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Posted on August 9, 2018 (5778) By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

The destitute will not cease to exist within the Land. Therefore I command you, saying, “You shall open your hand to your brother, to your poor, and to the destitute in your Land[2]

It’s a fact. The indigent are drawn to large cities. There they hope to find enough people from whom to beg support. Outlying areas just don’t have enough givers to make it work. So people lose at both ends. The poor find it necessary to leave home and seek help in the cities. The givers – at least those who do not live in urban areas – must make periodic trips to disburse their tzedakah funds, convinced that this is the way tzedakah is done.

The Torah hints at a better way. “The destitute will not cease to exist within the Land,” i.e. there will not cease to be suitable recipients within the far-reaches of the Land – not just in the population centers. The laws of tzedakah urge us give priority to local recipients. We are instructed to open our hands to “the destitute in your Land,” meaning the poor who can be found in every locale, without having to centralize the process. To the contrary, give preference to those closest to you – to the poor of your own location. Make sure to give the local poor before they find it necessary to leave home and seek sustenance in the larger cities.

Admittedly, some assume that “the Land” means something very different from the way we took it above. Rather than refer to the smaller habitations found throughout the countryside, they read it in a global sense – that poverty will not cease to be part of the human condition. But even if we take “the Land” to mean all of human society, our pasuk may allude to the same principle of assigning preference to recipients who are closest to you. Chazal call poverty a wheel that turns. What (or who) is on top eventually winds up on the bottom, and the reverse as well. Those who are rich lose their money (or their descendants do), while there are some dramatic rags-to-riches transformations as well. Prudence dictates that the well-off should plan for the contingency that they, some day, may be at the other end of the benefactor-beneficiary arrangement. If poverty were not quite as common as it is in all locations, a person might be able to rely on the generosity of the local well-to-do, because they would have no convenient choice other than supporting the local poor. This, however, is not the case. There is so much poverty around all over, that people have choices about whom to give. It makes sense, therefore, to give “to your poor,” i.e. to the poor who are your acquaintances, those who live close by to you. When people look out first for those closest to home, they can expect some reciprocity. Should they one day find themselves to be needy, there will be a greater likelihood that someone close by will respond and help them.

You shall celebrate to Hashem for a seven-day period

You could argue that this is a bit excessive. “Idleness leads to insansity,”[3] Chazal say. We don’t do so well when we grow fat and complacent. Can a full seven days of desisting from any labor be good for us? Holidays were given to us, in fact, so that we would use the time fruitfully, in

Torah study. We don’t need a complete ban on work to accomplish that. While it is true that we do not learn efficiently if we are morose and depressed, excessive celebration brings with it levity and light-headedness, which are hardly healthy for our spiritual development. (The gemara[4] cites several examples of amoraim who thought that their colleagues were making merry in excess. These amoraim therefore broke expensive items in their presence, hoping to shock the onlookers into a more sober mood.

How, then, did Hashem command us to refrain from labor for a full seven days? The answer may be the allowance to do some forms of work during the intermediary days of the festival – on chol ha-Moed. It takes away just enough from a period of relaxed demands that we not slip into a counterproductive sloth, rather than stimulate more Torah study. The Torah thus ensured that we would not try to find the simchah of the holiday from within a period of sustained non-activity. Our celebration would be joined with some amount of productive labor, or better yet, with greater Torah study.

This is part of what the Torah means in writing,[5] “Hashem will have blessed you in all your crop and in all the work of your hands – and you will be completely joyous.” When celebrating the holiday of Sukkos, you will look back at the berachah He gave you in all the produce you took from the ground. When that is coupled with your continued productivity – “in all the work of your hands” – your simchah will be completely joyous.

  1. Based on Meleches Machsheves by R. Moshe Cheifetz, 1663-1711
  2. Devarim 15:11
  3. Kesubos 59B
  4. Berachos 30B-31A
  5. Devarim 16:15