The Divine Tzedekah to All Creatures:
On Friday evening, before saying the Sabbath "Kiddush" - blessing of sanctification, we chant the following words: "The heaven and the earth and all their host were brought to their destined completion" (Genesis 2:1). One of the classical commentators, the Ramban, explains that the "host" of creation includes all creatures and plant life on earth. The Hebrew word for "host" is tzava - a group assembled and united for a common purpose. The Midrash on our verse therefore explains that the word tzava is conveying to us the following message: All forms of life serve the unifying Divine purpose, even those creatures that a human being may feel are not needed, such as "flies, fleas, and mosquitoes" (Genesis Rabbah).
If all forms of life serve the unifying Divine purpose, then we can understand why the Divine plan entitles each creature to receive what it needs in order to fulfill its purpose within creation. As Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch writes in his commentary on the Torah (Genesis 15:8), this Divine plan is called "tzedek" - one of the biblical terms for justice; moreover, the deeds which fulfill this plan are called "tzedakah" - loving and nurturing deeds which are done with an awareness that the recepients are entitled by the Creator to receive what they need.
In fact, the Creator of all life does tzedekah, and our sages describe the Creator's nurturing of all life in the following manner:
"He does tzedekah and nourishes, supports, and sustains all who come into the world and all that He created." (Tanna Devei Eliyahu 17:8)
Since human beings are created in the Divine Image, they have the capacity to emulate the benevolent tzedekah of the Compassionate One; in fact, there is a mitzvah - Divine mandate - to "go in His ways" (Deuteronomy 28:9). And in order "to go in His ways," we need to remember that the Divine benevolence is extended to all, as it is written: "The Compassionate One is good to all, and His compassion is on all His works" (Psalm 145:9).
If we have a general mitzvah to emulate the benevolent ways of the Compassionate One, including the Divine tzedekah to all life, then why were we given a specific mitzvah to give tzedekah to human beings? The Midrash cites a story which can provide us with the beginning of an answer.In this story, the Midrash cites a dialogue between Avraham, our father, and his ancestor, Shem, the son of Noah - who was also known as "Malki-Tzedek":
Malki -Tzedek and his family were in the ark during the great flood, and Avraham asked Malki-Tzedek: "By what merit were you able to leave the ark and begin a new life?"
Malki-Tzedek responded: "Through the merit of acts of tzedakah that we performed in the ark."
Avraham then asked" "To whom did you give tzedakah? There were no poor people in the ark; there was only you and your family."
Malki-Tzedek replied: "All night, we were busy feeding the livestock, wild creatures, and birds; in fact, we were too busy to sleep!"
Avraham said to himself: "If they were able to leave the ark because of the tzedakah which they gave to livestock, wild creatures, and birds, then how much more would I accomplish if I performed acts of tzedakah for human beings who are created in the Divine image!" He then opened an inn for needy travelers (Genesis 21:33), and he provided them with food, drink, and escort. (Yalkut Shimoni on Psalm 37)
Avraham realized that the greatest service he could do for the entire world is to nurture human beings, who are created in the Divine image. For he understood that human beings have the unique potential to emulate the universal Divine nurturing.It is for this reason that the Creator gave humankind the sacred task "to serve and to protect" the earth (Genesis 2:15). Given the unique potential and role of humankind, we were given a specific mitzvah to give tzedekah to human beings.
In fact, even before the Torah was given, Avraham stressed this mitzvah, as the Compassionate One said about Avraham:
"For I have loved him because he commands his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Compassionate One to do tzedakah and justice" (Genesis 18:19).
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
Related Teachings and Stories:
1. "Tzedek" is the Divine plan that entitles each creature to receive what it needs in order to fulfill its purpose within creation. A person who strives to live according to the Torah's principle of tzedek in all areas of his existence is called a "tzadik." In this spirit, King Solomon wrote, "A tzadik knows the needs of his animal's soul" (Proverbs 12:10). The Malbin, a noted 19th century biblical commentator, explains that the tzadik understands the nature of his animal, and he gives the animal its food in its proper time and according to the amount it needs. He also makes sure to fulfill the Torah's mitzvah to feed one's animal before one feeds oneself. For the tzadik, writes the Malbim, lives according to the following code:
"The tzadik acts according to the laws of tzedek; not only does he act according to these laws with human beings, but also with his own animal."
2.Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch and his family lived in Germany, which had cold, snowy winters. Rabbi Hirsch's wife would put food on her window sill every morning for the sparrows who gathered there. After her passing, Rabbi Hirsch continued this practice until his last days. When he was on his final sickbed, he told his sons not to forget to take care of the birds. (This story is found in the ArtScroll biography, "Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch" by Rabbi Eliyahu Meir Klugman: For further information on this inspiring biography, visit: www.artscroll.com . )
3. The poor Jews who lived in the villages of Eastern Europe often supplemented their meager income by having some chickens and even a cow or a goat in their yard. The accomplished Talmud scholar, Rabbi Isaac Rosensweig, was one of these poor Jews who tried to make a living by raising chickens. After the German army invaded his village in World War 2, Rabbi Isaac was deported to the death camps. The German soldiers laughed when he cried out beseechingly from the window of the death train, "Go to my house and give the chickens food and water, for they have not touched food and water for a whole day!" (A longer version of this story appears in, "The Vision of Eden - Animal Welfare and Vegetarianism in Jewish Law and Mysticism" by David Sears, Orot: www.orot.com .)
4. Despite his aura of reverence for God, Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian (1876-1970), a noted teacher of Mussar (Torah ethics), always exuded gentleness and love, not only to human beings who are created in the Divine image, but to animals as well. Once he noticed a lost kitten that had taken refuge in the yeshiva (Torah academy) of Kfar Chassidim, a village in Northern Israel. Immediately, he became this kitten's patron and concerned himself with all its needs. This elderly sage placed a saucer of milk before the purring kitten every morning, and with pleasure, he watched it take each sip from the milk. (Ibid)
Hazon - Our Universal Vision: www.shemayisrael.co.il/publicat/hazon/