Friday, March 14, 2008

Question & Answer With Dixie Yid - A Hardened Heart

(Painting by Varda Ginsburg)

A Simple Jew asks:

It seems that sometimes there is a misperception that a person who is paid to learn full-time in kollel is living a parasitic existence. A person who is antagonistic to the kollel system faults the system and the person learning in kollel for having a large family. This antagonistic person may even unmercifully turn down requests for financial assistance from these families who are suffering from poverty because it goes against his principles.

The Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 251:10 states that if a person approaches us asking for clothing we must investigate whether he is truly in need, however, if a person comes to us and ask for food we should simply give it to him without investigating.

What are your thoughts about the mindset that prevents a person from helping a hungry person because intellectually he has a problem with how that needy person is living his life?

Dixie Yid answers:

Rav Mordechai Kornfeld asks an interesting question. He points out that, " וְשׂוֹנֵא מַתָּנֹת יִחְיֶה." "One who despises gifts will live." (Mishlei 15:27).

He pointed out that the "concept of 'one who despises gifts will live' seems to contradict the general Mitzvah of giving Tzedakah. Whenever a person gives Tzedakah to a poor person, he is actually harming the poor person by shortening his life by causing him to accept a gift! Similarly, how can it be permitted to give money to support Talmidei Chachamim if 'one who despises gifts will live!'"

Rav Kornfeld answered that "[t]he Chida (in Teshuvos Chaim Sha'al I:74:42) answers based on the view of the Rishonim... that when the giver has intention to receive personal benefit from giving the gift, then it is not considered a gift. By giving Tzedakah to a poor person or by supporting Talmidei Chachamim, the giver receives tremendous reward for his Mitzvah, and thus it is not considered a gift since the giver also benefits from it."

This insight of the Chida reminds us of a fact that people so often forget, which is that recipients of Tzedaka are not moochers, sucking the money and resources away from the real "producers" of the world, i.e. those people that make a significant amount of money. Rather, tzedaka recipients, in general, give more to the "givers" than they actually receive. For the recipients of tzedaka only receive money. Whereas the givers receive eternal reward from their kiyum hamitzvah, fulfillment of the mitzvah.

We can also see that Tzedaka, from the perspective of truth, benefits the giver more than the recipient, from the following exchange between Rebbi Akiva and Turnus Rufus Harasha in Bava Basra 10a, "שאל טורנוסרופוס הרשע את ר"ע אם אלהיכם אוהב עניים הוא מפני מה אינו מפרנסם א"ל כדי שניצול אנו בהן מדינה של גיהנם." "Turnus Rufus, the wicked, asked Rebbi Akiva, 'If your G-d loves the poor, why doesn't he support them?' Rebbi Akiva answered him, 'In order to save us, through them, from the judgment of Geneinom."

People are sometimes hesitant to support impovrished kollel families because they blame those people's kollel choices for their poverty. This is mistaken for another reason. Hashem judges us mida k'neged mida. Hashem acts toward us as a sort of reflection of how we act. So if we carefully scrutinize the whys and wherefores of why poor people are poor as a pre-condition to whether or not we help them with their parnasa, then Hashem might, Chas v'shalom, treat us the same way. He may, based on such an attitude, scrutinize us much more and if we are found not to deserve our parnasa, he will withhold that from us! I know that I would not want to invite such scrutiny onto myself by subjecting others to it.

This discussion came up in the comment section of a post I put up, quoting an e-mail I received from someone who was shocked at another person's backward attitude to the giving of tzedaka.

The bottom line is that if there are people who legitimately need support to keep a roof over their head and food on their table, we have no right to deny them those necessities because we disagree with their decisions. Here are a few mekoros, sources from's website to keep in mind on this topic:

-Midrash Vayikra Rabba 34:14
Some say that careful inquiry should be made in regard to beggars who ask for clothing, but no inquiries should be made in regard to food. Others say that in regard to clothing also no inquiries should be made.

-Midrash Vayikra Rabba 34:4
If the rich man says to the poor man, "Why do you not go and work and get food? Look at those hips! Look at those legs! Look at that fat body! Look at those lumps of flesh!" The Holy One, Blessed be He, says to the rich person, "It is not enough that you have not given him anything of yours and helped him out, but you must set an evil eye upon (make fun of/mock) what I have given him, must you?"

-Rambam, Mishnah Torah - Hilchos Matnos Ani'im 10:15
"הנותן מזונות לבניו ולבנותיו הגדולים שאינו חייב במזונותן, כדי ללמד הזכרים תורה, ולהנהיג הבנות בדרך ישרה ולא יהיו מבוזות, וכן הנותן מזונות לאביו ולאימו--הרי זה בכלל הצדקה; וצדקה גדולה היא, שהקרוב קודם." "One who feeds his adult sons and daughters, who he is no longer obligated to support, in order that the men can learn Torah, and in order that the daughters can be brought up in the proper way, without humiliation, and one who feeds his mother and his father; these [cases] are included in the concept of tzedaka. And it is a great form of Tzedaka because relatives come first." (This is in response to some who claim that individuals who support their children's learning take away resources that they would have given towards other needy mosdos in their own communities.)


At March 14, 2008 at 4:31:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Out of curiosity, how does the full-time kollel man respond to this:

Pirkei Avot 2:2, "It is good to combine the study of Torah with an occupation, for the effort required by them both keeps sin out of mind; while all Torah-study not combined with work will in the end cease and leads to sin."

Yes, "minimize your business activities and occupy yourselves with the Torah," Pirkei Avot 4:10, but it says minimize, not eliminate. Why not work just a bit, enough to buy food and pay the bills?

And then of course there are the stories of Akiva being a woodcutter, and all of the rest having some occupation or other, and so on. Why them, then, and not us, now?

I'm not necessarily opposed to people learning full time, but I was wondering how people respond to such arguments.

At March 15, 2008 at 8:27:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The following story illustrates one way to explain:
Someone once asked Rav Wolbe, zt”l, “Why do the yeshivos seem to be in conflict with the ‘Torah Im Derech Eretz” philosophy of Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, zt”l? After all, he was certainly a righteous and scholarly person! Since Rav Wolbe himself is originally from Germany, he certainly is aware that this philosophy is responsible for the religious survival of virtually every observant Jew of German descent. Why is this ignored by the yeshivos? Why are there no yeshivos to help people become qualified doctors who are also learned and observant, for example?”
The Mashgiach explained, “The Holocaust destroyed the entire Torah world of Europe. It is incumbent upon us to focus on producing a new generation of great scholars and poskim. This is an aspect of hora’as sha’ah, to restore the Torah to what it was before the war. Since the Jewish people cannot continue to exist without chachamim who are on a high level of Torah scholarship, we must immerse all of our youth exclusively in Torah. As Chazal themselves said, ‘Out of every thousand students, only one emerges who is truly fitting to decide halachic questions.’ For this reason, even if we were to decide that having a yeshiva that would produce G-dfearing doctors is laudable, we could not focus on this goal. This like trying to convince a medical college to train lawyers since this is an equally important profession. This will produce neither doctors nor lawyers! The Torah world’s obligation is to produce gedolim to ensure the survival of the Jewish people!”

At March 15, 2008 at 11:07:00 PM EDT, Blogger A Talmid said...

The Maharal Tzintz explains the Mishna in Pirkei Avos in the following way. If someone works than he need s to learn Torah in order to combat sin. But, if one is immersed in Torah a whole day there is no greater thing to fight the yetzer hora than this.

He says further that when it says “while all Torah-study not combined with work will in the end cease and leads to sin” - it means the Torah study itself has to be done with hard work. One can’t sit in an easy chair, sipping a coke, learning Torah. One has to put all his strength and effort into his studies. We all know in out hearts that this is the truth. I can’t understand why people get so upset about people learning Torah all day.

At March 15, 2008 at 11:34:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For the really gifted, we're on the same page -- I don't see how anyone could object to them studying all the time. But for everyone else?

In my opinion, everyone -- even the gifted scholars -- should have some trade, something useful they can do well. Even if you only use the skill on occasion, or even if you only work 10 hours a week every other year, at least you know how to do something practical (besides Torah!) that can help other people.

Working gives one so many opportunities for mitzvot you don't get by only studying. With certain professions in particular -- doctors, lawyers, nurses, social workers, etc -- there is an enormous ability to help people in need. It also helps one be independent of community support, or at least of full community support. Isn't there a saying that one who doesn't teach his son a trade teaches him to steal? Weren't so many of the greats of previous generations doctors, or some other profession?

Anyway, just some thoughts...

At March 16, 2008 at 7:40:00 PM EDT, Blogger A Talmid said...

There is great benefit to the world gets when people learn Torah, even if they aren’t the most brilliant people. It matters how much effort is put in. Everyone, regardless of intellectual prowess, can sit and learn if he has the desire to put in the hard work. (I never learned in Kolel because I wasn't capable of doing so. Again, it's not for everyone, but if one wants to, sincerely, then kol hakavod to them) Many of our greatest luminaries had average or below average minds when they started out. But, they had a desire to learn Hashem’s Torah and in the end they were helped from Above and became great gaonim.

Even if only a few great talmidei chachamim come out of the system it is well worth it. There are many new young Rabbonim, some in their 20’s or 30’s who are having tremendous influence on people twice their age. This is thanks to their ability to sit and learn without the worry of working another job. No one is forcing anyone to support them, but if you don’t, then don’t expect to receive the “shefa” that comes from their learning. I and many I know, (regardless of financial stature – some give a little and some a lot) want to support people learning Torah and in turn have a share in the rewards of the Torah study.

How would it sound if the “learners” said “it’s no fair – why should the people not siting and learning receive benefit from our learning, let them sit and learn themselves.” I’m more than willing to be partners with these talmidei chachomim. We are getting a very good deal - something we can take with us after 120.


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