Talmud Tips

For the week ending 23 October 2021 / 17 Cheshvan 5782

Rosh Hashana 2 - 8

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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Charity Clauses

We have learned in beraita, “One who says, ‘I am donating this coin to charity in order that my children will live,’ or says, ‘I am donating this coin to charity in order to merit the World to Come’ is a tzaddik gamur (completely righteous person).”

Although the giver is doing the mitzvah of giving charity for ulterior motives, this does not seem to diminish the lofty magnitude of the act, and the giver does not only fulfill a mitzvah but is also labeled by our Sages as being a completely righteous person.

The commentaries ask a question on this beraita from a well-known teaching in Pirkei Avot (1:2). There we are taught: “Antignos of Socho received the transmission of the Torah from Shimon Hatzaddik. He used to say, ‘Do not be as servants who serve their master to receive reward. Rather, be as servants who serve their master not to receive reward. And let the fear of Heaven be upon you.” Accordingly, being that it is wrong to serve the Master by doing mitzvahs in order to receive a reward, how can a person who does a mitzvah to receive a reward be called a tzaddik gamur?

One answer is offered in several places by the Ba’alei Tosefot, who explain our gemara as speaking about a giver who willingly gives the tzedakah “unconditionally.” This means that even if his specified condition is not fulfilled in the way that wants, he still wholeheartedly wants his giving to be a mitzvah-act of charity. He is merely attaching a personal prayer to his act of mitzvah. Therefore, he is fulfilling the mitzvah to give tzedaka without reservation and is worthy of being called a tzaddik gamur. (Likewise, this concept is applicable to the widespread custom of giving tzedaka l’ilui nishmat — in the honor of a dearly deceased relative or friend, especially on the yahrtzeit.)

Others offer an answer to this question by pointing out the difference between the conduct of a tzaddik gamur and that of a chassid (meaning “pious” but not in the modern usage of the term as being Orthodox or being a member of one of the many Chassidic courts). A tzaddik gamur is not doing anything wrong or reprehensible. But he is not going beyond the basic “letter of the law” as a chassid would do. (See the Rambam in Hilchot De’ot for more on this topic.) A person who gives charity in order to receive reward — as in the beraita — is doing the act of the mitzvah correctly and is not doing anything bad. He is a tzaddik gamur regarding his fulfillment of this mitzvah. However, Antignos Ish Socho is teaching how a chassid behaves. He does the will of Hashem not for the sake of any reward. He does it purely because Hashem commanded him to do so, l’shma. (See Tosefot Rabbeinu Peretz)

Yet another approach draws a distinction between the mitzvah of tzedakah, which is the specific mitzvah mentioned in the beraita, and between all other mitzvahs. There is unique aspect of the mitzvah of tzedakah that is found in the Book of the Prophet Malachi (3:1): “Bring all of the tithes into the treasury so that there may be nourishment in My House, and test Me now with this, says Hashem, to see if I will not open for you the skylights of Heaven and pour down for you blessing until there will not be enough room for all of it!” Just as charity provides a pathway of blessing to the recipient to have whatever he needs, in a similar fashion Hashem blesses the giver of charity with the reward that he needs.

Rashi explains this topic in yet a different manner. As the beraita teaches, a person who gives tzedakah or does any mitzvah, mentioning an expected reward, is certainly fulfilling the mitzvah and is considered a tzaddik gamur. (Of course, he may have accrued more demerits than merits due to his overall behavior in his life — and therefore not really even be a tzaddik or a beinoni as explained in the the Rambam’s Laws of Teshuva — but he is nevertheless a tzaddik gamur in this particular act of fulfilling a mitzvah. Antignos, although not arguing with this principle, is teaching an important cautionary lesson. A person might do a mitzvah with expectation of a reward, but, if he does not receive reward as expected, he might become upset with Hashem for failing to “keep His end of the deal.” Therefore, a person’s intent when fulfilling a mitzvah should be purely because it is the right thing to do since Hashem said to do so.

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