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The Difference between Charity and Gift

Article No. 24, Tav-Shin-Mem-Vav, 1985-86

It is written (Proverbs, 15:27), “He who hates gifts will live.” This means that it is forbidden to receive gifts, for it causes the opposite of life. Thus, how do people receive gifts from one another? We should also ask about what the Creator said to Moses, “I have a good gift in My treasure, and its name is Shabbat. I wish to give it to Israel, go and notify them” (Beitza, p 16).

We see that it is customary that one can ask another for charity, but we have never seen someone asking another for a gift. For example, we sometimes see that before Passover, when a person must prepare Matzot [Passover unleavened bread] and wine and so forth for Passover, he goes to the collector of charity or to some wealthy person and asks him to help him prepare groceries for Passover. He tells him of his dire state and receives what he asks.

However, we have never seen anyone approaching his friend and asking for a gift. For example, now before Passover, his wife is asking him to buy her a diamond ring that is worth at least $200 dollars. He tells his friend that since he is in financial difficulties and cannot buy the ring she wants, he wants his friend to give him the money as a gift to buy his wife the ring for Passover.

We also never heard that in any town there is a collector of gifts, meaning that there will be a collector of charity in town, as well as a collector of gifts. Rather, the usual way is that gifts are given and not requested. That is, when someone loves another, a desire to please him awakens in him, and this is why he gives him a gift. It is impossible to speak of asking for gifts or a special place in town were gifts are given.

However, we should understand the real reason why we do not ask for gifts, and do ask for charity. There is an arrangement in every town to help the needy so they have their sustenance and can exist in the world. Today it is also established in every country that there is an office that tends to those in need.

The reason is very simple: there is a difference between necessity and luxury. Necessity is what one must receive in order to be able to exist. Otherwise, if he did not receive the necessary assistance, he would not be able to exist in the world. Our sages said about this (Sanhedrin 37): “Anyone who sustains one soul from Israel, it is as though he has sustained a whole world.” This pertains to necessity, without which he will not be able to exist. A person cannot relinquish this and not ask for help, for “All that a man has he will give for his life.”

This is why people are not ashamed to ask for charity, since it is more or less a matter of life and death. The other, meaning the giver, also understands that he should give him what is requested. The closer the matter is to life and death, the more openly the receiver demands, and the more the giver takes interest in the receiver’s situation. Likewise, the farther it is from life and death, the more coldly the giver relates to the state of the receiver. However, everything follows the track of necessity.

This is not so with luxuries. One who asks for luxuries is ashamed to ask. And the giver, too, does not listen to one who is asking for luxuries. For this reason, we should discern between charity and gift. With charity, the answer to the request of the receiver comes. That is, if the receiver of charity asks then he is given.

It follows that charity comes by an awakening of the lower one because he feels his deficiency. That is, when he sees that he cannot exist in the world without the giver’s help, the receiver is not ashamed but goes and despises himself before the giver, since he has no other choice.

But a gift comes entirely from the giver. That is, if the giver awakens to do something, to reveal the love to his loved one, he sends him a gift. It therefore follows that a gift comes by the awakening of the bestowing upper one, but charity comes by an awakening of the receiver.

One who receives the charity should go to the giver and make him see the need for the charity that he is asking of him. To the extent that the receiver can clarify the need that he will come for his aid, and to the extent that he can make him see that it is a complete must, then he receives what he is asking of the giver.

However, the main reason is, as we learn, that when we must use anything that is not in the root we feel unpleasantness about it, as he says (The Study of the Ten Sefirot, Part One, Histaklut Pnimit [Inner Reflection], item 19), “It is known that the nature of every branch is equal to its root. Therefore, every conduct in the root is desired and loved and coveted by the branch, as well, and any matter that is not in the root, the branch, too, removes itself from them, does not tolerate them, and hates them.”

It turns out that there is no reception in our root. Therefore, when one must receive he feels shame, which is unpleasantness, because it does not exist in our root. For this reason, when one needs one’s friend’s help, if it is necessary, we say that there is no choice because nothing is more important than saving one’s life.

However, there are many discernments concerning risk to life. Therefore, anything that is necessary makes us suffer the shame and ask for help. But necessity is not the same for everyone. Each person has a different measure. That is, what one person may consider luxury, another may consider necessity.

Thus, it is difficult to determine the boundary on what is considered luxury and what is considered necessity. Although we can say about something one wants that you can live without it, that it is luxury, if one cannot live without it, it is necessity. But this, too, cannot be a one hundred percent accurate gauge.

For example, our sages wrote (Ketubot, p 67b), “A man came to Rabbi Nehemiah and told him, ‘What do you eat?’ He replied, ‘Red meat, and antique wine. Do you want to have lentils with me?’ He had lentils and died.” We see from the story that although everyone agrees that red meat and antique wine are certainly luxuries, to this man they were such a necessity that because of it he died.

We also see there, in the words of our sages, “Our sages taught, ‘sufficient for his need, whatever he lacks’ (Deuteronomy, 15). ‘Sufficient for his need’: You command me to sustain him but you do not command me to enrich him. ‘Whatever he lacks’: even a horse to ride and a servant to run before him. It was said about Old Hillel that once he took for a poor man who grew up wealthy a horse to ride on and a servant to run before him. Once, he could not find a servant to run before him so he ran before him three miles.”

We can therefore see that according to the words of our sages about the verse, “whatever he needs,” that even a horse to ride on and a servant to run before him fall into the category of necessity, and not luxury, since here we are speaking of a poor man, as the Gemarah writes, that Hillel took a poor man who grew up wealthy. And certainly, what we give to the poor is called “charity,” meaning necessity. Even when it is a horse to ride on and a servant to run before him, it is still regarded as necessity. Thus, we cannot put a limit on where “necessity” ends and “luxury” begins.

It therefore follows that the poor man can ask to be given, as charity, what others regard as luxury. This means that we said that the poor man asks for charity does not feel shame because to him the charity is necessary. However, we cannot discern between charity and gift, which is considered luxury. Rather, it depends on the nature of the person.

Each person has his own gauge to determine necessity and luxury—because he can live without it. When a poor man does not have the courage to ask of another, it fall under the definition of a gift, which comes to him only as an awakening of the giver.

However, who can determine if what one asks of one’s friend falls under the category of charity or gift? Only the Creator knows one’s measure—that thus far it is considered necessity, and henceforth it is considered luxury.

Now we will speak of those terms in matters of work. We need to discern during the prayer, when a person asks the Creator to help him in the work, if he is asking the Creator for charity, meaning necessity, without which he tells the Creator that his life is pointless, meaning that he feels bare and destitute, without Torah and without Mitzvot [commandments]. He feels that there is not a spark of truth in him, and all his actions are built on hypocrisy and lies. That is, the whole foundation on which he builds his building of Kedusha [holiness] is one of self-love.

He feels that each day he is regressing, where he should have progressed. But he sees the opposite, meaning that when he started the work of holiness he felt more importance in Torah and work, and this was why he took upon himself Torah and work—since it was worthwhile to retreat from the vanities of this world and cling to Torah and Mitzvot, for it would bring him happiness and meaning to life, and he was very excited.

But now he does not understand where he took those forces. That is, now, if someone told him: “Drop it all, retreat from the vanities of this world, and begin to work the work of holiness,” there is no doubt that he would not be able to listen to him in his current state, both intellectually and emotionally.

He should certainly tell himself that then he had faith and confidence, but now he is far from all those. It turns out that the whole time he was engaged in the work it was in order to draw closer to the truth, which is Dvekut [adhesion] with the Creator, to which he yearned. But now he has retreated ten degrees, meaning now he lacks the zeal for the Torah and the importance of Torah.

It is even more so with prayer: He has no desire for prayer because the body tells him, “What will you get from praying? You can see for yourself that the more you want to work, the lower you become, so why do I need this work?” Thus, how can one exert where he sees that he cannot move one step forward?

Man enjoys rest and is incapable of relinquishing rest unless he knows that he will have greater pleasure or something more required. At that time he has a reason to relinquish the rest, though not without a reward. Therefore, when he sees that his work did not earn him anything from of what he thought he would earn, he loses the strength to work and remains powerless.

He looks at himself and says that if anyone would come to him and say, “Know that in a little while, some months or years, you will come to a state of despair, meaning that you will have no progress, but to the contrary, that each year you will be lowlier than you feel now, for now you are lowly, therefore you want to begin the true work so as to achieve the true goal for which you were created. Therefore, I am telling you that you are wasting your efforts, since I know many people who thought as you do—that if you only make a small effort you will immediately see results, meaning some progress in the true work.”

I would reply to him: “You belong to the spies who slandered the land of Israel. It is just as the holy Zohar interprets (Shlach, item 63), ‘And they returned from touring the land.’ ‘Returned’ means they returned to the evil side, returned from the path of truth. They said, ‘What have we got so far? We have yet to see good in the world. We have labored in Torah but the house is empty, and who will be awarded that world and come inside it?’ It would be better if we did not toil so much.’ ‘They told him, and he said,’ etc., ‘We labored and toiled to know the part of that world, as you advised us. And it is also flowing with milk and honey. That upper world is good, as we know from the Torah, but who can be rewarded with it?’”

That is, now he says that after some time of work, if these thoughts had come to him in the beginning of the work, when he took upon himself that he must exit the ordinary situation, called “going by rote,” and be a true servant of the Creator, he would tell these thoughts: “You are messengers of the spies. This is why you come to me, to stop me from entering the land of Kedusha, called ‘holy work.’” He would not listen to them. But now he sees that he himself is feeling the argument of the spies, and now it seems to him that these are not arguments of the spies, but his own arguments, meaning that he feels that everything he feels is true.

As we have said above, the question that awakens is “What is the truth?” Was he at a higher degree in the beginning of the work than he is now after several years of work and labor? If so, what can be said about such a state? All his work was in vain. And not only in vain, since in vain means that he did not gain anything, and he is in the same state as before he entered the work of holiness in order to bestow.

But here it is not so. Rather, he has lost and declined from his previous state. That is, he is lacking the importance and zeal for Torah and Mitzvot, the energy and confidence he had. When he looks at himself today, he is in a state of “I could not care less.” So it seems as though one should say that he has declined from his previous state, when he began his work.

But in truth, it is not so. There is a rule that there is no light without a Kli [vessel]. This means that the Creator does not satisfy the lower one’s need if he does not have a real need.

A need does not mean that he does not have something. It is as I wrote in the allegory (Article no. 6, Tav-Shin-Mem- Vav), that there were elections in the country to elect a president. There were two candidates for presidency, and several lobbyists, each of whom wanted the president he supported to be elected. In the end one was chosen, and now there was a calculation regarding the deficiency. Someone felt that he was not the president, since in the end there is only one president.

We should say that all the people in the country have a lack, for we must say that they are not presidents. However, we should distinguish the amount of pain they feel at not being presidents. We should say that although ordinary citizens are not presidents, they do not feel any deficiency about it.

Those who engaged in making someone a president, but another president was elected, are in pain because of this deficiency that the one they worked for did not become president. However, the one who really suffers is that person who thought that he would be made president, who exerted to win the elections, to make his countryfolk elect him, but in the end his rival was elected. He feels the real suffering. We can say about him that he had the real need to be a president because he has exerted for it, and according to the efforts he has exerted, to that extent he feels the suffering.

It therefore follows that here, in the work of the Creator, in the beginning of his work he had energy and confidence, and great importance for Torah and prayer because at that time he had grace of holiness, and felt that the work of the Creator is important. However, this was still not considered a “deficiency” that the Creator will satisfy, a deficiency is called Dvekut [adhesion] with the Creator, since the lack and pain of not having Dvekut with the Creator was still not felt in him as he has not exerted for it because he has just begun the work.

But when he does not see results over a long period of time of making efforts, and he does not see a satisfaction of his deficiency, torments and pain begin to form in him because he has made efforts but sees no progress in his work. At that time the thoughts begin to come one-by-one. Sometimes it is with sparks of despair, and sometimes he grows stronger, but then he sees once more that he has fallen from his state, and so on repeatedly. Finally, a real deficiency forms in him, which he has obtained through exertion in ascents and descents. These ascents and descents leave him with pain each time at not having been granted Dvekut with the Creator. Finally, when the cup has been filled sufficiently, it is called a Kli. Then the filling of it comes from the Creator, since now he has a real Kli.

It follows that his seeing that now—after several years of work—he has retreated, this happens deliberately so he will ache at not having Dvekut with the Creator. It turns out that each time he must see that he is approaching the making of the Kli, called “real deficiency.” That is, his gauge of Katnut [infancy/smallness] and Gadlut [adulthood/greatness] of the deficiency is to the extent of the suffering he feels at not having the filling, which is called here “Dvekut with the Creator,” where all he wants is only to bring contentment to the Creator. Before the deficiency is completed it is impossible for the filling to come in full. It is known that what comes from above is always complete. Thus, the deficiency should be full, as well, meaning that he will feel pain and deficiency at not having anything. That is, he should feel that he has no Torah, no work, and no fear of heaven.

Although in practice, he engages in Mitzvot, learns Torah, gets up before dawn, and is careful with the slight and serious things, and if other people did what he does they would regard themselves as complete righteous, but he feels that he is completely empty. This is so because he wants to be rewarded with Dvekut with the Creator, and for this one must have one thought, meaning that all his works will be in order to bestow, and he sees he is very far from this.

Therefore, he tells himself, “What am I gaining by engaging in Torah and Mitzvot? My whole calculation was that through this I will achieve Dvekut with the Creator. Yet, I do not see that I have moved one bit closer. On the contrary!” Thus, this person is not asking for luxuries, but only for necessity, to have something with which to revive his soul with some spirituality so he will not be immersed in self-love.

It turns out that he feels that he completely devoid of spirituality. However, other people do not have this feeling of being far from spirituality. Rather, we see that the rest of the people, if they can pray each day in a Minyan [a minimum of ten participants in a prayer] they feel complete. It is even more so with people who comes to study their daily page after work—they feel themselves as whole, and have no demand of the Creator to help them have the strength to walk on the path of the Creator. Rather, they pray for the Creator to help them continue their routine. Thus, they are already satisfied with life.

Even more so, those “whose Torah is their work” certainly feel whole and always praise the Creator for giving them the mind and desire not to sit among the idle. Although they pray to the Creator to help them with the matter the matter of Lishma [for Her sake], which they had heard existed, they regard it as luxury. They observe the essence of Torah and Mitzvot, but do not have this matter of working Lishma. It is true that one should engage Lishma, but this pertains to a chosen few.

Thus, even when the pray that the Creator will grant them with learning Torah Lishma, they regard it as luxury and not as necessity, for thank God they feel that they are among the chosen ones in the nation, that they are in the “light of the vanities of Torah,” and for them, “their Torah is their craft.”

Thus, it turns out the same, that two people ask the Creator to grant them their requests. We should discern between them not by the prayer, but by the reason for the prayer: one wants it because his soul desires luxuries, so he is asking for a gift. But it is impolite to ask for gifts. Therefore, his request cannot be granted since one does not ask for presents, but it comes only from the giver, meaning that the giver awakens to give the gift to the receiver. For this reason it turns out that the lower one is full of grievances at the Creator for not hearing his prayer, since he is praying for gifts each day but he is not being heard. Therefore, he argues that there is something wrong, God forbid, with the upper one.

But the upper one argues that the lower one is wrong, since he is crying about receiving presents. What he thinks he needs is only a luxury to him. Therefore, if he corrects himself and sees the truth, meaning that he demand necessity, which is charity, then charity is given by the awakening of the lower one, as it is customary for the poor to ask. And the more the request is necessity, the more it is accepted.

This is what is explained above (Ketubot, p 67b), that meat and wine may be luxuries for every person, but for the one who came to Rabbi Nehemiah it was necessity. The evidence is that he gave him lentils to eat and he died.

By this we will understand why we see that once a person has made great efforts to achieve Dvekutwith the Creator, in the end he sees that he has become worse than when he began to do the holy work to correct himself. That is, it is as though the corrections he had made were in vain, useless, but to the contrary.

The answer is that in truth, he went a great deal forward, but we should discern between progress toward the light and progress toward the Kli. Human nature is to regard progress toward the light, since light is all that man wants. It follows that things that do not illuminate do not interest him at all, for what will it give him if he has a great deficiency? There is a rule that man wants things that bring him pleasure, so when he wants to know if he has advanced, he examines how much closer he is to the light.

But the truth is that there is no light without a Kli. Therefore, first he must advance toward the Kli. That is, there is such a thing as advancing in deficiency. In the beginning of his work his deficiency was not revealed to him and he craved the light, although then, too, he had a deficiency—that he did not have light.

But this is similar to what people do: Sometimes a person loses some important object that is worth one hour of his work according to what he earns per day. If, for example, he makes eight dollars a day, he will not work for less than one dollar an hour. Rather, rest will be more important to him. But if he loses an object that is worth one dollar, he will search for it two hours until he finds it. This brings up the question: “Why did he just work an hour to earn half a dollar?”

The answer is that there is a difference between denying profit and losing from the capital. What he possesses and then loses, even if it is a small thing, it is important to him because he had already had it but then lost it. This is not so with something that he did not obtain. A great thing is worth exerting for, but otherwise rest is more important to him.

The same rule applies to us. When he had a desire to achieve Dvekut with the Creator, that deficiency is called “prevention of profit.” That is, he is deficient that perhaps he will not profit, so he goes to work. But this is still not considered a real deficiency, fit for clothing the upper abundance.

But if he has already invested several years of work it is like losing from the capital. That is, he has lost several years of work without gaining anything. Then this deficiency is regarded as such because this deficiency creates in him torments and pains.

Thus, we see that the great efforts he has made, thinking that soon the Creator will help him and he will be rewarded with Dvekut with Him, so he was advancing concerning the desire for Dvekut because of the great efforts he has made, so the more he sees that he is exerting, the more he sees the opposite—that the body resists the matter of bestowal altogether.

At that time the understanding that he needs His help forms in him. At that time he is not asking for luxuries, but wants to be a simple Jew who believes in the Creator, that He, the blessed One, His name is the “Good Who Does Good.” He wants to praise the Creator and say to Him: “Blessed is He who said, ‘Let there be the world,’” just so, without any great attainments in Torah and Mitzvot with intentions, but very simply to be able to praise the Creator and thank Him for creating him.

Since now he sees that he does not even have the desire for Torah and work he had when he began to work, it is for two reasons, which are one: 1) The reason he began to assume the burden of Torah and Mitzvot was built on vessels of reception. At that time the body longed to receive the delight and pleasure because he felt that he could receive from spirituality more satisfaction in life, meaning that the will to receive would have what to receive, since corporeal pleasures did not give him satisfaction in life. But now that he has begun to work in order to bestow, his body resists it.

The body agrees to labor where it can gain. But now that he has told the body, “Keep Torah and Mitzvot and by that, meaning by keeping Torah and Mitzvot, you will be able not to give the body any pleasure or reward for your work.” Because of it, when the body hears that it will have reward for itself, but that its reward will be to have the strength not to give the body any reward for its work, this is the reason why now he has no strength to work as he did before he began to work in order to bestow, when the body expected greater pleasures than what it received from corporeal pleasures. Therefore, for this he had fuel and did not encounter any preventions from the body, since the body expected the desire to receive to gain more pleasures now.

However, we must know that the body has no other language, that it should want to work the holy work. Our sages said about this, “One should always engage in Torah and Mitzvot Lo Lishma [not for Her sake] for by that he will come to Lishma [for Her sake].” It follows that the beginning of his entrance to the work was just fine. That is, we must promise the body that God forbid that we should blemish its will to receive. On the contrary, by keeping Torah and Mitzvot, the will to receive will have real satisfaction in life, and his will to receive will feel that specifically by keeping Torah and Mitzvothe will feel that throughout the world, he is the happiest man in his generation.

But after he has begun the work and begun to know that the main thing is to achieve Dvekut with the Creator, called “doing everything in order to bestow,” the body begins to resist this work. However, there is great benefit in this resistance of the body, since by this a person develops a great deficiency, meaning he suffers from being far from Dvekut with the Creator. At that time, the more he regrets, the more he becomes needy of the Creator’s help, since then he sees that he cannot exit self-love by himself, but only the Creator Himself can help him. This is not a matter of understanding, but a matter of feeling. It is as it is written (Psalms, 127), “If the Lord does not build the house, they who built it labored in it in vain.”

It follows that one should believe that all the twists and turns that have brought him to his current state were so he would have the ability to give an honest prayer from the bottom of the heart. However, the evil inclination brings man opposite views, so where one can ask the Creator from the bottom of the heart, meaning when the mind and heart have come to a decision that now only the Creator can help him, because now he can pray a true prayer, the evil inclination comes and brings him to despair, as the spies argue. We can say about this, “The ways of the Lord are straight; the righteous walk in them and the wicked fail in them.”

With the above-said we will understand what we asked about the verse, “He who hates gifts will live.” It does not mean that he should not receive gifts. However, if he hates the gifts because he wants to work in order to bestow, therefore he hates being a receiver but receives the gifts because the Creator wants it. This is called “receiving in order to bestow,” since he would not awaken the Creator to give him luxuries. Rather, he is asking the Creator for necessity. And it makes no difference whether for another it is regarded as luxury, since each one works according to one’s own feeling, and does not mind what his friend has. If later the Creator gives him a gift, he receives it in order to bestow.

It follows that if a person asks the Creator to give him vessels of bestowal, it depends on a person’s character. That is, we can say that for one it is luxuries and for another it is necessity.

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