Jacob, on his trip to Haran, makes a type of deal with the Almighty. He says that if G0d will protect him, provide him with his needs, and safely return him to his homeland, he will rededicate himself to God. He then adds two specifics. He will establish what he calls a House of God – an academy of spiritual study, and he will tithe everything that G0d gives him – he will give tzedakah. It is understandable that Jacob’s feelings of gratitude would lead him to teach people about and promote the Almighty. What place, however, does tzedakah have here? Showing kindness towards others is certainly noble and commendable, but what specific role does it play in this situation?
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, one of the most outstanding Torah scholars of contemporary history, explains that the success and very legitimacy of Jacob’s proposed academy would be dependent on its dean and sole teacher’s ability to consistently and personally involve himself in helping others. According to this remarkable explanation of Jacob’s commitment to God, Jacob knew that an academy would be of no use if his involvement with the study and transmission of his profound spiritual legacy would prevent him from active involvement in alleviating the plight of the needy and destitute. Jacob’s important and powerful lesson is that a Jewish teacher must be much more than a mere transmitter of information, of knowledge or even of understanding. He or she must also be a real-life example and model of how to live. A life that shows no care and concern for others, even if it is full of truly lofty and righteous spiritual study, is a model that will teach a flawed lesson. That is why Jacob knew he must commit himself to tzedakah along side his commitment to disseminate wisdom.