Tales of Tzedaka - 7

The Journey to Unity - 80


Tales of Tzedakah - 7


The following story is about a community-sponsored inn for needy travelers in the Lithuanian town of Kovno, and the story takes place in the late 19th century:

A beggar once entered the town to collect money, and he was provided with shelter in the Jewish community's inn for poor travelers. The very first evening, as he was undressing, a huge wad of paper money fell from his pocket. When the other beggars in the room saw the value of the paper money - far more valuable than anything he could have collected in Kovno - they realized that this beggar was actually a wealthy man! The news soon spread through the entire town. The people of the town were angry that a "millionaire" disguised as a beggar had tried to exploit them, especially since the majority of the Jews of Kovno were poor working people who were struggling to survive. The Jewish City Council therefore decided to pass a new law forbidding beggars from collecting tzedakah in Kovno.

The Rabbi of Kovno, Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Spector, was a leading sage of the generation. When he heard about the proposed law, he immediately went before the council and asked for permisson to speak. He began by assuring the members of the council that he truly understood their anger and frustration. "But," said the sage, "before you take action, it would be wise to think. Who, would you say, deceived whom?" The council members replied: "That strange beggar from another town fooled us. Dressed as a poor beggar, he took our tzedakah money right and left - and he is really quite rich!"

"True," replied Rabbi Spector, "But in that case, you were fooled not by a poor man, but by a wealthy man. It is therefore unfair to retaliate by passing a law against poor beggars. Pass a severe law, if it pleases you, that tzedakah may never again be given to the rich, but only to the needy!" (This story can be found in "Ethics from Sinai" by Irving Bunim, Vol. 3, p.121, Feldheim Publishers.) 



Rabbi Sholom Schwadron was a 20th century sage and tzadik of Jerusalem who was also a famous "maggid" -  a public speaker who uses stories and parables to convey ethical and spiritual insights. He was a living example of what he taught, and he excelled in the mitzvah of tzedakah despite his own very limited financial resources. In fact, his family lived very simply, and they rarely had more than just the bare necessities of life. He lived off a small salary from a yeshiva, where he served as the "mashgiach" - spiritual guide - to the students. He refused to accept fees for his many public talks, even when he was invited to travel abroad and speak to Jewish communities in the diaspora.

A son-in-law of Rabbi Sholom Schwadron once told over the following tzedakah story about his father-in-law, who was also known by the affectionate name, "Reb Sholom":

On the eve of a Yom Tov (Festival), a poor man knocked on Reb Sholom's door asking for alms. His son-in-law had just arrived to spend the holiday and was putting his belongings in his room. Suddenly he heard a soft cry emerge from the front room, and saw one of Reb Sholom's younger daughters  wringing her hands. "Oy! Look what Abba (Father) is doing! Why is he doing that?"

The son-in-law went to the front door where he saw Reb Sholom unfolding a brand new shirt before the poor man's happy eyes. It was a fine shirt he had purchased in England many months earlier to wear on the Festivals. After he had shown his needy visitor how beautiful the shirt was, Reb Sholom refolded it and returned it to its wrapping. He said, "Take it! Take it! You should have a new shirt. A Good Yom Tov!"

The poor man accepted the shirt and left. Turning back inside, Reb Sholom met his daughter's reproachful eyes, and she said: "Abba! If you had no money and had to give him a shirt, why give him the special shirt from England? Why?"

Reb Sholom saw her pain and was silent. A moment later, he went to the bookcase and removed a volume of the "Mishnah Torah" - the classical work on Torah law written by the Rambam (Maimonides). He then began to read to his household from the laws of offerings (Hilchos Issurei Mizbeyach 7:11). In this section, the Rambam states that a person should suppress his selfish inclination and bring the best quality of whatever he is offering to the Temple. The Rambam points out that this principle applies to all our "offerings" in life, and he cites the following examples: "If one builds a House of Prayer, it should be more beautiful than his dwelling place. When feeding the hungry, he should give of the best and sweetest food on his table. When dressing the naked, he should offer his finest clothing."

In his sweet tone of voice, Reb Sholom finished reading this passage, leaving his family with a profound lesson in tzedakah which has accompanied them to this very day.



The above story can be found in the following books published by ArtScroll: "Voice of Truth" - the life and eloquence of Rabbi Sholom Schwadron, and "The Tzedakah Treasury" by Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer. It was adapted courtesy of the copyright holder, ArtScroll/Mesorah: www.artscroll.com    . The biography of Rabbi Schwadron, "Voices of Truth," also contains moving stories about the great acts of hospitality and tzedakah which were performed by Rabbi and Rebbitzen Schwardon.


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