  London 5:12  Los Angeles 5:26
Melbourne 7:51  Miami 6:01  Moscow 5:32

New York 5:22  Singapore 7:03  Toronto 5:40


You can't take it with you ...
but you can send it ahead!

Dedicated by...

Happy 23rd Anniversary
Kalman & Shoshana Packouz
Ray & Dorothy Packouz

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