Abraham believed God’s promise that the Land of Israel would belong to his descendants and God considered his trust to be “tzedaka” – righteousness.
This week’s Torah portion is “Lech Lecha” (Genesis 12:1-17:27) meaning “Go from here!” That’s right, it is in this week’s Torah portion that God says to Abraham – this place is not for you. I am giving you and your descendants a land for yourselves. A land flowing with milk and honey. A land of mountains and valleys. A land where you will lack nothing. A land where you can live as Jews.
God further tells Abraham that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars. “Just as there is no one who is able to count the stars, so too, no one will be able to count your descendants,” He said. Indeed, the primary descendants of Abraham, the Jews (from Isaac) and the Arabs (from Ishmael) became numerous (As to why the Jews became much less populous than other faiths, that’s a topic for another time.) The Torah tells us that Abraham believed God’s promise, and that God considered this belief and trust to be “tzedaka” – righteousness.
The word ‘tzedaka’ is a very unique word in the Hebrew language. It is primarily used to mean “charity,” though its literal meaning and translation is “righteousness,” as mentioned above. Whether it is “charity” or “righteousness,” it is pretty noteworthy that God considered it as if Abraham performed an act of “tzedaka” with Him by simply believing that his descendants would be numerous as God had promised.
Is it possible to do charity to God or for God? What is this charity? Can we write a check made payable to God and deposit it into His bank account or something? Does God need a donation of used clothes? Of course not! So what does it mean to do “charity” for God? It doesn’t seem to make any sense.
The answer is that the Torah is teaching us that simply believing in Him, trusting Him, appreciating Him, are considered to be acts of “charity.” Let us recall, that in Abraham’s day there was nobody who believed in God! God was essentially ignored at best, if not outright cursed and the target of all types of rebellion. Abraham was the first to go against the grain and publicly acknowledge God. Indeed, “he walked with God.” God was alone. Abraham acknowledged him. That’s charity.
Perhaps the idea of believing in God as an act of charity can be better illustrated with a parable taught by Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Hasidic movement. A musician was once playing an energetic and moving song from one of his instruments. All those who heard the song were moved to dancing and jumping for joy. There was a man present who was deaf. He couldn’t hear the beautiful music and therefore concluded that those who were dancing with such extreme enthusiasm and vigor were insane. If the deaf man would have been slightly wiser, said the Baal Shem Tov, he would have realized there was music being played and perhaps would have even considered joining in with the dancing.
Abraham lived in a world that was ‘deaf’ and ‘blind’ – a world that did not realize that there was a Creator who wants a relationship with us. By reciprocating and by believing and trusting Him, we are doing “tzedaka”and “charity” with God. Indeed, those of us who aren’t “deaf”, and do recognize Him and his presence in the world, have much to dance and celebrate.
Shabbat Shalom from Israel!
By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel