Talmud Tips

For the week ending 14 March 2015 / 23 Adar I 5775

Ketuvot 44 - 50

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

“Rabbi I’la said, ‘In Usha they decreed that one who gives his money (to the needy — Rashi) should not give more than a fifth (of his property — Rashi), so that he should not impoverish himself and need help from others’.”

Rashi on the previous daf explained that “Usha” refers to one of the places where the Sanhedrin convened in the time of the Roman exile. This was one of the numerous decrees they enacted there in exile.

Since this was a Rabbinical decree, what was the legal obligation and limitation of a giver of tzedaka before this decree? It appears from the writings of the Aruch Hashulchan (Yoreh De’ah 249:1-4) that a new situation arose in exile that required the Rabbis to intervene. Earlier, when the Jewish People were dwelling in their Land their financial situation was relatively good. There was wealth in the Land, although poor and needy people certainly existed. However, the overall picture was such that the general wealth of the populace could deal with the need to help the poor without requiring great sacrifice from the donors. There was no risk of their needing to give so much that they would also become poor and need to seek help for themselves. The exile changed all this. The number of impoverished grew greatly, while the wealth of the people who “managed” could not keep up with the growing needs to give tzedaka in the same generous manner as before.

Therefore, the Sanhedrin in Usha decreed that a person should not give more than a fifth of his property or income, so that the situation would not deteriorate even more. However, despite this “cap” that they fixed, they also allowed for exceptions in special circumstances (see examples in Ahavat Chesed by the Chafetz Chaim in ch. 20; Shulchan Aruch Yoreh De’ah 249:1).

  • Ketuvot 50a

“Wealth and riches will be in his house, and his righteousness will stand forever.”(Psalms 112:3)

Rav Huna and Rav Chisda each explained this verse in a different manner. One of them (it is not specified which one) taught that the verse refers to one who learns Torah and teaches it to others. The other Sage stated that it refers to a person who writes a Tanach and lends it to others.

The Maharsha explains each interpretation. In the first interpretation, wealth is a metaphor for Torah. Just as one who shares his assets with the needy not only does not diminish his wealth but actually receives additional wealth from Above (Ta’anit 9a) — likewise one who shares his wealth of Torah wisdom with students will not lessen his Torah wisdom by devoting his time to teaching, but he will gain increased Torah understanding — “and from my students I learned the most (Ta’anit 7a).” And we also see in the verse that when he teaches Torah he should teach without pay, just as G-d taught us His Torah for free. We also can see this in this verse: Just as a person who gives tzedaka gives money but does not take, so too a Torah teacher should give, but not take payment for his teaching.

According to the second interpretation, the person is lauded for using his wealth to write scrolls of the Tanach to lend to people who need them for learning Torah, without taking any rental payment.

According to these interpretations, the person has used his wealth of Torah knowledge or wealth of financial resources to selflessly benefit others — and “his righteousness will stand forever”.

  • Ketuvot 50a

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