This week's parashah discusses the mitzvos of giving charity and extending loans. It is proper and timely to discuss these mitzvos now that Elul has arrived, for charity and kindness are primary aspects of teshuvah.
Apotropus — Legal Guardians
People wonder why they should give away their hard earned money to others. "I worked hard; it’s mine, so why should I part with it?” But is the money really yours? A portion of your money was given to you so you can help others. An apotropus is a Talmudic word, referring to someone who takes care of other people's money. (A common apotropus, discussed in the Gemara, is when a trustworthy adult is appointed by the rabbinical court to take care of the inheritance of young orphans. The orphans are too young to take care of the money themselves, so an apotropus takes care of their money, until they are old enough to take care of matters themselves.) The Alshich explains that all wealthy people should consider themselves as apotropsim, legal guardians, appointed to take care of the money of others, and to allocate their money to them. (Incidentally, it is therefore important to study the laws of charity and to be in contact with Torah scholars who can advise you where you should give your money. Otherwise, it is possible that Hashem gave you money as an apotropus to help person A and B, and you end up giving it to persons C and D, which is also not correct.)
The Gemara (Bava Basra 131:) teaches that if someone writes in his will that he wants only one of his sons should inherit his money, he means that this son should be the apotropus to take care of the money for all of them. We don’t suppose he truly meant to give the money to one child, because why should a father single out one son over the others? Unless we know of disputes going on in the family, the assumption is that the father wants all his children to inherit his wealth, and one son should be the apotropus, have power of attorney, on the money and then to distribute the money among his siblings. Based on this Gemara, the Chida (Pnei Dovid, Re’eh) writes: Every member of Bnei Yisrael is Hashem’s child, as it states, “You are Hashem’s children.” Does it make sense that Hashem wants some of His children to be wealthy while others should suffer from poverty? It is obvious that Hashem gave extra money to the wealthy so they can help the poor. They are appointed as apotropsim to allocate the money to those who need it. The Skulener Rebbe zt'l, Reb Eliezer Zusya Portugal, told the following parable: Many people were seated at a large table at a wedding. The waiter came by and placed a tray with meat in front of one person. He didn’t intend that this one person should eat all the meat. He wants that the food should be distributed among all the people seated at the table. Similarly, Hashem gives a lot of money to one person so he can distribute it to the others. He didn’t want the wealthy person to keep it all for himself. Internalizing these ideas will make it easier for you to part with your money.
There are laws regarding how much money one should give. It is also wrong to give too much charity and become poor. However, when one when gives the amount he should, he should believe that he didn’t lose anything. He is just carrying out his mission honestly, distributing the money to where the money belongs. Therefore, one doesn’t really deserve reward for giving charity. All he did was assign the money to where it was destined to be. Nevertheless, the Torah promises (15:10), “For this mitzvah Hashem will bless all your deeds, and grant you success wherever you put your hand.” Reb Shimon Trop zt'l teaches: When a person is a loyal apotropus, and he distributes the money to the poor, Hashem will trust him with even more money. This can be compared to a courier whose boss will trust him with more money after he proves his honesty. However, if a wealthy person keeps all the money for himself, Hashem may take the money away from him and give it to a more loyal apotropus.
A pauper once complained to Rebbe Shayale Kerestirer zt’l about his financial plight. Reb Shayale advised him to start a different business, which he did. In a short time he became extremely wealthy. A year later he came back to Rebbe Shayele Kerestirer, this time with a different complaint. “So many people are nudging me that I should give them money. My relatives, my friends, even people I never knew before. They all come to me and ask me to help them. I don’t want to give them anything, and they bother me constantly …” The Rebbe replied, “I see you aren’t a loyal apotropus, so we will find someone else who will do a better job. Why does one need wealth, if not to distribute the money to the poor?” Rebbe Shayale explained, “I will make a lot. I will place the names of all residents of Kerestir on small pieces of paper, and put them all in a box. Your name will be there too. Then, we will choose one. Whoever is worthy to be Hashem’s apotropus will be chosen by the lot. He will become wealthy, and distribute his wealth to the poor. If you regret your ways and are prepared to help the poor, you will win the lottery…” This man did sincere teshuvah. He made up in his mind he would help all poor people who came to him. He won the lot.
Collecting Tzedakah for the Poor
Chazal (Bava Basra 9) tell us, "Causing others to give charity is a greater mitzvah than giving charity yourself." It is repeated in the name of Rebbe Elimelech of Lizensk zy'a: "Going around the four corners of the city to collect money for the poor atones for severe sins that deserve the four deaths issued by the rabbinical court.” Reb Aharon of Belz zy'a said, "Going door to door collecting money for the poor frees a person from kares." The shame one has doing this mitzvah atones and purifies him. The Aruch HaShulchan (247:5) writes, "I have received the kabalah that when one collects money for others it will protect his future generations that they will never need to go around, door to door, collecting money for themselves." Reb Getzel Berger z'l from London (d. 1977) was a wealthy Satmar chassid who gave large sums of money for charity. The Satmar Rebbe zy'a told him that he must speak with other wealthy people, and encourage them to give charity. Reb Getzel said he prefers to give more money for tzedakah, than to speak with others, but the Satmar Rebbe insisted that he ask other wealthy people for donations.
There is a Torah law that one should stand up for someone who is doing a mitzvah. Therefore, the Pischei Teshuvah (Yorah Dei’ah 256:1) writes, “One must stand up for the gabai tzedakah when he collects money from people.” Perhaps this is one of the reasons people stand during ויברך דוד. Often in this part of the prayer, the gabai goes around the study hall collecting money. Therefore we should stand for him, as he is performing this mitzvah.
Looking After the Poor
In Psalms (41) it states, 'praiseworthy is one who looks after the poor.' One must think and contemplate about the needs of the poor, so he can help the poor in the very best way. Someone was telling the Satmar Rebbe zt’l about his financial struggles; how hard it is for him to support his family, and to cover the expenses of an upcoming wedding. The Satmar Rebbe asked, “How much do you need?” “Thirty-thousand dollars.” The Satmar Rebbe gave him twenty-nine thousand dollars. The gaba’im weren’t surprised that the Rebbe gave so much money, because the Rebbe always gave charity with an open hand. But they didn’t understand why the Rebbe gave twenty-nine thousand dollars and not thirty thousand dollars. They asked him, “If you were already giving so much money, why didn’t you give him just one thousand dollars more, so he can have the entire thirty-thousand dollars he requested?” The Rebbe replied, “If I had given him thirty thousand dollars, he would be upset he didn’t ask for more. Now he is certain that he asked for exactly the right amount and he is happy with the amount he received.” This is an example of 'praiseworthy is one who looks after the poor,' to give charity to the poor in a way that will make them happy and not distressed and upset. It states (15:8), “Open your hand to the poor... and give him what he lacks…” Chazal (Kesubos 67:) explain, 'what he lacks' means that if he used to be wealthy and he once owned his own horse and had a slave running in front of him, one must give these to the pauper. Because the pauper feels that he lacks until he gets the luxuries he grew up with and was accustomed to.
There was a pauper who came from a wealthy home. Hillel bought him a horse and hired a slave to run before him. Once he didn’t find a slave to run before him, so Hillel himself ran before him. Reb Chaim Shmuelevitz zt’l asks, it doesn’t seem to be honor for the Torah for Hillel to run in front of the pauper. Furthermore, Hillel was a prince. Is it proper that such an important person, politically and spiritually, should run before a pauper? Reb Chaim Shmuelevitz answers that this tells us that we must consider our fellow man’s needs to be as important as matters regarding saving lives. One doesn’t make any considerations when it comes to caring for a fellow man’s needs. Hillel's ways is an example of 'looking after the poor,' because he understood the pauper needed a horse and a slave running for him, and he understood that it was so essential for the pauper, until it was necessary that Hillel himself should run before him.
There was a person who earned his livelihood by running a tavern, which he rented from a poritz. He earned enough money from the tavern to pay the poritz and to support his family. This arrangement went on for several years. But then, someone asked the poritz to let him rent the tavern, and he promised he'd pay more rent. The poritz liked the idea, and said that he needed time to think it over. The tavern keeper heard that he might be losing his livelihood, so he ran to the Ba’ch, and told him his plight. There was a wealthy person who learned the laws of charity with the Ba’ch every day. The Ba’ch summoned his wealthy student and told him, “You're friendly with the poritz. Convince the poritz that it is in his interest to remain with the present tavern keeper, who paid the rent on time for years. Convince him to let things remain as they are.” The wealthy man said he would take care of it. But outside the Bach’s house, the wealthy person told the tavern keeper, “I have to go to the Leipzig fair. I will take care of your request as soon as I come back.” The tavern keeper cried, “While you're away my competitor could sign a contract with the poritz and take the tavern away!" "I understand your fears, and I'm sorry, but I must go immediately to Leipzig. I give you my word, as soon as I come back, I'll speak with the poritz. I won't even go home before I speak with the poritz. Anyway, remember, everything is in Hashem’s hands. Your competitor can’t take the tavern away from you if it isn’t decreed in heaven…" The lessons of emunah and bitachon comforted the tavern keeper, and he went home joyfully. He told his wife the good news. “The baal tzedakah promised he will speak with the poritz as soon as he returns from Leipzig.” His wife was frantic; afraid that by then it would be too late. He repeated to her the ideas of bitochon he heard, but this didn’t calm her. She screamed and insulted her husband for letting the baal tzedakah go to Leipzig. So now, in addition to their livelihood worries they had a domestic harmony problem. True to his word, the baal tzedakah went straight from Leipzig to the poritz. The poritz was persuaded to keep things status quo, and in this way the baal tzedakah saved this family’s livelihood. On the night after that baal tzedakah passed away, he came to the Ba'ch in a dream and told him the following: "When I came up to heaven, I was greeted with joy and honor. The court said I can ascend to a very high level in Gan Eden where there are many tzaddikim. I headed towards the gate that leads to Gan Eden, but there was a large, beautiful angel standing in my path, which didn’t let me pass. “The angel said, ‘I was created when you spoke with the poritz on this man's behalf. You saved his livelihood, and this good deed created me. But you also did something wrong. You went to Leipzig first. You should have taken care of his needs, right away. While you were in Leipzig, he and his wife were very worried, and their domestic harmony was affected as well. Therefore, I request that the court judge you once again.' “I was brought before the heavenly court a second time. The court ruled that for the amount of days the couple suffered, I have to stand outside Gan Eden. That is where I am now. I'm standing in the corridor to Gan Eden, looking towards the tzaddikim inside. It is extremely painful for me to be here while I'm prohibited to enter. Each hour feels like many years.” In the morning, the Ba'ch gathered his community, and told them his dream. He emphasized to his community the necessity to do kindness for people immediately, without delaying. He taught them to understand their needs, and to help them in the very best way.
This week, we discuss the mitzvah of giving loans to people in need. As it states (15:10), "Don’t feel upset when you give him the loan, because Hashem will bless you with everything you do, and wherever you put your hand.” The Chinuch (480) writes, "The purpose of this mitzvah is to establish in our hearts the attribute of generosity, and to distance us - as far as possible from stinginess…
Anyone who is familiar with the ways of the Torah and comprehends, even slightly, its beautiful ways knows with certainty that when one is generous with his money he will gain more. And whoever refrains will lose. Because Hashem judges people according to their deeds… Being tight with money erects an iron wall which separates the person from Hashem's blessing. Generosity is, in itself, blessings, and therefore, those who act with kindness, receive [Hashem's] blessings." The Chinuch is teaching that Hashem commanded us to give loans, and to do other deeds of loving-kindness, because generosity will bring us many blessings. It states (15:11), "There will always be poor people in the land, therefore I command you to open your hand to your brother, to the poor, and to the paupers of your country." The Ksav Sofer translates the verse as follows: Hashem will always help the poor. If we don’t help the poor, Hashem will. So why does Hashem obligate people to give charity? The answer is, "I am commanding you to open your hand to…the poor," so you can earn many blessings.
The Matteh Efraim zt’l was very wealthy and owned his own bank. Once, a poor person came in to the bank and asked for a large loan , to be paid back in a half year. The Matteh Efraim gave him a form to fill out, and told him that he has to find two co-signers, areivim, guarantors for the debt. The poor person couldn’t find an areiv. (Everyone knew the pauper probably couldn’t pay back the loan, and they didn’t want to be involved.) So the pauper wrote on the line designated for the guarantors, “I have silver and I have gold, says Hashem…” Implying that Hashem is the Guarantor for this loan. The Matteh Efraim had mercy on him and agreed to lend him the money. A half year later, the Matteh Efraim wasn’t feeling well and he asked his wife to run the bank for the day. That night, as they were discussing what happened in the bank, she told him that she lent a lot of money to a poritz. The Matteh Efraim asked, “How did you have money to lend him? I thought there was no money in the bank.” She replied, “Someone came in earlier and paid up a debt.” He checked his records and remembered that the poor man’s debt was due that day. The Matteh Efraim suspected that it was Eliyahu HaNavi who came in and paid the debt, to pay for Hashem's responsibility in the loan. He asked his wife, “Did the pauper, himself, pay the debt, or did someone come in to pay the debt for him?” She told him that someone came and paid the debt for him. The Matteh Efraim thought, “Where did I go wrong that I didn’t merit seeing Eliyahu HaNavi myself?” He realized that it was because he asked the pauper to bring guarantors. It must have been very stressful for the poor person to run from person to person, anxiously seeking an guarantor. Since he caused the pauper this distress, he didn’t merit seeing Eliyahu.
The Chofetz Chaim zt’l wrote Ahavas Chesed to teach the importance, and the details, of the mitzvah of giving free loans. The Chofetz Chaim writes (chapter 5, hagahah) “Now, that we are living in a time when hardships and suffering reign in the world, the only solution to be saved from troubles…is deeds of loving-kindness. These deeds will rouse Hashem’s attribute of kindness…
“It states in Tana d’Bei Eliyahu (23), when the Jews lived in Egypt… they gathered and made a pact that they would do acts of kindness with each other… “What is the significance of this pact? When they saw they had no way of escaping Pharaoh’s decrees and the labor in Egypt was getting harder each day, they gathered and sought counsel: What could they do about this? … They made a pact that they would do kindness with one another. That would arouse Hashem’s kindness from Above, and automatically Pharaoh’s decrees would end. “Their plan succeeded… As it states, ‘You led them [out of Egypt] with Your kindness…” It also states (Yirmiyahu 1), ‘So says Hashem: I remember the kindness of your youth, the love of your nuptials, your following Me into the desert.’ Three factors are stated in this verse: 'kindness of your youth', means [Hashem remembers] they did kindness with each other in Egypt. 'The love of your nuptials,' refers to the Giving of the Torah. 'Your following Me into the desert.’, they followed Hashem into the wilderness…”
In honor of the Satmar Rebbe's yahrtzeit, on the 26th of Av, we will tell a few stories about this great tzaddik. The Satmar Rebbe would go to his cheder from time to time to test the children. Once, he asked a child a question, but the child stuttered and didn’t speak clearly. The Satmar Rebbe repeated his question a second time, and then a third time, but he couldn’t understand what the child was saying. That is when the Rebbe understood that the child had a speech impediment. (The Rebbe was eighty-six years old at the time, his hearing was beginning to fail, and it took some time until he realized the child had a speech impediment.) The Rebbe feared he had embarrassed the child, so for the next half a year, whenever he saw this child, even from the distance, he would call him over, and speak with him.
The Satmar Rebbe was once by a kiddush in the home of one of his chassidim. This chassid was extremely careful with kashrut. Several times during the Kiddush, he emphasized how everything was homemade, and perfectly kosher. He asked the Rebbe, "Does the Rebbe want fish? It’s heimish (homemade). How about some kugel? It's also heimish (homemade)." The Rebbe pointed to the wine and asked, "Is the wine also heimish? "No. The wine was bought." The Rebbe said, "That's because you were supposed to make the wine." Making wine is generally the man's domain. The Rebbe was suggesting that although it’s very good to be careful with kashrut, but when extreme caution causes the wife to work extra hard, one should reconsider.
An orphan once came to the Satmar Rebbe before his wedding for a blessing. The Rebbe put his hands over the groom's head and blessed him, crying copiously. He blessed him for about twenty minutes. Afterwards, someone asked the Rebbe, "I understand the importance of being extra kind to this groom since he is an orphan – but why for so long?" The Rebbe replied, "The success of the groom and bride in their marriage are the tears and the prayers their parents shed before the wedding. But this groom doesn’t have anyone to cry for him, so I cried and prayed for him." (It is worth remembering this story before leading your child to the wedding. The children's success in their marriage and in their life, is largely dependent on the prayers and tears of the parents before the wedding.)
Regarding domestic harmony between husband and wife, the Satmar Rebbe taught, "We have a kabalah (tradition) that the one who 'gives in' wins." Sometimes there are differences of opinion between a husband and wife. The one who gives in to the other one is the winner.
Someone in Eretz Yisrael was thinking of moving to America. He explained to the Satmar Rebbe, “When it comes to weddings it is much easier in America. The amount of money the Jews in Eretz Yisrael have to pay is impossible.” The Satmar Rebbe replied, “The truth is, all weddings – in Eretz Yisrael or abroad – need miracles. According to the rules of nature, it isn’t possible to earn enough money for the weddings. The difference between Eretz Yisrael and America is that in Eretz Yisrael the miracles are obvious, while abroad, the miracles are dressed within the rules of nature. Isn’t it better to live in Eretz Yisrael, where the miracles are obvious, than to live in America, where the miracles are clothed within nature?”
David Friedman (not his real name) from Eretz Yisrael used to be wealthy. He ran a gemach (to give out free loans) with his own money. A few years ago, the stock market took a decline, and he lost most of his money. But he wanted his gemach to flourish once again, so he traveled to America to collect funds for his gemach. Once, he and his partner passed a very large and ostentatious house. His partner told him, "The person who lives here is a baal tzedakah, but he doesn’t give money to people like you and me. He only sees people by appointment, and only roshei yeshiva, Chassidic Rebbes, or leaders of large organizations. It’s a waste of time to even try." "Let's try anyway," David Friedman said. "It will be our effort." David Friedman walked through the elegant garden, and reached the front door, and his partner reluctantly walked beside him. A butler opened the door. "Please tell the man of the house that David Friedman is here to speak with him." When the butler heard him say “David Friedman” he immediately let them in, and brought them to the wealthy man’s study. The baal tzedakah came downstairs a moment later. He was excited to speak with David Friedman – but a different David Friedman. He was waiting for David Friedman, a wealthy contractor. They had a business meeting set for that night, to discuss great business plans. The baal tzedakah said, "Since you are already in my home, tell me why you came." David Friedman said, "I also used to be wealthy, but I lost the money… Now I am here to expand the gemach…" The wealthy man gave him $150,000. David Friedman did his effort and Hashem helped him in a marvelous way