A word from “our master our teacher”
Rabbi Reuven Mann
Today my grandsons and I were learning Rambam Hilchot Teshuva. In the 2nd chapter he discusses the various components that comprise genuine repentance. The essential feature of Teshuva is “abandonment of sin” which means he must remove it not only from his behavior but from his thoughts as well. The returning sinner may not indulge his desire to read about and fantasize about the forbidden things that he would like to do but which are forbidden by the Torah. He may not keep alive within the recesses of his heart the interest in and longing for that which is proscribed. This is so even if he is absolutely committed to never committing the actual transgression again. For once he has transgressed he must renounce the sin categorically and separate from it both physically and mentally.
After he concludes his description of the elements that comprise Teshuva the Rambam discusses what he calls the “derech” or behavioral pattern of penitents. The Rambam says, “It is of the pathway of Teshuva for the penitent to call out constantly before Hashem with crying and petitions and perform charity according to his ability, and distance himself significantly from the matter in which he sinned….” (Rambam: Teshuva 2:4)
My grandson asked can the tzedaka the Rambam mandates here be taken from his ordinary tithing obligation (a Jew is obligated to “tithe” i.e., give ten percent of his earnings to charity every year). I replied that I think not because that money is being given anyway whether he does Teshuva or not. Rather the Rambam is teaching that there is a new form of charity which is specifically connected to the process of Teshuva. If so he means to say that this tzedaka is entirely separate from the ordinary mitzva and therefore requires additional moneys.
Then my grandson asked, why is the giving of charity connected to the Teshuva process more so than any other Mitzvah? I suggested the following possibility. The giving of Tezadak has a great impact on perfecting the individual. It entails two emotional adjustments. First of all it repairs a faulty attitude toward money. People have difficulty parting with money because it represents the ability to gratify their fantasies and desires. Sin is rooted in man’s being overpowered by his lusts. By giving tzedaka he relinquishes his imaginary desires and thus reestablishes his control over his emotions.
The other cause of sin is man’ self-centeredness and preoccupation with the satisfaction of his own needs. Tzedaka causes him to detach from the exclusive focus on the self and to be concerned with needs of others. He thus learns that he cannot have everything that he desires, that he has the ability to deny himself certain pleasures and be concerned for the desires of others. He thus becomes a more humble and materialistically modest person.
Perhaps that is why our master our teacher tells us that it is appropriate for one engaged in repentance to practice tzedaka. That is not simply because it is a mitzva but because it is a process very germane to effectuating the necessary emotional changes which genuine repentance requires.