Why Should we Take Care Of the Poor?

Why Should we Take Care Of the Poor?

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By: Rav Omri Kraus

Parshat Mishpatim is packed with commandments between man and his fellow man, and it places special emphasis on looking after the converts, the widows and the poor.

In the beginning of Tehillim ch. 146, which is one of the psalms we say in p'sukei d'zimrah, we praise HaShem on His concern for the weak: "(He) does justice for the oppressed, gives bread to the hungry, HaShem redeems prisoners. HaShem gives sight to the blind, HaShem straightens the bent, HaShem loves the righteous. HaShem watches over converts, the orphan and the widow (He) strengthens, and He obstructs the path of the wicked."

And we can ask, why are "the righteous" listed along with the oppressed, the hungry, the prisoners, the blind, the bent, the converts, the orphan and the widow? Apparently, this is exactly the nature of the tzaddik (righteous) – he is with the unfortunate ones and doesn't abandon them.

The Torah commands us to help the poor and to give him a loan: "If you loan money to my nation, to the poor among you, do not be like a loan-collector toward him, do not levy interest upon him. (Shemot 22:24)" Giving loans is a part of the mitzvah of tzedakah.

Rashi asks: As we know, there is an obligation to give loans, as the Torah says: "You shall lend him (Devarim 15:8)." Therefore, why is the word "if" (im) written, which implies that this is reshut (non-compulsory)? Rashi brings the words of Rabbi Ishmael: "Rabbi Ishmael says: each and every "im" (if) in the Torah is non-compulsory, except for three (exceptions) and this is one of them."

And apparently, says the Maharal, this raises a question. "We need to interpret that which the Torah writes, using the expression "if" even though it is an obligation." In other words, why does the Torah seemingly confuse us? It could have written "Loan money to my nation" without writing "if" and without the Midrash having to tell us that here the Torah is speaking of an obligation.

This same question is also relevant regarding the other two places in the Torah where "if" refers to an obligation: "If you will make Me an altar of stones…" and Rashi writes: Rabbi Ishmael says, each end every "if" in the Torah is reshut except for three places, and regarding "If you will make Me an altar of stones," "if" means "when"… and (likewise) regarding "And if you will offer a meal-offering of bikkurim (the first grains) to HaShem."

The Maharal explains that even though the Torah commands one to take care of the poor, the Torah wants him to do this not out of an obligation which is imposed upon him, but of his own will "since if one does this out of obligation, as if he is obeying the decree of the king – this is not HaShem's desire. And one must do this willingly, and when one does this willingly, Hashem is pleased."

The Torah wants us to look after the poor out of genuine concern and the goodness of our hearts, since they are our brothers. "If one loans money as if he is obeying the law of the king (like an arbitrary tax), this is not considered doing the mitzvah, because the mitzvah of lending must be done out his will and with good heartedness, as is written regarding giving: "And this should not distress your heart. (Devarim 15:10)"

The pshat (simple meaning) of the Torah (if) speaks of the ideal situation-the love toward the poor. And the Midrash (obligation) speaks of the practical command.

Similarly, regarding the altar and the bikkurim, with which we thank HaShem: if one expresses thanks to HaShem because he was commanded to, this is not genuine thanks, and therefore one must feel that he is thanking of his free will.

We received a double command – to both do good deeds and to develop good character traits.

I heard HaRav Asher Weiss say that we encounter this also in the double command to resemble HaShem:

Sotah 14: "And Rabbi Acha Bar Chanina said: This which is written 'You shall walk after HaShem your Lord' – as He dresses the naked, so you shall dress the naked, as He visits the sick, so you shall visit the sick." – the command to do good deeds.

Shabbat 133: Abba Shaul says (on the word) v'anvehu (I will tell His splendor): You must resemble Him – as He is merciful and forgiving, be also merciful and forgiving." – the command to develop good character traits.

We must remember that the sick person we visit, the poor person we give to, and the friend who is in need of help are not "heftza shel mitzvah" - objects through which one "is yotzei" - fulfills his obligation regarding the mitzvot.

We are getting close to Purim, and it is well known that there are two reasons for the mitzvah of mishloach manot:

  1. Terumat HaDeshen – Evidently the reason for mishloach manot is in order that everyone will have enough food to perform the mitzvah of seudat Purim properly.

  2. Manot Halevi – The reason is that this shows that Am Israel is unified by love and brotherhood – the opposite of what the tzorer (the persecutor – Haman) said about them, that they are dispersed and divided.

It stands to reason that these explanations complement each other - we want to make sure that everyone has a seudah, but the motivation stems from the genuine concern of a unified and loving nation.

May we merit to increase love, peace and friendship in Am Israel.



Shiur ID: 9371

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