Shlomo Hamelech states "sonei matanos yichyeh" - "one who
rebuffs gifts will have life." A person who accepts handouts loses his
sense of vitality, for he can only feel truly vital if he is completely
self-supportive. The Chasam Sofer asks the following question: If receiving
gifts is unhealthy, why did Chazal establish as one of the primary mitzvos
of Purim, Mishlo'ach Manos, gifting food items to one another? He answers
that the obligation that each individual has, to give a gift, negates the
ill effects of "sonei matanos yichyeh" One could argue that this would be
true if these gifts created a reciprocal obligation; then the loss of
vitality would be mitigated. However, since there is no obligation to give
specifically to a person from whom we have received, why is receiving gifts
on Purim a healthy practice?
In this week's parsha, as a repudiation to the aspersions cast by Korach
upon Aharon's right to the Priesthood, the Torah details the twenty-four
Priestly gifts that Bnei Yisroel are obligated to give the Kohein. The
Torah does not define these gifts as "sachar" - "reward" for the Kohein's
service, rather as "matanos" - "gifts". How can the Torah encourage giving
gifts to the Kohein when Sholomo Hamelech attests to the unhealthy nature of
The Talmud teaches that although a man is required to give a woman an item
of value as part of the marriage ceremony, it is possible for this
transaction to be effectuated by the woman giving a valuable item to the
man. This occurs when the intended husband is a distinguished person. The
honor that she receives through his acceptance of her gift, although
intangible, can be quantified as having value. The willingness to receive
a gift occasionally benefits the giver to a greater extent than the
recipient. The primary purpose of the twenty-four Priestly gifts is not as a
method of supporting the Kohein. Rather, by giving these gifts, the Yisroel
is able to connect to the Kohein. Therefore, the Kohein actually benefits
the Yisroel by agreeing to accept his gift. This removes the stigma of
"sonei matanos yichyeh".
Perhaps we can answer the Chasam Sofer's question in the same manner. The
halacha of Mishlo'ach Manos is not to give gifts to those people with whom
we already have healthy established relationships, but to those individuals
with whom we wish to establish a stronger relationship. Consequently, the
recipient's acceptance of the gift benefits the giver, for it signifies the
willingness of the recipient to extend his hand in friendship.
"If these die like the death of all men, and the destiny of all men
is visited upon them..."(16:29)
Moshe states that if Korach and his assembly die in a manner
which requires that they be visited while on their sick beds, i.e. in a
natural manner, Korach will be vindicated. The Talmud derives from Moshe's
statement the obligation of "bikur cholim" - visiting the sick. Why does
the Talmud not rely upon Hashem visiting Avraham after his circumcision, an
earlier occurrence, as the source for the obligation of bikur cholim?
Furthermore, the connection between visiting the sick and the story of
Korach's insurrection is unclear. The point that Moshe is making is that if
Korach dies a natural death, this justifies his claim that Moshe had been
abusing his position. However, there is no need to mention bikur cholim in
describing a natural death. Why then does the Torah choose the story of
Korach as the vehicle for relaying the requirement of visiting the sick?
There is a different passage in the Talmud which cites an alternative
scriptural source for the mitzva of bikur cholim. Commenting upon the verse
"vehodatah lahem es haderech yelchu voh" - "and you (Moshe) will make known
to them the path they shall follow", the Talmud states that this is the
source for bikur cholim. Why is it necessary for the Talmud to cite two
sources for the same obligation?
In yet another passage in the Talmud, we find the statement that since
Hashem visits the sick we are obliged to do the same, "vehalachta bidrachav"
- "and you shall follow His path." The Talmud is teaching us that one
aspect of the bikur cholim obligation is derived from our obligation to
emulate Hashem. It is this aspect which is portrayed in the story of
Avraham, weak from having undergone circumcision, being visited by the
Divine Presence. The verse cited by the Talmud which contains the
commandment to Moshe to instruct Bnei Yisroel as to the path which they
should follow is also accentuating this aspect of bikur cholim; the Maharsha
explains that the path refers to the path of emulating Hashem.
In Parshas Korach we are being introduced to a new aspect of bikur cholim,
the obligation to empathize with the pain of a fellow human being. A
prerequisite to empathy is a person's capacity to focus upon the kindred
spirit that we as human beings share. By being able to identify with one
another we can share pain and bring each other comfort.
Korach is described by Chazal as a Ba'al Machlokes - a person who is
divisive by nature. Such an individual thrives upon focusing on those
aspects within people which create conflict; this is the antithesis of
empathy. A person who conducts himself in such a manner does not empathize
with others, and as a result, does not receive their empathy either. Korach
claims that it is Moshe who is creating divisiveness within Klal Yisroel
while Korach himself is the champion of equality and unity. Moshe challenges
Korach's assertions by stating that Korach cannot die in a natural manner,
i.e.. becoming bedridden and visited by others, since it is not possible for
him to receive the empathy of others; a Ba'al Machlokes does not show
empathy and therefore receives none in return.
It is now apparent why the Talmud cites this new source for bikur cholim; it
focuses upon the second aspect of the mitzva, the obligation to empathize
with one another. The story of Korach is the ideal setting in which to
deliver this message for Korach's behavior belied the sensitivities required
for bikur cholim.