"I

f there will be among you a needy person… you shall not harden your heart, and you shall not close your hand from your needy brother.” (Devarim 15:7)

 

The wicked Turnus Rufus asked Rabi Akiva (Bava Basra 10a), “If your G-d loves the poor, why doesn’t He support them?”

Rabi Akiva responded, “So the giver can merit being saved from Gehinnom.”

But why should a poor person suffer his whole life, living with hunger and thirst, just so that the rich person can avoid Gehinnom? Is this justice?

The Midrash (Rus Rabbah) quotes Rus’s conversation with Naomi. When Naomi asked who had given Rus so much grain, Rus replied, “The man whom I did for [i.e., worked for] today was Boaz.” What is the meaning behind Rus’s unusual phrasing? Her word choice alludes to the fact that Rus, the receiver, did more kindness for Boaz than he did for her. From here the Midrash says: More than the owner does for the poor person, the poor person does for the owner.

The benefits that the poor bestow upon the rich are not only for the Next World, but for This World as well. (Rav Dessler, Michtav MeEliyahu)

“My husband’s worried about our credit card bill.” Suri shifted her overflowing cart and lowered her voice. “I feel terrible.”

“Why didn’t you tell me? Can I help you pay for these groceries?”

“No!” she burst out laughing. “We’re fine financially. What’s really worrying him is me, not the actual bill. He thinks I have a serious problem with online shopping.”

“Well, do you?” I inched my cart forward. It was a pathetic statement on my social life that I had my best conversations with friends while meeting at the local grocery.

“I don’t think it’s a problem. I just like giving gifts.”

“Gifts? That’s what you shop for? Hey, honey, we should all have such problems!”

Chazal relate an incident about Rabi Yochanan ben Zakkai and his relatives. Rabi Yochanan’s relatives were orphans, yet he nonetheless taxed them fully. When they asked him why, he explained: “If you had given to tzedakah at the level that was expected from you, then you would have been exempt from the burden of taxes. But because you didn’t fulfill your requirements for tzedakah, you are burdened with full taxes.”

The money a person is required to give to tzedakah is not his. If he doesn’t use it properly and give it to the poor, then Hashem will find other ways to take the money from him.

Therefore, the poor person is doing the rich man a favor. The rich person isn’t giving from what’s his — he’s giving what really belongs to the poor person in the first place. Furthermore, the poor person is protecting the rich from suffering, as Shlomo Hamelech says in Mishlei (11:4): “Tzedakah saves from death.”

Murphy’s Law: The line you’re waiting on will always be the slowest. But today I didn’t mind, because Suri continued sharing.

“I don’t think it’s a serious problem. I’m not spending major money. We can afford what I’m buying. It’s just that I like— no, love buying gifts. I think it’s residue from my childhood.

“I had a great childhood, and I love my family but money was always tight. Hand-me-downs, scholarships, and outright donations. So I guess I’m overcompensating.

“On Prime Day I filled up my basket with deals, then when I went to check out, I realized that I hadn’t bought a single thing for myself!

“I give gifts to all my nieces and nephews. I’m helping pay for a couple of mortgages. I have a gemach for cleaning help that I pay for. And I love handing over money to make someone else happy! So my husband worries.”

From the Midrash we learn how the benefactor is supposed to feel toward the receiver. He should feel hakaras hatov that he’s been allowed the privilege to give, and he should appreciate what the recipient is giving him.

It’s essential that a rich person focus on this, because without it, the poor person’s suffering was in vain.

It was finally my turn for checkout. As I placed my groceries on the belt, I turned to Suri. “Personally, Sur, I think if more people had your problem, the world would be a much better place to live.

“And I’m sure your husband realizes, a happy wife is the greatest gift of all.”

 (Originally featured in Family First, Issue 604)