Keeping the Balance

Firstly, thanks to Mordechai Schiller for an amusing and informative column which is greatly enjoyed.

I just wanted to draw Mr. Schiller’s attention to his penultimate sentence in his column “Who Put the Poor In Poorim?” (Wednesday 13 Adar II/March 20): “Tzedakah means charity.”

Harav Samson Raphael Hirsch, zt”l, writes that tzedakah is related to tzedek — as in equally balanced weights and measures, as in “eifah tzedek v’hin tzedek” — to keep accurately balanced weights and measures.

So tzedakah actually means to correct an “imbalance” between my surplus and the poor man’s deficit.

“Charity” is a cold English word which comes nowhere near to the Torah’s directive of giving tzedakah, to do our part in reducing the imbalance of the needy.

With best wishes,

Yehoshua Katz, Manchester, U.K.


Mordechai Schiller responds:

Thank you for restoring the balance. (We won’t talk about my own weight and measures. Especially after Purim. They’re off the scale.)

It’s interesting to note that the word tzedakah isn’t used in the Megillah. The directive is to distribute matanos la’evyonim — gifts to the poor. The Malbim (Sefer Hacarmel) defines evyon as worse off than dal — impoverished, and worse than all other expressions of poverty. Evyon means someone who is mis’aveh lakol — desires everything, because he has nothing.

Perhaps this ties into your insight. On Purim, when we rediscover that everything is under Divine guidance, not our own control, it’s especially appropriate to connect with those who have nothing of their own. There but for the grace of G-d …

Just a side note from a language lover. Lashon Hakodesh — Hebrew — is the language of Creation. But all languages, even English, have some spark of Creation. “And Hashem formed the man of dust from the ground, and He blew into his nostrils the soul of life; and man became a living being” (Bereishis 2:7). Onkelos defines “living being” as a “speaking spirit.” The power of intelligent speech is what sets us above the animals.

Your English landsleit at the Oxford English Dictionary related the word “charity” to love of one’s fellow human beings, kindness and generosity.

So, if I may say so, let’s not bash the English language. Some of my best words are English.