Living Torah # 22
Eight levels of Tzedakah
The following is a description of these eight levels as found in the Mishneh Torah by Rambam. They are in the descending order of merit.
One who is asked and gives unwillingly.
One who gives less than is appropriate, but gives cheerfully.
One who give proper amount after being asked.
One who gives before being asked.
One who gives and does not know the receiver. This prevents one from displaying pity to embarrass the recipient.
One who gives to a known recipient, but remains anonymous to the recipient. This prevents the recipient from feeling embarrassed in the giver’s presence.
One who gives in such a way that donor and recipient are unknown to each other.
One who helps a needy person to provide for himself, making future assistance unnecessary.
Now we need to distinguish between chesed and tzedakah. Rabbi Eleazar (Talmud Suk. 49b) said: Chesed is greater than tzedakah in three respects:
Tzedakah can be done only with oneE2s money; chesed can be done with one’s person and money.
This means, for example, that your presence at a time of crisis and your sensitivity to someone else’s feelings may be more helpful than any money you can give.
Tzedakah is given only to the poor; chesed is given to the rich and the poor.
This means in part, that people who seem well-off need a kind word, a generous smile, a grateful gesture, or sincere compassion just as do the financially disadvantage. The poor do not corner the market on misery.
Tzedakah can be given to the living only; chesed can be done for the living and the dead.
Examples of chesed for the dead include providing funds for the purchase of a cemetery plot or a funeral service, escorting the body to the gravesite, comforting the mourners and helping to support the orphans.
Chesed is a direct imitation of HaShem. How much chesed you reflect in your daily life shows the depth of your love for HaShem and how deep are your religious values. Consider one example: If you choose to be a physician, you study to learn all the arts of healing. When you see someone=2 0suffering, should you stop to ask who it is? Or should you do everything to relieve that person’s suffering? Suppose you are a physician in wartime and the person who is suffering is an enemy. Should you do everything you can to save him? Your action will determine the depth of your understanding and by the way it is referred to in the B’rit Chadasha as “fruit” by which you shall know them.
Some examples of chesed is “pidyon shevuyim,” the ransoming of captives. Jewish history is replete with examples of communities and individuals ransoming Jewish captives from kidnappers, criminals, and even from governments and authorities. Another is “bikkur cholim,” visiting the sick. We are expected to physically visit, help, and pray for him/her. Rabbi Akiva gives us an example. When he heard one of his students was sick, he went to him, cleaned up his room, and cheered him up. Immediately the student said to him, “You have restored me to life,” (Ned. 40a). “Chesed shel emet” (an act of true love) are general acts you do in support of others Clothing the poor, feeding the hungry, taking care of the sick, the needy, the homeless, the orphan and the widow. All fall within the catergory of Chesed. The word for true “emet”, here means “selfless.” It is a kindness that can never be repaid.
Judaism te aches tht we should be careful about judging others. We must be absolutely certain that we are correct before we accuse someone of doing wrong. We must exercise our sense of fairness, even before we use our sense of justice. We must ask before we accuse. In the Avot we read: “Do not judge your friend until you are in his position.” You have heard it expressed “don’t judge until you walk in his shoes.” The Torah specifically cautions us to show fairness and consideration to people with physical disabilities.
“You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind. You shall fear your G-d.” (Lev. 19:14)
The torah speaks specifically about the deaf and the blind because they are people who can be easily defrauded or injured and cannot fight back. In a deeper sinse we are all blind in one way or another. Not everyone is a good athlete and few people excel in every subject. All of us need assistance and advice. If someone come to you for advice and you do not give an honest answer you are placing “a stumbling block before th blind.”
We are to show “rachamim” compassion for those who suffer from mental or emotional problems.
We are to concern ourselves with the safety of=2 0other people. That is why it is an important positive commandment to build a fence around the parapet or roof of a house, so any who goes up there will be prevented from falling. (Deu.22:) One way to practice chesed is to check your home for items that might pose a hazard to young children.
Bal Thash’hit (not to destroy) is the principle of chesed that requires us to show kindness to people and to animals. In Deu. 20:19 we read When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees with your axes. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down (Deu. 20:19)
This is interpreted to mean that we are not to destroy anything that is useful to humankind even if it belongs to you. In Shab. 105b it days if in a fit of anger you tear your clothing or smash something in your house you are acting like an idolator who does not care about HaShem’s creation.
Living Torah #23
The first step in learning Chesed toward all people is honoring your father and mother. In Hebrew this is called kibbud av va’em. The Shulchan Arukh tells us that the mitzvah of kibbud v’ va’em is equally binding on all-men and women, old and young.
You come into the world weak and helpless and to survive you need food, protection, bathing, diapering, clothing and just as important loving. Your parents are the first and most important people in your life, committed to all these responsibilities. Your parents are the first to love you, to care for you and to teach you. The first to sacrifice time and energy for you. Because of al that your parents do for you HaShem commands you to give them honor.
Honor your father and mother as the L-rd you G-d commanded you: so that your days may be many; and you will do well on the land which the L-rd your G-d gives you. (Deu. 5:16)
To Honor and Fear
At Exodus 20:12 the fifth commandment says: Honor your father and mother.
But at Leviticus 19:3 we read: Each of you shall fear your mother and father.
You may notice two differences here. In the Fifth Commandment, the father is first; while in Leviticus the mother gets firs mention. HaShem commands us to “honor” our parents: in Leviticus, however, HaShem directs us to “fear” our parents. How are we to understand the differences between two otherwise similar mitzvot?
The Talmud explains that “honor” or kavod, and “fear” yirah, teach you different ways of behaving toward your parents. The different words are used to teach different actions. “Fear” means not standing in your parents place, not taking their seats, not speaking out against what they say, and not disobeying their decisions. “Honor” means making sure they have food, drink, clothing, and a place to live, and helping them in other ways (Kid. 331b).
Why is a father mentioned first in one mitzvah and “mother mentioned first in the other? The Talmud explains: HaShem knows that a child usually honors a mother more than a father, for she wins the child over with kindly words. For that reason HaShem placed the father first in the command to honor one’s parents. HaShem also knows that a child usually fears a father more than a mother, because the father usually teaches the child Torah. For that reason HaShem placed the mother first in the command to fear one’s parents (Kid. 30b-31a).
The link between our relationship with our parents and with HaShem is emphasized by the position of the Fifth Commandment. The first four commandments (E x. 20:2-8) del with our relationship with HaShem, while the last five (Ex. 13-14) deal with our relationship with other people. By honoring your parents, you learn how to relate to HaShem and through HaShem how to relate honorably to other human beings. How you treat your family helps us to determines how you will treat everyone else.
Making your love real
Anyone can say, “I love my mother and father.” Anyone can say, “I honor my parents.” Just saying “I love you” does not make you either loving or lovable. Showing respect and honor to parents requires caring actions as well as loving words.
The Talmud tells us about two children. One fed his father gourmet food, while the other made his father work in a mill. Outward appearances can be deceiving.
The father of the first child said, “Where did you get this wonderful food?” And the son answered, “Old man, eat and be quiet. Even dogs are quiet when they eat.” The father of the second son worked in a mill grinding wheat. The king ordered grinders to grind wheat in the army. The son said to this father, “You come and grind wheat here, and I will go and grind wheat in the army. If the king should beat anyone for doing a bad job, let it be me and not you.” (J. Pe’ah 15c)
With the parable the Talmud teaches that the honor you owe your parents must be reflected in every aspect of your behavior towards them. Merely giving parents fancy food or lavish gifts is not enough if you treat them like dogs.
The following is specific ways you can show your parents honor and respect.
Listen to their advice
If they say “no” do not thoughtlessly or spitefully say “yes”
Call them imma and abba or mom and dad but do not call them by their given names
Find ways to bring them joy and keep them from pain
Always speak kindly of them to others, even though you may deep down disagree with them or be upset with them. Shun anyone who speaks badly of them
If your father or mother has a special seat in the house, do not sit in it.
Never disturb your parents when they are sleeping unless something is so very important that you think they would want to be awakened (Kid. 31b)
Similar rules apply to a stepmother or stepfather.
The rabbis also taught that when a person honors father and mother, the Holy One, blessed be He, says, “I see it as if I lived with them and I was honored.”
How do you express disagreement with your parents? What if your parent is cruel, mean or unfair? How can you love honor and obey a parents who acts in a way you believe is wrong? We have guidelines for dealing with these difficult questions.
Never shame your parents. If they have done something illegal gently, remind them of the law. Don’t call them liars or lawbreakers.
Use mercy and compassion when judging your parents. Before reaching a conclusion look at the situation from their point of view.
If you disagree with your parent’s opinion or decision, express your disagreement politely and if possible privately. Put your disagreement in the form of a question. Ay it apologetically. Ask yourself if correcting them on this point is worth the pain.
Parent are only human and make mistakes. They sometimes make mistakes that can cause you pain such as breaking Torah. Should you do what your parents demand or should you violate their wishes.
HaShem knows we are human and that we make mistakes and that we are sometimes stubborn and wrongheaded. Therefore, the Torah has a commandment which helps you fact this difficult choice. Read the full text of Leviticus 19:3
“Each of you shall fear your mother and father, and you shall keep my Sabbaths; I am the L-rd your G-d.”
While we must fear our parent the commandment also reminds us that we must keep Shabbat. We are not allowed to break HaShem’s laws even when parents demand that we do so. The use of the word “fear” Yirah in the passage above tells us that while we owe very great honor and=2 0respect to our parents, we owe even more to HaShem.
If you are asked to disobey Torah, we are not to say, ”Father, you have disobeyed Torah,” but to ask, “Father is this what is written in Torah,” treating a parent honorably even then.
Rabbi Tamah Davis-Hart