Tzedakah on Rosh Chodesh Elul

Rosh Chodesh Elul, the beginning of a month of Divine favor, when G-d opens the Gates of Mercy and extends His Hand to all who seek Him and return to Him. It is the month which closes the old year and heralds the coming year, with its opportunities, and a clean slate for each and every person.

The holy Ari writes that ELUL is the acrostic of 
"Ish L'rei'eihu U'matanot L'evyonim, each person to his friend and gifts for the poor" (Ester 9:22). That is, one of the main ways to experience the sanctity and power of Elul is to increase one's level of charity giving. Interestingly, the Torah reading on the Shabbat when Elul commences is one in which the mitzvah of charity is mentioned.

"Open, you should open your hand.." (Devarim 15:11). Rebbe Nachman, expounds upon the redundancy of the word "open." The following is based on Likutey Moharan II, 4:1-3.

One of the significant benefits of the mitzvah of charity is that it helps one break any innate tendency to severity, transforming it into a tendency towards compassion. One who is naturally compassionate will find giving charity very easy. On the other hand, one who has difficulty sharing and giving, and nonetheless wants to give, will overcome his negative characteristics and transform them into attributes of compassion.

To change one's nature is very difficult. In fact, were we to examine any aspect of serving G-d, we would find difficulties in attempting it. (This is because body and soul are initially diametrically opposed to one other. One seeks material pleasure, the other, spiritual. One must get them to co-operate.) This being the case, we must expend a tremendous amount of
effort and strength in our devotions in order to begin feeling and experiencing G-dliness! "All beginnings are difficult" (Mechilta, Yitro).
How should we begin?

The first thing is to open the "door." We begin slowly by approaching the door to the spiritual realm. We "take hold of the doorknob," turning it and gradually opening the door. But we find it somewhat blocked and difficult to budge. We must push harder and make a greater effort. We push forward, we still feel resistance, but we still keep trying. The thought passes
through our mind. "Wouldn't it be nice if the door would open easily, nice and wide?" What can we do to make it happen?

This, Rebbe Nachman teaches, is the great value of giving charity. Yet charity itself is a very difficult mitzvah to fulfill. After all, when one cuts away all the niceties, fawning and shmoozing that accompanies an appeal for money, what is left is: "Excuse us. We're here to separate you from some of your hard earned money." If "times are not so good" - for, as
the Rebbe teaches, even taking care of the barest necessities may consume a person's life - how can we give to others?!

Yet give we must - even a little (although more is better). Why? Because charity is THE door opener. "Open you should open" is written about charity. Why the redundancy? Because whatever we face in life - all challenges, opportunities, frustrations and obstacles, to spiritual as well as material requirements - we must be able to open the doors to the solutions that we need. The redundancy teaches that charity helps us to crack open the door and get our feet in. It is charity which should be the first step for everything we do and need in life, for it has the power to make the transitions easier. It can open doors. It can transform character. It can change lives!