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Generosity – A Key to Merit Forgiveness and a Long Life

Parsha Halacha – Parshat Tazria

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The Torah portion of Tazria discusses the laws of the skin disease called tzara’at (loosely translated as leprosy). This “disease” could affect a person,[1]his clothes,[2] his leather furniture[3] as well as his house.[4] According to our sages there are various sins for which the Divine punishment is tzara’at. According to the Midrash[5], one of these sins is that of stinginess.
The Midrash relates that if a person would refuse to lend any of his household items or food supplies, claiming not to have them, he would be punished by having his house afflicted with tzara’at. In the process of establishing if the house needed to be demolished, it was necessary to empty it of all its contents. The neighbors would then see the household items and foods that he claimed he didn’t own. They would then understand why the house deserved such a curse.
This article will discuss the importance of being generous with one’s money and possessions.
Don’t Count the Pennies
The Peleh Yo’etz writes:[6] “One should be forgiving regarding household expenses. [I.e., he should allow his wife and family members to spend money and not peer over their shoulder at every expense.] This is a ‘diamond’ for the matter of keeping peace and a ‘jewel’ that will increase love. This trait increases love between people and spouses. It destroys hatred and fights. Sometimes this trait will give life to one who has it and save him from all troubles. Very few people realize the value of this trait.”
The Man Who Wouldn’t Ask for Change
The Talmud[7] speaks highly of Iyov (Job) who was generous with his money.[8] When someone did a small job for him for which the pay was usually half a perutah (the smallest coin of that era), Iyov would not ask for change.[9](Although it was impossible to give a half perutah as there was no coin smaller than a perutah, other people would ask for an item that had the value of a half perutah while Iyov would not do this.) For this reason, the verse[10] refers to Iyov as “one who kept away from anything evil.”[11] (To take money from others unlawfully is evil. One who is generous with his money and always errs on the side of giving extra is thus keeping far away from evil.[12])
Elsewhere[13] the Talmud indicates that when Iyov would buy something from the store and he was owed a half perutah change, he would forgo that half perutah rather than ask the storekeeper for a small item of that value as others customarily did.
Some say[14] that when the total of his purchase was (for example) 100.5 perutot (plural of perutah), he would pay 101 perutot (to make sure that the seller got paid in full) while others in that situation would only pay 100 (and expect the seller to forgo that half perutah).
Not Too Generous
The Maharal points out[15] that the Talmud indicates that Iyov would give away half perutot. This implies that he would not give away complete perutot (and certainly not more than that). The reason for this is that one must be careful not to give away money indiscriminately (as this can lead to one’s financial ruin).
The Way of the Torah Scholar
The Rambam writes[16] (perhaps based on the above teaching of the Talmud) “He (a Torah scholar) is stringent with himself in his accounting, he gives and yields to others when he buys from them (i.e., in a case of doubt he always pays extra), but is not demanding [that others do the same for him].”
An Easy Path to Long Life
The Talmud says that the students of Rabbi Nechunya ben HaKaneh asked why he merited to have a long life. He explained that (among other things[17]) he was generous with his money.[18]
Why a Long Life?
The commentaries offer several reasons as to why the blessing for generosity is to have a long life.
·        The Maharal explains that, in truth, a person deserves to live long if he or she consistently fulfills any mitzvah in an exemplary manner.
·        In addition, when a person is generous to others, G-d is generous to him and grants him extra time in this world.
·        Other commentaries[19] explain that the reason being generous is a segulah (cause of a spiritual blessing) for long life is that generosity is based on a strong faith is G-d – that He will recompense those who help others generously. It is this faith in G-d which brings the blessing of a long life.
In the Words of the Holy Zohar
This is based on the following Zohar:[20]
“Who are the men of faith? Those who… give tzedakah [generously]. They do not hoard their property since they know that G-d will give them more, as the verse says,[21] ‘There is one who scatters and yet is given more.’ Why is this? Because by giving tzedakah [generously], one arouses blessings towards himself.”
“One should not say, ‘If I give tzedakah now, what will I do tomorrow?’ Rather, one should believe that G-d will bless him with endless blessings as our sages teach us.”[22]
Giving Begets Getting while Keeping Begets Losing
As mentioned above, King Solomon writes, “There is one who scatters and yet is given more, and one who withholds from [giving] what is proper, only for a loss.”
The Malbim explains that the proper behavior is to strike a balance between stinginess and excessive giving. But the conventional wisdom is that if one cannot find the exact balance between the two, he should err on the side of stinginess as that way he will at least keep his wealth. Whereas if one gives excessively, he may be left with nothing. The wisest of all men therefore teaches that this perspective is incorrect. One who gives excessively may acquire a good name for himself which will make people be willing to lend him money and do business with him whereas a stingy person may find himself without friends and without anyone to do business with.
Generous in Teaching
The Ralbag explains the above verse as referring to one who is generous with his Torah knowledge and shares it with others by teaching them.[23] Such a person will find a blessing in his learning as teaching the material will force him to understand the subject matter thoroughly. In addition, all his students will bless him for his efforts as will the Almighty Himself. The opposite can be said of a person who has knowledge but will not share it with others.
Enjoy Your Money or Else Your Wife’s Second Husband Will
Elsewhere King Solomon writes,[24] “There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it is prevalent among men. A man whom G-d gives riches and property and honor, and his soul lacks nothing of all he desires, and G-d gives him no power to eat of it, but a strange man eats it; this is vanity and a grievous sickness.” This is referring to a miser who saves his money and can’t even spend it on himself. In the end his wealth is enjoyed by a complete stranger such as his wife’s second husband. This is all a result of one not being happy with his lot.
Atones for Sins
The Talmud says[25] that, despite his many sins (including that of idol worship), King Achav was considered only half wicked (other than the sin of killing his neighbor which tipped the scales towards his guilt). The reason he was forgiven for half his sins was because he was generous with his money and would support Torah scholars.[26]
Rabbi Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin points out[27] that usually a righteous person has righteous workers and a wicked person has wicked workers.[28] Yet we find that the chief of staff in the house of the wicked Achav was the prophet Ovadiah.[29] Rabbi Tzadok explains that Acahav merited to have such a righteous employee because he was generous with his money, as explained above.
Always Give Extra
Regarding the donation of the Jews to build the Mishkan, the Torah writes,[30]“And the work [of giving the donations] was sufficient for all the work [of building] the Mishkan, and there was left over.” The commentaries[31] question the wording of this verse as “sufficient” indicates there was exactly enough whereas “there was left over” indicates there was extra. The Be’er Mayim Chayim (by Rabbi Chaim of Tzernovitz) explains that a person who wants to do an act of kindness should always give extra. For example, when serving a guest, one should always serve more than he expects the guest to eat. This is what Rivkah meant when she said to Eliezer,[32] “I will also draw for your camels up until [and including[33] when] they finish drinking.” What she meant is that even when they finish drinking, she will draw some extra water to show that it is a pleasure rather than a burden for her to assist. Similarly, when donating to the Mishkan, the Jewish people made sure to give a “sufficient” amount of “extra” donations to show that they were giving joyfully and with their whole hearts.
Choose a Generous Partner
It is better to choose a generous business partner who is unlearned rather than a Torah scholar who is stingy and overly particular about his money.[34]
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
The Midrash[35] gives the following counsel which relates to not being particular about one’s property: “The Torah teaches that one should not be (overly) particular about one’s property within his household. If wine spills, one shouldn’t get angry but should rather remember that ‘G-d has plenty to provide to those who love Him.’[36] If oil spills, one [shouldn’t get angry but] should rather remember that ‘I (G-d) will fill their storage houses.’[37] If one’s clothes rip, one should [not get angry but should] realize that ‘G-d will fulfill all of your desires.’[38] The two things about which it is proper to be particular in one’s house are matters of modesty and anything that can lead to a desecration of G-d’s name.
May G-d help us achieve a true spirit of magnanimity so that we merit forgiveness from sin and a long life!
[1] Levit. 13:1-46
[2] Ibid, verse 47
[3] Ibid, 48
[4] Ibid, 14:33-53
[5] Vayikrah Rabbah 17:2
[6] Entry Vatranut
[7] Bava Batra 15b
[8] The Hebrew term for this is וותרן בממונו which translates (loosely) as “liberal with his money.” A more literal translation would be “one who forgoes some of his own money (towards someone else).”
[9] The Maharsha suggests that the reason Iyov would do this was so that the worker would get a perutah from him. This would bring a blessing to the man as according to the Talmud (ibid) whoever would receive a coin from Iyov would be blessed.
Rabbi Chaim Efrayim Ziechik of Butchach, Poland, and Jerusalem gives the reason (in Mayanei HaChaim, printed in Benei Berak 1987, parshat Behar) why someone who would receive a coin from Iyov would be blessed. When Iyov would give a poor man a coin, he did so with great warmth and generosity, showing true care for that individual. The good feeling, that this great tzadik truly cared for him, would bring blessing into the life of that individual.
[10] Job, 1:10
[11] Rabeinu Gershom explains that the Talmud is interpreting the verse וסר מרע to mean that “he turned away from the path of his colleagues” ( רע can mean “friend”) by being so generous with his money.
[12] Maharal in Netivot Olam, Netiv HaNedivut, chapter 1
[13] Megillah 28a
[14] Ben Yehoyadah on Bava Batra ibid
[15] Chidushei Agadot on Bava Batra ibid
[16] Laws of De’ot, 5:13
[17] In addition to the trait mentioned above, Rabbi Nechunya also said that he never allowed others to honor him if it would cause the other person to be demeaned and that he always forgave all those who insulted him before he went to bed every night. The common denominator of all these things seems to be that he was very particular to not cause distress to other people, neither by causing them to be demeaned, nor by having them punished for having insulted him, nor by them feeling that he was (somewhat) stingy with them.
[18] The Hebrew for this is “vatran bemamono.” See above note 9.
[19] Vetzivah HaKohen by the author of the Smichat Chachamim (cited in the Kaftor VaFerach of the Metivta Shas).
[20] Parshat Behar, 110b as explained by the Matok Midvash
[21] Mishlei 11:24
[22] See Shabbat, end of 32b
[23] See also Berachot 63a
[24] Kohelet, 6:1 – 3. See Pirush Devar Yerushalayim by Rabbi Yoel Schwartz, Jerusalem 2001
[25] Sanhedrin 102b
[26] The Ben Yehoyadah explains that Achav was simply a generous person. As such, in the years of famine, he supported many poor people. Among those poor people there was Torah scholars. This is how he got the merit of supporting Torah scholars.
[27] Tzidkat HaTzadik, Siman 160
[28] See Chullin 4b based on Mishlei 29:12
[29] See Kings I, 18:3
[30] Exodus 36:7
[31] See Ohr HaChaim
[32] Gen. 24:19
[33] Following the understanding that the word al means “up to and including” (עד ועד בכלל).
[34] Sefer Hanhagot Hatzadikim vol. 3 by Rabbi Chaim Shlomo Rotenburg, page 890
[35] Bamidbar Rabbah 9:2
[36] Mishlei 8:21
[37] Ibid
[38] Tehillim 20:6
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach and a Chodesh Tov!

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