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Does the act of charity have the unique power to annul an evil decree on Rosh Hashana?

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

One of the themes of the High Holidays, repeated several times during the High Holiday prayers, is that “repentance, prayer, and charity remove the evil decree.”

In other words, if anything negative is intended to be decreed upon us for the upcoming year, by repenting for our sins, praying for a better future, and donating money to charity, we will be able to nullify any such decrees.

The question is asked: What is the significance of repentance, prayer, and charity? Why and how do they nullify evil decrees? How and why is it possible to change God’s mind?

Well, the first two on the list actually make sense. It is quite reasonable for God to be good to those who come to Him in repentance, confess their past sins and make resolutions to do better in the future.

Doesn’t a parent have mercy on a child who comes and says sorry for causing trouble? So, too, it is reasonable that prayer could change an evil decree. That’s what prayer is all about! Asking God for help, for mercy, for gifts we may not deserve. Yup, prayer fits in nicely.

But what is it about charity? Why is the mitzvah (commandment) of charity also cited as a catalyst to annul evil decrees? There are so many other great mitzvot that we can think of, but they don’t make the list.

It seems that there is something special about charity that it alone is the mitzvah that has the power to annul evil decrees. What’s its secret?

The two most common types of payments in life are wages and charity. A person who works for an employer is paid. The worker earns those wages. It is owed to him and he deserves them. Charity is totally different, even the opposite. Charity is not earned or even deserved. Charity is given because we feel sorry for a person who is experiencing challenges in life. It is a person to whom we owe nothing. Nevertheless, due to our emotions we reach into our pockets and give him money.

Serving God and being good people is somewhat of a job, and we get “wages” for our service. The job is doing mitzvot, and with every mitzvah we observe, we get rewarded (“wages”). These “wages” pile up and are paid out to us in the Next World. God might actually owe us!

However, let’s face it, our performance of mitzvot is usually not as good as it should be. We are often not as loyal and committed to our Heavenly Employer as we are to our earthly employer. As such, it is not clear that we truly deserve our “wages” from God. Our behavior this past year might be ample grounds for God to rightfully withhold our “wages” and not inscribe us for such a good year.

Therefore, we hope and pray that God will be “charitable” with us, giving us “wages” and a good new year even if we don’t truly deserve it. And the best way to convince God to be charitable with us is to be charitable towards others! So when we give charity to those less fortunate, we are both emulating and invoking God’s attribute of charity, making it more likely that He will deal charitably with us as well.

May all our prayers be answered and may we all be blessed with a sweet New Year!

Rosh Hashana

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