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Why is Charity Considered the Greatest Mitzvah?

Why is Charity Considered the Greatest Mitzvah?

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Question:

I've often read and heard the quote, "Tzedakah (charity) is equal to all the other commandments combined," said to be from the Talmud. But I'm skeptical. Can you tell me the real story?

Answer:

Firstly let me assure you that what you heard is indeed correct. The source for this statement you quoted correctly is the Talmud (Baba Batra 9a).

Let me share with you some more of what our sages say about tzedakah:

"Tzedakah and acts of kindness are the equivalent of all the mitzvot of the Torah" – Jerusalem Talmud, Pe'ah 1:1.

"Greater is tzedakah than all the sacrifices" – Talmud, Sukkah 49b.

"If only the people who lived in the generation of the Flood and the people of Sodom had given tzedakah, they would not have perished" – Midrash Zutta, Song of Songs 1.

"Great is tzedakah, for since the day that the world was created until this day the world stands upon tzedakah" – Midrash Tanna d'Vei Eliyahu Zutta 1.

Now sit back for the "real story." There are quite a number of explanations dealing with the greatness of tzedakah over all other commandments and its all encompassing nature. Here is one which discusses the matter in a very practical light.

Very few mitzvot a person does require the investiture of one's entire being. You eat kosher with your mouth, learn Torah with your head, light Shabbat candles with your hands, etc. Even those commandments which engulf the entire body, such as sitting in a sukkah, do not involve a person's total talents and efforts as well.

Humans possess an inherent drive to live, and to live well. This urge manifests itself in working to achieve the desired level of comfort. The majority of people spend most of their day toiling to earn money, in order to maintain or better their standard of living. When a person sets aside a portion of that money, and gives it away to charity, he is not sanctifying merely his food, or some other possession, or his mental capabilities; he is giving up something in which he invested his whole self for G‑d's sake. That's an unbelievable feat, and that's what you accomplish every time you give tzedakah.

Malkie Janowski is an accomplished educator who lives in Coral Springs, Florida. Mrs. Janowski is also a responder on Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi team.
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Discussion (6)
August 22, 2012
The Vegetarian Mitzvah
I very much appreciate this post. I love doing mitzvahs and giving tzedakah and this inspires me even more.
Dov
San Francisco, CA, USA
February 22, 2010
Tzedakah
I recommend -The Tzedakah Treasury- by Rab Avrohom Chaim Feuer from ArtScroll, I have found it to be an indispensible tool in the understanding of righteous giving.
C. FitzPatrick
Lawrenceville, Georgia
theshul.org
December 21, 2009
Missed the point
I want to respond to the last poster. Unfortunately he missed the point of tzedaka completely.

When we are unemployed we depend on others a lot. During his unemployment did he not depend on his family for support? Before giving to charity he should meet those obligations first. He says he gave while still unemployed but family obligations and debts should have come first. Otherwise the money he gave was not really his.

The whole purpose of giving is that it is not obligatory. It is going above and beyond. But the basic obligations need to be met in order to live a good and honest life.

Also charitable giving is not a holy money machine. He should have given to charity for the sake of giving. It is not some magic that got him a job and no connection between doing good works and getting reward, other than what G-d determines. We should not give to get something back. That is the nature of the mitzvah. It is done without hope of reward and this is what makes it good and holy.
Ellen
Newark, NJ
December 6, 2009
The power of tzedaka
I want to share a brief story: I had been laid off from my job and was living on unemplpyment, so I put off normal charitable giving and paying shul dues. Finally, near the high holidays, I made arrangements to pay my dues in installments and made a commitment to the Kol Nidre appeal. The next day, I got a call for a three-month consulting position at a prestigious company. And, a month after that, I got a job offer at an even more prestigious company for more salary than I had planned to ask for.

I learned a valuable lesson: follow your obligations and trust in G-D to support you.
Bryan
New York, NY
February 18, 2009
Solidarity?
I was listening to a politician the other day that was describing how charity has allowed for a broken health care system to persist and thus made the problems greater. He was promoting "solidarity not charity" by saying that we should change policy all together and not put another band-aid on the gash and so he was promoting extending health benefits to all through taxes. In this case, could taxes be a form of charity? Aren't they always when they support social programs? Or is it in the definition of charity that it has to be an active choice to give (though I've met some who don't pay taxes) and thus our taxes that support social programs that help millions are no more then a "stay out of jail" card?
A
USA
October 17, 2007
Tanya
Why not leave a footnote to Tanya chapter 37, which I believe is the source for this explanation? There are many other sources in Iggeres Hakodesh, but you're surely more familiar with them than I, and would be more qualified to pick the right one,
some anonymous stickler
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