When a fire destroyed his small but beloved little town, Rabbi Yitzchak was forced to leave his post at the local synagogue and travel to beg for charity. The neighborhood desperately needed rehabilitation â€“ rebuilt homes, new clothing, food for the hungry â€“ and no one but the endearing, charismatic rabbi would be able to raise enough support to matter. Rabbi Yitzchak set out at once.
Reaching Â a prosperous city nearby, the rabbi set about visiting each of the local business establishments, hoping to draw out the compassion of the Jewish merchants there. The most elaborate business in town was a jewelry store at the end of the main street. The fine colored fabric of the awning flapped in the breeze. The freshly cleaned windows glistened like crystal. Diamonds glittered inside.
Eventually every other business in town had already been canvassed. Rabbi Yitzchak had indeed garnered quite a bit of help, but not nearly enough to cover the high costs of the tragedy. He hoped that the wealthy jewelry merchant would be his answer. It was to this promising final destination that Rabbi Yitzchak hurried at last.
The Joke Is On Who?
Ding-a-ling-a-ling! The bells hanging above the door jangled cheerfully as Rabbi Yitzchak stepped into the story with his worn coat and satchel. As his eyes adjusted to the dim, opulent surroundings, Rabbi Yitzchak noticed a tall figure leaning down between the velvet-covered tables and shimmering finery. The embossed silver buttons of his vest competed for attention with the golden chain of a pocket watch. The slick black of his oiled hair shone as brilliantly as his patent leather shoes.
Â â€śGood day, sir!,â€ť Rabbi Yitzchak called out with a smile.
The man in the shadows straightened up, squared his shoulders and returned Rabbi Yitzchakâ€™s smile broadly. â€śAnd a wonderful day to you, rabbi! I heard that you might be coming.â€ť
â€śOh, did you? Yitzchak Isaacs,â€ť the rabbi introduced himself, walking over and extending his hand warmly. â€śAnd with whom do I have the honor of speaking?â€ť
â€śWolff Goldenreich,â€ť the merchant replied as he shook the rabbiâ€™s hand firmly. â€śWhat can I do for you, rabbi?â€ť
Rabbi Yitzchak replied earnestly, â€śWell, if you heard I was coming, perhaps you also heard of my purpose. A little town just a few miles away from here recently suffered a terrible fire and a great deal of property was lost. Many were left penniless. I have been appealing to the good hearts of the many Jewish merchants in this city for your compassion and support during this difficult time. We are trying to rebuildâ€¦â€ť
Rabbi Yitzchak gazed into the smiling eyes of the businessman with hope and sincerity, only to be met with a robust peel of buoyant laughter.
â€śDid I miss the joke?,â€ť the rabbi asked with a bewildered grin.
â€śDidnâ€™t they tell you, rabbi? I never give charity! Not to you, and not to anybody else. It isnâ€™t personal. By all means, allow me to make you a cup of good coffee and send you on your way.â€ť
Rabbi Yitzchak thought fast. The friendly good nature of the two men had created an instant rapport, but they came from completely different worlds. There was only one way to turn the situation around. It was a risky move, but this was his last option to garner the funds necessary for the poor families of his town. He thought of the children without coats, the families without a roof to put over their head, the devastated streetsâ€¦
Rabbi Yitzchak hesitated for a few moments. Then he took the plunge.
Bikkur Cholim in the Jewelry Store
Putting on a benevolent smile, Rabbi Yitzchak matched laughter for laughter. Now it was the business manâ€™s turn to look slightly bewildered.
â€śAnd perhaps this time I missed the joke, rabbi?â€ť Despite the true seriousness of the situation, the rabbi kept the conversation light.
â€śOh, there is no joke at all, good Mr. Goldenreich,â€ť the rabbi responded jovially. â€śI am just very pleased to have the opportunity to perform a mitzvah!â€ť
â€śAnd what mitzvah would that be?,â€ť the storekeeper inquired curiously.
â€śWhy, the mitzvah of bikkur cholim, of course!,â€ť said Rabbi Yitzchak. â€śI am visiting the sick!â€ť
Though the smile did not leave his face for even a moment, the wealthy merchant was obviously even more confused. â€śThe doctorâ€™s clinic is a few streets away if the rabbi wishes to visit the ill â€“â€ś
â€śNot at all!,â€ť responded Rabbi Yitzchak confidently. â€śI am visiting the ill right now and had not even realized it. Itâ€™s a privilege! Thank you for letting me know.â€ť
â€śVisiting the ill? But I am not sick, sir, I am perfectly hale and healthy,â€ť parried the businessman.
The clever rabbi raised his hand to wag an index finger back and forth in disagreement. â€śWould you argue with the wisest of all men? King Solomon himself was the one who said it: â€śThere is an evil illness I have seen beneath the sun, wealth that is guarded by its owners to his detriment.â€ť (Koheles 5; 12) Since you have been blessed with wealth and are completely open about the fact that you give none of it to charity, itâ€™s obvious that this verse is referring to you. When youâ€™re called upstairs at 120 to give an accounting of how you used all the resources G-d gave you, youâ€™ll find out that your money hasnâ€™t done you any good. To the contrary, youâ€™ll see that it has been nothing but an illness, a detriment, because it allowed you to be miserly and cruel without your even realizing it. Iâ€™m sorry to be the one to break the hard news. In any case, though, Iâ€™m so glad to be able to perform the mitzvah of bikkur cholim with you!â€ť
Rabbi Yitzchak smiled warmly, secretly wondering whether he was about to be hurled out of the jewelry store. Instead, the businessman looked intrigued and spoke curiously, â€śYou seem too sincere to be joking, but honestly, the clinic is quite nearby with people who are genuinely sick.â€ť
Rabbi Yitzchak moved in for the conclusion.
â€śReb Wolff,â€ť Rabbi Yitzchak began, â€śTruthfully I believe the mitzvah is much better performed with you, despite your apparent physical health. Iâ€™m not joking in the slightest. The reason why? I know a secret that you donâ€™t. Agree to contribute charity to the people of my little town and I will tell it to you.â€ť
The merchant regarded the rabbi in bemusement. This clever man had certainly gotten his attention. What would be the great loss were he to agree to find out what the rabbi knew? For the first time in his life, Wolff Goldenreich pulled out his wallet for charity.
â€śAnything you like, rabbi, but first the secret,â€ť said the merchant eagerly.
â€śOkay, Wolff,â€ť replied the rabbi. â€śIâ€™ll tell you the secret. The secret is in this weekâ€™s parasha, Parashas VaYechi. Yaacov Avinu (Jacob our Father) is on his deathbed when his son Yoseph comes to visit him. Suddenly, Yaacov finds the strength to sit up. He feels a lot better! It says, â€śIsrael exerted himself and sat up on the bed.â€ť (Beraishis-Genesis 48:2) The word hamitah, the bed, has the numerical value of 59. Why? The Gemara in Nedarim 40a explains that when you visit a sick person you take away one sixtieth of his illness.â€ť
The quick-witted merchant nodded with a grin. â€śSo you came to take away one sixtieth of my illness as well, huh?â€ť As the jeweler handed the charity over to the rabbi both of them smiled, not just cordially this time.
â€śThatâ€™s right,â€ť replied the rabbi. â€śBut more than that, I also knew that by doing the mitzvah of bikkur cholim with you, I could actually help you get completely well. Because there you go â€“ youâ€™ve given charity. Your wealth isnâ€™t such a sickness for you anymore. One minute ago all your money was just aÂ noose around your neck for eternity, but now, when you get to 120, just tell them you took care of the families in my little town â€“ the children, the mothers, the elderly. I know their gratitude will stand in your merit forever.â€ť
The merchant replied slowly, â€śPerhaps youâ€™re right, rabbi. I never thought of it quite that way.â€ť
The meeting had benefitted both of them. The two parted as sincere friends.
by Braha Bender