A Kabbalistic Approach to Spiritual Growth

A Kabbalistic Approach to Spiritual Growth: Part 33 – Lovingkindness and Judgment

Only when mediated by the self-critical aspect of justice does tzedakah (charity) have the power to draw God's kindness into the world. This check and balance relationship is necessary on several levels, for we must make certain judgments in order to give tzedakah properly. First we must evaluate, as conservatively as possible, our own financial requirements. Our estimation should consider the needs of every member of our household and satisfy them wherever possible. Everyone should be comfortable, yet we should discourage unnecessary indulgence. Next we must disown all remaining resources, declaring them "in trust" and proceed to find their true owners. There is a subtle but significant difference between those who give because of obligation, or even from their innate generosity, and those who recognize that it is not actually giving at all, but rather distributing things that don't belong to them–things that were entrusted into their care. God gives us exactly what we need, and any excess is not really ours. Finally, we must identify the rightful owner of these things, a task that requires patience, discrimination, and judgment. The mark of success here is a strong sense of mercy and empathy. How much should be given at any one time? Which charities are most worthy and responsible? Should it be given as an outright gift, as a loan, or is it possible to set someone up in business? Should we support education, the poor, or the sickly and disadvantaged? While all of these options are worthy, since some are mutually exclusive and resources are limited, we are forced to use discrimination.

As established above, charity and loving-kindness are essentially the same–one involves sharing physical resources, and the other more intangible commodities like time and emotional energy. For anyone whose priority is learning Torah, time can become more precious than money, and more difficult to part with. But the discipline and habit of giving, both financially and otherwise, is the single most powerful tool for bringing Torah into our hearts and into our lives. Knowledge is only internalized through practical application. We could read ten books on piano playing, but until we actually sit down at the keyboard and practice, we cannot know how to play.

Similarly, if we want to know God, then we must emulate Him. Since giving through loving-kindness is God's primary mode of relating to the world, this is the most important trait that must be cultivated. By emulating God's loving-kindness and generosity, we gain access to realms of knowledge, subtleties that exist beyond words. The secrets of Torah are unlocked in this way.

Integration means developing this quality of generosity, refining its expression, balancing it with discretion and judgment, and finally bringing it into a state of internalization. An educator who has taught his students well will find that even the students' instincts will express this trait.

The sages define maturity as the ability to give without strings attached. We can be advanced in years, successful in business, distinguished in scholarship (even Torah scholarship), but if we have not learned to give, if we don't understand that giving is the ultimate priority, then we have not reached maturity.

This correlation of grace and kindness with inspiration and integration contains an important lesson for the educator. The talents of his students, which he draws into a state of grace and beauty through his ability to inspire, require a further stage of development and rectification. They must find their ultimate expression in service to humanity. If the talents of his students are ultimately directed toward giving in this way, then integration has truly taken place.

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