Korban Ishe - Rabbi Eliyahu Chammah Halevy Tzedakkah to Those who Toil in Torah


Translated by Mordechay Mays and Ralph Anzarouth

Midrash Kohelet comments on the verse in Kohelet (Eccl. 11, 1): “Throw your bread on the surface of the water, because with the passing of days you will find it”. [The Midrash says:] "If you are looking to give Tzedakkah, do it with those who toil in Torah study. Why should this be so? Because with the passing of days you will find it1." The obvious question which must be asked here is: the phrase “if you are looking to give Tzedakkah” leaves the choice in the hands of man, as if it was dependant only on his will. This is astonishing, because the Mitzvah of Tzedakkah is a positive commandment in the Torah, and a rabbinic tribunal can even force one to do it. And furthermore, even more surprising: why did the Midrash specify those who toil in Torah, which implies that if one gives Tzedakkah to those who toil in Torah, then he will be rewarded; and if he gives Tzedakkah to poor people who are not toiling in Torah, then he will be deprived of any reward. Who could ever believe that one could be deprived of his due reward, G-d forbid? And the Torah declares (Deut. 15, 11): “You shall surely open your hand to your brother the poor and the destitute”, without specifying whether he be knowledgeable or completely ignorant.

It seems possible to me that one could answer these questions with the following introduction from the Talmud Bavli (tractate of Baba Batra, 10a), which says: “The wicked Turnusrufus2 asked Rabbi Akiva: ‘If your G-d loves the poor, why does He not sustain them?’ [Rabbi Akiva] answered: ’In order that we should be saved from Gehinnom’.3 [Turnusrufus] replied:’On the contrary: this actually condemns one to Gehinnom! And I will offer you an allegory: a king was angry with his servant, he imprisoned him and commanded that none should feed him or give him to drink. Someone came, fed him and gave him to drink. When the king comes, will he not be angry4?’ Rabbi Akiva replied: ’I will offer you an allegory: a king was angry with his son, he imprisoned him and commanded that none should feed him or give him to drink. Someone came, fed him and gave him to drink. When the king comes, will he not give that person a present?’5

Thus we learn that if the Jewish people behave as children of G-d, then giving them Tzedakkah is justified. But if they act like servants, then they should not give Tzedakkah one to the other. And the opposite is true: they ought to be punished, G-d forbid. [...]

The Torah is comparable to the scepter of the king: a servant would be punished for using the scepter. But the son of the king is allowed to use it. Torah and Tzedakkah are alike. As long as the Jews are like children to G-d, then they are fit for both [Torah and Tzedakkah], otherwise they are not.

The concluding part of this piece explains that one does indeed have the choice to give Tzedakkah to poor people toiling in Torah or to poor ignorant people: the danger however is that by giving to the latter one is giving to Jews who possibly behave like servants to G-d6, while by giving to the former one is sure that he is definitely giving to children of G-d, that is to say those who certainly deserve to receive Tzedakkah. In that way, the giver of Tzedakkah knows with complete certitude that he will receive reward in the world to come for this good deed.

Notes of the translators:
[1] Which means that in the world to come man will receive due reward for the good deeds performed during his lifetime.
[2] A Roman governor in the Holy Land during Talmudic times.
[3] There is no precise translation in English for the term "Gehinnom" (or "Gehenna"). The common use of the word "Hell" is the closest definition that we can offer our readers. See Ramchal’s (Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto) description in Chapter 5 of Maamar Ha-Ikarim.
[4] Turnusrufus also quotes a verse from Leviticus, in which G-d defines the Jewish People as His ‘servants’.
[5] Rabbi Akiva quotes a verse from Deuteronomy in which the Jewish people are called ‘children’ of G-d.
[6] ”Servant of G-d” in this piece is somebody who serves Hashem not because he wants to, but rather out of rote. Thus his service of G-d lacks true commitment and devotion.

Original text in Hebrew from site hebrewbooks.org

This article is is published for the elevation of the soul of Albert “Avraham” Chammah Halevy and his wife Adele, of blessed memory. Mr. Chammah was a descendant of Rabbi Eliyahu Chammah Halevy, the author of this text and contributed to publishing the latest edition of Korban Isheh, the most important work written by Rabbi Elyahu Chammah Halevy, who lived in Alep (Chalav – Aram Tzova), Syria about 200 years ago. May his memory be blessed and his offsprings enjoy true and complete success.