When word reached the Apter Rav that a simple tavern keeper had become famous as a miracle worker whose blessings were always fulfilled, he decided to personally investigate whether this power came from a holy source or not.
The Rebbe went to the inn, stayed there for two days and observed the innkeeper. He saw that this was quite a plain person, neither a learned man nor one who davened a lot; he stood all day in the tavern and sold brandy. On the other hand, the Rebbe observed no sign of evildoing that would indicate that this man belonged to the “side of impurity,” either.
Finally, the Apter Rav took the innkeeper aside and told him, “Know that I am the Rav of Apt, and I have come to find out where you attained your powers of blessing people. If you tell me, then all will be well, but if not — you shall regret it.”
The man replied, “All my life, I’ve kept one virtue. I have always trusted Hashem with everything, and never worried about anything. One time I lost all my money, and had nothing left with which to buy more brandy. My wife begged me to go to the city and find a partner who would invest in the tavern. With the money he would give, we would be able to reopen and have enough income for both partners. I rejected her ideas. However, after a few days of watching the family suffer hunger, she cried so much that I couldn’t stand it any longer, and told her that I would go and look for a partner.
“I went out of town and spoke to Hashem. ‘Ribbono shel Olam!’ I said. ‘I wish no human partners; I will take You for a partner! I promise you, whatever profits I earn, I will divide equally between us.’
“I returned home, secure in my trust in Hashem, and told my wife that I had found a good partner with lots of money to invest. Since then I have had great success in my tavern, and blessing has come on all that I have. I divide all my profits with my partner — that is, I give His half to the poor; and I will not trust anyone to run this business in my stead. I stay here in the tavern all day long, and all earnings I divide, half to Hashem and half to me.”
The Ohev Yisrael got up and kissed the man on his head. He told the man, “Happy is your lot! May there be many more like you in Am Yisrael! Your blessings are fulfilled, and rightfully so.”
Few of us are on the level of this tavern keeper, but all of us can be inspired by his lofty level of emunah.
There are a number of ways people may react to an appeal for tzedakah.
Some perceive a request to give tzedakah as a threat to their own financial well-being. To them, the gabbai tzedakah is like the IRS, which takes your hard-earned money against your will. Regardless of how wealthy these people may be, they can only get themselves to part with the barest minimum donation.
Some have a different fear: a fear of being mocked as stingy. Those people give larger amounts — but with a heavy heart. They are generous only because they are ashamed not to be.
Still others look upon a request for tzedakah as an opportunity. As the expression goes, he who has the me’ah (the hundred dollars) has the de’ah (the power). The prestige and power accruing to a recognized philanthropist is the deciding factor in opening up some people’s pockets.
While the latter reactions at least produce a contribution, they are far from the ideal approach.
In this parashah, the Torah instructs us how to give. Alshich Hakadosh teaches the following lesson:
“Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: ‘Speak to Bnei Yisrael and they shall take to Me a portion, from every man whose heart shall motivate him you shall take My portion’” (Shemos 25:1–2).
The first step should take place in the privacy of one’s home. Each person was enjoined to take time to ponder the great privilege of contributing toward the Mishkan. Carefully separating themselves from any other thoughts or considerations that would sully the loftiness of the moment, with great joy and singular devotion, “they shall take to Me a portion,” and generously set aside a contribution.
At this point, a transformation occurs. While externally it might appear that this is when he is “giving,” the donor is really “taking.” For, in reality, nothing we “own” is ours, and every dollar and every object in our possession was entrusted to us by Hashem — to serve Him with. Only now that he set these funds or goods aside for tzedakah, do they — so to speak — become his, so that he can be properly credited with fulfilling the mitzvah.
Now that they “belong” to him, with a jubilant heart he brings them to the gabbai tzedakah, who has been told, “From every man whose heart shall motivate him you shall take My portion.”