Giving tzedakah is a life-saving experience, in more ways than one.
In some circumstances, the life of the one on the receiving end is quite literally being saved. But as Shlomo Hamelech, the wisest of all men, taught us in Mishlei (10:2) tzedakah tatzil mimaves, the giving of charity can save a donor from a death sentence.
How does this work?
The answer lies in the concept behind a Korban Minchah, a flour offering brought by those who are so poor that they can’t even afford to bring a bird for a korban. We learn in Parashas Bereishis that Kayin and Hevel both brought korbanos, yet the korban of Hevel found favor in the eyes of Hashem, while, much to Kayin’s distress, his offering was rejected.
Kayin brought fruit; according to one Midrash it was flaxseed. Hevel brought the choicest of his livestock.
The meforshim teach us that the reason that Kayin’s offering was rejected wasn’t only because it was inferior, it was because it wasn’t a living thing.
The fact that animals live and breathe symbolizes a level of spirituality within them. During the glorious days when individuals were able to bring korbanos in the Beis Hamikdash, these sacrifices, brought alone with powerful thoughts of teshuvah, served as an atonement — a life for a life.
Yet we find a notable exception to this rule, and that is the Korban Minchah, a flour offering that contains no living thing.
In His infinite mercy and love for the poor who can’t afford anything more, Hakadosh Baruch Hu accepts this korban as an atonement, even though it doesn’t contain the spiritual elements of a living creature.
In Yaaros Dvash, Harav Yonason Eibeshutz, zt”l, uses the same concept to explain how tzedakah saves a donor from death:
This very same kindness that Hashem extends to the extremely poor, He also does with those who help the poor with financial support. Even though what they give the poor — such as money or needed goods — aren’t living things, Hashem gives it the same status as the the flour offering brought by the poor, and accepts it as a fitting atonement.
The Torah instructs us in this week’s parashah (22:24) that “When you will lend money to My people, to the poor person who is with you,” you are forbidden to charge interest.
The Ben Ish Chai uses this teaching of the Yaaros Dvash to homiletically explain this passuk, “Im kesef talveh es ami — when you will lend money to My people,” when you will engage in gemilus chassadim and acts of tzedakah, then the special status of “heuni — the poor person,” that even a non-living thing can serve as an atonement, will also be “imach — with you.”