Behar/Bechukosai – Distribution of Money

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Hashem clearly intended for some people to be wealthy and others to be poor, with a certain purpose in mind. Believe it or not, Rebbe Yehoshua taught: “the poor does more for the rich than the rich do for the poor” (Vayikra Rabba, parshas Behar 34:8). The Etz Yosef there explains that when one gives tzedakah to a poor person, the poor person accepts it from him, and the giver accepts [reward] from Hashem. The Yefe Toar adds that this reward is in this world, for through supporting the poor person Hashem blesses his money and puts life into him. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

In the first portion of the double Torah portion of Behar and Bechukosai which concludes Sefer Vayikra, we find the mitzvah of supporting your fellow Jew in need: “If your brother becomes destitute and his hand falters beside you, you shall support him [whether] a convert or a resident, so that he can live with you” (Vayikra 25:35).

The Medrish Tanchuma brings a similar pasuk from Mishley related to this pasuk in our Torah portion. “Do not rob a poor man because he is poor, and do not crush the poor man in the gate. For Hashem will fight for their cause and rob those who rob them, of life” (Mishlei 22: 23, 24). Hashem said to the Jewish people ‘do not rob a poor man because he is poor, for I made him poor, and who ever steals from him or mocks him insults The One that made him that way, as if you mock Me, as it says “He who oppresses a poor man blasphemes his Maker, but he who favors a poor man honors Him” (Mishlei 14:31). What does it mean when it says, “Do not rob a poor man,” do people rob from the poor? What is he stealing; he is poor? Rather, he would regularly support him, and one day he retracted support and says ‘how much longer must I support him.’ You refuse to give him, you should know that you are stealing from him, and that’s what it means when it says, ‘Do not rob a poor man;’ rather you should support him for he is not getting it from any place else. “And do not crush the poor man in the gate,” for I will not stop Heaven for you, for they are also called a gate as it says, “And this is the gate of Heaven” (Breishis 28:17). “For Hashem will fight for their cause,” I will fight against you, for I made him poor and you rich, I will switch the broken shard and I will make him rich and you poor, as it says, “A rich man and a poor man were visited upon; the Lord is the Maker of them all’ (Mishlei 22:2). Why does Hashem fight their fight? For you are causing him to lose his life if you do not support him, therefore, “and [I] rob those who rob them, of life.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Hashem protects the destitute and avenges those that mistreats them, for He decides who shall be poor and who shall be rich. It is an insult to make fun of or to attack those who are poor, hurling affronts of, ‘Why don’t they just work harder,’ ‘they are filthy, and crazy,’ or ‘they deserve what’s coming to them because they are the dregs of society, those bums.’ But insulting them is insulting The Creator who made them like that. And on the contrary, not helping them by giving them alms when they were constantly supporting them is akin to stealing, and possibly even killing them.

But why is it fair for a hardworking businessman, who has his own family to take care of, also needs to take care of those stricken with poverty? He earned his wealth! Why does he have to spend it on something or someone who is of no use to him? One could understand that a person would, for a while, be willing to do someone a favor and, because it is within his mean, he will continually support the poor person and perhaps his family; but why should he be obligated, to the point that it would be stealing if he discontinued the charity taken from his hard earned money?

The answer is that it is not in fact your money. The money is only deposited with you by Hashem; He can take it back at any moment. The fact  that Hashem blessed you with wealth is so that you can be the beneficiary of helping others in their times of need. Chaza”l say that “Man is born to toil.” The simple understanding of this is that, in fact, it is natural for a person to work hard and put a lot of effort into his job. However, the tasks that he does for others is no more than a kindness. Just like Hashem provides and sustains us, so too we must emulate Hashem, or in fact act as Hashem’s messengers to help other people fulfill their needs and desires. The payment we receive for our jobs are just the money we are rewarded with for helping others. It is only deposited with us by Hashem in order to provide the essentials for ourselves and our family, as well as to reinvest into the world where it is needed; meaning it is not rightfully yours to just keep and collect. (See also the 19th reminder inOrchos Tzadikim chapter of remembrance.)

One is expected to fulfill his potential in life. Everyone is given certain strengths that they are provided with by Hashem and they should hew them and thereby maximize one’s potential and success in sharing them with the public in order to walk in the ways of Hashem by doing acts of mercy and kindness. Whatever is received in return is just a blessing from Hashem for helping others.

With this attitude it will be much easier to give tzedakah. But there are times when those who seek charity are dishonest, and there is a lesson to be learned even with those type of people, for the Medrish Rabba says that one must show gratitude towards tricksters, for if not for them, if a person would ask for money and one hesitates or refuses to give he really deserve to die (Vayikra Rabba 34:10). The Etz Yosef explains that the actuality of the matter is that many people turn away from giving to the poor, and the punishment isn’t so great; therefore it must be because there are many dishonest people who try to collect money, but when they don’t need it, people are more hesitant to give in general. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

But even so they should be giving, since the money is not really theirs; it is all Hashem’s, and not giving to those that do need it is stealing. Therefore we have an obligation to show gratitude to these swindlers for saving us from  bigger trouble that should have been coming to us.. 

Bottom line everything comes from Hashem and we must show gratitude and use what you have wisely.