Parashas Behar

Parashas Behar contains a section on caring for the poor. The Torah states (Vayikra 25:35): “If your brother becomes downtrodden among you and his means falter in your midst, you shall bolster him – convert or resident – so that he can live among you.” In connection with this topic, the Midrash in Vayikra Rabbah 34:1 quotes the following verse (Tehillim 41:2): “Fortunate is he who pays mind to the needy; on the day of trouble Hashem will deliver him.” The Maggid offers two interpretations of this verse.
The first interpretation is based on the following re-rendering of the verse: “Fortunate is he who pays mind to the needy on the day of trouble – Hashem will deliver him.” Reading the verse this way, we can interpret it as a praise of one who pays mind to the needy even when he himself is also going through hard times. It is not so surprising for a person to be generous toward the poor when he is doing well; indeed, Shlomo HaMelech remarks (Koheles 5:10): “As the blessing grows great, so does the number of those who consume it.” But when a person cares for the poor when he himself is in straits, this shows real thoughtfulness. The person looks beyond his own hardships and reasons: “I have it hard now, but my poor neighbor surely has it many times worse.” For example, during a food shortage, the rich man has to worry about how to get food, but the poor person has to worry both about how to get food and about how to get the money to pay for it.
In the verse from the parashah quoted above, the Torah speaks of the situation where “your brother becomes downtrodden among you.” The situation the Torah is discussing is one where you are downtrodden along with your neighbor. The Torah is saying that even in such a situation, you still should care for your poor neighbor. And this message, the Maggid says, is what the Midrash seeks to teach us in linking the verse from the parashah with the verse from Tehillim.
The Maggid’s second interpretation is based on the usual reading of the verse from Tehillim. He brings the point out with a parable. A certain pauper was in such dire straits that he became an informer. Once he encountered a group of merchants importing merchandise illegally. He approached them and said: “Have pity on me, for I am very poor.” Some of the merchants were astute and noticed that the pauper had his eye on the merchandise, so they gave him a respectable donation and he blessed them. The others offered him a few coins. He protested: “It is not in line with my honor to accept such a piddling amount.” They ridiculed him and beat him. He then went to the authorities and informed on them, and the police arrested them and confiscated their merchandise. The imprisoned merchants pleaded with the pauper, saying: “Have mercy on us and get us out of jail, and we’ll give you a nice donation, one you’ll be pleased with.” The pauper replied: “The matter is out of our hands now; you have lost your merchandise.”
The parallel is as follows. The Gemara teaches (Bava Basra 10a):
Just as a man’s earnings [for the year] are determined on Rosh Hashanah, so his losses [for the year] are determined on Rosh Hashanah. If he is worthy, then it will be “deal out your bread to the poor” (Yeshayah 58:7), while if he is unworthy, he will “bring the outcast poor to his house” (ibid., end). [Rashi on Bava Basra 9a states that the phrase “outcast poor” alludes to the Roman tax collectors. Maharsha points out that the word מרודים for “outcast” is grammatically related to the verb לרדות, meaning “to rule.”]
When a pauper approaches a rich person and pleads for charity, the rich person can react in two ways. If he is wise and understands that he is bound to lose a certain amount one way or the other, he will give the pauper a donation willingly and show him great honor. But if he is a fool, he will yell angrily at the pauper: “What are you to me? Do we have any dealings with each other?” And then the pauper will go home and cry to Hashem over what happened. It is similar to the situation in the parable about the informer, along the lines of the following Torah passage (Shemos 22:24-26):
When you lend money to My people, to the poor person who is with you, do not act toward him as a pursuing creditor; do not lay interest upon him. If you take your fellow’s garment as a pledge, you must return it to him before sunset, for that is his only covering, it is his garment for his skin – in what will he sleep? And it will come to pass, when he cries out to Me, that I will hear, for I am gracious.
In the end, the rich man will fall ill, and in his straits he will curry favor with the pauper and pay him a nice sum to say Tehillim and pray for him. But at that point the matter is not in the pauper’s hands anymore, for it has already been handed over to the heavenly court. Had the rich man given the pauper a donation when the pauper approached him, he would have had advocates in the heavenly court to argue in his favor. In this vein, David HaMelech says: “Fortunate is he who pays mind to the needy; in the day of trouble Hashem will deliver him.” If a person is wise enough to foresee at the outset what will ultimately come to pass, and accordingly is charitable toward the poor, Hashem will deliver him on the day of trouble.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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