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Nisan-Fighting the Fire of Anger XI-The Taz

Rabbi David, the author of the Taz, was asked by a poor man for the loan of a gold piece. He did not have the money in his possession and gave the man his silver goblet to pawn. On Friday he went to the pawn shop to redeem the goblet and was told that the men had received two gold pieces on it from the pawnbroker.


Rabbi David, however, showed no sign of displeasure, and quietly remarked, “I am glad I did not have the money at hand when I was asked to loan a gold piece, since the borrower evidently was in need of two gold pieces. By giving him my goblet to upon, I enabled him to secure what he required without being compelled to implore a second man for the loan of the other gold piece.” (Ohr Yesharim, page 217)

One of the advantages of reenacting our slavery in Egypt, is that it can help us become more sensitive to and patient with the needs of people who come asking for help. There are times when by carefully listening to the request we can distill the true needs of the supplicant, which is why there is such stress in the Seder on paying careful attention to the words of others: It is only by carefully listening to the questions of our children, as in the Four Sons, that we can discern from where they are coming how to answer and no with the proper words. We speak of God as, “The Listener,” in the Haggadah, when we mention how He listened to the cries of the Children of Israel: their children were being killed so that Pharaoh could bathe in their blood, and yet they cry out to God, “from their work.” God did not just hear their cries, He understood that they had lost all perspective, that their tears were those of people who had already shut off the natural instinctive feelings of parents for their children.

There are other times when listening, no matter how carefully, is insufficient, such as in this story above. Rabbi David had no way of knowing that the poor man needed double of what he was requesting. Unless, we are being taught that we should respond to a poor person who asks for a specific sum, “Are you sure that is enough?”

My father zt”l’s favorite Pesach story was of a man who came to the Brisker Rav and asked if it was permitted to use milk for the Four Cups of Wine. The great rabbi reached into a drawer, pulled out a wad of cash and handed it to the man without answering his question. When his students asked him about his strange response, he said, “If he was intending to drink milk at his Seder, he was not planning on eating meat; he couldn’t afford it. His question was an indirect way of asking for financial help.”

I often use this story when training rabbis to answer Halachic questions: Make sure you understand what lies behind the question. If necessary, respond to the question with one of your own: “Are you sure that is all you need?”

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