Tora Thoughts: Parashat Ki Tisa 5778
Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
Giving and Receiving
Parashat Ki Tisa begins with God’s order to take a census of the Children of Israel in a very particular way. The Torah says,
“When you take a census of the children of Israel according to their numbers, let each one give to the Lord an atonement for his soul when they are counted; then there will be no plague among them when they are counted.” (Exodus 30:12)
There was an old belief that said that when people are counted, they could be hurt. Therefore, the Children of Israel were instructed to give an amount of money (half a Shekel), so they would be not be harmed during the census.
At a later time, it became a law that every Israelite would contribute to an annual campaign to properly fund the sacrifices at the Temple of Jerusalem. Today we are still encouraged to give the “shekalim.” We actually give three half shekels (or $1.50) during the fast of Esther, right before Purim starts (or after it starts, if we were not able to contribute before). The money collected is used by the congregation as tzedakah, helping those in need.
In the verse I quoted above, there is one word that deserves an explanation. It is the Hebrew word venatnu, ( (ונתנוtranslated here as “let each one give.” The commentator Rabenu Yaacov ben Asher notices that this word, as spelled in Hebrew, can be read forward or backward, from left to right and from right to left. What do we learn from this fact? That what a person gives as tzedakah will eventually return to him or her in the future. As we read in the Talmud (Baba Batra 9:a), “Everyone who gives something to a poor person is blessed with six blessings.”
I believe this is a beautiful idea. Whatever you give will come back to you in the future. In addition, you shouldn’t be afraid of giving charity, because what you give will eventually come back to you at a later time.
However, is this true? Do we really believe that when you donate money (or valuable time or work), whatever you donated will be reimbursed? Well, some people will answer yes, God will pay you back. Some other people will answer no, because there is no scientific evidence that when people give tzedakah their money is reimbursed at a later time. I believe both answers are correct. Let me explain why.
I don’t believe that every time you donate you are reimbursed for it in some mysterious way. It’s hard for me to believe that God is up there making calculations about our tzedakah balances. God must be taking care of so many other things! Besides, why should we be reimbursed? We give tzedakah because we are supposed to do so, and because it is the right thing to do—not because we are expecting to be paid back.
However, I do believe that when we give we also receive so much in return. When we help other people we feel good, because we are doing the right thing. When we help another person, we are helping the world to be a better place (although maybe only a little bit better). When we help, other people are being helped, allowing them to live in dignity, to overcome challenges or to achieve dreams. When we help other people, those helped will probably feel thankful for being helped, and will believe that their society cares for them, that someone loves them and supports them. If possible, they will probably want to help other people in the future as well. When we help, a domino effect can be triggered, resulting in much more goodness than the little thing we may have done. And when other people can overcome their problems, when other people feel thankful, when other people want to help more people, then we are living in a much better place. In short, we are receiving so much from our little initial bit of help!
So, if you ask me about this Hebrew word venatnu in our verse—a word that can be read to the right and to the left—if I believe in this lesson that when we give we are paid back, I will definitely answer yes! When we give, we are given back.