Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Pure Kindness

The Avnei Neizer, zt”l, once asked Rav Yitzchak of Vorki, zt”l, “The Gemara in Megillah 4a states that those Jews who dwell in the rural villages are permitted to read the megillah earlier than usual to enable them to supply provisions for their brothers in the city on Purim itself. We don’t find that Chazal were lenient on farmers regarding any other mitzvah—why did they make an exception in this case?”

Rav Yitzchak explained, “The Gemara in Bava Basra brings Shlomo HaMelech’s indictment of the ‘chessed of the non-Jewish nations’ as a sin (Mishlei 14:34) and explains that the idolater’s charity is flawed because it is generally given for ulterior motives. If the act of kindness did not have a talismanic effect to bring him the blessing he sought, he wants a refund! Since the idolater had been trained his entire life that giving money altruistically is just wasteful, he doesn’t really care what happens to the recipient as long as he, himself, experiences a benefit from the act of giving. A Jew, on the other hand, does care about the fact that his giving has helped those in need. For this reason, even if a Jew gives charity with a condition in mind, it is still considered charity. It is assumed that even if the charity doesn’t act as a segulah for him to attain the object of his desire, he will not regret the act of giving because beneath it all he has a sincere desire to help others as well.”

Rav Yitzchok concluded, “What does this have to do with Purim? The root of all the character defects of the nations is Amalek, as it says in the verse: ראשית גוים עמלק—‘Amalek is the head of all nations.’ (Bamidbar 24:20) Purim is the time when we obliterate Amalek from within and without. The ultimate expression of Amalek is selfishness. This is why we make a special decree so that the people of the villages can help their brothers in the city; self-sacrifice for the sake of one’s fellow Jew is the ultimate destruction of Amalek!”

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