The Greatness Of Charity
"The giving of charity is equal to all the other mitzvahs." So says the Talmud. It also tells us that. "Greater is the giver of charity than all the sacrifices (Sukkah, 49) and "Great is charity for it brings the redemption closer" (Y.Peah,10).
But mere sayings are not enough to impress upon men the sanctity of His commandment. From the real lives of great men and women, who fulfilled the acts of charity to the utmost letter and spirit of the law, can we really begin to understand its depth and complete meaning.
In the days of the Second Temple there lived a pious and learned scholar by the name of Binyamin. Because of his righteousness and goodness he was also known as Binyamin HaTzaddik.
Binyamin was the one who was placed in charge of a grave and important office in Israel, the office of treasurer over the charity box. It was his job to see to it that the poor, the widowed and the orphaned never lacked for bread, clothing or shelter. It was an awesome responsibility, and no man more sincere or more dedicated, could be found in Israel than the good Binyamin.
Once, the land of Israel was in the grip of a terrible famine. The skies burned and no rain descended from them. The land lay withered and parched and along the dusty roads men and women walked numbly in search of food that was not there.
The rabbis, seeing this, redoubled their noble efforts to collect food and money for the poor. Throughout the length and width of the land they scattered, seeking charity from all who could afford it.
The numbers of destitute, however, were so great that despite all efforts, the charity box was soon empty once again. This was the situation one day as Binyamin sat before the empty box and was approached by a thin, emaciated woman.
"O, sire," she called in a weak and plaintive tone, "help me. I am a widow with many children and we are dying of hunger. Give me some money from the charity box so that I may buy some food for my family."
Binyamin looked at the woman and tears welled up in his eyes.
"My child," he said, "would that I could help you but the charity box is empty. There is not a penny in it."
When the woman heard this she began to weep and wail.
"You have condemned a widow and her seven sons to death!"
What Binyamin Did
Binvamin could not bear to hear these words.
"Do not say this thing," he cried. "I will support you myself!"
Binyamin was true to his word. Though he was a poor man himself with a family of his own to support, he nevertheless supported the widow and her family for all the years of the famine.
So the years passed, and one day while in the prime of his life, Binyamin was struck down by a severe illness, from which the doctors said he could not survive.
The Decree Is Averted
As Binyamin lay on his deathbed and the end approached, the Heavenly angels prostrated themselves before the Almighty.
"Sovereign of the Universe!" they cried. "You have said that one who saves even one soul in Israel is considered as having saved the entire world. Shall Binyamin then, who has sustained a widow and the seven sons all these years, die at such a young age?"
Immediately, the Holy One, Blessed Be He, tore up the decree of death and added 22 years to the life of Binyamin HaTzaddik. He arose from his bed and went on to do many more acts of goodness and charity, and many were those who were blessed because of him.
The Pursuer Of Charity
It is not enough to sit and wait for the poor to come and then give them charity. The true tzaddik is one who pursues charity, seeks out the poor, and does not allow himself to rest while there is misfortune in the world. Such a man was Rabbi Elazar of the town of Bartosa.
Rabbi Elazar was a rare individual whose heart overflowed with compassion for the unfortunate of the Earth. He was ever ready to give his last penny to the poor.
One day, he was walking to town to buy gifts for his daughter on the day of her marriage. Looking down the road, he beheld the charity committee of the town sitting and discussing a matter. They saw him too and as they did they said:
"Let us run quickly. Rabbi Elazar will see us and insist on giving us the very money which he has for his daughter's wedding."
They Flee, He Pursues
So speaking, they fled in panic. Rabbi Elazar however, was not to be thwarted. Seeing them run, he understood that they had some important matter of charity to attend to and they did not wish him to give over his daughter's money. He immediately took off after them and soon caught up to them.
"My brothers," he called. "Why do you run from me? It must be that you have an important mitzvah of charity. I beg of you to tell me what it is."
The committee, seeing that it was useless to escape the good man, answered:
"There are in town two young people, one a young man and the other a fair maiden, both of whom are
penniless orphans. They are betrothed, and we are going about to collect money so that they may at least begin their married life with a roof over their heads and some articles of clothing.
Rabbi Elazar Decides
When Rabbi Elazar heard this he immediately proclaimed:
"There is no doubt that these two are entitled to the money before my daughter. For my daughter has a father and mother to support her while these two are alone in the world."
And so speaking, he thrust upon the protesting committee all the money in his pocket except for one coin. Thus, he went. on his way.
A Basket Of Wheat
While on his way home, he came across an elderly man attempting to sell a basket of wheat. Putting his hand into his pocket, Rabbi Elazar gave the man his final coin and bought the wheat from him.
When he arrived home, Rabbi Elazar opened his barn, put the basket of wheat on the floor, locked the barn and went to the House of Study.
Meanwhile his wife had returned home from her own shopping. Turning to her daughter she asked: "
Has your father come home yet?"
"Yes, he has," answered the maiden.
"What did he bring you for your wedding day?"
"I do not know. He brought home something but put it away in the barn when he arrived."
The wife, curious to learn what Rabbi Elazar had brought home, went down to the barn and opened the door. Imagine her amazement as she looked inside and there was an entire barn filled from the ground to the ceiling with golden wheat.
"It is amazing," she called out and hurried to wait for her husband so she could tell him the news.
"Give thanks to the L-rd," she cried to him, "for He has done wonders for us!"
Rabbi Elazar, seeing the wheat filling his barn, answered: "This is not because of our prowess or wisdom, it is rather the charity of the Almighty. Therefore, we cannot have more of a share in it than any other poor man in Israel."
So saying, he called to all the poor of the town and gave to each man an equal share in the bounty of the L-rd.
Many of us ask why the Almighty does not do miracles for us as He did for our ancestors. The answer to their question is simple. Are we anywhere near the greatness and goodness of such men n. Rabbi Elazar from the town of Bartosa?
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