One of the many commandments in this week’s parsha exhorts us to assist others financially. In the Torah’s own words: “When you lend money to My people, to the poor person imcha-who is with you.”
The word imcha is cryptic, translated as “who is with you” and requires elucidation. Rashi explains that this verse presents us with the priorities for assistance. “My people”: One is obligated to assist one’s own nation first. “...to the poor person”: Second, priority is to be accorded to the poor before assisting the rich. Although it is a Mitzvah to lend money to a rich person who is in need of a loan, the needs of a poor person take precedence. “...who is with you.”: If there are many poor Jews who need financial assistance, priority is to be assigned to the members of your own community, the one “who is with you.”
Rashi then adds another explanation and states that the lender (or donor) should empathize with the poor and consider himself as if he were a poor person too.
Not So Far Apart
Rabbi Yichyeh Badichi, a 19th century Yemenite sage, in his work Chein Tov, adds commentary to Rashi’s second explanation using the approach of remez; finding hints in the Torah through the methodology of gematria, numerical equivalency between words, etc.
The Hebrew word for poor, עני (ahni), adds up to 13 using the system of mispar katan-the minimal count, where we eliminate zeros:
The letter ayin is 7(0), the mem is 5(0) and the yud is 1(0); 7+5+1=13.
Similarly, the numerical value for the word, ashir-rich, adds up to 13. (The ayin is 7(0), the shin is 3(00), the yud is 1(0), and the reish is 2(00); 7+3+1+2=13.
This points to a powerful and sobering lesson for a wealthy person; the rich person and the poor person are potentially equal with respect to their financial status. While today the wealthy are on top of their game and enjoy immense prosperity, that can change rapidly. On the next day, the wheel of fortune can turn and render the wealthy person poor while the formerly impoverished person can become rich. Potentially, then, the rich and the poor are closer together than they might think.
This, then, is the meaning of the word –imcha- with you; “you” (i.e., the rich person) and the poor person are potentially the same. They are not so far apart as it may seem in the moment.
This fundamental connection is intended to inspire the rich to share their largesse with the poor. Lest the wealthy think they are of greater merit or on a higher social rung and thus more justifiably privileged than the poor, they should realize that, in truth, they are not so very far apart. One day, you too may need the assistance of others, the very same people who may have been poor and the recipients of your charity yesterday.
We Are Merely Trustees
The commentator takes this lesson even deeper. Not only are the rich and poor potentially not so far apart, but they actually are closer together than they may seem. The money that the rich possess is truly intended for the poor. The rich were designated by G-d to be the trustees of the money of the poor. Thus, portions of an affluent person’s money, while legally their own property, are actually, simultaneously, considered as intended for the poor-imcha-he is with you; there is a shared ownership: The poor are the owners and the rich their trustees with such control over the money as to how much to give and to which members of the poor.
Chein Tov takes this teaching even further. The combined numerical value of the words ahni and ashir is 26, which equals G-d’s essential name, the Tetragrammaton.
Indeed, the word imcha itself also adds up to 13: Ayin is 7(0), mem is 4(0) and chof is 2(0); 7+4+2=13. The message here is that when we allow the ahni to be with us, when we regard him or her as our equal, we are then connected to G-d.
We now have three words, each of which add up to 13. The words ahni, ashir and imcha total 39, which is the numerical equivalent of the Biblical phrase “Hashem echad-G-d is one.” When we lend assistance to the needy, we reveal G-d’s oneness. Moreover, of all the names for G-d that are seen in the Torah, the Oneness refers to the Tetragrammaton, which comprises the three tenses: was, is and will be. Through giving Tzedakah we reveal G-d’s infinite power, one that transcends time and space. In our present exile, this name is obscured, but in the Messianic Age it will be fully revealed.
Connection to Parshas Shekalim
In many years, the reading of parshas Mishpatim is augmented by our reading parshas Shekalim, which deals with the Mitzvah of giving a half-shekel to the Bais Hamikdash. The fact that these two readings often coincide suggests that there is a profound connection between them.
The work cited above, Chein Tov, states that with the parity between the rich and the poor we can unlock the reason for the enigmatic Mitzvah of giving a half-shekel. There are two anomalous details about this Mitzvah. First, the Torah states that “a rich person should not give more than a half-shekel and the poor should not give less.” This is puzzling. Why would the rich and the poor be expected to contribute equally?
The second anomaly is that it had to be a half-shekel. Why specifically half and not a whole shekel?
Based on the above, it becomes clear that the poor person and the rich person are both required in order to reveal G-d’s name; each one only contributes 13 but together they make 26, the gematria of His name. To exemplify this each had to give only a half. The fact that they gave the identical amount underscores that the rich and the poor are equal; they are imcha.
Acting Out G-d’s name
The idea that when the rich give to the poor they create a unifying force that generates G-d’s name is rooted in an earlier teaching of the Arizal, when he referred to the physical act of giving tzedakah (or the act of lending) itself:
The coin that one gives resembles the letter yud, a mere dot. The hand, with its five fingers that hold the coin, signifies the letter hei, which is numerically equal to five. The act of stretching one’s hand to give the coin to its recipient resembles the letter vov which is a straight line. The recipient’s opening of his five-fingered hand to receive the donation or the loan, resembles again the letter hei which is five.
Hence when we give tzedakah or lend money to a needy person, we act out G-d’s name and thereby generate the G-dly energy that is represented by that name.
Tzedakah Hastens Redemption
The above discussion sheds light on the Talmud’s statement that giving tzedakah hastens Redemption.
Redemption is when “G-d will be one and His name will be one,” in other words, when the entire world will recognize G-d’s infinite and exclusive power.
As stated, G-d’s essential name (the Tetragrammaton) is now obscured by our exile conditions. However, when we give tzedakah (or lend money) to needy people we help remove that obstruction and reveal G-d’s name in its full glory.