Re’eh 5777

Helping the poor[1]

כי יהיה בך אביון מאחד אחיך…לא תאמץ את-לבבך ולא תקפץ את-ידך מאחיך האביון: כי פתוח תפתח את ידך לו…השמר לך פן-יהיה דבר עם-לבבך בליעל…‏
When there will be amongst you someone destitute from one of your brethren…don’t harden your heart, and don’t clench your hand from your destitute brother. Rather you must open your hand to him…Guard yourself lest there will be a rebellious matter in your hearts…[2]

This week’s parsha introduces a multitude of mitzvos, the third most[3] of any parsha. Many of them are between man and his Creator, and many of them are been man and his fellow. One of the crucial interpersonal mitzvos in this parsha is the mitzvah of tzedakah. It is given more attention than others, with the Torah having devoted to it five verses. This is opposed to the usual one or two for a specific mitzvah. This seems to connote its importance. This isn’t surprising considering how many mitzvos there are related to providing for the poor[4]. Hashem wants us to make sure that no one is lacking what they need.

There is an interesting story recounted by the gemarra[5] related to this mitzvah. Rav Papa was ascending a ladder when his foot slipped and he almost fell. He asked: “Could I[6] possibly be liable to a punishment similar to someone who worshipped idols[7]?” Chiyah bar Rav MiDiphti said to Rav Papa: “Perhaps a poor person came to you and you didn’t support him?” Since it was taught that Rabbi Yehoshuah ben Karchah said: “Anyone who hides their eyes from giving tzedakah is considered like someone who worshipped idols[8]”.

The reason Rav Papa almost slipped was due to the rung on the ladder breaking[9]. Why was this exact turn of events considered a suitable punishment for failing to give tzedakah[10]? It could be an allusion to an idea found in another gemarra. It says in Proverbs[11]: רש ואיש תככים נפגשו מאיר עיני שניהם יקוק, A poor man and a fraudulent man meet; Hashem illuminates the eyes of both. The gemarra explains[12] this is referring to when a poor person comes to someone’s door and asks for financial support. If he helps him, great. If not, regarding him another verse in Proverbs says[13]: עשיר ורש נפגשו עושה כולם יקוק, a rich person and a poor person meet; Hashem made them both. What this means is the One who made this person rich will make him poor, and the One who made this one poor will make him rich[14]. The story of Rav Papa almost falling from a ladder alludes to this concept. A person can fall from their economic standing as a result of ignoring the plight of others.

There’s a similar story described[15] regarding the death of King David. He asked Hashem to reveal to him the day of his death, but Hashem responded that there’s a decree that no one should know when they’ll die. He asked instead to know which day of the week he would die. Hashem responded that he would die on shabbos. As a result, David didn’t waste a single second every shabbos and learned Torah nonstop. When it came time for David’s death, as a result of his Torah learning, the Angel of Death had no power over him. The Angel of Death decided to go out to David’s garden and shake a tree[16]. This distracted David enough to have him go investigate what the noise was[17]. On his way to see what was the cause of the noise, the stair broke beneath him and he died.

Perhaps we can say that he met his end in this way for the same reason as above with Rav Papa. We see that Chazal reprimand David for forsaking the poor of his city. When King Shlomo finished building the first Temple, he didn’t end up using any of the funds that his father David had amassed[18]. Instead, he simply put them away in the storehouse. Why didn’t he use the funds his father worked tirelessly to collect? Years earlier there was a famine in the land for three years[19]. King David had all the money he had collected stored away, reserved for the future Temple. People needed this money for food, yet King David didn’t share it with them. Hashem rebuked him by saying: “My children are dying, and you’ve stored this money away for a building? You should have helped them! Since you didn’t, I swear your son Shlomo when he builds the Temple won’t need a penny from it.”[20]

We see from here, despite David’s good intentions, he slipped up[21]. He was held accountable for not providing for the poor of his people. As a result, when it came time for his life to end, it transpired through falling. This happened despite[22] his many acts of charity and justice throughout his life[23]. The Torah is teaching us to look outside of ourselves and see the plight of others. If we can help them, we for sure won’t lose out by doing so[24].

Good Shabbos.

[1] Based on Be’er Yosef to Deuteronomy 15:7-9

[2] Deuteronomy loc. cit.

[3] According to the Sefer HaChinuch. Number two is Emor and number one is Ki Seitzei.

[4] For example: pe’ah, leket, shich’chah, shemittah, ma’aser ani

[5] Bava Basra 10a

[6] Literally he said: “Could someone who hates me”, a euphemism for himself (Rashi ad. loc.)

[7] He also said someone who desecrates shabbos. Someone who violates these two prohibitions in front of two witnesses after receiving a warning warning is liable to sekilah, which includes being pushed off a high platform (Rashi ad. loc., see Kesubos 30a and Sanhedrin 45a)

[8] It says in Deuteronomy 15:9 the word בליעל, as well ibid 13:14 regarding those who worshipped idols. These are the only two places where the word בליעל appears

[9] It doesn’t say this in the gemarra, but this is how the Be’er Yosef understands the story

[10] The Dubnah Maggid in Ohel Yaakov quoting the Vilna Gaon says the cantillation marks on פתוח (darga) תפתח (tevir) hint to this situation. Darga is Aramaic for ladder and tevir is Aramaic for break

[11] 29:13

[12] Temurah 16a

[13] 22:2

[14] Maharal in his Chiddushei Aggados ad. loc. explains the justice in this act. When Hashem made the rich person wealthy, he really gave him the poor person’s wealth. To the point that the poor person had nothing of his own. Therefore, it is fitting that he should support the poor person. If the rich person doesn’t decide to give the poor person what he deserves, then Hashem will reverse the situation so that the poor person has the wealth of both of them

[15] Shabbos 30

[16] See Makkos 10a for a similar story where the Angel of Death distracted Rav Hunah from learning with a tree in order to kill him

[17] A marginal note by Rav Natah Tzvi Weiss to Ein Yaakov ad. loc. says that David went to check if someone was desecrating shabbos; otherwise why would he interrupt his learning just because of some noise in the garden?

[18] I Kings 7:51

[19] II Samuel 21:1

[20] Pesiktah DeRav Kahanah § 6, brought by Rashi and Radak to I Kings loc. cit.

[21] Pun intended

[22] As it’s known, Hashem is exacting with his close ones like a hairsbreadth (Yevamos 121b)

[23] See II Samuel 8:15, Psalms 119:121, and Sanhedrin 6b

[24] Chazal say one who gives tzedakah will end up becoming rich as a result (Taanis 9a)