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by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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And if your brother shall become poor and his hand shall fail, then you shall support him, a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you.
The Count Pototzki was a wonderful personality in the history of Lithuania. He was a famous convert known as Avraham ben Avraham. (all converts are referred to as the sons of Avraharn).
After his conversion, to avoid execution by the Catholic Church in Vilna, he hid in the Lithuanian town of Ilya where he learned with great diligence in the local beis midrash. In this town lived a very brazen Jewish lad who used to torment the Count Pototzki and disturb his learning. Once, after being tormented beyond his endurance, he lost his patience and called the lad an insulting name. The boy went home and reported to his father what the Count Pototzki had said to him. The father, who was as brazen as his son, was enraged and stormed over to the beis midrash to complain to the Count Pototzki. He then cursed him profusely, despite the Count's apologies, which did nothing to sooth the cruel father's wrath.
The father was so enraged that he could not control himself. As a result he did a terrible thing. He went down to the local police station and informed them that Count Pototzki, who was a wanted fugitive, was hiding in the beis midrash. This lead to his immediate capture. The police arrested him and put him in the main jail of ViIna, the same place where he had his original trial, which had resulted in his being sentenced to be burned alive unless he denounced Judaism and returned to Christianity. The Vilna Ga'on sent him a message that he could save him by means of hidden powers, but the Count answered that he preferred to be burned alive to fulfill the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem.
When the Christians saw his great stubbornness and how he held fast to the Jewish faith in spite of all threats, they were enraged and tortured him greatly. Before his execution, they said to him, "Here this world we are taking revenge on you, but in heaven you will take revenge on us."
The Count answered his tormenters without anger. Instead he smiled and said to them, "Let me tell you a story from my youth. In my father's palace, I used to play with the farmers' children. Once, after many hours of hard work, I had made several soldiers out of clay, and I proudly put them in my garden to show them off. Later that day, the farmer's children came and crushed my soldiers until they were no longer anything but dust. I ran at once to my father, and with tears in my eyes I told him of my disaster and requested that he severely punish the transgressors. But my father gently admonished me by saying, 'Since you are wiser than the other children, you should not be asking for revenge for such small things.
I thought, 'Today I am too small to take revenge, but when I will grow up, I will personally take revenge against those who have destroyed my work.' "But when I grew up do you think that I thought even once about king revenge on them? What they had done to me now seemed so significant. After all, all they had done was to break some soldiers made out of mud!
"Do you think that in heaven when I will see things In their true perspective and everything will be clear in my mind, that I will think about taking revenge for your foolishness in burning my flesh and bones, which are after all only dust from the ground?"
Concerning the informer who had caused his death, Count pototzkl said, "if I will have any merit in the World to Come, I will not rest until I succeed in bringing my informer to heaven, for he was the one who enabled me to have the merit of being burned for His Holy Name's sake."
Count Pototzki had no intention to do evil or seek revenge against those who mistreated him. He felt only a need to do kindness to them. This should be an example for us to follow in our lives, and especially in marriage where we can be certain that we will feel the effects if we fail to treat our spouses with kindness.
"And if your brother shall become poor, and h Is hand shall fall, then you shall support him."1 It is written, "Praised is the one that gives charity with intelligence to the poor person." 2 Rabbi Yonah said, "It is not written, 'Praised is the one that gives charity' but rather, 'Praised is the one that gives charity with intelligence,' meaning that one should consider carefully in which way he will benefit another person."
Rabbi Yonah used to do the following: When he would see a poor person who had originally come from a rich and important family, but was now destitute and ashamed to accept charity, he would approach him and say, "I am giving you the money because I heard that you have an inheritance coming to you from abroad. Take this precious article and when you will receive that inheritance and have a handsome profit from it, then you will return it to me." After he had convinced the person of the story and given the precious article to the poor man, he would then tell him that it was given as a present. If one gives charity, "In the bad day, G-d will rescue him."3 The interpretation of "the bad day" is none other than purgatory or geihinnom. Therefore Moshe warned Israel, "then you shall support him."4
Another explanation is that the verse says, "It is as if you lend to G-d when you benefit a poor man." 5 It is written, "He gives sustenance to all flesh." 6 This person came and [it was as if he] grabbed away the mitzvah from G-d. G-d says, "I must pay him his reward," as it is written, "And his reward will be paid to him."7
Rabbi Nachman said, "'You shall give to him... because of this thing.' 8 Good fortune is a merry-go-round on which everyone rides. [Rabbi Nachman's comment is explained as follows] the Hebrew word biglal has a double meaning: it can mean "because," and it can also mean "a wheel." Rabbi Nachman was comparing the idea of a wheel to financial status. A wheel is continuously turning around, and what was previously on top is now at the bottom. This can be compared to the rich, who do not always remain rich, but [as the merry- go-round of fortune turns] they become poor while the poor become rich. Therefore Moshe warns Israel, "And when your brother becomes poor." 9
Why is it important for a person to carefully consider how best he can help a poor person? What can we learn from the story of Rabbi Yonah and the way he gave charity? Why does charity have such power that it can save a person from geihinnom? What is meant by saying that when you support a poor person it is as if you take G-d's place? What is the rationale behind the idea that we must support poor people because we ourselves might become poor?
It is important to carefully consider how best to help a poor person because most likely he is terribly embarrassed by his situation. No one wants to be poor, but rather poverty is forced upon a person by unfortunate circumstances. Thus a poor person will feel great anguish if he has to go out and ask for handouts. He might even prefer to stay hungry and not have to face the embarrassment of having to accept help.
Rabbi Yonah understood that it is an art to know how to give to the poor with sensitivity. We can learn from the story of Rabbi Yonah the thoughtfulness one must employ when he wants to do this mitzva. Rabbi Yonah even went so far as to concoct a story of how the poor person was going to come into an inheritance, and he persisted until he convinced the poor person to believe the story. Once he had convinced him that he would soon be rich, it was then possible to convince him to relieve his present suffering and take a loan, since the poor man now felt certain that he would be able to pay it back. Afterwards, he would tell the poor person that since he was going to be rich anyway, he could now accept the sum as a gift, since there is no embarrassment involved in a rich person receiving a gift.
One can only imagine how hard Rabbi Yonah must have worked until he figured out all the necessary details of such a story so that the poor person would believe him. He did this so as not to cause even the slightest embarrassment to the poor person. That is why Rabbi Yonah said that it takes a great deal of cleverness to give charity correctly.
How does charity have the power to save a person from geihennom? The mitzvah of charity entails having compassion and mercy on others. Since we know that G-d always repays a person in the same manner as he acts, 10 therefore G-d has mercy and compassion on a person who gives charity. When the Day of judgement arrives, G-d judges the person with mercy and overlooks his sins. As a result he is saved from geihinnom, which he would have otherwise deserved had he not aroused G-d's compassion.
How is supporting a poor person like taking G-d's place? We know that we should strive to emulate G-d's attributes, and that G-d is the sustainer of all life and provides the means of survival to the whole world. So, charity is our opportunity to act as G-d acts, for in this way we, too, support and aid others who need help. G-d could have created the world in such a way that there were no poor people at all. The reason G-d allows poverty to be part of His plan of creation is that He wants to give us the opportunity to perform the precious mitzvah of giving charity. We are replacing G-d when we give charity because we are doing as He would do and at the same time we are earning tremendous merit for sustaining another soul so that it can continue to function. This makes us in a sense similar to G-d, since He also sustains people. Since we know that we must constantly emulate G-d's actions, here we are doing just that when we support a poor person. We say one reason that we must support poor people is because we ourselves might become poor. Such an idea comes to provide us with a strong incentive to help those who are currently poor. People tend to think of the poor as another nation. One nation is made up of those who can support themselves, and the other is made up of those who need help. We tend to regard them as some other sort of people, not like us. That is a mistake. Poor people are just like anyone else, but they have come to their particular situation as a result of certain difficult circumstances. This misfortune could just as easily fall to any one of us. When a person realizes that he himself could have been the poor person, he has a much greater incentive to give, for then he can sympathize with him.
The basic principle behind giving charity is doing chesed, which is also the basic principle behind marriage. Just as we must learn to give charity cleverly so as not to embarrass the other person, also in marriage we must relate to our spouses with great sensitivity so that their feelings will never be hurt. For example, if your spouse asks you for help, you should never say, "Oh no, I have other things to do." Saying that hurts, because it shows that we are unconcerned with our spouse's needs, and have only other things in mind. If you agree, but do so half-heartedly or begrudgingly and say, for example, "Okay, if I must, I'll help you," this also hurts, since it shows that you really do not want to help your spouse.
We will be successful in giving charity if we keep in mind the words of our Sages, "It is a merry-go-round that everyone rides." We must be sensitive to other people's needs as though they were our own. This also applies to marriage. When we think of how we would like to be treated, then we will be sure that we treat our spouses the same way. For example, if your spouse has gone to bed before you, you should be very careful not to disturb her, just as you would not want to be woken if you were asleep.
Just as our Sages say that giving charity can save a person from geihinnom, it is possible that being a wonderful spouse can also save a person from geihinnom. As mentioned above, when one gives charity it involves bestowing mercy and compassion, and therefore in response G-d will also judge a person who acts in this way with mercy and compassion. This is also true in marriage. If you treat your spouse with mercy and compassion, G-d will judge you in that way on the Day of judgement.
Being married gives us numerous opportunities to practice charity towards our spouses. But the most important thing is the manner in which we do that charity. Is it with a smile, or do we do it grudgingly, with a frown? One may think that there is not much difference, but in truth the difference is very great. Our Sages say that someone who gives a coin to a poor person is blessed with five blessings, but someone who appeases the poor person is blessed with eleven blessings. 11
This means, as Rav Yonah understood, that more important ban what you give is how you give. This is certainly true in marriage. You can give your spouse the most beautiful house, car, or jewelry, but what is most important to your spouse is how you give. Our Sages comment on the verse, "And the white of the teeth more than milk," 12 that showing another person the white of is teeth in a smile is worth more than feeding the person milk. 13 A smile is more important than a gift or a service, because the smile shows that you care. In marriage, the fact that you care means the world to your spouse, and so it is important that you smile at your spouse.
The smile and the affection that you show to your spouse is worth more to her than anything in the world that you can buy.
It is an old and wise saying that charity begins at home, and art of showing that charity means that you should smile at our spouse and always show your love.
1. Vayikra 25.35
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network