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What is our attitude towards tzedakah (giving alms to the poor)? When a needy person approaches us, do we look at him as an annoyance or as a savior sent from Heaven? In the Holy Zohar on this week's parashah (Behar) we are given a very interesting insight as to what it is really all about. The following may change our entire outlook on life. I hope it does.

Rabbi Chiya and Rabbi Yosi were traveling and saw two men on the way. Another man approached the men and asked them, "Could you please give me something to eat? I have been lost in the desert for two days and I haven't eaten a thing."

One of the two took out his food and gave it to him. Startled, his companion asked him, "What will you do when you have to eat? What I have is mine to eat!" The generous man responded, "Am I dependent upon you for protection and sustenance?" The poor man then proceeded to consume almost all of his food, and what was left he gave the poor man for the road.

Rabbi Chiya said, "It seems that Hashem didn't want us to perform this mitzvah!" Rabbi Yosi responded, "Perhaps some judgment was decreed upon the generous man and Hashem wanted to give him the opportunity, so that he merit being saved from a disaster."

They all continued on the way, and after a while the generous man became tired. His companion said to him, "I told you not to give away your food to someone else." Rabbi Chiya said, "Perhaps we should give him some of our food to eat." Rabbi Yosi said, "Do you want to take away his merit from him? Let's go and see, for certainly the steps of death are following him and Hashem prepared this mitzvah for him to save him."

Soon after, the generous man fell asleep under a tree and his friend went off in another direction. Rabbi Yosi said to Rabbi Chiya, "Let's wait and watch, for I'm sure that Hashem wants to perform a miracle for him." So they remained.

As he was sleeping, a viper appeared before him. Rabbi Chiya said, "Woe to that man who will die presently." Rabbi Yosi answered, "Lucky is he, for Hashem will surely perform a miracle for him." Suddenly, a snake fell from the tree and wanted to kill the man but the viper jumped up and killed the snake. The viper then turned around and went away.

Rabbi Yosi said, "Didn't I tell you that Hashem wanted to perform a miracle for this generous man and that you should not take away the merit from him?" In the meantime the man awoke and began to continue on his way. Rabbi Chiya and Rabbi Yosi approached him now and gave him to eat. After he had eaten, they told him the miracle that Hashem had performed for him as it is written, (Mishlei 10:2), 'and tzedakah saves from death.'"

There is another Zohar, in Parashas Vayera, which also deals with the same issue.

"And the men arose and looked towards Sodom" (Bereishis 18:16). Rabbi Eliezer said, "Come and see how much goodness Hashem bestows upon all whom He has created, and how much more so upon those who walk in His ways. Even when Hashem wants to judge the world, He causes those whom He loves to merit reward for a mitzvah before the judgment actually arrives in the world.

"For we have learned that when Hashem loves someone, He sends him a present, a poor man, to give him the opportunity to give tzedakah and merit His reward through him. Subsequently, Hashem bestows upon him a sign of salvation. Ultimately, when the Destructor comes to extend judgment, he notices the sign of salvation upon this man and withdraws his hand from him.

"We see this in the Torah. When the Almighty wanted to judge Sodom, He first gave Avraham the opportunity to extend hospitality to his guests (the three angels), in order to then save his nephew Lot in his merit. This is the meaning of that which is written (ibid. 19:29), 'And it came to pass, when G-d destroyed all of the cities of the Plane, and G-d remembered Avraham and He sent Lot from amidst the upheaval.' It does not say that G-d remembered Lot, but rather Avraham, since Lot was saved in Avraham's merit.

"Similarly, when one gives tzedakah, Hashem remembers it and protects him when the Attribute of Justice prevails in the world, as it is written (Mishlei 10:2), 'and tzedakah saves from death.'"

This true story (in which the name has been changed) certainly illustrates what we have just learned.

An Australian immigrant, named David, used to live in Yerushalayim. He spent several hours a day learning, and he and his wife gave tzedakah generously.

One day in 1997, David, who is quite an athlete, told me that his old teammates in Australia had invited him to join them in the Maccabiah games in Israel. He was very excited about it.

A week before the games, while I was home ill, I received a message from David on my answering machine informing me that his pocket electronic organizer had given him a memory error message, and hundreds of precious telephone numbers had been deleted,

On Monday, July 14, the Maccabiah games were opened in Tel Aviv amidst much fanfare. Guests came from around the world to participate in this exciting event, either as athletes or as spectators. Suddenly, a great tragedy occurred. As the Australian team was crossing a footbridge, which had recently been erected over the Yarkon River for this very purpose, it caved in beneath them, sending them into the waters below. Four people died and many were seriously injured in the accident.

The next morning, I suddenly recalled that David had told me that he would be part of the Australian team. In a panic, I called his home and asked his wife if he was ok. She assured me that he was and proceeded to tell me the following story.

"Before David went to the games," she began, "He told me to go over to a neighbor who has a television and watch him on the air. At exactly 10 minutes before 8 p.m., I was trying to put the children to bed quickly so that I could do just that. Suddenly, the doorbell rang. It was someone collecting funds for an organization, which provides food for needy widows, with a haskamah (approbation) from Harav Scheinberg shlita.

"To tell you truth," she continued, "I was a bit annoyed with them for coming at such an inconvenient time when everyone is putting their kids to bed, and especially tonight. But, one has to give tzedakah whenever asked for it, no matter how inconvenient it may be at the moment. So I began to search for some money, but found, to my dismay, that I had no cash at hand just then.

"Not wanting to send them away empty-handed, I told my little son to look on Daddy's desk and bring me whatever money he finds there. He did just that, and, although it wasn't that much, I felt relieved that at least I had been able to give something for such a worthy cause.

"A moment later, the phone rang and I just knew that it was David, probably calling to remind me to watch him on TV. To my utter amazement and shock, it was indeed he, calling to tell me of the tragedy which had just occurred before his very eyes. In another 30 seconds, he said, he would have been on the bridge with the rest of the team, but it collapsed right before he stepped on it.

"As I thanked Hashem for saving David, I felt certain that He had sent His messengers just at that very moment to provide us with the opportunity to give tzedakah and be saved in that merit as it says, 'Utzedakah tatsil mimaves - And tzedakah saves from death.'"

As I contemplated this stirring story, I suddenly remembered the message on my telephone answering machine and wondered whether or not a message of sorts had been sent to David indicating that he wouldn't be needing those phone numbers any more. But then, in the merit of his wife's tzedakah, he had been redeemed.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel