Although it would seem logical to combine charity with Tehillim, in the past this was not the custom. Perhaps, this was so, because the economic conditions of the Jewish populace was usually poor and depressed; it was impossible to impose a collection each time Tehillim was said.
Under modern conditions this custom would not involve hardship and should be instituted. Whenever Tehillim is recited during the weekdays, tzedakah should be collected. This combination will bring protection and blessing to the Jewish people.
This essay is adapted from the Likkutei Sichos edition of a sicha delivered by the Rebbe on the 18th of Elul, 5745, published for Shabbos Nitzavim 5745, and other sources.
Among the eternal characteristics of the Jewish people are the attributes of mercy, benevolence and charity. Throughout the ages, in all the lands of their dispersion, Jews have excelled in these important mitzvos, and have shown their care and concern for those who were needy and less fortunate, through the mitzvos of tzedakah and gemilus chassadim -- acts of loving kindness.
Tzedakah takes many forms, and traditionally there have been special, opportune times when charity was collected and distributed. In every time and place, tzedakah has represented the love and care for others which Judaism demands of its adherents. When the Jewish people have wanted to engender the blessings and Providence of the Holy One, Blessed be He, they have always presented tzedakah as their strongest case.
Our tradition teaches us that in times of communal distress Jews must increase their faith in G-d and their commitment to His mitzvos. Likewise we must gather together to pray for the salvation and protection of the Omnipotent.
When we reflect on some of the accepted customs which have been practiced in trying times, we find an aspect which has never been exploited relating to tzedakah.
Since ancient times, when Jews have wanted to nullify an evil decree of any nature, they would gather and recite Tehillim. This was considered the proper milieu in which to approach G-d and beg for salvation.
It is important to note that our tradition also teaches that giving charity likewise erases any bad decrees. We know that evil edicts come as a result of our sins, and we know, that tzedakah neutralizes sin. It was the prophet Daniel who said:
And break your sins by charity. (Daniel 4:24)
This power and efficacy of tzedakah is legend and has been described for us by the sages of all generations.
The general quality of charity is likewise discussed and portrayed for us at great length in Chassidic philosophy, as we find in Tanya:
It balances all the other commandments ... in the case of charity, which a man gives out of the toil of his hand, surely all the strength of his vital soul is embodied in the execution of his work... his whole vital soul ascends to G-d. Even where one does not depend on his toil for a livelihood, nevertheless since with this [charity] money he could have purchased necessities of life, for his vivifying soul, hence he is giving his soul's life to G-d.
With this thought in mind it would be beneficial, that at every opportunity, when Jews are gathered to recite Tehillim, they should accompany their Tehillim with tzedakah by donating money to charity. This would apply when the Tehillim is being said to beseech G-d to wipe away an decree, or merely as part of the daily order of Tehillim reading. In either case, tzedakah should be collected.
In previous generations we do not generally find that the recitation of Tehillim was connected with additional tzedakah. Why should we connect the two now? The truth however is, that in the past there was a reason for not collecting tzedakah at the time of communal Tehillim prayer.
Years ago, the largest crowds of people would gather in the synagogues on Shabbos (or Yom-Tov,) and therefore the pronouncements to say Tehillim, for whatever reason, were made public on Shabbos; naturally no money could be collected.
Another important fact to keep in mind -- and perhaps this was the main reason: In those days the vast majority of the Jewish population lived in utter and dire poverty. To demand giving more tzedakah those days involved a question of sacrificing one's basic life-supporting necessities. Under the prevalent conditions in those times, a person would have to actually give away the necessities of his life, and his family's livelihood, for someone else. Perhaps they could have approached selected individuals during the prayer sessions for donations to charity, but to single out specific donors and not others would have brought shame to certain individuals; this could not be allowed.
Consequently, the factor of collecting tzedakah was deleted from the special prayer gatherings and assemblies for salvation, which took place from time to time. The collection of charity was reserved for the regular times and occasions, when tzedakah was traditionally collected, according to the accepted custom (and at the normally assigned rate). Special appeals for greater amounts of tzedakah took place very rarely and only in situations of extreme distress. Hence, it would have been unproductive and inopportune to set a minhag (custom) to collect charity every time they gathered to say Tehillim.
In our times however, we have been blessed by the Holy One, Blessed be He, and we do not experience the extreme poverty and pressing hardships of earlier generations.
It would therefore be proper and fitting to introduce and institute, on a regular basis, an increase of donations to charity by connecting it to the regular recitation of Tehillim every weekday. This practice would apply whether the Tehillim is being said as part of the daily recitation or at a special gathering to pray for the annulment of some evil decree, G-d forbid.
All this should be greatly emphasized, and publicized, especially as the Alter Rebbe writes in Iggeres Hateshuvah:
Therefore all who revere the word of G-d are now accustomed to being unstintingly generous with charity.
Certainly all who hear this call will respond favorably and accept this minhag with joy and enthusiasm.
The Previous Rebbe once carefully described and graphically portrayed the differences between poverty among Jews of the past generations and poverty among Jews in America today. In those times and in those places a poor person literally did not have a piece of bread to put in his mouth, nor an unpatched garment to put on his back. In this country such conditions simply do not exist.
Poverty here is measured by the lack of rich foods and delicacies, or the absence of expensive clothing or garments of honor and beauty and other luxuries. Here people feel deprived when their apartment does not have more than three rooms. This feeling of misfortune is especially felt when their neighbors apparently do have a wide range of comforts; then their lack is felt much more acutely!
Is this a true measure of having or not-having? We may find a justification for such an attitude in the saying of our sages:
When you enter a town follow its custom.
(Bereishis Rabbah 48:14)
In this blessed country we must establish what the norm is. What was once considered to be luxury, or great comfort, is now considered to be the basic necessity, therefore under such conditions, if a Jew, now, lacks this comfort, then it is a legitimate measure of his poverty. For in speaking of the assistance we must afford the needy, Scripture says:
His need, in that which he lacks. (Devorim 15:8)
Consequently, if the norm is represented by a particular level, one who cannot attain that level truly lacks.
Since all Jews are the children of the King, certainly they have the right to expect the blessings of the Holy One, Blessed be He, in children, life, sustenance; in simple down to earth comforts.
My suggestion therefore is, that whenever Tehillim is recited charity should be collected.
May G-d grant that this suggestion, which emerges from the heart and soul, should be accepted in a pleasant manner and spread to many places. So that there will be an increase of tzedakah with joy and comfort, including also gemilus chassadim (interest-free loans) to those who are better off.
In our days, when we call out that "We Want Moshiach Now," this practice will surely be of assistance, for "Great is charity in that it brings the redemption nearer" (B. Basra 10a). May it come speedily in our time.