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PIRKEI AVOT 3:7 – CHARITY AND CONCENTRATION

בס”ד

Pirkei Avot 3:7

רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר אִישׁ בַּרְתּוֹתָא אוֹמֵר, תֶּן לוֹ מִשֶּׁלּוֹ, שֶׁאַתָּה וְשֶׁלְּךָ שֶׁלּוֹ. וְכֵן בְּדָוִד הוּא אוֹמֵר (דברי הימים א כט) כִּי מִמְּךָ הַכֹּל וּמִיָּדְךָ נָתַנּוּ לָךְ.

רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן אוֹמֵר, הַמְהַלֵּךְ בַּדֶּרֶךְ וְשׁוֹנֶה, וּמַפְסִיק מִמִּשְׁנָתוֹ וְאוֹמֵר, מַה נָּאֶה אִילָן זֶה וּמַה נָּאֶה נִיר זֶה, מַעֲלֶה עָלָיו הַכָּתוּב כְּאִלּוּ מִתְחַיֵּב בְּנַפְשׁוֹ

Rabbi Elazar of Bartotha said: give to Him of that which is His, for you and that which is yours is His; and thus it says with regards to David: “for everything comes from You, and from Your own hand have we given you” (I Chronicles 29:14).

Rabbi Jacob said: if one is studying while walking on the road and interrupts his study and says, “how fine is this tree!” [or] “how fine is this newly ploughed field!” scripture accounts it to him as if he was mortally guilty.

Give G-d what is rightfully His. Everything belongs to G-d, thus whatever we offer G-d, we are giving something He initially gave to us. This mishnah appears logical at first glance, but what are we really giving to G-d? Although Noahide is permitted to make entire burnt sacrifices, this is not done in practice. After all, we don’t know how to do it in a respectful and correct manner. We now have prayers instead of burnt sacrifices, but is that giving something back to G-d? It expresses our gratitude without concretely contributing anything, unless you consider the time you devote to it.

Rabbi Elazar teaches that one should not be stingy in giving any form of charity (tzedakah), be it charity to the poor or any of the potential donations to the Temple (or nowadays Jewish organizations) for in the end everything comes from G-d. According to a story in the Talmud, Rabbi Elazar did not only preach this, but fulfilled it himself. Whenever the charity collectors saw him, they would run away because he would always give them everything that he owned[1].

Despite the fact that the 7 Noahide Commandments do not mention them, Noahides can follow any mitzvah that has a practical and/or social benefit to the world. One can then consider honoring one’s parents, abiding by the laws against animal cruelty, abiding by the laws against prohibited speech, and giving tzedaka.

The word tzedakah comes from the Hebrew word for tzedek (justice) and is charity given to the poor in pursuit of a just, ethical society. Whereas acts of loving-kindness (gemilut hasidim) can be done for the rich or poor, living or dead, tzedakah is only for the living poor[2].

There are eight levels in charity, each level surpassing the other:

  • 1 You don’t give money to someone, but you give someone a loan or make sure someone finds a job.
  • 2 You give to a poor person, but you do not know to whom you are giving and the recipient does not know from whom he received it. You can think of this as a charity fund.
  • 3 You give to a poor person you know, but the poor person does not know that you are the one who gave some.
  • 4 You don’t know the poor person, but the poor person knows it is you who helped.
  • 5 You give to the poor person it in his hand before he has asked for it.
  • 6 You give to the poor when he has asked you.
  • 7 You give to the poor, but less than what is appropriate, but with a happy face.
  • 8 You give to the poor, but with a sad face.[3]

G-d gives everything to someone, G-d can also give money meant for person A in management to you. When you give tzedaka, you don’t actually give away money of your own, you give the poor person the money that actually belongs to him.[4]

It is good practice to have a Charity box in the house. You could put a coin in this every time before you pray. You will find that this makes charity giving a much easier mitzva to do. You can buy a charity box, but of course it is much more fun to make one yourself.[5]

I had to think over Rabbi Jacob’s statement (second portion of the Mishnah) more carefully. Of course, I recognize the value of Torah study for Jews and the importance of avoiding being distracted by other things. It doesn’t say that if something happened, this individual is mortally guilty, but rather “as if.” Although this is a little distinction, it strikes me as a severe judgment.

Rabbi Yonah explains:

Rabbi Yaakov says: He who is walking on the way and repeating his studies, and interrupts his studies, etc.: As when a person is still studying, he should not [be involved in] mundane conversation, since he needs to stand in fear and awe in front of the Torah.

This explanation resonates more in my heart. It is important when you are learning something to give it your full attention and not interrupt it for a useless conversation. Now that doesn’t always work out because a topic can be too long or your time for learning practically runs out. I for myself find it important to close the book I am reading in.

What is true for Torah study is also true for prayer or saying a bracha. When dealing with people who are not used to praying or saying a bracha, it is sometimes difficult to finish your prayer or bracha when someone starts talking to you. You have to make a conscious choice at that point and sometimes that is to finish it and sometimes it is to speak to the person anyway. But it causes, at least for me, an inner struggle at that moment to make the right choice at that moment.


By Angelique Sijbolts

Sources:

[1] English Explanation of Pirkei Avot 3:7:2
[2] Tzedakah – Sefaria
[3] Mishneh Torah, Gifts to the Poor 10
[4] Chabad Article: 15 Facts About Tzedakah Every Jew Should Know
[5] Homemade Charity Box


Texts: Sefaria.org

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