Sunday, March 16, 2008

Spirit of the Law: Matanos L'evyonim

Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, 143: 3

“On Purim every person must give at least one gift to two paupers...”

Misuse of the imagination can cause a person to have delusions of grandeur about his spiritual level. Rav Nosson of Breslov, zt”l, writes that matanos l’evyonim helps a person overcome these delusions that prevent him from feeling close to Hashem. When we give tzedakah to help another Jew, we are freed of the bondage of self-absorption and become open to dveikus. As the verse states, “Through tzedakah, I will gaze upon Your presence.” Many sources explain this literally. Even if one’s spiritual preparation is minimal, the act of giving tzedakah alone enables true dveikus, true connection with Hashem. This is especially true on Purim.

One of the worst defilements is the lust for money. Even someone on a high spiritual level who is unable to give tzedakah is distant from Hashem. As Rabbeinu Tam writes in Sefer Hayashar: “The hardest characteristic to change is miserliness.”

Rav Shlomo Wolbe zt”l once quoted a letter of Rav Yisrael Salanter zt”l that mentioned a well-known idea. Although it is possible to serve Hashem on a high level without learning Mussar, it is completely impossible to transform the negative inside ourselves without it. This is like trying to see without an eye, or trying to hear without an ear. Rav Wolbe then explained how this could be. The person hasn’t changed his mental outlook about the important issues in life. For example, it is possible to be a great servant of Hashem who has learned a lot of Torah, and the main thing in this person’s life is still money!

Rav Eliyahu Lopian zt”l, told about a certain prominent person from his hometown who was an excellent man except for a single failing: his desire for money was limitless. It was literally an act of self-sacrifice for him to contribute even the smallest amount for any cause at all. It was almost as if he became mentally ill about this matter.

On his deathbed, this miser whispered urgently to his friends and family at the bedside: “Learn a lesson from me! Even though I can feel that my life is slipping away, I am still a slave to my flaws. If one of you were to offer me a handful of coins, I would grab them and hide them beneath my pillow!” A short time later, the man expired. This is the lust that can take a person right out of the world. May we merit to uproot our self-absorption through giving generously to our fellow Jews!

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