"Moshe said to the Children of Israel, 'See, Hashem has proclaimed by name, Betzalel son of Uri son of Chur, of the tribe of Yehudah. And He filled him with G-dly spirit, with wisdom, insight, and knowledge, and with every craft. To weave designs, to work with gold, silver, and copper. And stone-cutting for setting, and wood-carving; to perform every craft of design. And He gave him the ability to teach, both he and Ahaliav, son of Achisamach, of the tribe of Dan'" (Shemos 35:30-34).
Rashi brings the thought of the Midrash Tanchuma that although Ahaliav was of the tribe of Dan, one of the lowest of the tribes, of the sons of the handmaids, yet the Omnipresent placed him with regard to the work of the Tabernacle on a level with Betzalel, who was a member of one of the most noble tribes. This confirms what Scripture says, (Iyov 34:19) "He does not regard the rich man more than the poor."
One of the basic tenets of Judaism is that a man is judged solely by his own personal merits; not by his financial status or his pedigree. Reb Shalom Shvadron zt"l, used to tell the following story which demonstrates how careful we must be in this regard.
Reb Zalman was a poor man who never seemed to succeed in financial matters. Whatever he tried failed and he was not able to support his family properly. The Sages taught that a house which lacks "flour," breeds discontent. And so it was with Reb Zalman. His wife lacked the proper respect for him and would quarrel with him often. One year, on the Eve of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), when it is a mitzvah to eat as much as one can, there was not much food in Reb Zalman's home with which to perform that particular mitzvah. And so he went to shul, dejected and brokenhearted, hoping that perhaps, by some miracle, the One Who judges all on that holy day would decide to change his lot for the better.
The synagogue was full of people, all in a somber mood, preparing for the holiest day of the year which would soon commence with the recital of Kol Nidrei. Everyone took advantage of those precious moments for introspection and self-correction to purify their souls, and many were reciting Tefilah Zakah (the Pure Prayer of Repentance). Reb Zalman, unfortunately, could not think much about his soul just then and could only concentrate on his grumbling stomach and his feelings of lack of self worth. It was too late to eat anything even if he had some food anyway, so it was no sense dreaming about a meal. Nevertheless, he badly needed something to lift his spirits at least somewhat. Suddenly he remembered the rich man, Reb Boruch, who always carried an expensive silver snuff box, filled with the finest tobacco one could buy, and never hesitated to share it with others, especially those who were less fortunate than he. Just the thought of that delicious aroma had a positive affect on Reb Zalman and he made his way from his seat at the back of the shul to Reb Baruch's, in the front row.
Reb Baruch's head was covered with his tallis, and his eyes were streaming with tears, as he concentrated deeply upon the poignant words of the beautiful prayer which described in detail our many shortcomings before the Almighty all year. We failed both in our obligations to Hashem and to our fellow man. Suddenly, his thoughts and introspection were disturbed by someone who has tugging at his sleeve. He couldn't imagine what could be so important to anyone, at this very moment, that would motivate him to interrupt him just now. He looked out and saw Reb Zalman's sad eyes staring at him and was shocked when he suggested, "Perhaps a bit of shmeck tabak (snuff), Reb Baruch." Reb Baruch was aghast and did not know whether to laugh or cry. He did neither but instead rebuked his solicitor sharply and declared, "Reb Zalman. Now? In the middle of Tefilah Zakah?!! Ashamed and despondent, Reb Zalman returned to his seat, but on the way he remarked to the Almighty, "Ribbono Shel Olam, am I not even worth a shmeck tabak?"
The Heavenly Hordes were in an uproar. The Angels were shocked that a person could be so insensitive to someone else's deep pain, especially on Yom Kippur, and only be concerned with his own spiritual elevation. Instead of having many interceders on his behalf, for all of the charity and good deeds which he did throughout the year, Reb Baruch earned a myriad of angelic prosecutors who argued against him before the Almighty. And so it was that Hashem ruled that all of Reb Baruch's riches be taken from him and given to Reb Zalman instead.
Immediately after Sukkos, things began to change drastically and quickly. Reb Zalman acquired some money which he invested, and, to his amazement, this time he profited greatly. He continued to invest his money wisely until he became a very rich man. Reb Baruch, on the other hand, seemed to make mistake after mistake; until he lost all of his wealth and became a poor man.
Reb Baruch was no fool. He realized that he must have done something wrong to be punished so severely by Hashem. But he could not fathom what. He had always been very charitable and had used Hashem's blessings wisely; supporting the poor and especially the Torah scholars. He did not remember the incident with Reb Zalman, Yom Kippur eve, and even if he had, he would have justified his actions. After all, who disturbs someone for such petty things at a serious time like that?
Reb Baruch went to visit the holy tzaddik, Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchov ztvk"l, and told him his predicament. Together, they tried to find what sin had aroused the wrath of the Creator on or before the recent Days of Judgment, but they could find nothing. Suddenly, Reb Baruch realized that at about the same time that he had climbed down the ladder of prosperity, Reb Zalman had begun to climb up that very same ladder. The Rebbe asked if he could think of any incident during the year in which both of them had been involved. Reb Baruch tried to recall but could not think of anything; until, suddenly, he remembered the incident which had occurred Kol Nidrei Night. "That's it," announced Reb Levi Yitzchak emphatically. "Hashem took your wealth and gave it to Reb Zalman." "How can I get it back?" cried Reb Baruch. "The only way is if you can find a situation to ask Reb Zalman for something and he refuses you, then you will be able to argue before the Almighty that he restore to you what is rightly yours, since Reb Zalman is no better than you are."
Years passed. People adjust to changes very quickly and most had forgotten that Reb Baruch was once rich and that Reb Zalman was once poor. But Reb Zalman did not forget. He knew what it had felt like to eat the bread of shame, and often not to eat at all, and he used Hashem's blessings to help every broken soul he could find. He gave charity with such a broad smile that the poor man felt as if he had done his benefactor a favor; which, in reality, he had. Reb Baruch, too, did not forget. But he could not find a situation in which there was even a chance that Reb Zalman would refuse his request. On the contrary, Reb Zalman would be thrilled to help someone who, nebech, had lost his grandeur and now suffered much more than one who never had it.
One day, the town was all abuzz with the latest news. A big shidduch (wedding match) had been made: the daughter of Reb Zalman the Gevir (rich man) with the son of the Rabbi of the town. Everyone came to the luxurious wedding, especially all of the poor people who were given more food to eat than they had ever seen. Under the chuppah (wedding canopy), Reb Zalman glowed with pride and thanked Hashem for all of the kindness He had bestowed upon him. Little did he know that in a few moments from now, he risked losing it all and becoming a pauper again.
The Rav asked Reb Zalman to hand him the kesubah (marriage contract) to read aloud. Reb Zalman took the scroll out of his coat pocket and was about to hand it to his new mechuten (relative by marriage) when suddenly he felt someone tugging at his sleeve. He turned around and was surprised to see Reb Baruch trying to get his attention at such a busy moment. He was even more amazed when Reb Baruch asked him, "Perhaps a bit of shmeck tabak, Reb Zalman."
Heaven and Earth stood still for several breathtaking seconds. Reb Baruch prepared himself for the hail of insults which would surely befall him at any moment; insults which would be bitter to anyone else but to him they would be as sweet as honey for this embarrassment would bring with it the return of his former wealth and stature. How horrified was Reb Baruch when Reb Zalman smiled at him compassionately, understanding very well the pain in his soul, and said to him, "Certainly, my dear friend." Reb Zalman returned the kesubah to one pocket and took the silver case out of another one, and turned to present it to the poor man. But before he was able to complete his act of kindness, Reb Baruch fainted and fell to the ground. Everyone was startled and the town doctor, who was at the wedding along with everyone else, ran over to revive the broken, poor man.
When Reb Baruch came to, Reb Zalman asked him what had happened, but he could barely talk. He just mumbled, "Go on with the wedding. I'll explain everything to you later."
After the ceremony, Reb Zalman met with Reb Baruch in a private room. Reb Baruch told Reb Zalman the truth behind their switch of positions and that Reb Levi Yitzchak had told him the only way he could get things back to the way they were. But now he realized that all was lost and that the hope which had kept him going all of these years had dissipated. He was condemned to live out his years in abject poverty.
Reb Zalman was shocked at what he heard and felt tremendous compassion for Reb Baruch. He thought for a moment and then said, "Listen, my friend. Right now enjoy the wedding. As soon as the week of celebrations is over, we will go together to the Bardichiver and I promise to abide by whatever he tells me to do."
Next week, the two men appeared before the tzaddik. The Rebbe confirmed that Reb Zalman had inherited the wealth of Reb Baruch because he had mistreated him. "This being the case, would you, Reb Zalman, consider returning a part of it to its former owner?" Reb Zalman did not even hesitate for a moment. "Absolutely," he replied. We will immediately take an accounting of all that I amass and I will return fifty per cent of it to Reb Baruch."
Reb Levi Yitzchak was very pleased at such an exhibition of ahavas Yisroel (love for a fellow Jew) and he blessed them both to have long lives, filled with happiness and success. Hashem fulfilled the tzaddik's blessing and they both prospered for many years thereafter.
"These are the reckonings of the Tabernacle, the Tabernacle of Testimony, which were reckoned at Moshe's bidding" (Shemos 38:21).
The Torah teaches us that a public servant should not be ashamed to give an accounting to the people of how he spent their public funds. For who is greater than Moshe Rabbeinu, and he gave a reckoning of all of the Israelites' contributions and showed them exactly how they had been used for the construction of the Mishkan.
We find that the true leaders of Israel are extremely cautious concerning the funds of their congregants; being very careful not to spend it unnecessarily, and guarding it even more than their own. Even more than that, if they feel that they may have caused someone a loss, they will go to great pains to replace it. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 6b) relates that if King Dovid had to rule against a poor man in a monetary dispute, he would later reimburse the fellow from his own pocket.
Reb Chaim Valkin, shlita, Mashgiach of Yeshiva Ateres Yisroel, in Bayit Vegan, tells the following amazing story (brought in the book, Sorasecha Sha'ashuei).
About twenty five years ago, Reb Chaim was a teacher in Aish Hatorah. One day, he was offered a very tempting position to become the Rabbi of a new community which was being formed in Ma'aleh Amos, near Gush Etzion. The job paid well and since a large group of young Kolel students were planning to move there, there was a great spiritual benefit to be gained too.
About two weeks before Reb Chaim was to move there, a friend of his asked him whether or not he had discussed the matter with Harav Shach z"l, who had recently come out against living in the new settlements in the "captured territory" (the Rosh Yeshiva considered it politically unwise and dangerous to settle an area of Israel which was annexed in opposition to the decision of the United Nations). Reb Chaim answered that he was unaware of Rav Shach's position and that he would go to Bnei Brak to ask him personally that very day.
Appearing before the venerable sage, Rabbi Valkin described the offer he had been presented with and its benefits. Rav Shach told him that he may do whatever he thinks is best. Reb Chaim felt satisfied and returned to his home in Jerusalem.
That evening, Reb Chaim was very surprised to hear Harav Shach's voice on the telephone. The Rabbi said that he had called to make it clear that the advice he had given that afternoon did not necessarily reflect his own opinion which, as was well known, was in opposition to settlement in the territories. He had merely granted Reb Chaim permission to do whatever he understood was best for him.
The next day, Reb Chaim returned to Bnei Brak and declared that he only wanted to do what the Rosh Yeshiva really believed was right. Rav Shach did not respond immediately but thought and pondered intensely for about fifteen minutes. Finally he said, "You are not moving there." Reb Chaim immediately cancelled all of his plans and went home.
About a month later, a young man from Bnei Brak came to Reb Chaim's door with an envelope which he said Rav Shach had asked him to deliver. Upon opening it, Reb Chaim was shocked to find a one hundred dollar bill. He immediately called Rabbi Refael Wolf, one of Rav Shach's assistants, and asked for an explanation. Rabbi Wolf told him that the Rosh Yeshiva felt that since he had caused Reb Chaim a monetary loss, he was obligated to help him financially.
For five years, until Reb Chaim became Mashgiach of Ohr Yisroel, he received this stipend of one hundred dollars from Rav Shach every single month! Only when the Rosh Yeshiva heard that he was receiving a decent salary in his new position did he stop sending the money.