And Your Brother Shall Live with You

The verse in this week’s Torah reading states (25:36), “You shall not take interest from him, and you should fear your God, and your brother shall live with you.” In addition to the prohibition of charging a Jew interest, the verse ends by saying that you should make sure your brother lives with you. The Rambam (Laws of Gifts for the Needy 7:1) says that this is a commandment to financially support, as much as possible, a Jew who is needy, as much as he needs.

His Livelihood is with You

The Alshich writes that there is a deeper meaning which the verse is alluding to, by using the wording, “and he shall live with you,” as follows: God will decree upon a person to be poor, to serve as an atonement. At the same time, God still wishes to support him. Therefore, God sends the funds the poor person deserves, to a wealthy person. The wealthy person holds extra money, which really doesn’t belong to him, in order to perform the mitzvah of tzedakah (charity), and distribute it to poor people. When he gives tzedakah, he is rewarded for giving the poor person money, which was really intended for the poor person all along!

This is what the verse is hinting to when it says, “and he shall live with you,” as if to say, “Your brother’s livelihood is with you.” The money which the Torah is commanding you to give to your brother is really his, and was only deposited temporarily with you.

To Give Merits to the Wealthy

This principle is mentioned in the Talmud as well (Bava Basra 10a). The Talmud poses a question. If God decreed upon a person to be poor, who are we to give him money? Wouldn’t this seem to be an act which contradicts God’s will? The Talmud answers that God’s true intention is to grant us the opportunity to do the mitzvah of tzedakah. This means that God gives extra money to some people, in order for them to have the merits of giving those who are needy.

The Scholar Supports the Supporter

The Malbim interprets a verse in Tehillim (Psalms) (Chapter 133) in a similar manner. He says that the verse is comparing means of financial support to dew which falls on Mount Hermon, which is intended to flow and provide sustenance in other places. Very often, instead of God providing financial means directly to a person who dedicates his time to studying Torah, God will bless the people who support Torah with these funds. But ultimately, the extra funds are not intended for the use of the people who earned it, rather they are mere conduits to direct the flow of financial blessings to those occupied with Torah study.

While the giver may think that he is the one supporting those who study Torah, in reality, the opposite is true. The person who studies Torah is the catalyst for the blessings to come down to the world, and the giver benefits from it by serving as a conduit for the money to reach the ultimate destination.

Money Entrusted with a Suitable Distributor

Based on this concept, Rabbi Shimon Shkop (in his introduction to Sha’arei Yosher) explains in a new light, that which our Sages say that giving charity blesses a person with wealth. When a person has extra money he can give to charity, it means that he is charged with the role of a distributor. God has given him extra money to distribute the funds according to God’s will. If one fulfills his role dutifully, as a natural consequence, God will entrust him with more funds to distribute, since he has proven himself as a suitable distributor. On the contrary, if one fails to give out the money as he should, God sees that he cannot be trusted with extra money, and he loses the merit of serving as the conduit.

Who Knows Who is Supporting Whom?

When Rabbi Eliezer Gordon got married, his father-in-law, Rabbi Avrohom Yitzchok Neweizky, had committed to support him so he can spend his time studying Torah all day. As he progressed in his studies, Rabbi Gordon became renowned as a great Torah scholar, and different towns approached him with offers of rabbinical positions. His father-in-law repeatedly turned down the offers, because he wanted the merit of supporting the Torah study of his son-in-law.

At one point, the wife of Rabbi Avrohom Yitzchok asked him, “How long are we going to continue supporting him? The expense is placing a burden on our finances. Why don’t you let him accept a position as rabbi so that he can support himself?” Her husband said in response, “Who knows who is supporting whom? It’s possible that he is the one supporting us with the merit of his Torah.”

Some time later, Rabbi Gordon was offered the position of rabbi of the town of Slabodka. This was a prestigious position, and Rabbi Avrohom Yitzchok felt he could not deprive his son-in-law from such an opportunity. Rabbi Gordon thus accepted the offer. The day that he was scheduled to leave, his father-in-law suddenly passed away. Rabbi Gordon’s mother-in-law exclaimed, “He was right! Now I see that it was really our son-in-law who was supporting us, not the other way!”

When a donation is solicited, we should consider that perhaps the money we have is not really intended for us. Who knows who is really supporting whom?

By Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber

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