Rabbi Elazar of Bartosah would say: Give Him what is His, for you, and whatever is yours, are His. As King David says: "For everything comes from You, and from Your own hand we have given to You."

Ethics of The Fathers, 3:7


The gist of Rabbi Elazar's message is clear, and encapsulates the Jewish attitude to charity: we do not "contribute" that which is inherently our own. Rather, we merely carry out the purpose for which the wealth has been entrusted to us by the Almighty.

But there is more to Rabbi Elazar's words. A vital part of the mitzvah of charity—and of all G‑d's commandments—is that we choose of our own free will to do them. "All is foreseen," proclaims Rabbi Akiva further on in our chapter of the Ethics, and yet, "freedom of choice is granted" to man. For if doing good were to come as naturally and compulsively to us as our breathing and eating, our deeds would be no more significant than any other natural phenomenon.

The granting of free choice to man is the most "revolutionary" aspect of G‑d's creation, for it runs contrary to the most basic law of reality: the axiom that "There is none else beside Him," that G‑d's omnipresent and all-pervading existence does not allow for any other self-determining element. Nevertheless, G‑d chose to overrule this "law," in effect creating a so-called vacuum within His infinite being, in order to give the human being the freedom to choose between right and wrong.

So when man elects to share his wealth, he is giving what is his—G‑d has relinquished to him the right of ownership and choice. This is why Rabbi Elazar does not say, "Give Him what is His, for everything is His." Were this to be the case, the act of charity would be devoid of any moral worth. Instead he says: "Give Him what is His, for you, and whatever is yours, are His." Indeed there is a "you" and your money is "yours," for G‑d has granted you selfhood and property.

But there is an even more basic truth that underlies your existence: the fact that "you, and whatever is yours, are His" - that G‑d has granted you being, independence and ownership for the sole purpose of imparting significance to your fulfillment of His will.

The choice is yours. But when you exercise that choice, bear in mind where your power to choose stems from. Remember He who has granted you your very being as a creature of volition, and to what purpose He has done so.