Last week's post generated some comments in response to my having written that someone who observes mishpatim simply because it's the right think to do still can call on zechus avos because he/she is doing the right thing. Since I opened that can of worms, let me continue on the same theme. R' Simcha Zisel of Kelm makes a striking claim with respect to the mitzvah of tzedaka mentioned in this week's parsha. It's davka not the person who gives to charity because it's a mitzvah who fulfills tzedaka to its fullest. Rather, it's the person who empathizes with the poor and gives because he is moved by their needs who fulfills tzedaka to its fullest.
R' Simcha Zisel sees tzedaka as an extension of v'ahavta l'rei'acha kamocha. Most of us don't eat because it's a mitzvah -- we eat because we feel hungry. Says R' Simcha Zisel, treat your fellow Jew in need the same way. Don't feed your friend because it's a mitzvah. Feed your friend because you empathize with his pain to such a degree that if he is hungry, you are hungry, and when you are hungry, you eat.
R' Ya'akov Naiman in his Darkei Musar uses this yesod of R' Simcha Zisel to answer a question posed by the Maharasha. The gemara in Kesubos (67) relates that Nakdimon ben Gurion was punished for not fulfilling the mitzvah of tzedaka properly. Asks the gemara: Nakdimon ben Gurion was rich and give a fortune to tzedaka; how is it possible to say he did not fulfill the mitzvah properly? The gemara gives two answers: 1) as much as he gave, he could have done more; 2) he gave for the kavod of giving. Maharasha on the spot questions this second answer. We know that someone who gives charity "al menas she'yichyeh b'ni," with ulterior motives, because he wants the zechus of tzedaka to bring a refuah to his child, is called a tzadik gamur. So who cares of Nakdimon ben Gurion did it for the kavod!? He should still go down on the books as a tzadik gamur!
Yes, says R' Naiman, someone who gives with ulterior motives is a tzadik and fulfills a mitzvah -- but that mitzvah is not the mitzvah of tzedaka. When you giving is motivated by any reason other than empathy, other than truly identifying with the needs of another, that's not true tzedaka.
The point of the mitzvah of tzedaka is not the ma'aseh nesina -- the act of giving -- but rather it's the chalos in the gavra of becoming a person who is sensitive to the needs of others.
Rashi quotes a derush that the Torah juxtaposes "aser te'aser" with "lo tevaseh g'di b'chaleiv imo" because G-d is telling us that if we don't give ma'aser he will be forced to be "mevashel gedi'im shel tevuah" = cause the grain to rot in its husk before it is fully ripe and ready to harvest. OK, it's talking about ma'aser, ma'ser sheni, and not tzedaka, but Chazal learn ma'aser kesafim from this pasuk, so derech derush you can give me some leeway and in turn I will give you a tremendous Ishbitzer (from Ne'os Desheh, the Mei HaShiloach's son). Someone who does not give properly is like that grain rotting in it's husk -- on the outside, everything looks OK, but when you peel back the shell, the husk, there is nothing there on the inside. A person who lacks empathy, who is not moved by others needs to want to help them, is just an empty shell of a person.