Tales of Tzedakah - 3

Tonight, Thursday evening, begins the third day of Chanukah, and we light three lights. On Friday afternoon "before" sunset, we light four lights, and we then immediately light the Shabbos lights. On Saturday night, after the stars come out, we light five lights.

Dear Friends,

The greater the Torah sage, the greater is his humility. His humility teaches him that all his talents and gifts are for the purpose of serving others. His heart becomes full of love for each member of the Jewish people, and his love extends to all human beings, as well as to all creatures. The Jewish people felt the strong love and concern of their leading sages, and in Eastern Europe, such a sage was often called by the intimate and affectionate title "Reb," rather than by the more formal titles "Rabbi" or "Rav." Rabbi Zusya of Hanipoli was such a sage, and it is therefore not surprising that he was known as "Reb Zusya."

From a spiritual perspective, Reb Zusya and his wife were "rich" people, but from an economic perspective, they were quite poor. Once, Reb Zusya's wife asked him for money for a new dress: "I am ashamed to go among people in rags," she said. And when this righteous woman referred to her clothes as rags, she was not referring to good garments which had merely gone out of fashion. She meant that her one dress was threadbare with multiple patches. Impoverished as he was, Reb Zusya responded positively to his wife's request. He borrowed some money, and his wife gave the money to a local tailor so that he could purchase the materials he would need for making the dress.

One day, Reb Zusya noticed that his wife was dejected. He asked her why her spirits were low. She replied: "I went to the tailor to pick up my new dress, but when he handed it to me he groaned deeply, and his tired eyes welled up with tears. I asked him why he was so depressed, and he informed me that he was marrying off his own daughter in a few weeks. He was very poor, and he was therefore unable to save any money for the event. All of his meager earnings were used up feeding his large family. He could not afford a wedding dress for his own daughter, and the young bride was very sad because of this. One day his daughter walked into the shop, and saw her father finishing the work on my new dress. She jumped to the conclusion that this was actually her wedding dress with which her father was going to surprise her. She asked to try on the dress, and it fit her perfectly. She was overjoyed until her father reluctantly told her that in truth the dress was not for her, but it was made for a customer. The tailor told me that the poor girl became depressed and was talking about not wanting to get married, even wishing to break the engagement.

"I simply couldn't bear to see the tailor's pain, "Reb Zusya's wife continued, "so I told the tailor to give the dress to his daughter."

Reb Zusya was overjoyed with his wife's act of kindness. "Thank God you were strong enough to overcome your personal desires," he said. "You have done one of the most selfless mitzvos possible. But tell me, did you pay the tailor for his work?"

"Pay him?" his wife exclaimed. "I should pay him? Isn't it enough that I gave away the dress I have been desiring for so long? You want me to pay him for the dress I never got?"

Rev Zusya gently explained his reasoning: "I am certain that this poor tailor counted on these wages to support his family. You contracted for a dress, and the tailor did his work skillfully, just as you had stipulated. You owe him the money you promised him for his work. The fact that you were moved to do an act of extraordinary kindness and gave him the dress for his daughter does not absolve you from your obligation to pay him for his work. Business is business, and tzedakah is tzedakah!"

Reb Zusya borrowed additional money, and his wife paid the tailor the wages he deserved. For tzedekah should not be done at the expense of justice.

May the Compassionate One help each of us to perform acts of tzedakah in a loving and just manner.

Have a Good Shabbos and a Happy Chanukah,

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)

Related Comments and Announcements:

1. The above story can be found in "The Tzedakah Treasury" by Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer. We have shared it with you courtesy of the copyright holder, ArtScroll/Mesorah: www.artscroll.com  

2. Hazon participant, Reb Dovid Sears, directs the Breslov Center for Spirituality and Inner Growth, an outreach organization serving the greater New York area under the guidance of HaRav Elazar Mordechai Kenig, leader of the Breslov Chassidic community in Tsfat, Israel. Reb Dovid has written a two-part article which discusses some metaphysical teachings of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov on the spiritual effects of giving tzedakah. If you would like a copy, contact Reb Dovid at: meoreiohr@aol.com . Reb Dovid Sears is also the author of the following books: (1) The Tree That Stands Beyond Space: Rebbe Nachman of Breslov on the Mystical Experience; (2) Flame of the Heart: Prayers of a Chassidic Mystic; (3) The Path of the Baal Shem Tov: Early Chassidic Teachings and Customs; (4) Compassion for Humanity in Jewish Tradition; (5) The Vision of Eden: Animal Welfare and Vegetarianism in Jewish Law and Mysticism. And forthcoming during the next few weeks: (6) Shir Na'im: A Song of Delight / An Original Translation and Commentary on Rabbi Nachman of Breslov's Only Surviving Poem.

3. Hazon participant, Reb Ozer Bergman, is the editor for the Breslov Research Institute: www.breslov.org . The website also lists various books for adults and children, as well as tapes. Reb Ozer is the co-editor of Rebbe Nachman's magnum opus "Likutey Moharan" and edited various works such as, "Esther: A Breslov Commentary on Megilat Esther," and "The Inner Temple." He is currently working on a book about hitbodedut, Rebbe Nachman's path of Jewish meditation.

Hazon - Our Universal Vision: www.shemayisrael.co.il/publicat/hazon/