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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Re'eh 5772 "The Impoverished"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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The obligation to set aside the mandated tithes, and to give charity regularly are basic tenets in the life of a Jew. The Torah instructs us, “You shall tithe the entire crop of your planting, the produce of the field, year by year. And you shall eat before Hashem, your G-d, in the place that He will choose to rest His Name there- the tithe of your grain, your wine, and your oil, and the firstborn of your cattle and your flocks, so that you will learn to fear Hashem, your G-d, all the days.”[1]

Da’as Zekinim writes that when one separates the obligatory tithes the remainder of the produce becomes legally his. However, if one hoards everything and does not tithe his produce then it is all considered G-d’s and the farmer possesses no ownership over any of it.

The Nachalas Tzvi explains that the entire world and everything contained within it essentially has only one purpose - to sanctify G-d’s Name. It is only when one recognizes that all he possesses is a gift from G-d, that he is allowed to bear a sense of ownership over those gifts. This is why the verse which instructs about the obligation to tithe concludes, “So that you will learn to fear Hashem, your G-d, all the days.” The constant separation of tithes serves as a perennial reminder that the world really belongs to G-d and that He is allowing us to utilize what is His.

The Da’as Zekinim continues by pointing out an anomaly in regard to the mitzvah of tithes and giving charity. As a rule, one is not permitted to “test G-d” by saying that he will perform a mitzvah on condition that G-d grant him some sort of blessing or compensation. Such a bargain is deemed brazen and disrespectful. However, in regard to charity one is permitted to “test G-d” in such a manner and charity given solely so that one be worthy of specific blessing is even considered a mitzvah. Thus, when one gives charity he is receiving more than he is giving, for charity and assisting others is an important means in being able to solicit blessing and goodness for one’s self.

The great Kelmer Maggid once ascended the pulpit in a wealthy hamlet and encouraged the townsfolk to donate generously to the cause he was collecting funds for. He pointed to the verse which states, (15:11) “For destitute people will not cease to exist within the Land; therefore I command you saying, ‘You shall surely open your hand to your brother, to your poor, and to your destitute in your Land’.” The Maggid looked sharply at his listeners, “The Torah promises that there will always be poor and needy people. If you know of impoverished people among your brethren, realize that they are fulfilling that role. Help them so that they do not perish for, if they do, it just may be you who will need to fulfill the promise of the verse.”

In a similar vein, Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer zt’l would afford great respect and would exert great effort to assist anyone who knocked on his door to solicit funds for any purpose. He once explained to a disciple, “Do not think that the reason I sit at my table with the comforts of my home is because I possess so much more wisdom than the poor man who is compelled to solicit funds and knock at my door. Rather, it is because the Torah has guaranteed that there will never be a dearth of poor people; it was built into the fabric of society. The poor man fulfills his mission by knocking on doors, while I am lucky to fulfill my mission in alternative and more respectful ways. However, if not for the fact that he was fulfilling his mission, perhaps I would be compelled to do so in his stead. Therefore, I accord him great honor for shouldering that burden and mission.”

The holy Tchorkover Rebbe, Rabbi Dovid Moshe zt’l, once received a letter from a neighboring town requesting that he help them collect funds so they could construct a communal mikvah. The gabbai read the letter in the presence of the Rebbe and his son, Reb Yisroel zt’l. The Rebbe immediately turned to his son and motioned that he should undertake the responsibility of the appeal. The Rebbe noticed that his son was hesitant and did not reply. After a minute, one of the Chassidim close to the Rebbe remarked that because the Chassidim were already so financially strapped they felt the appeal would bear little fruit and would not have much purpose. The Rebbe replied by relating the following extraordinary story:

During the late 1500’s the city of Krakow, Poland was led by the great scholar Rabbi Moshe Isserles zt’l, the famous Rema, who was the leader of Ashkenazic Jewry. At that time there was a well-known Jew named Moshe who had various nicknames. Some called him “Moshe Trayger” (Moshe the Porter) for that was his job and the source of livelihood, while others referred to him as “Moshe Shikker” (Moshe the Drunk) for obvious reasons. Still other called him “Moshe Shabbos’nik” because of his unusual custom. Every week he would put aside some of the money he earned and, on Friday afternoon just prior to the onset of Shabbos, he would go to the mikvah to purify himself in honor of the Shabbos. Then he would purchase for himself a cup of mead, an expensive alcoholic liquor made of fermented honey and water. As he would drink it he would jovially sing “Shabbos! Shabbos! Shabbos Kodesh!” This was Moshe’s practice for many years.

One week as Moshe was heading to the mikvah on Friday, he was accosted by a woman who was wailing aloud, “Moshe is going to drink and I don’t have money with which to purchase candles for Shabbos.” Immediately, an internal battle raged within Moshe’s heart. On the one hand, he knew that he should give the poor woman the money so that she could fulfill the integral mitzvah of lighting the Shabbos candles. However, his inclination told him not to forego his weekly custom and enjoyment.

After a few moments his conscience prevailed and he gave the poor woman his hard-earned money so that she could kindle the holy Shabbos candles. Moshe proceeded to immerse himself in the mikvah and then left without his weekly delight. Shortly before Shabbos began Moshe suddenly died. Because it was so late in the day, there was no time to bury him before Shabbos so they quietly placed his body in the “room for the dead” adjacent to the synagogue where it was to remain until after Shabbos.

On Friday night the Rema was in shul when Moshe appeared to him. “Rebbe”, he began, “in heaven there is a strong prosecution against you. I am an emissary of the celestial courts and I have been dispatched to warn you.” The Rema, who was unaware that Moshe was no longer alive, looked at him and replied, “Moshe! You are drunk; go back home!” When Moshe claimed that he had died just prior to Shabbos, the Rema refused to believe him thinking that Moshe was in midst of a routine bout of inebriation. Still, the Rema decided to be sure and he went into the Bais Medrash and asked if Moshe the Porter was still alive. The people did not reply because one is not supposed to relate distressing news on Shabbos. However, some of the young children told the Rema that Moshe had indeed died and his body was in the side room until after Shabbos.

The Rema returned and asked Moshe why he had come. “Rebbe, in heaven they are passing judgment against you because you do not grant the poor people of Cracow the opportunity to participate in the community’s charity drives. You decided that because of their difficult financial state, the needed effort and prodding is not worth the small amount that they will contribute. Therefore, you do not solicit funds from them at all. However, by not doing so you are robbing them of an opportunity to have the great merit of giving charity.” When the Rema asked what he could do to rectify his error Moshe replied, “From this day forward, accept upon yourself to expend the effort and trouble to collect and solicit charity even from the simple and poor of Krakow.”

The Rema then asked, “Moshe, please reveal to me the merit that you possess that enabled you to inform me of this prosecution and to act as an emissary of the celestial courts even before you were buried?” Moshe related the event that occurred just a few hours prior and how he was willing to selflessly forego his weekly custom and pleasure to help a complete stranger fulfill the mitzvah of kindling the Shabbos candles. He explained that when he performed that mitzvah the heavenly scales which weigh one’s merits against his sins was tipped toward his merits. Therefore, he was quickly taken from this world before he would have a chance to sin again so that he would be assured entry into the World to Come.

Moshe then continued, “Rebbe, in order to truly understand what occurred I must tell you a story. Surely, I need not tell the great Rebbe about the wondrous events that transpired at the time of the Purim miracles. Every Jew knows well about the righteousness, holiness, dedication, and self-sacrifice of Queen Esther. She risked her life for her people even at the expense of destroying her legacy and her progeny. One can only imagine the eternal reward that awaited her after she left this world. Indeed, Queen Esther was privy to every room in the eternal worlds. She traversed every door and passageway and she enjoyed the Divine Bliss that awaits the most righteous and holy.

On one occasion however, she arrived at a certain doorway where the angels denied her entry. She was told that this room was reserved for those who performed acts of righteousness and mitzvos despite the challenge of poverty. Although Queen Esther performed the ultimate kindness and goodness for her people, she did so out of wealth and not poverty, and therefore she was not allowed into that particular room. Still, Queen Esther was persistent. Every room in the upper world has its own reward and sense of closeness to G-d and she felt she was deserving of that room as well. She claimed that had she been poor she would have done no less and it was not her fault that she never had the opportunity to perform mitzvos out of poverty.

“Her claims were taken to the celestial courts to be adjudicated. After hearing her claims the court decided that she would return to this world again. However, in her second lifetime she would be an impoverished beggar. Only after she lived a life of poverty and paucity would she be allowed to enter that room.”

Moshe looked up at the Rema and concluded, “Rebbe, it was to Queen Esther that I gave away my money so that she could light Shabbos candles!”

“You shall surely open your hand”

“So that you will fear Hashem all the days”

Please have in mind Chaim Yisroel Pinchos ben Shaindel for a refuah shaleimah.

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