There are four types of contributors to charity. One who wants to give but does not want others to give—is begrudging of others. One who wants that others should give but does not want to give—begrudges himself. One who wants to give and wants that others should give—is a chassid (pious individual). One who wants neither himself nor others to give—is a rasha (wicked individual).
There are four types among those who attend the study hall. One who goes but does nothing—has gained the rewards of going. One who does [study] but does not go to the study hall—has gained the rewards of doing. One who goes and does—is a chassid. One who neither goes nor does—is a rasha.
Ethics of the Fathers, 5:13-14
A close reading of the above two mishnayot leads to the amazing conclusion that one who neither gives nor allows others to give is one of the four types of “contributors to charity,” and that one who neither goes to a center of Torah study nor does any studying on his own is counted among “those who attend the study hall”!
In truth, however, even the least practicing Jew is, in essence, a contributor to charity and a student of Torah. In the words of Maimonides, every Jew “wishes to be of Israel and wishes to observe all of the commandments and to avoid all of the transgressions of the Torah. It is only that his evil inclination has overpowered him.”
The four types of contributors to charity differ only in their behavior—in the extent to which their quintessential will is realized in their daily lives. The four classes of Torah students differ only in the extent to which their intrinsic knowledge and commitment is reflected in their conscious pursuit of the divine wisdom. At the core of his soul, however, the “wicked” individual is as caring of his fellow man and as aware of his bond with G-d as the chassid, the pious man who gives and causes others to give, attends the study hall and studies the Torah.
The reverse is also true: there is a sense in which the pious chassid is synonymous with the callous and ignorant rasha. Just as the rasha is one who has yet to bring to light his quintessential desire and knowledge, so, too, is the most accomplished philanthropist and scholar. For no matter how much a person has done to aid his fellow man, no matter what heights he has attained in his understanding of Torah, he has not begun to actualize his true potential. The soul of man is a “spark of G-dliness,” and its capacity to better the world in which it lives and to comprehend the divine is infinite. Thus, the chassid and the rasha are equally distant from their ultimate goal—a self and world that reflect the infinite perfection of their Creator.
Based on an address by the Rebbe Av 20, 5747 (August 15, 1987)
Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber
. Mishneh Torah, Laws of Divorce, 2:20.