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|< Tishrei 5782||September 2021 >|
Wealth, in principle, is bestowed by the Almighty only in the manner mentioned above, in partnership with the poor, who must be given "sufficient[ly] for whatever he needs". Meaning, given even a horse upon which to ride and a servant to run before him. This teaches us that all are equal before the Almighty, and that one should not boast. Yet it is, at times, appropriate for the wealthy to rejoice before people; this is not really pride, but comes from their great joy at what God has bestowed upon them, having granted them the opportunity to be a vessel that has influence on others, although giving charity in secret is the highest level of charity. The Wise One [Ecclesiastes] says about this "that God will call every creature to account for everything unknown, be it good or bad". And our forefathers, of blessed memory, interpreted this in Tractate Megillah, concerning "Whether it be good, or whether it be evil”, by saying "one who provides money to a poor person as a loan during his needful circumstances". "Needful circumstances" are to be understood as the needful circumstances of the poor person who, being poor in any case, is always needy. There may be times when the poor will receive many gifts from people, during which period he is not needy. It can also be interpreted to mean the needful circumstances of the rich person giving the loan who, despite being in needful circumstances, overcomes his or her inclination and empties his household to fulfill the commandment. Such a person's reward will undoubtedly be more than doubled, and beyond measure.
It is permissible to fulfill a commandment that partially involves Heaven and partially involves people with the intention of receiving a reward. This is what is meant in Scripture by "to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is just and right", which contains two parts: One concerns people – what is just (charity), that benefits people, and what is right – to instill peace between man and his brethren, and to rescue the oppressed from their oppressors… The text says, "Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive" about which our Sages, of blessed memory, said and as I understand its literal meaning: "Justice, justice" – one for judgement and one for compromise"; it is permitted to act in order to obtain receive a reward, which is why it says: "...pursue, that you may thrive".
The following verse, "Do not rob the poor because he is poor", requires an accurate explanation. Does it mean that robbing a rich person is permitted?! And is the reason robbing is forbidden because the victim is poor? Robbing is forbidden, whether the victim be a rich or poor person. Actually, this may refer to those people who, out of pity, say that a poor person is not really poor but just makes himself seem so. This is what is meant by "Do not rob the poor" – saying he is not really poor. For he really is, but you rob him of the title "poor" so as not to give him charity. This is only the evil inclination's incitement preventing you from fulfilling a commandment. It also seems to me that the meaning of Scripture in "that which was robbed from the poor is in your houses" is that when they come to knock at your door, they are rejected with claims of their not being poor and only making themselves appear to be poor – but they really are poor. And that which was robbed from the poor is your saying that they are not really poor… and you do not give them charity; by doing so you are robbing them.
"Cain brought an offering to the LORD from the fruit of the soil". Our Sages, of blessed memory, explained that Cain brought withered fruit, for he brought his offering offhandedly rather than out of desire and willingness. He therefore brought withered fruit that falls on its own from trees after having eaten the ripe and excellent ones himself. The Torah says, "(Bring) an offering of choice products"…and King Solomon, may he rest in peace, said "He who is generous to the poor makes a loan to the LORD", not like some people, who when giving charity to the poor give crumbs or leftovers from cooked food left on a plate that should be thrown away, something unsavory that an impoverished person might eat or discard. Or those who, when giving money, look for the smallest coin to put in the charity box, or to give to those of modest means, Torah scholars or orphaned children and the like… Jews giving charity should all give generously, therefore, and give things of choice and exceptional worth.
“Faithfulness and truth meet”. Meaning that whenever one does charity for its own sake, in true faith, then “justice and peace kiss”, meaning that the attribute of justice and the attribute of peace join face to face, just as when a person kisses a friend face to face. Abundance then fills the world, mercy flourishes, verdicts become more moderate and the world is replete. This is also indicated by the verse “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God is One”. The people of Israel inform one another and say to each other that the attributes of the Eternal - that is, the Name of mercy and the Name of God that means judgment must be bound together and united. That is what "God is One" means – that Jews inform one another and say to each other that "we are all to be face to face and joined by the love of God, that we may love Him with all our souls and with all our might" – referring to the commandment of giving of one's wealth to charity. That is the meaning of "Love the Lord your God".
"When you acquire a Hebrew slave" – Should you wish to acquire a slave, acquire a Hebrew slave first. Do not say, I will acquire a slave whom I will have work for me forever, and not acquire one whom I will have to release after six years – for the brand of slavery on Israel is transitionary, not permanent, the reason being that they are the servants of the Almighty – and he shall be released by you on the seventh year.
The suffering in Egypt is mentioned first, the eating of the bread of affliction, and then comes a valiant call to those who are in need to come to eat. What does it mean? That one who gives does so generously. Were this a pleasurable food, one would invite poor people to eat, but to invite the poor to bread such as this…And then it repeats, saying "all in need" etc. The Haggadah means to tell us that we must make a Tikun (repair) to abandon slavery for liberty, meaning that Jerusalem is to be redeemed only through charity, as it says in Scripture. This is why it says "all in need", this year we are here, next year in the Land of Israel.
A person must bear loving feelings towards poor people, with all his or her heart and soul, in mind, speech and action: In mind – by praying about the poor's distress, that the Holy One, blessed be He, take pity on them and rescue them from their poverty. In speech – by soothing the poor with comforting words: "Your happiness is in the World-to-Come; do not worry, this too shall pass; many orphans have succeeded in wealth and children; the principal thing in this world is the World-to-Come; 'Your table is lain out with rich food'. This follows from what was said in the Talmud, that 'whoever consoles [a poor person] with words receives eleven blessings'. In action – by giving them some sustenance, in keeping with one's means. Meaning that one who has the means should give generously of Sheba's gold, as did Hillel the Elder, who acted respectfully towards the well-bred poor person, running ahead of him. And if one does not [have the means, one gives] even a little bit of sustenance – as in bread or food; one should give a generous piece of bread, and then sooth them with words.
"This being the case, if a dying person (lit. bedridden by illnes) voiced instructions and said: Whatever this tree produces is for the poor, or all income from this house is for the poor – it belongs to the poor. There are Geonim who disagree on this matter. Since poor people can receive only what can be obtained, they cannot receive what has yet to come into this world, but I tend to disagree. For a person does not instruct that something be obtained, but does instruct that his words concerning charity or trust be fulfilled just as one instructs to fulfill a vow." The Rabbi (author o)] Kessef Mishneh, as does the Beit Yoseph in Hoshen Mishpat 212, asks: How can the poor obtain anything if heirs make no oaths and those who bequeath to them are not in this world? He explains that since they overheard (the commitment) and remained silent, it is as though they received in order to give. End quote. With all due respect, it is a weak reason, and the commentary, of blessed memory, wrote that the reason is to fulfill the dying person's words. In my modest opinion, since we have the words of the dying person in writing or similarly submitted, or when a dying person voices such a thing, it is as though it were already handed to poor people. This is why our master mentions the law concerning what is obtained by poor people from a bedridden person, and all the more so for a healthy one.
"And they came, the men along with the women ('al hanashim), as many as were willing of heart, and brought bracelets, and earrings, and rings…all jewels of gold". Both men and women – see RaSH"I's commentary (on 'al - "along with" which), he explains as "next to". In my modest opinion, it ('al) can be explained as being literal: They brought the jewels "on the women", while they were wearing them, and Moses then had them removed. The reasoning is that it says "from every person whose heart so moves him". According to this, the men and women were led by their generous hearts, despite the need to adorn the women and their having no other (jewels). Also, to prevent you from saying that the men may have brought the women against their wishes, since women can be tightfisted, in particular with their adornments. To remove any such doubt, they were brought (the jewels) on the women.
"The righteous man walks in his integrity; happy are the children who come after him.” Three attributes can be found in people who give charity: There are those who wish to support Torah scholars, the sages who deal in the subtleties of study in the yeshiva, so that they become teachers who instruct law to the People of Israel. There are those who adore those scholars who know Aggadah, who recount the literal explanations (pshat), stories with morals and charming tales. And then there are those who like to give charity particularly to those poor and miserable people who go from door to door, because they are overcome by compassion by their wretchedness. So that what is lacking in one (who gives) can be found in the other. However, those who are accustomed to giving charity to all supplicants benefit from all three, for they support yeshiva scholars, Aggadah storytellers and the poverty-stricken. Measure for measure – they will have children who are wise – for having supported teachers, children who are Aggadah scholars – for having supported Aggadah scholars, and children who are wealthy – for having provided for the poverty-stricken. "The righteous man walks in his integrity" means that one gives charity with integrity to all three, without giving more value to one over the other; "happy are the children who come after him", because they benefit from all three values.
In a tale concerning Abba Hilkiah the Talmud says that the value of charity given by women surpasses that of charity given by men, for a man gives only money, and the needy do not immediately benefit from the charity they receive, having first to make a purchase and then cook. Women, however, who give prepared food to the needy, immediately meet their needs. This helps explain the text: "The generous man is blessed, For he gives of his bread to the poor." "The generous" – the one giving charity; "is blessed" – whose reward is greater than another giving charity, in the case that "he gives of his bread to the poor". Actual bread, ready for "the poor" to eat, for he brings benefit closer to the poor. This is also indicated by the text, "My fruit is better than gold, fine gold, And my produce better than choice silver". It means "My fruit is better" – when I give charity, it is better if I give a fruit that is ready for eating; it is better than "gold, fine gold" – than giving the needy silver or gold. "And my produce" also, things that are eaten as they are, are "better than choice silver".
"May your home be open wide, may the poor be members of your household" means that the gate of your courtyard facing your house is to be open in such a way that the poor seem to be inside your home, to make it easier for you to go towards them and give to them yourself. This is a greater good deed that sending a messenger. Comfort them with encouraging words, for those who do so are blessed with eleven additional blessings, which is not the case when a messenger is used… This is how the Torah's verses in the Re'eh weekly reading portion should be understood: "You must open your hand and lend him sufficient for whatever he needs… which is why I command you: open your hand to the poor and needy kinsman in your land." One might ask why the words "open you hand" are repeated in the two verses… this may indicate that despite your courtyard gate being open, you should open yet another door, in such a way that the doorways face your dwelling-place, so that you may actually see the poor and give to them from your own hand, and not send a messenger, which is why it says - by way of emphasis - "your hand".
"The school of Rabbi Yishmael taught: The sentence of Noah was also decided; but he was spared through the kindness of God due to the fact that he found favor in the eyes of God, as it is stated: “For I regret that I have made them. And Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord”. And it says, above, "Rabbi Yoḥanan says: Come and see how great is the power of robbery, as the generation of the flood violated every precept, but their sentence to be destroyed was not sealed until they extended their hands and engaged in robbery, as it is stated: “For the earth is filled with robbery through them, and behold, I will destroy them with the earth” One asks, why Noah's sentence was sealed, since he was a righteous person? Should we say that he was not righteous, how then did he find grace in the eyes of God? One cannot say that this was because he acted as do those who seek to please others, for whom this might suffice even if the person is not upright. This could never be the case with God, who knows the heart's thoughts; no person who is not upright and worthy could find grace in His eyes. One must therefore say that Noah did not engage in robbery, which is the reason the Generation of the Flood's sentence had been sealed, since Noah did not deserve the Flood. The sentence was sealed even for Noah, because he was not righteous in all his deeds, but he found grace because of this fact, and could therefore become the remnant of the world. This is why RASHI, of blessed memory, interprets "righteous – in his deeds, without robbery".
"…to bring Me gifts. You shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him". One can say that this suggests that a truly penniless person who cannot afford to give charity to the poor is therefore to soothe him with words, comfort him and appeal to his heart, by saying "See, my brother, I am like you, and it is written that "His mercy is upon all His works, His wrath is momentary and His mercy eternal", and similarly pleasing words that can provide the poor person requesting alms with encouragement. Such things have important value, for it says in the Talmud that whoever consoles [a poor person] with words receives eleven blessings, whereas whoever gives receives only six blessings. This is what is implied by "Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts" – material gifts, while an individual "whose heart so moves him", shares in the distress of the poor person's plea and soothes him with words only, is also considered as giving charity and as though his gift was "accepted for Me."
"Her lamp never goes out at night". This refers to the commandment of charity, which is unlike other "lamps". Other commandments are extinguished by transgressions, as our sages, of blessed memory, said concerning the verse "For the commandment is a lamp; The teaching is a light". For commandments are like the light of a lamp; just like the wind can extinguish them, so are commandments [good deeds] extinguished by transgressions. Torah resembles the light of day. Even when all the winds of the world blow, it does not budge from its place. Thus, Torah is not extinguished by transgressions as are other commandments. Similarly with the commandment of charity – it is not extinguished by transgressions.
Our Sages, of blessed memory, in their commentary on Chronicles, said: "Israel has gone many days without the true God" – What does "without a true God" mean? This teaches us that whoever deals exclusively in Torah is like a person without God. End quote. The author of "Eshel Avraham" wrote that our Sages, of blessed memory, meant that a person who deals exclusively in Torah, but not in charity, is like a person without God. The reason they give is that a person who deals in Torah and believes in God, yet nevertheless does no charity is considered a soul whose image does not entirely follow the outline of His actions, as they, of blessed memory said, concerning the verse "You shall walk after the Lord your God": Follow His attributes and actions, just as He is compassionate, be compassionate. But the image and actions of person who deals in Torah but not in charity remain outside that person's soul. Also, we know that charity is done either physically or with money, which explains what King Solomon, may he rest in peace, said. As a human being you must realize that, "to be in the shelter of wisdom" – by dealing in Torah, as you do, also requires that you be "in the shelter of money" – to be compassionate and generous, to be charitable with your money. In this way, it will be seen that the image of your soul completely follows the outline of His actions, blessed be He, and that you truly have a God, and that one without the other is not possible.
The reason that the Holy One, blessed be He, did not create Man to be perfect on his own as he did (other) creatures was because had He done so, this would have destroyed social grouping and human society, for each person would have sufficed for themselves and not needed anyone else; most of the Torah's commandments would have become void, not having any application. For if one's food were readily available, how could any of the positive and negative commandments contingent on agriculture be fulfilled – such as not having an ass and an ox plow a field jointly, or sowing a field by crossbreeding, or leqet, shihekha or pe'ah (obligations to assign parts of the harvest for the needy)… If each person were self-sufficient and did not require anyone else, what place would there be for commandments between man and his fellow person - such as righteousness, charity, charitable loans, the interdiction to take interest, to maintain just scales and measures, and proper pay for workers, reimbursing collateral - and the commandment to love your neighbor as thyself, which is the greatest principle of Torah…
Charity is a commandment that has no limit in its reward, a commandment from which a person benefits in this world and the value of which is carried over to the World-to-Come, as the Tanah wrote. A person should be vigilant concerning this commandment, for since it is not an unaffordable expense, the punishment for carelessness is compound. Our Sages, of blessed memory, went to great lengths concerning this mitzvah and extended its worth, by saying that it is one of the world's three fundamental pillars. A discerning intelligence immediately points to the fact that the world's existence depends mainly on charity…lending to poor people and soothing them with gentle speech. For if one does not lend to them and appease them, they may die of hunger. By visiting the sick, or in helping by locating and bringing medicine one may be the agent that heals; or burying the dead, who would otherwise be abandoned on the ground. And there are many similar matters. Therefore, beyond the simple understanding of our Sages' words … we can say that the world's existence, in a natural sense, depends on charity.
Just before Passover a person came to me with a bag of flour from which matzah had been baked and in which a bit of dough was subsequently found stuck inside the bag. He went to the halakhic instructor here in the city of Haifa, may it be built and established, Rabbi Atai, blessed be he and his name, from the Ashkenazi community, who sent him to me to instruct him on whether it is to be permitted or proscribed for use. I noted that the sticky spot was very small, so that even if it had fallen in in its entirety, the entire amount justified ignoring it. One might have felt a doubt in allowing it, for one must be attentive to the words of those who would proscribe it, even if there are some who might claim that there is no trace of its taste. But my heart would not permit me to proscribe it, for this was a poverty-stricken person, who had no means to purchase more, and would be excluded from the festival's celebration. I therefore thought I might find a way to allow it.
"…while you, who held fast to the LORD your God, are all alive today." One cannot, of course, hold fast to the Shechina; the verse's meaning is that we adhere to His commandments, fulfill His commandments and learn from the light and goodness of His ways. Thus, we find that the Holy One, blessed be He, visited the sick Himself, as we see when He came to visit our father Abraham. From this we learn that great people must also visit less important people, and that stringency about rank is not pertinent to fulfilling commandments. This is particularly so in the case of this commandment, in that the heart rises at the sight of another's distress; when one asks for compassion and the prayers are accepted it as though one had revived the ill person. And upon the sight of such distress, one seeks out those things that are necessary, and is obligated to sweep and clean their house, for a place full of litter causes an illness to become worse, as does sleeping in a filthy and dusty place. Whoever cleans does an act of great loving kindness. And one who visits the sick yet does not pray for their recovery has not fulfilled the commandment. Happy are those who treat the poor when they are ill, and make efforts to visit the sick, and have people who inform them about who might be ill so that they may send flower nectar, fowl and all they might need.
"Happy are they who maintain justice, and do righteousness at all times." The meaning is that those who maintain justice are happy, teaching us that we are judged as sons; who can this come about? Precisely by giving charity at all times. Even at times when one is not doing the Almighty's will, meaning when one is transgressing, even then - doing charity attests that we are to be judged as sons… According to this, what our rabbis of blessed memory meant can now be understood: "Greatest is charity, in that it expedites the redemption", for it says, "Observe what is right and do what is just". They ask, saying that according to the verse it would seem that both are necessary – what is right, and what is just – how then did Rabbi Yehuda preach "Greatest is justice alone"? This fits well with what we have stated, that the meaning of the verse is "maintain justice". They are judged as sons; how can this be? "Do what is just" is followed by the answer: "for my salvation is near to come".
"Speak to Aaron and his sons: Thus shall you bless the people of Israel and say to them" that "The LORD bless you and protect you" - those who give a tithe to the priest and a tithe to the poor. "Bless you" by channeling great wealth to you. This indicates that the wealthy are like funnels into which the heavens pour generously, in order that they fill empty vessels – the poor on earth below. Should there be any obstruction below that prevents channeling plenty to the poor, the heavens will no longer pour forth, but should the hand be open – it being the bottom aperture – the channel that funnels plenty rushing down from above will even be widened.
"Your hands were not bound, and your feet were not put in fetters". Two types of charity are familiar to us. In the first, a person gives but makes no effort to have others give. This is termed "One who has hands" – for the person opens his or her hands to give. The second type concerns those who make the physical effort to go from place to place, from shop to shop, to ask others to give to the poor but do not give on their own. This is termed "One who has feet" – a person who fulfills the commandment using their feet. Then there are those who take action and have others act as well, who give and who also collect from others, to involve them in the mitzvah; this is called "having hands and feet". That is the intent of Scripture in saying, "Your hands were not bound" – meaning that your hand should be open to (giving) charity; "your feet were not fettered" means to say: Use your feet as well, take the trouble to go from place to place to collect charity.
Charity should be given anonymously, one should not boast about giving charity. A person who boasts will not only not be rewarded but, as we know, may be punished. We are not, however, concerned by arrogance when giving charity is publicized, since it leads to more charity being given; people learn from one another and then contribute wholeheartedly. Despite that the person doing so might be suspected of arrogance, since the purpose is, in the long run, excellent - in that the people increase their giving of charity - it is permissible.
Jews who travel on camels in caravans with Sons of Ishmael in the great and terrible desert do not, as everyone knows, ride on horseback and must publicly desecrate the Sabbath to remain with the caravan because of the dangers of tarrying alone in the desert over the Sabbath. The question arises whether it is right to object that they travel by caravan in the desert, so that they are not led to desecrating the Sabbath, despite the fact that they have no way of surviving other than traveling with a caravan… It is permitted to leave the settlement in a caravan on Sundays, Mondays or Tuesdays, for these three weekdays relate to the previous Sabbath and are considered as after the Sabbath. One need not refrain from leaving because of the upcoming Sabbath and if because of impending life-threatening danger one must desecrate the Sabbath, it is permissible and involves no prohibition. But it is forbidden to leave the settlement on Wednesdays, Thursdays and on the Sabbath eve, for these three days relate to the upcoming Sabbath and are considered as preceding the Sabbath.
"These are the rules that you shall set before them: When you acquire a Hebrew slave". The Torah opens with the law that applies to a Hebrew slave, the first of all the laws to appear. The reason is that Torah plumbs the depths of human emotion, in particular that of the Israelite, in casese when a person is subject to the yoke of an individual similar to them. The Torah senses the deep, inner sorrow suffered by enslaved people that oppresses and embitters the spirit; enslavement is accompanied by domination, criticism and humiliation. This is all being caused by a similar creature, by another human being, and the person cannot reconcile himself or herself to the situation, human emotions beat within them at every moment: Why is he or she being oppressed and crushed under the master's heel, while the latter holds their head high and proud? In what way does he differ? Where not all people created by the Creator who provides for everyone, why has good fortune escaped them? These questions beat at their spirit and confuse their mind during every moment of every day. Their emotions gradually cool. The humanity within the person withers, dies at moments, until the spirit is finally entirely silenced, and the person becomes a living being with no feelings at all. Only animal needs remain; a person's vitality is reduced to feeling hunger and seeking how to sate it. The purpose of creation is, in a sense, diverted, for this was not the Creator's intent in creating humankind - the speaking and reflective being, capable of attaining the heights of wisdom. The Torah, therefore, had the law of the Hebrew slave precede all other laws, to place the restrictions necessary for us to prevent this. This is why it began by preventing a master from fully acquiring a Hebrew slave, stating that "he shall serve six years; in the seventh year he shall go free, without payment."
The Talmud Torah is our major and most important cause for charity, since it cares for both the mind and the body. It cares for abandoned children and trains them in wisdom and in the sciences, and I therefore preach publicly about it, especially about the great and worthy achievements of its directors, who had this large building constructed. The institution had existed for many years and when the number of children eventually increased, they took the decision to house it in a large building to meet the new needs. It is a joy for all those who behold it, and provides food and drink, as well as clothing, for impoverished children. Pity and compassion cannot but arise in the hearts of the people of all our communities, near and far. They should continue to give donations for the benefit of this place, in order to raise and educate the children in religion and in resourcefulness, so that they become adults who find favor and approbation in the eyes of God and man.
The town's founding fathers long ago amended that whenever a bull, sheep or goat is slaughtered in town and its flesh is publicly sold by butchers, the fat and skin are to be appropriated by the public treasury for the needy, and butchers have no right to them… This fund was also designated for shrouds and other burial needs for the poor. And during the rainy season, they would take funds to support the street cleaners who cannot, during this period, earn a livelihood from their profession.
The deceased was a charitable individual. When people went to fulfill the obligation of gathering money for charity, he was often the first to give. We are all therefore obligated to eulogize him, even those who did not directly benefit from him. Measure for measure; just as he was a benefactor for other people, and his death put an end to the benefit and value they received, thus must other people come to his benefit and eulogize him. This is the reason the sages said that "The Holy One, blessed be He, will in the future prepare a canopy and shelter for those who fulfill the mitzvah of charity with those who toil at Torah. "For to be in the shelter of wisdom is to be also in the shelter of money". Just as the toil of some at Torah benefits others, so do those who fulfill the commandment of charity benefit others; just as Torah scholars are to be eulogized, so are those who fulfill the mitzvah of charity to be eulogized.