MAIMONIDES on Tsedaqa: Your hand and His hands
מצות עשה ליתן צדקה לעניי ישראל כפי מה שראוי לעני, אם הייתה יד הנותן משגת–שנאמר פתוח תפתח את ידך
In Mishne Tora, the book of Zera’im, Hilkhot matenot ‘aniyim (=gifts for the poor) Maimonides explains the Mitsva of giving tsedaqa.
In the first Halakha (Cahpter 7:1) Maimonides brings the verse from Debarim (Deut. 15:8) from which we learn this commandment. It says: פתוח תפתח את ידך “And you shall surely open your hand and lend what the poor person needs”. This verse, the specific language used in it, bears a direct connection with the very famous verse in Tehilim 145:16. There, the pasuq says פותח את ידך “[You, HaShem] open Your hands, to satisfy every creature’s need according to [Your] will”.
“Poteah et yadekha” means that God opens His hands, metaphorically speaking, to provide for our needs. Our livelihood depends on the kindness of His hands. It is up to Him to grant us health and wisdom, so we can earn our livelihood. He will (or will not) present us with business opportunities to succeed or fail. He would close doors and open doors. Our Parnasa is ultimately in His hands. And when He gives us it is our duty to share with those who have less.
Now, there is another way to read this verse. The Hebrew word “poteah” is written in the present tense. And, technically, it could refer to the second or to the third person of the singular.
When we read this verse referring to the second person we are saying, as before: “HaShem, You open Your hands
to satisfy everyone’s needs”. This is the standard reading of this beautiful verse, see shulhan arukh (OH 51:7).
A second possible reading. If we read the word “poteah” in the third person, it means that HaShem “opens your hands“, in other words, the verse is not referring to HaShem’s metaphorical hands, but rather to our human hands. The verse would be saying: “He [=HaShem] opens your hands to satisfy everyone’s needs”.
And how does HaShem open “your hands”? Simply, by giving us the commandment of tsedaqa! Which uses the same words: patoah tiftah et yadekha…. “You shall surely OPEN YOUR HANDS” and give to the poor.
By commanding us the Mitsva of tsedaqa, HaShem opens our hands. We become HaShem’s agents. His partners. I would dare to say that when we practice tsedaqa our hands become, in a sense, His hands, the vehicle by which HE satisfies the needs of those who have less.