Pirkei Avot, “Ethics of the Fathers,” states in chapter 6:6: “The Torah is acquired in 48 ways.” This week: Way #31(b), “Loving acts of charity”
The list of 48 ways is not universally agreed upon. There are alternative listings for a few of the ways, such as the 31st way. The alternative to last week’s “Loving G-d’s creatures” is this week’s “Loving acts of charity.”
Everybody needs charity. For some, charity is money; for others, charity is a piece of trusted advice, a needed introduction, an intervention in a family dispute, etc. No one is wholly self-sufficient. Everybody needs charity.
G-d “sows acts of charity,” reads the Hebrew morning prayer. One who acquires the Torah loves these acts of charity, for they demonstrate both Divine concern and the interrelatedness of all humanity. That is the scope of the Torah; it applies to all human actions and interactions.
The six divisions of the Torah identify the six domains of life. Three are practical: agriculture, damages, and marriage and divorce. Three are spiritual: sacred times, purities and holiness. To love the ways in which each of these domains depends on acts of charity — monetary or otherwise — is to acquire the Torah.
If I plant a fruit-bearing tree, the Torah defines how much of its fruit I must devote to charity, and when. If I speak ill of someone, the Torah defines the corrective, to revive my charitable attitude toward others. So it goes, up and down the Torah; it fills every domain of life with charitable acts. If I love them, I acquire the Torah.
The alternative 31st way to acquire the Torah: Loving Acts of Charity.
Way #1, Study; Way #2, Listen; Way #3, Articulate Speech; Way #4, Understanding of the Heart; Way #5, An Intelligent Heart; Way #6, Awe; Way #7, Fear; Way #8, Humility; Way #9a, Joy; Way #9b, Purity; Way #10, Serving the Sages; Way #11, Interaction with colleagues; Way #12, Exchanges with students; Way #13, Deliberation; Way #14, Scripture; Way #15a, Mishnah; Way #15b, Limited Business Activity; Way #16a, Limited Marital Relations; Way #16b, Portion Control; Way #17, Limited Pleasure; Way #18, All nighters; Way #19, Limited Conversation; Way #20, Limited Entertainment; Way #21, Slowness to anger; Way #22, A good heart; Way #23, Faith in the sages; Way #24, Acceptance of suffering; Way #25, Knowing one’s place; Way #26, Happiness with one’s lot; Way #27, Have a filter; Way #28, Claim no credit; Way #29, Being beloved; Way #30, Loving the Omnipresent; Way #31, Loving G-d’s creatures