The woman sitting and waiting to speak to the Kopycznitzer Rebbe, zy”a, was growing increasingly impatient. Through the gabbai, she had let the Rebbe know quite a while ago that she was waiting in the outer room, yet the Rebbe was still conversing with whomever had preceded her on line.
When her turn finally came, she spoke her mind. “The Rebbe knows that every time I come here, I always give the Rebbe a sizable amount of money. I saw the two men who just walked out of the Rebbe’s room. They didn’t look like the type of people who give the Rebbe donations; I am sure the Rebbe gave them a donation instead… So why did the Rebbe make me wait while he spoke to them for so long?”
“When you go to the grocery,” the Rebbe replied, “from where do you think the grocer gets the products you purchase? He obtains them from a wholesaler. You come to me because you are seeking brachos and yeshuos. From where do you think I have them to give them to you? I get them from people like the two men who just left my room. They are my wholesalers….”
This week, in discussing the mitzvah of Shemittah, the Torah informs us: “However, there will be no destitute among you, for blessing Hashem will bless you” (Devarim 15:4).
Yet only seven pesukim later, in teaching us the mitzvah of lending money to the poor, the Torah informs us: “For destitute people will not cease to exist within the land; because of this I command you, saying, ‘Opening you shall open your hand to your brother, to your poor one, and to your destitute in your land” (15:11).
Rashi explains that these two pesukim aren’t contradictory. When Bnei Yisrael perform the will of Hashem, there indeed won’t be destitute among them. The second passuk refers to when Am Yisrael isn’t fully performing the will of Hashem.
Harav Eliyahu Ismari (best known as the Shevet Mussar), in his classic sefer on the mitzvah of tzedakah, Me’il Tzedakah, teaches that in reality, the world cannot exist without poor people. The world desperately needs the great zechuyos that are generated when the wealthy help the impoverished. What the Torah is telling us is that when Am Yisrael does the will of Hashem there won’t be any destitute — the poorest of the poor. But there will still be those in need.
The Me’il Tzedakah brings 31 compelling reasons why Hashem loves the poor. Among the reasons he gives are that the poor, because they have so few material possessions, are often more spiritual. Because of their circumstances, they are constantly turning to Hashem and bonding with Him. They are filled with humility, a key trait that helps one avoid sin. Poverty is an enormous challenge, and when one perseveres and serves Hashem despite the difficulties, this avodas Hashem is considered far greater than that of one who does so in ease and comfort.
But the very first reason he gives is based on a conversation between Rabi Akiva and the wicked Roman ruler Turnus Rufus. “If Hashem loves the poor, why does he not sustain them?” Turnus Rufus demanded to know. “In order that through them, we will be saved from the judgment of Gehinnom,” Rabi Akiva replied. Therefore, the Me’il Tzedakah explains, those who accept financial assistance from others are in the category of mezakei harabbim, those who enable the public to accrue merit.
The Zohar teaches 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, the decree will be abolished. Thus, a collector — who may come at what seems like the most inconvenient moment for a potential donor — may very well be a rescuer sent by Hashem at exactly the right moment to save the donor.
It is crucial for both those who give and those who take to recognize that tzedakah is a conduit for yeshuos. Those on the accepting end are mezakei harabbim, while those who give provide zechuyos that Klal Yisrael so desperately needs.