Parashas Re’eh

This week’s parashah includes a segment that deals with the cancellation of debts at the end of the shemitah (sabbatical) year (a year during which ordinary agricultural activity is also prohibited, as described in Vayikra 25), followed by a segment that deals with extending loans and giving charity to the needy. In this latter segment, the Torah warns (Devarim 15:9): “Beware lest there be a villainous thought in your heart, saying: ‘The seventh year is approaching, the year of remission,’ and you look with ill will upon your destitute brother and you refuse to give to him, so that he cries out against you to Hashem, and it will be a sin upon you.” The Maggid offers several interpretations of this warning; here we present two of them.
In the first interpretation, the Maggid explains that the Torah is telling us that it is a wealthy man’s duty to give to the poor not only when he is doing financially well, but also when he is facing financial difficulties of his own. He should reason with himself: “If I am feeling a pinch, surely my needy neighbor is in straits.” In this vein, David HaMelech declares (Tehillim 40:1, homiletically): “Praiseworthy is the one who is attentive to the needy on a day of hardship – Hashem will deliver him.” Similarly, the Torah says elsewhere (Vayikra 25:35): “If your brother becomes impoverished, and he falters financially in your midst, you must bolster him – [this includes a] convert or resident gentile – so that he may live along with you.” When the Torah speaks of your faltering financially “in your midst,” it is referring to a situation where you also are facing financial difficulties. The Torah says that if you help your impoverished neighbor under such circumstances, Hashem will send relief both to him and to you, so that he and you will live “along each other” in greater ease.
The Maggid continues, in a side discussion, with another explanation of what it means for your impoverished neighbor to “live along with you.” There are, the Maggid says, two types of charity givers. The first type is the one who diligently sets aside his tithes and distributes these funds to the poor. Thus, when he is successful and reaps a gain, the poor reap a gain also; he and his needy neighbors both rejoice. The second type of charity giver is the hard-hearted type – the one who forgets the poor when he himself is doing well, and is stirred to give charity only when he faces trouble, such as illness, and seeks merits that will lead Hashem to save him. When a person is in this category, he and his needy neighbors are always, so to speak, on opposite sides of the fence: When he does well they suffer, and when he suffers they do well. The Torah exhorts us to put ourselves in the first category of givers – we should see to it that our needy neighbors should “live along” with us and rejoice along with us in good fortune. Each of us should be able to say, as the Midrash puts it (Sifrei 303): “I have rejoiced over the bounty You granted me, and I have also used it to bring others joy.”
In a second interpretation of the verse we quoted initially, the Maggid seeks to explain the double language of the verse, warning against showing ill will to a poor person in addition to warning against refusing to give. He says that the Torah aims to include in its discussion the man who, as described in Avos 5:13, wishes not to give and also wishes that others not give. We need to consider why a person would want to induce others not to give. The Maggid explains the matter as follows. There are two types of misers. A miser of the first type, when asked why he refuses to give to a certain poor person, answers honestly that he loves his money more than he loves the person. This response will induce others to show the poor man pity and give to him. A miser of the second type is more evil-hearted: When asked why he refuses to give to a certain poor person, he tries to make an excuse for himself by claiming that the person does not deserve donations. This response induces others not to give to the person.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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