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Mishpatim

In this week's parashah, we are commanded concerning lending money to a poor person. "When you lend money to My people, to the poor person who is with you, do not act toward him as a creditor; do not lay interest upon him" (Shemos 22:24). Rashi brings an interpretation of the Sages from the Midrash Tanchuma: "'To the poor person who is with you'; Look at yourself as if you were the poor person and do not embarrass him."

It is not enough to merely perform a mitzvah. A lot depends upon how we do it. Often a person does not perform the mitzvah properly simply because he really doesn't want to do it at all; he merely finds himself in a situation where he is embarrassed to resist.

There is a custom by some Chassidim, that, at the Rebbe's tish (lit. table; the meal where the Rebbe sits with his followers, singing with them and speaking to them) people donate a bottle of wine to be placed on the table for consumption by those attending. The Rebbe's gabbai (assistant; manager of his affairs) announces the names of the donors.

In Sippurei Chassidim, a book of collected stories about Chassidim by Rabbi Zevin z"l, it is told about a stingy man who attended a tish and the gabbai announced that he is "placing mashkeh (drink)." The Rebbe told his assistant to immediately remove that bottle from the table. The gabbai argued that the man had explicitly told him to include him among the donors. The Rebbe smiled and replied, "If you would have noticed how happy and relieved he was when I returned his bottle of wine, you wouldn't ask any questions."

How different it is with those who really want to do mitzvahs. The Kapishnitzer Rebbe ztvk"l was an exceptional man who genuinely loved and cared for every single Jew, no matter what his orientation was. He once said about himself that he is a person who can see only good and no evil.

I was once privileged to drive him home from a bris. The Rebbe sat in the front of the car, with me, while the Mohel and his young son sat in the back seat. The little boy was not well, and was coughing a lot. To be honest, I didn't even hear the child. After a while, though, the Rebbe asked the Mohel what is wrong with the boy. The father, too, took it very lightly and said that it is nothing serious, just a cold. However, the Rebbe told him, "Believe me, every cough that your child makes, stabs me in my heart!" After that, I observed the Rebbe from the corner of my eye and I noticed that every single time the boy coughed, the tzaddik's face became contorted with pain.

During the ride, the Mohel mentioned to the Rebbe that, before the War, he had come to him once to ask for a favor. The Rebbe smiled and asked, "Did I do it?" The Mohel replied in the affirmative. The Rebbe then said, "Believe me, I don't think I ever, in my life, refused to do a Jew a favor!"

I was very impressed with the declaration of the Rebbe, who was an old man at the time. A few years later, during the summer, the Tzaddik passed away. That morning, I was driving one of my rabbis, Rav Varshavchik zt"l, who had been very close to the Rebbe, and we were discussing his extraordinary character. I remembered what the Rebbe had said about himself, and I repeated it. To my surprise, Rav Varshavchik was not at all pleased. He said to me, "That he never refused to do a favor for a Jew who asked for it is not a proper eulogy for the Kapishnitzer Rebbe. Rodef chessed, one who runs to search for an opportunity to help a Jew; that is a totally different realm. That was the Rebbe ztvk"l!"

Right before Pesach, eighteen years ago, I was in a sorry state. I was between jobs and I had no immediate source of income. The most expensive holiday was around the corner and I didn't know what to do.

Concerned people called me up from Chutz La'aretz and inquired into my financial situation. They asked if I needed help, especially before the Yom Tov. They encouraged me not to be ashamed; to tell them if I needed money. But I was ashamed, and I couldn't possibly tell them how desperate I was and how much I needed their help.

Finally, my one, true friend called me (I would love to mention his name, but I know that he would be very upset if I did since he runs away from honor and recognition). He didn't ask me any questions, the answers to which were obvious. He just told me, "Ben Zion, don't worry about Pesach. I just deposited two thousand dollars in your bank account. And right after Yom Tov, im yirtzeh Hashem, I'm taking a week off from work to come to Eretz Yisroel and help you straighten things out and find a direction for the future. In the meantime, just enjoy the holiday with your family and don't worry about a thing. With Hashem's help, everything will be all right!"

This is a person who really wants to help someone in need; not like others who would help if they must but would be happier if they were not obliged to do so. If one follows the suggestion of the Midrash Tanchuma, to imagine himself as being in the poor man's position, he will surely know how to treat him properly, without embarrassing him or causing any kind of discomfort. And he will reap the fruits of his efforts, and be truly blessed, in this world and in the World-to-Come.


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