Open your hands to help your brother
Open your hands which were clenched at birth
So you won’t be forced to open them at death
This week’s maamer on Parshas Reeh presents a deep new thought that we merited to have on the mitzvoh of giving tzedoke to the poor.
The Torah teaches: “If there shall be a poor person among you, one of your brothers in any of your cities, in your land that Hashem gives you: “Lo seametz es levovcho Velo sikpotz es yodcho meochicho haevyon” – do not harden your heart nor shall you close your hand against your destitute brother: “Ki poseach tiftach es yodcho lo” – rather you should open your hand to him.
We need to understand why the Torah places such great importance on the hands with which we perform the mitzvoh of tzedoke, saying: “Velo sikpotz es yodcho” and “Ki poseach tiftach es yodcho lo”. We do many mitzvos with our hands such as returning lost objects and holding the 4 minim on Sukkos, yet we are never told: “Ki poseach tiftach es yodcho lo“, open your hands in order to do the mitzvoh.
The maamer begins with a wonderful explanation given by the early Rabbi Yosef Tzarfati ZT”L in “Yad Yosef” which is based on a Medrash in Koheles Rabbah:
“It was learned in the name of Rabbi Meir: When a person is born, his hands are clenched, as if to say the whole world is mine, but when a person dies, his hands are open, as if to say that I inherited nothing from the world”.
So, says the “Yad Yosef”, this is what Hashem is begging us: “Velo sikpotz es yodcho” – don’t keep your hand closed the way you were born, maintaining a greedy attitude of: “the whole world is mine”. Because in the end when you die: “Ki poseach tiftach es yodcho lo” – you will be forced to open your hands and acknowledge that you were not able to keep anything from this world. So it is better that you open your hands of your own volition while you are still alive, to do the mitzvoh of tzedoke in the merit of which you can inherit Olam Haba.
This fascinating thought gives us a new understanding on the Gemore in Baba Basra: “The mitzvoh of tzedoke is equivalent to all the other mitzvos”, with the explanation of Reb Elimelech of Lishensk, that a person is created to break his nature. The holy seforim explain that the beginning and the root of anything, is the source for everything that follows, and by correcting the root you can correct everything that follows.
The first thing every new born does when it enters the world is, to clench it fists declaring that the world is mine. So this bad middoh – habit, is the source of all the bad middos – habits that we are born with. From this we can learn that if a person can break this first bad habit, by opening his clenched hands to give tzedoke, he can also overcome all his other bad habits. That is why the mitzvoh of tzedoke is the equivalent of all the other mitzvos which are intended to purify all our bad habits.
Based on this new idea we explain: By opening our hands willingly on this world to overcome our stingy nature, we in return cause Hashem to open his hands to shower us with all good, as we say to Hashem three times a day in Ashrei the possuk in Tehilim: “Posayach es yadecho umasbia lchol chai rotzon” – “You open your hand, and satisfy the desire of every living thing.” This fits in beautiful in the possuk: “Ki poseach tiftach es yadcho lo” – open your hands to Hashem and then He will open His hands in the heavens to shower you with all goods.
This gives us a new understanding why our sages gave us the mitzvoh of washing hands before eating bread. Before we can eat the bread that Hashem gives us by opening his hands: “Posayach es yadecho umasbia lchol chai rotzon”, we need to do a personal accounting and think if we opened our hands to give of our bread to the poor.
But because we are born with evil tendencies, who can honestly say that he opened his hands wide enough to give tzedoke to the poor. So the Sages established that before eating, we should wash our hands, to purify them from our having sullied them by not giving tzedoke properly. In order to wash hands properly we need to open them fully, thus cleansing them from not opening them sufficiently.
Brothers and friends: Let us all open our hands to help our fellow brothers, but not only our hands but also our hearts and feelings, giving them an encouraging word; greeting them with a broad smile; complement them. Sometimes it is much more than giving them money. That is the full meaning of the great mitzvoh: “Lo seametz es levovcho Velo sikpotz es yodcho meochicho haevyon” – do not harden your heart nor shall you close your hand against your destitute brother: “Ki poseach tiftach es yodcho lo” – open your hand to him. It is then that Hashem will open his hands that contain all that we need: Health, parnose, Naches from our sweet kinderlich, tranquility and much more.
Wishing you a Good and Blessed Shabbos
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