Blog PostsMitzvot

The Redeeming River of Charity

In the past few weeks, we have offered a number of different allusions (רמזים) to have in mind this year (5774). As stated in our Letter of Blessing for Rosh Hashanah 5774, the most significant allusion is in the last three words from a verse in Amos; “And charity is a strong [i.e., constantly flowing] river” (וּצְדָקָה כְּנַחַל אֵיתָן).[1]

In addition to their numerical value, 774 (the value of this year without the thousands), these three words are also important to us for another reason: this shortened phrase is the opening verse of an entire chapter in the Alter Rebbe’s Tanya, about the importance of giving charity.[2]

All Flows from Might

The “strength” (אֵיתָן) of every soul is that part which is part of God above. This strength comes as an inheritance from Abraham, the first Jew, who is called the “the strength of the one who illuminates” (אֵיתָן הָאֶזְרָחִי).[3]

Another very important reason why it is good to focus on this word “strength” (אֵיתָן) is that its letters permute to spell the word Tanya ((תניא. The Alter Rebbe, the author of the Tanya, surely had in mind this correspondence because he not only devotes an entire chapter to explain the concept of the innermost strength of the soul, but also considers it to be the source from which all of Chassidut is rooted.[4]

Why then does this term “strength” merit such importance?

Revealing our Wellspring

In Kabbalah, “strength” corresponds to the essential point of wisdom in our souls, or the place where our actual spark of Divinity resides. This spark is revealed only in the innermost point of the heart, not in the mind. So, while the Alter Rebbe’s Tanya discusses at length elsewhere about the importance of intellectual comprehension,[5] the essential core of the entire book of Tanya finds expression in this “strength” section on the potency of charity.

Giving charity is the act that draws forth the innermost point in our hearts called the “strength.” As this strength is our boundless inheritance, so too when we give generously, we open ourselves up to a life of spiritual abundance and plenty disproportionate to the amount originally given.

The segulah (secret treasure) then for revealing the innermost point in our hearts, the infinite wellspring within, is through giving charity. If you open your hand to give to your fellow, that itself is asegulah for the point of strength in the soul to be revealed in your heart; an act that is also necessary to bring the Mashiach.[6]

Giving the “Skin” off our Backs

There is a verse from Job which reads; “Now the Adversary (Satan) replied to Havayah and said, ‘Skin for skin, and whatever a person has he will give for his life.’” (וַיַּעַן הַשָּׂטָן אֶת הוי’ וַיֹּאמַר עוֹר בְּעַד עוֹר וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר לָאִישׁ יִתֵּן בְּעַד נַפְשׁוֹ).[7] While this phrase “skin for skin” is mentioned three times in the Tanya, the most important place is here in the conclusion of our “strength” chapter.

How does the Alter Rebbe explain it? “…and all that a man possesses, he will give for the sake of his Divine soul.” Meaning that while the general rule is that one should not give more than 20% of one’s wealth to charity, to save oneself from the accusations of the Satan, a person is willing to give everything they own. By adding the word “Divine” to soul, the Alter Rebbe is emphasizing the innermost point of the soul mentioned above.

Since the month of Elul is the time that we prepare ourselves for the judgment of the High Holidays, it is the most auspicious time to do our utmost to atone for our sins and to redeem our souls from the clutches of the Satan’s advocacy. The very words spoken by the Satan allude to the fact that we can save our ‘skins’ by giving the value of the word ‘skin’ (,עוֹר 276) to charity.

The Year of the Strong River

Since this is the year of “and charity is a strong river,”[8] it is also a good idea to continue the above practice during the coming months to emphasize the verse that qualifies the amount of charity we should give, “skin for skin.” As stated, while “and charity is a strong river” begins our “strength” chapter, the “skin for skin” verse completes it.

What does this all mean for us? When we give ‘skin’ (276 in shekels, dollars, pounds, etc…), we may even go beyond the normal 20% of charity, taking the ‘skin’ off our backs in order to give (especially if we add zeros to it, which of course is preferable).

Our reading of “skin for skin” reflects the literal meaning of the verse. That in order to save our ‘skin,’ we need to be willing to give our ‘skin’ in order to save ourselves, and the entire Jewish people.

The strength concept, revealed through giving charity, and particularly in the denomination of 276, is so fundamental because through it we are able to reveal the innermost point of our hearts. And it is this revelation that brings redemption to the entire world.

May this revelation of the heart, both on a personal and communal level, happen this very year of (5)774, the year of the “strong river”!

 Adapted from Rabbi Ginsburgh’s class in Be’er Sheva, 21 Elul 5773


[1] Amos 5:24. The word “צְדָקָה” was translated here as “charity” to fit the context of this article, although the world also means “righteousness.”

[2] Kuntres Acharon, Essay 7.

[3] Psalms 89:1, Rashi ad loc.  Although the literal meaning of this phrase is that Abraham is a “strong citizen,” the word “citizen” (אֶזרָח) in Hebrew also comes from the same root as “shine” (זרח). In Hebrew there are a full array of synonyms for strength, but the word in this context relates to the enduring and everlasting strength of the soul.

[4] Because as mentioned in Kuntres Acharon, it is the source for the revelation of Divinity in the soul.

[5] For example, see Tanya chapter 3.

[6] As the Alter Rebbe mentions there, the word “strength” (אֵיתָן) is composed of the four prefix letters that stand for the future-tense in Hebrew.

[7] Job 2:4.

[8] These words again equal 774.

Related posts

Patience! Patience!

Imry GalEinai

Elkanah’s Outreach Campaign

Imry GalEinai

On Folly and Straying

Imry GalEinai

Leave a Comment

Verified by MonsterInsights