By Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss
We are taught, “Maaseh Avos siman l’bonim – The behaviors of our Patriarchs are a sign for how we should behave.” The Avos set the standard for all Jews to follow. Thus, when the Torah teaches us that Avraham pitched Sarah’s tent before pitching his own, he was setting the bar that one should take care of his wife’s needs before taking care of his own needs. And when Sarah referred to Avraham as “Adoni zaken – My lord is old,” she was exhibiting the reverence a wife should feel for her husband. When Avraham sent Yitzchak to the yeshiva of Shem v’Eiver, he was illustrating that parents should send their children away from the home to an environment of Torah study. And when Yitzchak offered his neck at the Akeidah, he was injecting into the Jewish bloodstream the power of martyrdom.
I’d like to zoom-in on one specific example of maaseh Avos siman l’bonim: Namely, when Avraham trail blazed the way of giving charity. The Torah tells us that when Avraham had his famous encounter with the venerable Shem, the son of Noach, “Vayiten lo ma’aseir mikol – He gave him (Shem, who was a kohein) tithes from everything.” There, Avraham introduces the Jewish trait of giving maaser, a tenth of our earnings.
Concerning the great mitzvah of charity, I saw something remarkable that I want to share with you, my dear reader. Rav Schwartz was a renowned charity collector in Eretz Yisroel. He had a custom that when he held out his hand to ask someone for charity, if the person murmured, “Ich hab nisht (I don’t have anything),” he would quickly respond, “Zolst yah haben (You should indeed have [money soon]).” One time a certain Rav related that he was in a meeting and Rav Schwartz showed up and started collecting around the table. When the first person responded, “I don’t have anything,” he said his trademark, “lzolst yah haben.” That happened with the second and third person as well. Then, Rav Schwartz asked the Rav for money and the Rav gave him a nice donation. He smiled and warmly said to the Rav, “May you be blessed with Torah, yirah, chassidishkeit, and nachas.”
The next time the Rav saw Rav Schwartz, he asked him why the people who didn’t give money got a blessing that they should get money, while he, on the other hand who gave a nice donation, got spiritual blessings but no monetary blessings. Rav Schwartz smiled and said that he has a mesorah, a tradition, from his mentors that when someone collects charity, he is escorted by a malach, an angel. “When a person says ‘I don’t have anything,’ the malach intones ‘Amen.’ So in order to thwart this, I say, ‘Zolst yah haben – You should indeed soon have,’ so that the Amen should go on my blessing as well. You did not need it because you did not say you had nothing. Therefore, I gave you the more important blessing of Torah, yirah, chassidishkeit, and nachas.”
I believe it follows from this revelation concerning the malach, that if someone asks you for alms and your pockets are empty, it’s probably better to shrug your shoulders than to say “I don’t have anything,” so the Amen of the malach will not be on anything negative.
This is not the only case where we have to be concerned about the response of a malach. We are taught that on Friday night a person is escorted by two angels, one positive and one negative. If the candles are lit, the beds are made and the table is set, the positive angel says “May it be this way next week as well,” and the negative malach answers Amen. If however the house is a mess and the bedroom is in shambles, the negative malach says “May it be this way next week as well,” and the positive malach is forced to answer Amen. Thus, leaving the house a mess before Shabbos can create a negative cycle that could perpetuate itself and one needs to be wary that this does not happen.
May it be the will of Hashem that we are never empty handed when it comes to helping people and in that merit may Hashem grant us long life, good health, and everything wonderful.
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