Spiritual and Selfless

Adapted from the Writings of the Arizal, parashat Beshalach, by Rabbi Moshe Wisnefsky

"When there will be a poor person amongst you…do not tighten your heart and do not close up your hand in front of your poor brother. Rather, open your hand to him…." (Deut. 15:7-8)

Rabbi Chaim Vital, who recorded the teachings of the Arizal, tells us:

As for philanthropy and generosity, I observed that my master was not particular that his own clothes be terribly fancy, that he only ate a very little, and, regarding his wife's expenses, he would dispense funds according to her wish. My master would give charity with great joy and good-heartedness, open-handedly, and sometimes he would not even look to see if there would be any money left for himself or not.

My master said that every commandment is associated with one of the twenty-two letters [of the Hebrew alphabet], and that when someone performs a commandment, the letter associated with that commandment shines on his forehead, replacing the letter shining on his forehead from the previous commandment he performed. [The letter remains on his forehead] only as long as he is performing the commandment [with which it is associated]; afterwards it is absorbed within [him]. However, if he performs the commandment of charity, the letter associated with it does not disappear as fast as the letters associated with other commandments, but rather continues to shine on his forehead the whole week. This is the mystical meaning of the verse, "His righteousness [in Hebrew, 'tzedaka'] endures forever" (Psalms 111:3, 112:3, 9)

Regarding buying things that are used for performing the Torah's commandments, such as a lulav and etrog, I saw that my master would give the merchants all they asked for the first time [they named a price], and did not try to bargain with them. Sometimes he placed his wallet before them and told them to take what they want. He told me that one should not bargain over the prices one pays to do mitzvot. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai says the same thing in the Zohar.


Reprinted with permission from Chabad of California. Copyright 2004 by Chabad of California, Inc.

Rabbi Yitzchak Luria [...Ashkenazi ben Shlomo] (5294-5332 = 1534-1572 c.e.) Yahrtzeit (anniversary of death): 5th of Av. Buried in the Old Cemetery of Tzfat. Commonly known as the Ari, an acronym standing for Elohi Rabbi Yitzchak, the G-dly Rabbi Isaac. No other master or sage ever had this extra letter Aleph, standing for Elohi [G-dly], prefaced to his name. This was a sign of what his contemporaries thought of him. Later generations, fearful that this appellation might be misunderstood, said that this Aleph stood for Ashkenazi, indicating that his family had originated in Germany, as indeed it had. But the original meaning is the correct one, and to this day among Kabbalists, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria is only referred to as Rabbenu HaAri, HaAri HaKadosh [the holy Ari] or Arizal [the Ari of blessed memory]. More...

Rabbi Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky is a scholar, writer, editor and anthologist. Originally from Los Angeles, he moved to Israel in 1977, and currently lives in Jerusalem. While living in Tsfat, he was one of the three founders of ASCENT in 1983.


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