February 27, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Reb Dovid Leib Schvartz, a Viznitzer chassid, endearingly referred to as der heiligeh schnorrer, —the holy beggar,” was a beloved and well-known gabbai tzedakah in Bnei Brak. One of the neighborhood’s recognizable, holy characters, he lived with his wife in a single room apartment, and was “a regular” at the shteiblach and minyan factories across the city, and always seemed to appear wherever and whenever Jews gathered, schlepping his large plastic tzedakah bucket. He was there for every funeral and simchas for decades, collecting whatever he could for local aniyim, stricken with poverty or illness. Rain or shine, he could be found with his bucket in hand, tirelessly collecting tzedakah for those in need. When Reb Dovid Leib entered the room, Rav Chaim Kanievsky, zt”l, would stand in his honor.

Reb Dovid Leib was completely dedicated to others, yet he himself lived in complete poverty; he was a baal yissurin who—despite his own suffering—refused to take a single agora for himself and his wife. He could also be found learning sifrei Kabbalah at all hours of the night in one of the local shuls.

At weddings, he would circulate among the guests during the seudah, wishing them mazel tov and enabling them to do the great mitzvah of tzedakah. Among the guests, there were sometimes those who were not thrilled that their meal was interrupted. They would begrudgingly reach into their pockets and flip a couple of coins into his bucket. Once, he approached an unhappy person who was—at that moment—overeager to dig into his schnitzel. This man suddenly lost his temper and slapped Reb Dovid Leib across the face. An embarrassing scene unfolded in front of the large crowd, but Reb Dovid Leib was not fazed in the slightest. Barely flinching from the blow, he replied with absolute calm: “Ah! Good, good. That was for me … but what about something for the aniyim?”

~

Our sedra focuses our attention on the importance of being attuned to the needs of our brothers and sisters, and “doubles down” on the obligation to give tzedakah:

כִּי־יִהְיֶה בְךָ אֶבְיוֹן מֵֽאַחַד אַחֶיךָ בְּאַחַד שְׁעָרֶיךָ … לֹא תְאַמֵּץ אֶת־לְבָבְךָ וְלֹא תִקְפֹּץ אֶת־יָדְךָ מֵאָחִיךָ הָאֶבְיוֹן: כִּי־פָתֹחַ תִּפְתַּח אֶת־יָדְךָ לוֹ וְהַעֲבֵט תַּעֲבִיטֶנּוּ דֵּי מַחְסֹרוֹ אֲשֶׁר יֶחְסַר לוֹ:

“If there will be among you a needy person, from one of your brothers in one of your cities … you shall not harden your heart, and you shall not close your hand from your needy brother. Rather, open, you shall surely open your hand to him, and you shall lend him sufficient for his needs, which he is lacking.” (15:7-8)

The double language of פָת֧חַ תִּפְתַּח— “open, you shall surely open,” paints a visual cue, as it implores us to open both of our hands in generosity. The verse is also preceded and followed by two mitzvos of giving: separating tithes and observing shemitah. In dedicating a 10th to charity, we express—in action—our belief that we are not the ultimate owners of our possessions. During shemitah, one demonstrated radical emunah by forgiving the loans he had extended, as well as setting free his indentured servants once their rehabilitative service was complete. Both commandments involve open-handedness, פָתֹחַ תִּפְתַּח—a relinquishing ownership and letting go, and a deep trust in HaKadosh Baruch Hu.

These Torah continues:

נָתוֹן תִּתֵּן לוֹ וְלֹא־יֵרַע לְבָבְךָ בְּתִתְּךָ לוֹ כִּי בִּגְלַל הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה יְבָרֶכְךָ ה׳ אֱלֹקיךָ בְּכָל־מַעֲשֶׂךָ וּבְכֹל מִשְׁלַח יָדֶךָ … פָתֹחַ תִּפְתַּח אֶת־יָדְךָ לְאָחִיךָ לַּעֲנִיֶּךָ וּלְאֶבְיֹנְךָ בְּאַרְצֶךָ:

“Give, you shall surely give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him; for because of this thing Hashem will bless you in all your work and in all your endeavors … you shall surely open your hand to your brother, to your poor one, and to your needy one in your land.” (15:10-11)

On this subsequent occurrence of doubled terminology, נָתוֹן תִּתֵּן לוֹ—“give you shall surely give,” Rashi interprets: אפילו מאה פעמים—“… even if you do it 100 times (give readily and without regrets).” We may be able to feel some happiness while performing a single act of limit-stretching generosity—but the true test is in repetition.

A Jew in dire straits—collecting desperately needed funds for his family—once arrived at the door of Reb Mendel Riminov and poured out his troubles before the tzaddik. The rebbe warmly turned over a large donation. Then, as the Yid turned to leave, the Riminover stopped him and handed him an additional kopek. A curious onlooker asked, “Rebbe, why give him tzedakah twice?”

Reb Mendel responded: “The first time, I gave him because his crying melted my heart. Hearing all his tzaros, I was overwhelmed and gave him as much as I had. After I searched my coat pockets again, I found one more coin. And this, I gave to him for the sake of the mitzvah of tzedakah.”

As the Riminover explains, this is the intended meaning of the doubled language of the pesukim in our sedra, נָתוֹן תִּתֵּן … פָתִֹחַ תִּפְתַּח. Giving has to be done twice. The first act is for “our sake,” to open our hearts to empathy, compassion and generosity. This level of tzedakah fulfills our own needs: to give, to let go of the feeling of ownership and entitlement, to have emunah that Hashem will continue to provide for us and to express love to others. It brings blessing into “all our work and all our endeavors.” The second act is—honestly—just for the sake of the one in need.

May all of us have pockets filled with coins, wallets filled with cash, bank accounts that are overflowing with abundance and portfolios that are flourishing. No one—including ourselves—should lack anything. And also, if by chance, we become aware of someone in need, may our hearts open to give … and give again … and again. For giving tzedakah is certainly a blessing for us—but what about something for the aniyim?


Rav Judah Mischel is executive director of Camp HASC, the Hebrew Academy for Special Children. He is the mashpiah of OU-NCSY, founder of Tzama Nafshi and the author of “Baderech: Along the Path of Teshuva.” Rav Judah lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh with his wife Ora and their family.

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