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Letter No. 238: Giving tzedakah at night

Letter No. 238: Giving tzedakah at night

Letter & Spirit - Personal and Public Correspondence of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Send Us Your Letters Letter & Spirit - Personal and Public Correspondence of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

The name of the recipient of this letter was not published.

B”H, Thursday, 5 Tammuz, 5706

Greetings and blessings,

Question: (With reference to the Shacharis prayers), the text Naggid U’Metzaveh1states that: “Night is not an appropriate time [to give] tzedakah.” On the surface, since night is a time when [the attributes of] might (Gevurah) [prevail], it would seem appropriate to give profusely to tzedakah [at night] to “soften” [these attributes of] might.

Response: Another question can be coupled with the one asked: There are differences in the statements regarding this issue in the writings of the AriZal as will be stated in the future. What is the rationale motivating these differences?

The above can be understood by prefacing with the following [general principle]. There are two motifs with regard to the correlation of mitzvos and the time during which they should be performed:

a) The nature of the mitzvah and the spiritual character of the time when it is performed parallel each other. For example, midnight [is an appropriate time for] Torah study, for then “the Holy One, blessed be He, luxuriates with the righteous in Gan Eden” (Zohar I, 72a; [see also] other quotes cited in the Siddur, [in the section] Tikkun Chatzos). Similarly, with regard to the prohibition:2 “Do not cause fire to burn on the Shabbos day,” [the rationale for that prohibition is that on Shabbos,] “All fires of the fierce fire are hidden” (Zohar II, 203b, explained in Derech Mitzvosecha of the Tzemach Tzedek, mitzvas lo siva’aru eish). [There are] other [similar examples].

b) The nature of the mitzvah is opposite to the spiritual character of the time when it is performed and comes to correct it. For example, the sounding of the shofar on Rosh HaShanah, concerning which the Zohar III, 99a, states: “The Jews require a shofar on Rosh HaShanah, not a horn, for.... [At this time,] it is not appropriate to arouse [the attribute of] judgment.”3

To return to the question [of tzedakah at night]: With regard to the first motif, [the attribute of] kindness is aroused in the morning (Pri Etz Chayim, Shaar HaTefillah, ch. 2, et al.). Therefore “One should give tzedakah every morning before reciting the Shemoneh Esreh prayers in accordance with the mystic secret [implied by the verse:]4 ‘With righteousness,5 I will perceive Your face’” (Shaar HaKavannos, Tefillas Shacharis, Drush 4). “The time of the afternoon prayers is a time [when the attributes of] judgment [are expressed]. Hence [tzedakah] is not as necessary” (ibid., Tefillas Minchah, Drush 2). However, “One should not give [tzedakah] before the evening prayers [in contrast to the practice] in the morning. For that is a time of severe judgment”(ibid., Tefillas Arvis, Drush 1).

With regard to the second motif, the afternoon prayers [relate to] “the mystic dimension of might and [the attributes of] judgment must be ‘softened.’ The primary softening is brought about by tzedakah as is well known. Therefore one should give three coins to tzedakah before the afternoon prayers” (Siddur Kol Yaakov, Minchah). By contrast, “[Before] the evening prayers, one should not give tzedakah, because it is a time governed by unmitigated [attributes of] judgment. And it is written:6 ‘Do not muzzle an ox while threshing.’ This is the time when these attributes are sovereign, not when they can be eliminated” (ibid., Tefillas Arvis).

These concepts can be appreciated on the basis of the commentary of Ramaz to the Raaya Mehemna (Zohar II, 40b) and explained in the maamar entitled Zeh HaYom, 5695: “The kelipos and the sitra achra were also created. Thus, by necessity, some life-energy must be drawn down to them. The concept can be explained as follows: There are two sources of life-energy for kelipah: a) what is allotted to them by decree from Above; b) the increase [generated by] sinners.”

See our Sages’ statement (Talmud Yerushalmi, Shekalim 5:4):

Rabbi Chaninah bar Pappa would distribute tzedakah7at night. Once the master of the spirits met him and told him: “This is not the way our teacher taught us. ‘Do not usurp your neighbor’s boundary.’”8

According to the above, the concept is understand directly. The explanation of the Korban Eidah — that the difficulty is that he went out [at night] — is thus not required.

The Siddur of R. Shabshiof Roshkov adds to [the statements made by] the Siddur Kol Yaakov, declaring: “One should not give tzedakah [before] the evening service, because it is night, and [the attributes of] judgment are expressed powerfully. There is fear that the external forces may derive nurture.”

* * *

A general question may be raised with regard to this matter. Tzedakah is a positive mitzvah whose observance is not associated with a specific time. How can it then be said that it should not be given at night?

On the surface, it is possible to explain that the writings of the AriZal are speaking about giving tzedakah before prayer. They explain that before the evening prayers, tzedakah should not be given. [At other times during the night, however, one may give.]

[This resolution] is not acceptable. For the rationale which is given — that night is the time when [the attributes of] judgment [are expressed] — applies throughout the night [and not just at the time of prayer].

Perhaps it is possible to explain that there are two manners of fulfilling the mitzvah of tzedakah:

a) [To give] when one sees a poor person asking. Concerning this, it is said:9 “Do not harden your heart.” One must give such a person immediately, as stated in the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 247:1), citing the incident that occurred to Nachum Ish Gamzu.10

b) [To give in all situations, as it is stated] (Bava Basra 9a; quoted as halachah by Shulchan Aruch, loc. cit.): A person should not hold himself back from [giving] tzedakah even when a poor person does not come and ask from him.

[It could be said that] the writings of the AriZal are speaking about the second manner. ([This is indicated by the passage from] Shaar HaKavannos which speaks about giving to a collector of tzedakah, not to a poor person.) With regard to the first manner, there is no difference between day and night, [as implied by the command]: “Do not harden your heart.”

An objection should not be raised from the fact that, be it as it may, since night is a time for [the attributes of] judgment, as explained above, [and we are charged:] “Do not usurp your neighbor’s boundary,” what difference does it make whether [one gives] in the first manner or in the second manner? For there is a major difference. Since, from Above, a poor person was sent to him for charity instead of him having to seek out [the poor person], this is a sign that this does not relate to [the influence] ordained for [the kelipos] by decree from Above.

* * *

Clarification is still required based on the statements of the Alter Rebbe in the Introduction to the Siddur and in Tanya, Iggeres HaKodesh, Epistle 8, explaining the concept that one should give a coin to a poor person and then pray.11 [He explains that tzedakah is necessary] to draw down influence to this material realm. Seemingly, this rationale would apply with regard to the evening prayers as well.

Perhaps it is possible to explain that the evening prayers are different. For all the influence that is dependent on our [actions] has already been drawn down in the morning and afternoon prayers, as explained with regard to the concept that the evening prayers are optional.12

Or it is possible to explain that in the morning and afternoon prayers when [the Sefirah of] Malchus ascends, additional effort is necessary to draw it down to the material realm. In the evening, when Malchus [remains] in the worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah, thisis not necessary. In particular, this applies at night. For it is the time when “she gives food to her household.”13 Clarification is still required. This is not the place for elaboration.

With the blessing “Immediately to teshuvah, immediately to Redemption,”

Haggadas BiChipazon Pesach (os ayin, sec. 3, law 1) quotes the text Maaseh HaTzedakah which states that one should give a coin to tzedakah every night after Counting the Omer to correct the blemishes one brought about in the realm of sublime [attributes of] kindness.

I am not familiar with the identity of the author of the text Maaseh HaTzedakah. (It appears that he is a Sephardic kabbalist.) If, however, he is a person on whom one may rely, who follows the kabbalah of the AriZal, clarification is required with regard to his statement that tzedakah should be given at night. Nevertheless, based on the explanations above, that statement can also be resolved. For he is speaking about rectifying blemishes that have been caused. If so, this does not relate to [the influence] ordained for [the kelipos] by decree from Above.

[Authored by one of the AriZal’s students.]
[Shmos 35:3.]
[The shofar represents the attribute of kindness, while a horn reflects the attribute of judgment. Rosh HaShanah is a day of judgment. Hence the shofar is used to counterbalance the spiritual quality of the day.]
[Tehillim 17:15.]
[Righteousness (tzedek) and charity (tzedakah) share the same root.]
[Devarim 25:4.]
[The passage in the Talmud Yerushalmi uses the term mitzvah, but that term means tzedakah. Indeed, the Talmud Yerushalmi frequently uses the two terms interchangeably.]
[Cf. Devarim 19:14. The verse is translated in the context used by the Talmud Yerushalmi.]
[Devarim 15:7.]
[See Taanis 21a which explains that Nachum Ish Gamzu delayed briefly giving tzedakah to a poor man and in the interim, the man died.]
[See Bava Basra 10a and commentaries.]
[See Likkutei Torah, Devarim,p. 80c, which explains that the influence drawn down by the evening prayers is too elevated for man to be commanded to draw down through his own initiative. Instead, it is drawn down from Above.]
[Mishlei 31:15; i.e., at this time, Malchus disseminates influence to the lower worlds.]
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