On Giving

In last week’s piece, we discussed a situation where a relatively small amount of help can produce a tremendous benefit. This week we discuss another such situation. Parashas Behar, the Torah portion read this week in Eretz Yisrael, contains a section devoted to caring for the poor. The piece below is from the Maggid’s commentary on this section, in Ohel Yaakov, Parashas Behar.
The Midrash states (Vayikra Rabbah 34:1, end):
R. Pinchas said in the name of R. Reuvein: “When someone gives a perutah coin to a pauper, does Hashem repay him with perutos? Behold, with a perutah a person gives a pauper his life! How so? For example, if a loaf of bread costs ten perutos and the pauper has only nine, when someone comes and gives him a perutah, he is able to buy the bread, and when he eats it, he is revived. Accordingly, the Hashem says to the giver, ‘You, too, when your soul is pressing to leave your body, I will repay you.’”
The Maggid comments that Hashem’s promise to the giver seems baffling. Why does Hashem give him a blessing that is linked to a curse? Why does Hashem tell him to wait until he is on the verge of death, and then He will repay him?
The Maggid then goes on to describe how, with a deeper look, we can marvel at the way Hashem’s promise to the giver reflects eminent kindness and justice. The giver gave the pauper a single perutah. This small donation enabled the pauper to buy a loaf of bread. So Hashem credits the giver as if he had given the pauper the whole loaf. Moreover, since the bread revived the pauper, Hashem credits the giver as if he had given him added life. But, now, let us examine the situation more deeply. Exactly how much added life did the giver give the pauper by enabling him to buy the bread? How long did this bread sustain the pauper? Eight hours, maybe ten. So, at most, the giver deserves to get back ten hours of added life. But Hashem, in His great wisdom, arranges affairs so that the added ten hours have a tremendous impact.
The matter is as follows. Consider a person who is gravely ill. The family typically will ask the doctor what the prognosis is. And, based on his knowledge of the dynamics of the disease in question and the patient’s general condition, the doctor may answer: “If he makes it through the night, he will pull through and recover.” In such a case, if the family could only somehow buy ten hours of life, surely they would give everything they have for these hours, for after their loved one survives the ten hour period, he may well live on for many more years. Now, suppose this patient once gave a pauper a perutah and thereby enabled him to buy a loaf of bread and survive another ten hours. By this act, he earned himself an added ten hours of life. And Hashem, in His kindness, holds this reward in store for him until just the right moment. He pays him the added ten hours at a time when his soul is pressing to leave his body, so that these added hours make the difference between immediate death and long life.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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