Why (and When to) Give Charity Before Prayer?
Giving to charity before prayer is rooted in the Talmud, which notes that “the ways of G‑d are not like the ways of mortals. How is it among humans? If a man brings a gift to a king, it may be accepted or it may not be accepted. Even if it is accepted, it is still doubtful whether he will be admitted to the presence of the king or not. Not so with G‑d. If a person gives but a small coin to a beggar, he is deemed worthy to receive the Divine Presence, as it is written, ‘I shall behold thy face in tzedek (charity).’1 ” Accordingly, says the Talmud, Rabbi Eleazarused to give a coin to a poor man and immediately begin to pray.2
So on an elementary level, giving charity before prayer is like giving a gift to the king before making a request. On a deeper level, it is with immense kindness that G‑d, who is infinite, provides for our finite (and sometimes petty) needs. We elicit G‑d’s kindness through giving charity and doing act of kindness.3
Rabbi Shmuel, the fourth rebbe of Chabad, would elaborate: Prayer must be with life. Through giving charity to a poor person and giving him life, one’s personal prayer is suffused with a great increase of ‘aliveness.’ ” (When saying this, he motioned with his hand in an upwards gesture to indicate that the increase is beyond imagination.)
When to Give?
When exactly is “before prayer”?
But it is somewhat problematic to actually make an interruption at that point in the prayers. Thus, others follow the custom of the Arizal, who (based on Kabbalistic reasons beyond the scope of this article) would give to charity while reciting the words ve’atah moshel bakol (“and You rule over all”) inVayevarech David (“And David blessed . . . ,” pg. 35 in standard KehotSiddur).6
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, however, notes that the reason for giving charity at that point is not the same as for giving charity before prayer. Therefore, the widespread custom is to give charity before the start of services and then again when saying ve’atah moshel bakol.7
The custom is to give charity before the morning (Shacharit) and afternoon (Minchah) prayers. Many, however, don’t give before the nighttime prayers (Maariv), based on the opinion of the Jerusalem Talmud8 and the Arizal9 that one should refrain from giving at night, since at nighttime the attributes of judgment are expressed powerfully
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