By HaRav Mordechai Greenberg
Rosh HaYeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh
“Whoever closes his eyes to charity is called wicked... ‘Beware, lest your heart will be considered wicked...’ [Devarim 15:9]. The Holy One, Blessed be He, is close to the cries of the poor people, as is written, ‘You hear the cries of the poor’ [from the Shacharit prayer on Shabbat]. Therefore one must take care with their cries, since they are protected by an explicit covenant, as is written, ‘And it will be, when he cries out to Me, I will listen, because I am merciful’ [Shemot 22:26].” [Hilchot Matanot Aniyim 10:3].
The Talmud in Berachot teaches us that when Moshe asked, “Please show me your glory” [Shemot 33:18], the Holy One, Blessed be He, refused. He said, “When I wanted to, you did not. Now that you want it, I do not.” Rashi explains that when the Holy One, Blessed be He, called out to Moshe from the Burning Bush, Moshe did not want to look, as is written, “And Moshe hid his face, for he was afraid to look at G-d” [Shemot 3:6]. But this is not easy to understand. Moshe hid his face out of fear, why should he be criticized for doing this?
The Talmud tells us that Rav Yehuda sat in front of his teacher Shmuel when a woman came to cry about some evil that was done to her, and that Shmuel did not respond (Shabbat 55a). Rav Yehuda asked why Shmuel did not take into account the verse, “One who closes his ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and will not be answered” [Mishlei 21:13]. And Shmuel replied that Mar Ukvah, the head of the court, would look into the matter.
This story is continued in another place in the Talmud. We are told that Rav Yosef became ill and was revived. He told about mystical visions that he saw in the heavens: “Things are topsy-turvy – Those who should be high are down below, those who should be low are high.” [Bava Batra 10b]. The Tosafot write, “Rabbi Chananel explains, based on the words of the Geonim, who were taught this passed down from one rabbi to another: a topsy-turvy world means that he saw Shmuel sitting before his student Rav Yehuda, who had complained to Shmuel about the poor woman who appeared before him, but he ignored her.” We should learn from this that even if a person is not able to provide any help he must still listen to people who are suffering.
This is similar to the way the Kli Yakar explains why Moshe was scolded for hiding his face. “He called out his name twice, ‘Moshe, Moshe,’ because the Holy One, Blessed be He, felt the exile of Yisrael as a heavy burden – as it were – and He therefore called out to Moshe twice. He wanted Moshe to hurry and to lighten His burden, as is written, ‘I join him in his trouble’ [Tehillim 81:15].” The complaint of the Holy One, Blessed be He, was that even though Moshe could not directly provide help, when he saw that the Holy One, Blessed be He was carrying a heavy burden he should at least show that he sympathized. But instead Moshe did not want to look.
Based on this, the sages taught us that we have an obligation to participate in the problems of the community. They wrote, “When Yisrael are suffering and one person separates himself from them, the two angels who accompany every person put their hands on his head, and they say, ‘This man, who separated himself from the community, will not have the merit of seeing their salvation.’” [Taanit 11a].
Rabbi Shimon Shkop wrote in the introduction to his book, “Shaarei Yosher” - “The foundation and the root of the goal of our lives is for all of our labors to be dedicated to the good of the general public.”