The Sanzer Rebbe, Rav Chaim Halberstam (1793-1876), was one of the outstanding Chassidic leaders of the 19th century. He was a profound and leading Torah sage, as well as the revered leader of thousands of devoted disciples; yet, despite his many responsibilities, he was still able to devote himself to caring for the needs of the poor and the destitute. His incredible devotion to their needs placed the Sanzer Rebbe among the great masters of tzedekah who have graced the Jewish people throughout the ages.
Another great Chassidic leader, Rav Aharon Roth, states: I heard that Rav Chaim Sanzer said that originally he had an extraordinary love of money and he was exceedingly stingy. However, he worked on himself mercilessly to change his nature, and he literally uprooted the desire for money from his heart. (Shulchan Hatahor, Shaar Hetzedakah, Chap. 3 - cited in "The Tzedakah Treasury" by Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer)
The Rebbe was the central Chassidic leader of Galician Jewry during a period when those Jews were mired in poverty and dire want; every penny was hard to come by. The only exceptions were a few rare individuals who managed to become wealthy, despite the economic discrimination against Jews in the Christian countries where Galician Jews lived; moreover, these men of means were overburdened by tzedakah obligations. The Rebbe of Sanz was like a great minister of finance, under whose auspices huge sums flowed from the purses of the few wealthy individuals into the hands of the poor.
The Rebbe said: "Some people are reluctant to give to one hundred genuine paupers out of fear lest one of them be a fraud. On the other hand, I feel that the merit of tzedakah is so great that I would gladly give to one hundred beggars even if only one was truly in need!" (Darkei Chaim p. 137)
Rav Chaim himself derived no benefit whatsoever from his tzedakah activities; not a penny donated for tzedakah was used for his own needs or those of his family. His own home was bare of furniture, and his personal income was a few gulden a month; yet, thousands of gulden flowed through his fingers on a monthly basis. The Rebbe found no rest for his soul until he had fulfilled the needs of all who required his help. He used to say, "I love the poor. Do you know why? Because the Holy One, Blessed be He, loves them."
The following story can serve as an example of the Rebbe's love and wisdom: During the Festival of Succos (Tabernacles), Jews dwell in a temporary dwelling called a "succah." Before the Festival of Succos, the Rebbe was especially involved in tzedakah and distributed tremendous sums to the poor. One Succos eve, Rav Chaim sent his sons to borrow several thousand gulden on his behalf and he immediately distributed the entire amount to those in need. As he was entering his succah that evening, Rav Chaim turned to his sons and said with great joy and excitement: "Tonight our succah is exceptionally beautiful because we have adorned it with the precious mitzvah of tzedakah. Others may decorate their succos with exquisite art and ornaments. But that is not my way. Tzedakah is the most magnificent adornment of the succah; that is its grace and splendor."
One Succos Eve, close to sunset, a messenger from the Rebbe came to one of the wealthy men of Sanz who was involved in the Rebbe's tzedakah endeavors. The messenger requested on behalf of the Rebbe an immediate loan of a large sum of money. The man promptly fulfilled the Rebbe's request, but his curiosity was aroused. He knew that the Rebbe had already distributed enormous sums of tzedakah well before Succos, so what tzedakah need was so urgent now? Furthermore, it was late in the day, close to the start of the Festival; thus, the recipient could not put it to use for this Festival anyway, so what was the money for? Driven by curiosity, the rich man followed the messenger and noted that he delivered the money to a poor family whose holiday needs the Rebbe had already provided. The curious man then approached the Rebbe and asked him why this extra gift was necessary.
The Sanzer Rebbe responded, "Are you going to teach me how to give tzedakah? Here, let me teach you something! Of course I already gave this family adequate provisions for the Festival. But the head of the family is deeply mired in debt. How can he possibly enjoy his holiday when he knows that immediately after the Festival his creditors will hound him? Is food and drink sufficient to provide Festival joy to this man? Is it not my responsibility to enable the entire family to have true joy on this great Festival? Now that this man has some money from which he can make payments on his debts right after the Festival, he and his family will be able to experience genuine Festival joy!"
No wonder the Sanzer Rebbe's grandson, Rav Shlomo, the first Bobover Rebbe, used to comment: "The Sanzer Zeide (grandfather) is generally considered to have been an outstanding gaon (genius) in Talmudic scholarship and a righteous tzadik in his tzedakah. What people don't realize is that he was an outstanding genius in his approach to tzedekah, as well."
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
The above information and stories were adapted from the highly recommended book, "The Tzedekah Treasury" by Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feur, courtesy of the copyright holder ArtScroll/Mesorah. To order the book, go to: http://www.artscroll.com/linker/hazon/ASIN/TZTP . "Hazon – Our Universal Vision" will receive 15% of the sale price which will go to support the work of Hazon. If you travel from this link to other ArtScroll links in order to order other books, then we will receive 15% of the sale price of those books, as well.
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