Volume 3 Issue 48
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
This week the Torah teaches us about charity. Not only does it tell us
who to give, it tells us how to give. And it does so in an
uncharacteristic and seemingly repetitive fashion.
"If there shall be an impoverished person from among you or any of your
brethren in your cities... you shall not harden your heart nor close your
hand against your destitute brother. Rather you should shall surely give
him and you shall not harden your heart when you give him" (Deuteronomy
The repetitive expression and emphasis on the word him is troubling. "You
shall surely give him and not feel bad" would suffice. Why is the phrase
"when you give him" necessary? The Torah is referring to the person to
whom you have given. It tells us not to feel bad about giving charity.
Why the extra phrase about the recipient?
Rabbi Yosef Dov Soleveitchik, the Rav (Rabbi) of Brisk, was revered
throughout Europe as a foremost scholar and Talmudic sage. One aspect of
his character was known to shine even brighter than his scholarship - his
Once, he stopped by an inn in the middle of a freezing night and asked for
lodging. He had no entourage with him, and the innkeeper treated him with
abuse. He did not disclose who he was, and after pleading with the
innkeeper, he was allowed to sleep on the floor near a stove. The
innkeeper, thinking that the man was a poor beggar, did not offer him any
food and refused to give him more than a little bread and water for which
Rabbi Soleveitchik was willing to pay.
The next morning Rabbi Soleveitchik did not see the shocked expression on
the face of the innkeeper when a few of the town notables came to the inn.
"We understand that the Brisker Rav was passing through this town. Is it
possible that he came by your inn last night?"
At first, the innkeeper dismissed the question - until the Rav appeared and
the group entered to greet him warmly. In a few minutes the town
dignitaries converged on the inn with their students and children all in
line to meet the great sage.
Terribly embarrassed, the innkeeper, who realized that he had berated and
humiliated a leading Torah figure, decided to beg forgiveness from the Rav.
"Rebbe," he cried, "I am terribly sorry. I had no idea that you were the
Brisker Rav. Please forgive me."
The Rav replied. "I would love to, but you see that would be impossible."
"But why?" asked the owner in shock.
"You see, "explained the sage. "You are coming to ask forgiveness from the
Brisker Rav. That is not who you insulted. You debased a simple Jew who
came for lodging - and he is no longer here to forgive you."
The Torah explains that there are in essence two parts to tzedaka - the
patron and the recipient. Often the giver becomes detached from the
recipient; he wants to give but has no concern for the receiver. He may
even have disdain for the person at the door, but the mitzvah of tzedaka
overrides his pre-judgement and a contribution is given. Perhaps the Torah
stresses the words "do not feel badly in your heart when you give to him,"
to teach us an important lesson.
In addition to the mitzvah of giving, one should identify with the
recipient too. Know the true situation of the person to whom you are
giving. Understand what you are giving for. Be sure that when you are
giving to him, your heart should not be in bad spirits. The Torah
recognizes the simplest beggar as someone worthy enough to have his pronoun
repeated. "Surely give him; do not feel bad in your heart when you give
him." If the Torah is careful enough to classify the beggar as an
individual who transcends a generic recipient- and transform him into a
personal beneficiary, then perhaps he is worthy of recognition by all of
Rabbi Mordecai Kamenetzky will be a featured guest speaker at the Homowack
Hotel for the Shabbos of Labor Day Weekend (1997). For reservations Call the
Homowack Hotel 1-800-243-4567 and mention Project Genesis.
If you enjoy the weekly Drasha, now you can receive the best of Drasha in book form!
- from the Project Genesis bookstore - Genesis Judaica - at a very special price!