Parshat Re’eh teaches us a very valuable lesson about Tzedakah. The Torah (15:7) says, “Ki Yihiyeh Vecha Evyon MeiAchad Achecha VeLo Tikpotz Et Yadcha MeiAchicha HaEvyon,” “If there be among you a needy man, one of your brothers…you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your needy brother.”
There are many points in life when we will be faced with a poor person who kindly asks for Tzedakah. This Pasuk tells us that Hashem expects us not to harden our hearts when confronted by a poor person, but rather to help him out and give him some money (although that doesn’t mean that we should completely empty our pockets when giving Tzedakah).
Tzedakah is the one of many ideas from Parshat Re’eh that has to do with respecting someone else’s needs. The next Pasuk (15:8) says, “Ki Fatoach Tiftach Et Yadcha Lo, VeHa’avet Ta’avitenu, Dei Machsero Asher Yechsar Lo,” “Rather you must open your hand to him, and lend him sufficiently for whatever he needs.”
There is a story about Rav Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (the Kotzker Rebbe) that illustrates the Torah’s message in these Pesukim. There was once a Jew who wore a Streimel and went to the Kotzker Rebbe’s house, portraying himself as a rabbi. Over the course of Shabbat, The Kotzker Rebbe treated his guest with complete honor and respect. Many of the Kotzker Rebbe’s students knew this guest and told the Rebbe that he was a regular person who dreamed a lot. The Kotzker Rebbe’s students could not understand why the Rebbe treated his guest with such respect despite the fact that he was a fraud. The Kotzker Rebbe replied by quoting Rashi to Pasuk 8, who says that when it comes to giving someone whatever he needs, even if it means to give him a horse to ride or a servant to help him, one should give it to him. The Kotzker Rebbe said that the fact that this man went to great lengths (getting the right clothing and acting) to get the respect of a rabbi meant that he emotionally needed that kind of respect. He therefore played along with his visitor’s ruse as a form of Tzedakah.
This story about The Kotzker Rebbe truly shows how far one should go to respect someone’s needs, whether they be material respect, such as money, or just basic emotional respect, treating someone the way he or she deserve to be treated. I believe that these two Pesukim are together for a reason. Although both basically say the same thing, with the first in the negative sense and the second in the positive sense, they are needed to complement each other and express an important message. We should not harden our hearts to the needs of others, but rather we should give whatever they need, material and emotional. In addition, we should not give as a form of pity; Tzedakah is an expression of respect for others, and we must be careful to give in a way that addresses the specific needs of the person in a manner that preserves his or her dignity.