Mishlei Tools: The Three Weeks: 19:17: A Race with God
In honor of the holy Reb Zisha, who is constantly Racing with God: “One who is generous to the poor makes a loan to God; God will repay what is due (Proverbs 19:17).” Rabbi Elazar said: “God gives food to all flesh (Psalms 136:25),” and this person rushed to do this Mitzvah and fed the person before I did. The Holy One, Blessed is He, said: “I must repay this good, caring act,” which is the meaning of the verse, “God will repay what is due.” (Vayikra Rabbah 34:2)
Rabbi Elazar does not describe the one who gives charity as God’s messenger to feed the poor person, but as rushing to feed him before God took care of him! I believe that Rabbi Elazar is pointing out the dangers of believing that when we give charity that we are acting as God’s agents: there is the obvious danger of seeing ourselves as God’s agents and believing that we are more important that others. There is a greater danger; once we start approaching the needs of the poor as agents of God, we can fall into the trap of saying, “God will take care of them,” and wait for God. The real charity, teaches Rabbi Elazar, is to rush to help others before God does. He wants us to see charity as a race with God! Perhaps this is Rabbi Elazar’s reading of, “The zealous rush to do Mitzvot (Pesachim 4a).”
It does not take much to picture the people stuck in Jerusalem while it was under siege by the Babylonians, and again, hundreds of years later, by the Romans. It was impossible to walk anywhere in the city without seeing starving people dying on the streets. While God’s Holy City is threatened is not a time for people to say, “Nu, God will take care of it!” These were people who did not get along, people who hated each other for no reason.
This is why the Talmud (Gittin 66b) describes the wealthy people who opened their storehouses to feed and supply the suffering people; they raced against God to care for the needy. They are the examples of how we should act, especially during the Three Weeks when we strive to repair the sins that led to the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash. We must search for others in greater need than are we, and race God to find ways to care for them.