Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Putting Others First


“Vechi yomuch achicha umatah yado imoch vehechezakta bo” (Vayikra 25:35). The Rambam (Matnos Aniyim 10:7) says that this posuk represents the highest form of tzedakah. This posuk is teaching us that we should strive to help a needy Jew establish himself so that he will have his own income. “Vehechezakta bo” means to help him become set up in a way that he won’t have to ask others for charity any longer.

The Medrash Rabbah here quotes the posuk (Tehillim 41:2) which states, “Ashrei maskil el dal – Happy is the one who is thoughtful to the needs of the poor.” The sefer Asifas Amarim quotes Rav Meir of Premishlan, who asks why the use of the word “maskil.” It would seem to have been more appropriate to say, “Ashrei nosein el dal – Happy is the one who gives to the poor.” He answers that the posuk is hinting against the popular belief that only a fool looks to give, but a smart person figures out how to take and accumulate more and more. On that, Dovid Hamelech said, “Ashrei maskil el dal,” happy is the person who is wise, smart, and intelligent enough to realize that there can be nothing greater than giving to others.

A talmid of the Avnei NeIzer asked his rebbe as follows: When Klal Yisroel was in the midbar and everyone had their parnassah delivered from the sky, how did they fulfill the mitzvah of tzedakah? The Avnei Neizer answered that although their physical sustenance was delivered to them from the sky, some people were weaker than others in terms of their emunah. Therefore, the people who possessed a higher level of emunah and were filled with wisdom, hope, bitachon, and chizuk strengthened the hearts of their weaker brothers.

Rav Yisroel Grossman, the rosh yeshiva of Pinsk Karlin in Yerushalayim, related a story that he heard from Rav Nachman Yosef Wilhelm. Rav Nachman Yosef grew up in the area of Lodz, Poland. His father had passed away before he was born, and he was named after him. He was called Nachman Yosef ben Nachman Yosef. As a bochur, in the late 1800s, Nachman Yosef decided to move to Eretz Yisroel, where he eventually became one of the chashuvei Yerushalayim. His daughter married the Rachmastrivke Rebbe, Rav Yochanan, who was the father of the present-day Rachmastrivke Rebbe of Boro Park.

Rav Nachman Yosef related that before moving from Poland to Eretz Yisroel, he visited many of the tzaddikei hador to receive brachos from them. One of the tzaddikim he visited was the “Yenuka,” Rav Yisroel of Stolin, who was also known as the “Frankfurter” because he passed away while visiting Frankfurt, Germany, and was buried there.

When Rav Nachman Yosef went to the Stoliner Rebbe’s home, he found the door to the rebbe’s study open. Inside, he saw an eltere Yid sitting in front of the rebbe. This Yid was telling the rebbe stories about various tzaddikim whom he had the zechus of meeting throughout his life. The Yid was speaking loudly, so Rav Nachman Yosef was able to hear the stories that he was relating to the rebbe.

One of the stories he related took place with the Stoliner Rebbe’s grandfather, the Bais Aharon of Karlin. This Yid said that he grew up in the same town where the Bais Aharon lived. One year, the winter started very early, and by Rosh Hashanah, heavy rains were coming down. The freezing weather quickly turned the water into ice, and by the time Yom Kippur arrived, the entire town was covered in ice and the subsequent snow that fell. Every roof and awning was covered with layers and layers of ice.

When Yom Kippur ended, no one in town had even a thought of being able to fulfill the mitzvah to sit in a sukkah. They thought that building a sukkah would simply be impossible under the circumstances.

“I, however,” related the eltere Yid to Rav Yisroel of Stolin, “knew how important it was for the rebbe, the Bais Aharon, to have a sukkah. I decided in my heart that I would do everything in my power to help the rebbe sit in a sukkah on Yom Tov. The morning after Yom Kippur, I began breaking the ice one layer at a time. I stood outside in the freezing cold, working for three days, just to uncover the awning under which the rebbe’s sukkah would always be built. I chopped and I shoveled in the bitter cold for dozens of hours on the days between Yom Kippur and Sukkos.

“Finally, on Erev Sukkos, I was able to place the s’chach on top of the walls and put up some decorations. The rebbe would have a sukkah! I went in to the rebbe and told him the good news that his sukkah was waiting for him.

“The rebbe stood up from his chair and walked out into the courtyard. When he placed his holy eyes on the sukkah, his face shined with a holy glow. His happiness and gratitude sparkled and he turned to me and said, ‘You have two choices. Decide which one you want and it will be yours. Either you will be rewarded with the merit of being ‘imi bemechitzosi,’ having your place in Gan Eden alongside me. Or, if you prefer, you can choose to have ‘ashirus mufleges,’ incredible wealth for you and your children – such an abundance of wealth that even when you are traveling and away from your place of business, you will continuously be earning money.’

“I told the Bais Aharon that I choose ashirus, wealth!”

And with that, the eltere Yid told Rav Yisroel of Stolin, “What should I say? The rebbe’s brocha was fulfilled in its entirety. From that time on, there was never a moment that my family was without a great shefa of parnassah!”

Rav Grossman related that for many years, he was terribly bothered by this story. How could this eltere Yid have possibly chosen temporary wealth and comfort instead of the ultimate pleasure of being with the Bais Aharon l’netzach netzochim? Who can even fathom the limitless pleasure of such an exalted share in Gan Eden?

However, after many years, Rav Grossman related the story to his mechutan, Rav Yosef Knoblich, a close talmid of Rav Aharon of Belz. To Rav Grossman’s surprise, his mechutan responded that this eltere Yid was right, “and had I been given the choice, I would have also chosen ashirus!”

To Rav Grossman’s shocked look, Rav Knoblich said, “Sure, had he chosen to be ‘imi bemechitzosi,’ together in Gan Eden with the Bais Aharon, he would have set himself up comfortably l’netzach netzochim with comfort and pleasure in the Olam Ha’emes. What could possibly be better than that?

“But show me another Yid who would have benefited from his own comfort in Gan Eden! By choosing wealth instead, he could feed and clothe almanos, yesomim, poor kallahs, and other suffering Yidden every single day as long as he lived. He could wipe away tears from fellow Jews every day…and what can possibly be better than that? Nu,” said Rav Yosef, “what is really the better choice, to be imi bemechitzosi or to help hundreds and hundreds of fellow Yidden?”

Now, although it is not always easy to apply a story fully to ourselves, and we know that the seforim speak about the great nisayon that comes with ashirus, nonetheless, there is an important lesson here. The lesson is that it is possible to be considered selfish even with regard to one’s own ruchniyus. Sometimes, it is wise to, at the very least, ask someone wiser than us to help us uncover whether we are being self-absorbed or indeed doing the ratzon Hashem.



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