Even when I was a penniless student in university, I regularly gave 10% of whatever measly income I actually had to charity. When I was earning a fortune in the UK, we used to get lines of collectors from Israel queuing up outside our door (which to be honest was something of a mixed blessing and not always an uplifting experience, especially when people would start arguing over how much we’d given them and even turning a little abusive.)
Then, we moved to Israel - and throughout all my ups and downs, my losing my home twice over, my enormous difficulties with money that at times have been completely overwhelming, even then - I still gave charity. At least 10%, and sometimes even more.
So when people have issues giving charity, I don’t always find that so easy to relate to. Someone tried to explain the problem to me a few days ago, and said that while they try to see God in every area of their life, as soon as it becomes a question of money, it’s like God is completely out of the picture.
The battle for ‘self-preservation’ kicks in, the primitive, instinctual brain whose motto is ‘me first’ takes over, and all thoughts of giving tzedaka kind of vanish in the mist.
After they explained it that way, I started to understand the battle that so many of us have to give 10% of our income away, even when we have enough for all of our own needs. And since I’ve been reading more of Rebbe Nachman’s works, I also understand that the ‘lust for money’ is the hardest one to escape, and the biggest problem for most people heading into geula and the time of redemption.
I’ve also noticed another strange thing: the more money a person has, the more stingy they often become with other people, and the more judgmental of the people asking for help (probably as a defense mechanism, so they don’t feel guilty for not giving.)
I was discussing this with my husband a while back, and he told me he thinks money acts like a kind of spiritual magnet for a person. The bigger the pile of cash in the bank account, the harder it seems to be to part with any of it.
Yet, Rebbe Nachman teaches that the ONLY way to really break the lust for money is to give charity generously. And that’s where things can get very, very difficult for a lot of people.
A little while back, someone I know did a big financial deal that netted them around half a million euros. They didn’t give any of it to charity, let alone 10%. A few months later, they got landed with a very unexpected and stressful bill for €50,000 - exactly 10%.
I’m bringing this story to prove our Sages dictum that a person’s income, including how much money they’ll have and lose, is decided on Rosh Hashana. And if the person is worthy, they’ll end up ‘losing’ their money to charity. And if not? Then it’ll be unexpected tax bills, expenses, fines, things breaking down, a year of therapy for their unhappy kids, marriage counselling sessions etc etc.
When you give 10% to charity, you see blessings in all areas of your life, because as our Sages also teach us, charity saves us from death, and overturns the harsh decrees. (It’s a separate post, but this is the main principle underlying why people do a pidyon Nefesh, especially when they’re seriously ill or suffering in some way. It’s literally ‘money for blood’ - your cash instead of your health, or your marriage, or some other big judgment against you, God forbid.)
Given how hard the yetzer sometimes makes it to give charity to others, I thought I’d bring some quotes from Rebbe Nachman’s Book of Traits, to underline the many advantages that come from doing so, and also some key reasons why money can be so tight in a household, in the first place.
FROM THE SECTION ON MONEY:
- One’s wealth doesn’t endure if one doesn’t have mercy on others.
- Four things cause the possessions of houseowners to fall into oblivion: denying payment to their employees; denying employees their salary; evading one’s obligations and shifting them on to others; and arrogance. (If you’re wondering why I lost my home twice despite all my charity, it’s a pretty safe bet that arrogance had something to do with it.)
- Honoring the Torah and Shabbat is conducive to wealth.
- If one includes God in his pain, his income is doubled. Also, his income soars like a bird.
- When one sees that his sustenance is limited, he should give part of it to charity.
- One’s sustenance is diminished when one does not judge others with the benefit of the doubt (also one of my very big problems, at least up until now.)
- One who deals with impure names and witchcraft becomes poor (after the story I recounted below HERE about the evil ‘alternative healer’, this sentence really jumped out at me…)
- Through apostasy [i.e. not really believing in God] comes poverty.
- The words of a Tzaddik bring income (take a look at THIS story, about Israeli multi-millionaire Yaron Yamin.)
- Blessing only rests within one’s house in the merit of honoring one’s wife.
- Great is charity, that it brings the redemption near.
- And saves from death…and evokes the Divine presence…and raises a person’s fortune…and renders one a complete Tzaddik.
- Through charity, one becomes able to avoid evil.
- Charity is equal to all the other commandments together.
- God grants one who pursues opportunities to give charity with money, and with upright people to whom to give it. He also merits children who become wealthy, great in wisdom and masters in aggadah.
- One should give charity with both hands, and his prayer will be heard.
- Through generosity, you will have renewal.
- Through charity, one comes to emuna…and salvation is brought.
- In the merit of charity, one is saved from pride.
- The joy one feels in giving charity is a sign of a whole heart.
- Even an impoverished person must give charity and if he does, he will not see further poverty.
FROM THE SECTION ‘TZADDIK’:
- Don’t be disturbed by the fact that the Tzaddikim accept financial support from others in order to run their households with wealth and honor - would it not be better for them not to lead, and not to take from others? For the more delight and expansion the Tzaddik has, the more his soul expands, and there is a resting place in which the Divine Presence may dwell.
- The students of a Tzaddik attain their livelihood in his merit.
- Giving money to benefit a Tzaddik is like serving in the Holy Temple.
- One who doesn’t support a Torah scholar from his possessions will never see a sign of blessing.
- Through giving charity, one becomes a ‘veer from evil’ [and do good].
- God gives livelihood to a tzaddik through the community in order that he will have some connection with them, and so that when God remembers the Tzaddik, he remembers them as well.
- The sufferings that come upon the Tzaddikim are an atonement for all the Jewish people.
- One who benefits the Tzaddik from his belongings it’s as if he benefited all the Jewish people, and he’s saved from death.
- Through the livelihood people provide for the Tzaddik, all their sins are forgiven, just as the Cohen’s eating of the sacrifices atoned for those who offered them.
HOW DO WE KNOW WHO’S A ‘REAL’ TZADDIK, TO GIVE OUR MONEY TO?
There is one answer to this question, and one answer only: Talk to God about it, and ask Him to show you clearly who is really a Tzaddik in this upside-down, backwards, all-mixed-up world, and who isn’t.
I guarantee if you ask this question sincerely, God will very quickly start to show you who is the real deal in the world. When me and my husband started asking God to show us who the real rabbis were a couple of years ago, He very quickly exploded both of the ‘rabbinic’ fakers in our lives who'd been fooling us for years, within a week of each other….
This is one question that you can’t take anyone else’s opinion on - you just have to deal direct with God yourself, and ask Him to show you the truth.