Alms Collector or Heroic Rescuer?

After a long day spent going house-to-house attempting to collect alms, a beggar knocks on the door of a stately mansion. Without thinking twice, he opens the unlocked outside door and trudges in, his bare, mud-caked feet leaving clods of dirt all over the marble floor.

The incensed owner orders his servants to throw the intruder out at once, but the poor man pleads for the opportunity to say a few words.

“Each day in Baruch She’amar we praise Hashem, saying ‘Blessed is He Who has mercy on the earth, blessed is He Who has mercy on creatures.’

“We are taught to emulate the ways of Hashem,” the beggar continued. “Hashem is merciful, so you, too, be merciful; He bestows loving-kindness, so you, too, bestow loving-kindness. You are clearly emulating Hashem in having mercy on the condition of your ‘earth’ — i.e, the floor of your home. Now, also remember the next words in the tefillah, and have mercy on the creatures. You see standing before you a man who is poor and starving, who doesn’t even have enough money to purchase shoes and proper clothing. Can you please give some tzedakah?”

To his credit, the wealthy homeowner accepted the rebuke and gave the impoverished visitor a respectable sum of money.

With this tale, the Ben Ish Chai seeks to explain a passuk in our parashah.

“If there will be among you a needy person, from one of your brothers in one of your cities, in your land Hashem, your G-d, is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, and you shall not close your hand from your needy brother.”

The mitzvah of tzedakah applies equally to cities within or without the borders of Eretz Yisrael. So why does the Torah see fit to mention “your land” and “your cities”?

It comes to teach us a very pertinent lesson, which is as applicable today as it was when the Ben Ish Chai first stated it over a century ago.

Inordinate amounts of time and resources are spent to purchase and beautify living quarters. Countless hours are spent on the initial architectural plans. Then, after huge sums are spent and the house is finally built, much thought is put into choosing precisely the right colors of paint and appropriate wallpaper designs. Wood floors are scraped and stained. Various furniture options are carefully weighed and analyzed, as are the precise layout of the kitchen cabinets and the array of countertop choices.

The local locksmith is kept busy putting two, or even three, locks on the outside doors while the ironworker places gates on each of the windows. A state-of-the-art alarm and surveillance system is installed to discourage intruders.

All this is spent on various pieces of “land” throughout the world that we were given by Hashem to live on.

If we are willing to show so much “mercy on the earth” — to expend so much effort and money on what essentially is a piece of earth and a house made of bricks, wood, stone and plastic — how much more should we be willing to spend on showing mercy toward one of our own brethren, created with a tzelem Elokim! How much more should we be spending on “beautifying” him with respectable clothing, ensuring that he has what to eat and where to sleep, and doing everything possible to keep him safe and secure.

Draw the right lesson from “your land” and “your cities,” and don’t harden your heart or close your hand from your needy brother.

This isn’t always an easy task.

Running late, a mispallel realizes that he barely has enough time to don tefillin before davening is to begin. Just then, a tzedakah collector comes by, and the would-be mispallel spends a long, precious moment trying to locate some spare change. Unable to find anything more than a dime, he open his wallet and asks for change of $20. Slowly, the collector starts counting out singles, and the minyan starts without him….

Or perhaps the doorbell rings during the most hectic part of a short Friday afternoon. The cleaning help was a no-show. Tension is mounting and tempers rising; the house is still filled with clutter, and the Shabbos food preparation is still underway.

Hachnasas kallah,” the man at the door sings out.

The thoughts that fill one’s mind are understandable. Couldn’t he come at a more opportune time? Do I really have to give every person who asks?

Then, seeking to assuage a guilty conscience, other thoughts enter. Is he really poor? Does he really need the money?

This is the moment to ponder the words of the Zohar, which teach us that there are times when a dire gezeirah is decreed against a person. In His infinite kindness, Hakadosh Baruch Hu sends a poor person his way, so that in the merit of the mitzvah of tzedakah he should be saved and the decree abolished. Thus, the collector who comes at what seems like the most inconvenient moment may very well be your rescuer, sent by Hashem at exactly the right moment to save you!

Chazal tell us the reason certain individuals are poor is in order to save the rest of their brethren from Gehinnom.

As we prepare to enter the month of Elul, it is certainly the appropriate time to increase, as much as possible, the amount of tzedakah we give, and to make certain that we welcome these collectors as rescuers who are actually performing a great chessed for us.