This week’s parasha, Ki Tavo, describes the blessings and curses that Hashem will visit upon b'nei Yisrael in response to our adherence to or disobedience of the mitzvot. One blessing that the Torah assures us of is, “Hashem will command the blessing with you in your barns, and in all that you put your hand into; and He will bless you in the land which Hashem your God is giving you.” In essence, Hashem promises that we will be blessed when we keep the Torah.
While the Torah assures us that we will be blessed, it does not tell us the mechanism through which we will receive the blessing. A fascinating article recently published in the Chicago Tribune helps shed light on one of the many ways in which Hashem blesses us for keeping one very important mitzva – tzedakah or charity. “Generosity May Be a ‘Magic Pill’ for Happiness and Longevity” describes recent studies that demonstrate a correlation between generous behavior and happiness. Studies also show that charitable behavior tends to increase longevity by lowering blood pressure, lowering risks of dementia, leading to less anxiety and depression and reducing cardiovascular risk. Stephen Post, the founding director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care, and Bioethics at Stony Brook University School of Medicine, is quoted as saying, “Volunteering moves people into the recent and distracts the mind from the stresses and problems of the self. Many studies show that one of the best ways to deal with the hardships in life is not to just center on yourself, but to take the opportunity to engage in simple acts of kindness.”
Dan Ariely, professor of behavioral economics and psychology at Duke University, argues that although intuition tells us that giving more to oneself is the best way to be happy, intuition is not a good barometer in this case. Ariely said, “If you are a recipient of a good deed, you may have momentary happiness, but your long-term happiness is higher if you are the giver.”
One implication of these studies is that Hashem created the human being in such a way that he or she benefits directly from the act of giving charity. Given the conclusion of these studies, we can readily understand the statement of our chachamim, “Hashem looked into the Torah and created the world”. Hashem designed the world to support and bolster the aims of the Torah. Humans are hard-wired to benefit from the act of giving tzedakah.
There are many reasons why people give to charity. Some are inspired to give because of their allegiance to the Torah and mitzvot. Some are moved by the impact that they make on the lives of others. These studies on the benefits of charity offer one more inspiration to give to charity – the positive impact on our own well-being. MHA-FYOS is in the middle of our Annual Operational Campaign. As we approach Rosh HaShana and Yom HaDin – the Day of Judgment – may each of us find the inspiration to give tzedakah and to renew ourselves in order to be inscribed in the Book of Life. Please pledge and give generously!