We’ve flipped another few pages on the calendar, and, believe it or not, the holiday season is once again upon us—the Purim-Passover season, that is. Just as the Tishrei high holiday season is preceded by Elul, a month of preparation, so too, this approaching holiday season also requires preparation. For this purpose, we begin this week a four-step regimen of self-improvement, four Shabbatot when we read a special section from the Torah, in anticipation of the spiritual redemptions we will hopefully experience this Purim and Passover.

Briefly, these four steps are:

A four-step regimen of self-improvement in anticipation of the spiritual redemptions of Purim and Passover

Parshat Shekalim: A reading about the commandment to annually donate a half-shekel to the Temple coffers.

Parshat Zachor: A reading about our obligation to annihilate the evil nation of Amalek.

Parshat Parah: A reading about the ritual purification achieved through the sprinkling of the ashes of the red heifer.

Parshat Hachodesh: A reading about the mitzvah of sanctifying the new moon, and the requirement to eat matzah and bitter herbs at the Passover Seder.

This week we read Parshat Shekalim, focusing on the first necessary step to achieve personal redemption—charity.

Does the process of personal redemption start with helping others? Sounds strange. Undoubtedly, kindness, charity and selflessness are vital ingredients in a person’s quest for spirituality, but is that the proper starting point? How about battling personal evil (step 2), purifying oneself through accepting the “yoke of heaven” (step 3), or humility and renewal (step 4)? Is it not more important to clean one’s own house before helping others?

Here is a thought that adds perspective:

One of the more common questions asked of a person is, “What do you do?” This question does not refer to the person’s hobbies, vacations or charity work; rather, it is designed to find out how the person makes a living. This is what a person does. A person goes to work every day, and endeavors to make a comfortable income. More often than not, this results in his becoming entirely immersed and absorbed in the pursuit for wealth, every fiber of his being involved in the rat race of life.

This is why the paycheck is so precious; after all, our very life’s blood goes into every penny we earn. When we take part of this and give it away to charity, we bring meaning and significance into our entire workweek. We are demonstrating that we are willing to give to G‑d of our very essence.

Does the process of personal redemption start with helping others?

Our sages strongly extol the virtue of charity, going so far as to say that it is “equal to all other mitzvot combined”! Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (founder of Chabad Chassidism, 1745–1812) explains that whereas every mitzvah is designed to introduce holiness into a specific part of our being—the particular limb which performs the mitzvah—charity is the one exception to this rule. The few coins which one puts into a charity box, or the check one writes to a charitable organization, have the ability to sanctify one’s entire being.

In this aspect, monetary charity is much greater than volunteering time to a charitable cause. Volunteering involves donating a certain amount of time to G‑d, one’s fellow man, or both. When the hour or two conclude, one returns to a normal, self-absorbed daily schedule, and the kindness is now part of the past. Charity, however, elevates the entire labor which netted the earnings, and the entire individual who toiled—physically and mentally—for this livelihood.

In order to start the process of redemption, it is first necessary to make the major step of infusing the whole day with an aura of holiness. Only then can one successfully confront all the struggles and tribulations which he will certainly encounter on this challenging yet rewarding journey. Charity has the ability to suffuse the most mundane business meeting with holy purpose.

And let us bear in mind that one never loses by giving charity. In the words of the prophet Malachi (3:10):

“Bring all the tithes into the treasury so that there may be nourishment in My House. Test Me, if you will, with this, says the L‑rd of Hosts: [see] if I will not open for you the windows of the heavens and pour down for you blessing until there be no room to suffice for it.”