The Circles Of Giving


In Re’eh, regarding Shemittah and the release of debts, there is a miraculous promise concerning the giving of charity. We are told: “Giving, you shall give him, and let your heart not feel bad when you give him, for because of this thing, God, your God, shall bless you in all your deeds and in your every undertaking” [Deuteronomy 15:10, Rashi’s translation]. This verse is a window into God’s spiritual universe. It tells us that linear, logical thinking alone does not explain the whole truth about the way God has structured reality.

Talmud Shabbat 151b, commenting on this verse, explains that “in return for (biglal) this thing [Sforno’s translation], the School of R. Ishmael taught, it is a wheel (galal) that revolves in the world.” Giving can be understood as a circle, or perhaps three circles, in which what we give returns to us.

The first circle is physical. Money has value when it is spent and put into circulation to purchase something. The act of giving creates a kind of vacuum in God’s universe, into which blessings can flow, known as the “shefa.” The chasidic master Elimelech of Lizhensk wrote about a pipeline of blessings that can be stopped up or opened according to our actions [Noam Elimelech]. God owns everything, as we say in the Amidah, “v’koneh hakol,” which tells us that any money we give is truly God’s money and not our own. God is the donor; we are simply the means of God’s donations.

The second circle is relational: we are in a holy dance with others, whom the Torah calls our “brothers.” Our redemption can be found in the most unlikely place: our relationship to others and our caring about them. Those in need help us to grow in compassion and caring as we help them materially, also allowing them to see that God provides for each person. This is in keeping with Maimonides’ teaching [“Guide for the Perplexed,” Chapter 31] that the entire reason for Torah is to help us treat each other better.

The third circle is energetic. The energy circle can be understood by means of a metaphor: If life is a glass of water and I put dark dye or dark energy into the water, life will look very dark around me. But if I put light into the water, life will appear filled with light. The act of giving sets these three circles into motion.

There is, of course, a problem here. The sages of the Talmud taught that the blessings from performing mitzvot do not necessarily happen in this world [Kiddushin 39b]. Yet the Torah stands for the principle of cause and effect, that good actions produce more goodness. Malbim taught, if you “open your hand once, a spirit of generosity will envelope you and you will continue to open your hand on a constant basis.” This is important in light of a teaching of Abraham Joshua Heschel, who said that God notices improvement [Man Is Not Alone]. Anyone who would like to be noticed by God has only to take one small spiritual baby-step forward, to begin to live not only in the physical world, but also partially in the spiritual world. This is hinted at in the verse: “Rather, opening, you shall open your hand wide to him.” Also, “Giving, you shall give” [Deut. 15:8-10]. This is both prophecy and education, for we are being guided by God, not only through Torah, but by the very events of our lives, to open ourselves to the radiance and holiness God has placed within us, and to be able to experience it by walking in God’s own ways, giving to others and expanding our hearts.

We know that God cares deeply about whether we take care of each other. This is why the widow, orphan and stranger are mentioned so often in Torah. The release of debts is described as being “for God” [l’Adonai, Deut. 15:2]. God, who must take care of each and every person, asks us to join the effort by becoming God’s partner: one who helps Him to accomplish it.

The more blessings that flow through us, the more we are enabled to be of service to others and ultimately to God. Choosing generosity, choosing to love and care, we are granted the ability to witness God’s miracles in this world.

Rabbi Jill Hausman is the spiritual leader and cantor of the Actors’ Temple in Manhattan.

Candlelighting, Readings:
Shabbat Candles: 7:42 p.m.
Torah: Deut. 11:26-16:17;
Numbers 28:9-15
Haftarah: Isaiah 66:1-24
Havdalah: 8:41 p.m.