Vayikra – Penniless


By Rabbi Nosson Greenberg



In this week’s parsha the Torah focuses on many of the different types of korbanos that were offered up at the Mishkan. Among them is the “Korban Oleh  Veyoraid” – “The Sliding Scale (lit. up & down) Sacrifice”. It was called so because the type of sacrifice that needed to be offered depended on one’s financial status. A wealthy person brought a sheep or goat. If one could not afford these animals one was permitted to bring in its stead two birds. And if this, too, was out of one’s price range then a wheat meal offering was acceptable. What is interesting to note is that when Chazal describe these three financial strata it refers to them as “Ashirus”, “Dalus” & “Dalai Dalus” – “Wealthy”, “The Poor” & “The Extremely Poor”. (Krisus 10b). One has to ask, did Chazal not have a more delicate way of referring to the last two groups? The same Chazal that did not want to offend a blind person by referring to him as such, instead labeled him with the more recherché title of “Sagi  Nahor” – “(One with) Plenty Light” (Berachos 58a), have no problem calling financially strapped people “Poor” and “Extremely Poor”. Shouldn’t we take a page out of the Politically Correct police who have demanded in the name of equality that the world invent ingenious ways of referring to compromised individuals? Criminals are now behaviorally challenged, and garbage men are Sanitation Engineers. Janitor has been replaced with Custodial Artist, and a plain ol’ lazy person is now the more benign Motivationally Deficient. So, it would not have been too hard to have come up with labels for these impoverished groups that would have been way more considerate and tasteful. Yet, no such courtesy is offered.

believe this question does not deserve an answer because the asking of it demands the unfortunate belief in a warped mindset. And that mindset is that a lack of money is a disability no different than one who is blind or lame R”l. This, of course, is ridiculous, because a disability is a lack of something that Hashem automatically has given to others. Money is not like that. No one is born with money, (silver spoon in mouth notwithstanding) and thus the lack of it does not make one a loser. Unfortunately, we live in a society that heavily suggests otherwise. Some years back I saw an ad on the side of a NY city bus commissioned by one of the mega U.S. banks. The slogan proclaimed “Last one to a billion dollars is a rotten egg”. There you have it. If you’ve got no money, you’re a walking Hydrogen Sulfide smell-alike.

So, Chazal wanted to set the record straight and teach us that being poor is a description, not a stigma. Sure, poverty tests a person by presenting him with hardships, but then, so does having oodles of money. They are both nisyonos (struggles in life) given by Hashem, and it’s hard to say which one is more difficult. Six of one and half a dozen of the other is pretty much the consensus of Jewish philosophy. Thus, when describing these financially deficient groups, the same Chazal that have proven its sensitivities by creatively conjuring up a way of referring to the blind, [deliberately?] use the labels of Dalus & Dalai Dalus for the impoverished. Teaching us that being poor is nothing of which to be ashamed.

Rabbi Nosson Greenberg is rov of Khal Machzikei Torah of Far Rockaway, N.Y., and maggid shiur at Yeshiva of Far Rockaway.

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