Talmud Tips

For the week ending 2 March 2013 / 19 Adar I 5773

Shabbat 150 - 157

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll
  1. When speaking is considered doing
  2. Activities permitted for mitzvah purposes
  3. Taking a head start on a new week
  4. Preparing the dead for burial
  5. The perpetual cycle of poverty and charity
  6. What comes and goes with age
  7. Post-mortem experiences
  8. Stuck on the road with a purse as Shabbat enters
  9. The problem with an animal carrying for you
  10. Unloading an animal and touching it
  11. Feeding animals you own and those you dont own
  12. Mazal, predestination and horoscopes
  13. The lifesaving power of tzedaka
  14. The animal that died on Shabbat and its usability to feed dogs
  15. Annulling vows and shuttering windows

The Power of Tzedaka

  • Shabbat 156b

Two stories are told in our gemara about the lifesaving power of tzedaka which upset the predictions of fatal horoscopes.

A heathen astrologer pointed out to the Sage Shmuel a man who was on his way with others to do some reed chopping, and predicted that he would not return alive because a snake would kill him. Shmuel countered that if the man was a Jew he had a chance to survive. When the man indeed returned the astonished astrologer checked his bag of reeds and found in it a snake which the fellow had unknowingly chopped in half. Shmuel inquired of him what he did to merit this Heavenly rescue. It is the custom of the group in which I work," he explained, "that each day every member contributes some bread to a general collection which all then share. Today one fellow had no bread to contribute and I decided to save him from embarrassment. I assumed responsibility for making the collection and when I reached him I pretended that I was receiving his contribution while I was actually putting in some more of my own."

After pointing out that it was this mitzvah that saved his life, Shmuel publicly proclaimed that when King Shlomo promised that "Tzedaka saves from death" Mishlei 10:2) he was referring not only to a protection against a horrible death but against death itself.

A similar incident concerned Rabbi Akiva who was told by astrologers that his daughter would be killed by a snake on her wedding day. When it turned out that her life was saved by her inadvertently sticking a golden decorative pin into the eye of a snake, her father asked her what her merit was. "The evening of the wedding," she explained, "a poor man came knocking on the door in search of food. Since no one heard him because they were busy celebrating, I gave him my own portion of the wedding feast."

The public proclamation of Rabbi Akiva was exactly the same as the one made by Shmuel. Both of them were building on an observation made by Rabbi Yochanan (Bava Batra 10a) regarding the fact that the phrase "Tzedaka saves from death" appears twice (Mishlei 10:2 and 11:4). His explanation is that tzedaka saves both from a horrible death and from the suffering of gehinnom. What both Shmuel and Rabbi Akiva learned from their own experiences is that not only does tzedaka save one from unnatural death at the time designated for his demise, but even serves to postpone the date of death itself.

What the Sages Say

"Repent the day before you die and since a man does not know on which day he will die, he will repent today lest he die tomorrow and thus all of his days will be filled with repentance."

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