The self-sacrifice of Rabeinu in tzedakah-related matters was famous, and yet few knew how deep and strong was the connection between Rabeinu and the mitzvah of tzedakah in general and his tzedakah organization, Kupat Ha’ir, which he founded and developed for tens of years - in particular.
Every day of the year Rabeinu zt”l was involved in the mitzvah of tzedakah-at the most individual and private times, in which Rabeinu guarded his restricted family circle- even then Kupat Ha’ir merited to be included within this circle; the mitzvah of tzedakah was treated as “one of the family” in every way.
So it was every year at the time of kapparos. Those who accompanied Rabeinu were instructed to leave the room, except for one individual- the representative of Kupat Ha’ir who brought him the names of Kupat Ha’ir contributors so that Rabeinu could daven for them. Once Rabeinu verbalized this: “He’s part of my family”- his intention here wasn’t referring to the representative himself as a private individual, but to what he carried in with him: many pages with the names of Kupat Ha’ir donors, who contribute to the tzedakah above and beyond their capabilities, knowing that this tzedakah gives them the merit of the special tefillah of Rabeinu.
When Rabeinu traveled to daven in Shunam, the location of the Ishas Shunamis, no one was allowed to participate in this private tefillah. He davened there privately for the Torah learning of himself, his children, and his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. No one entered. But then also, Rabeinu requested that the tzedakah box of Kupat Ha’ir be brought to him, in order to give his donation, and the names of its many contributors, so he could daven for them.
At the siyum haShas he made every erev Pesach in the morning, at ta’anis bechoros, he’d set aside a special time for tefillah for Kupat Ha’ir donors. There, too, no one other than the Kupat Ha’ir representatives were able to be included in the list of those Rabeinu would daven for- and for whoever was enumerated therein.
All this, in order to teach the Jewish nation how we should conduct ourselves, as Rabeinu wrote many times in his responses to different tzedakah-related questions he was given: “From him they will see and thus they will do.”
Every seven years Rabeinu would go to Maran HaGaon Rav Shmuel Halevi Wosner zt”l to make a prozbul with him, his minhag from the days of the Chazon Ish zy”a. The last shmitta years, when Rabeinu would go to Maran HaRav Wosner’s home, he’d request a Kupat Ha’ir tzedakah box to be brought to him, and the two Gedolei HaDor would contribute for Kupat Ha’ir’s needy recipients. These donations would make waves each time anew, since it was common knowledge that Maran HaRav Wosner was opposed to being photographed, and he therefore avoided doing certain mitzvos in public. Nevertheless, when the opportunity presented itself to strengthen Kupat Ha’ir, he deviated from his usual practice and decisively changed his behavior.
When the Ga’avad of Yerushalayim, Rav Yitzchak Tuvia Weiss, came to visit Rabeinu, Rabeinu wanted to show him the tzedakah box of Kupat Ha’ir. “This is my kupa,” he emphasized to his distinguished guest, words which galvanized the entire spectrum of the chareidi public. “To here it’s worthwhile to contribute; the money goes in its entirety to the most mehudar tzedakah there is.” This definitive testimony that Rabeinu bestowed upon Kupat Ha’ir clarified his standing towards it in the most conclusive way possible.
Also when Rabeinu was brought halachic questions in which people asked if they should continue their regular monthly donations even when their financial situation became difficult- in cases where Kupat Ha’ir was the recipient, Rabeinu instructed people to continue contributing despite the difficulty.
Rabeinu never agreed to promise recovery from illness, success, having children, or a good income. But when the petitioners noted that before requesting the bracha, they’d contributed to Kupat Ha’ir, Rabeinu’s face lit up, and he answered, “I can say that the refuah will come.” As the years passed, many petitioners learned this secret, and would regularly give a donation before they would ask for a bracha. The donation would “open the gates of Heaven,” and the bracha of Rabeinu would bring about the unbelievable…
When Rabeinu last visited Me’aras HaMachpela, close to fifty years after his previous visit, there was great excitement in the spacious place. No stranger was allowed entrance, but Rabeinu asked for the pages of Kupat Ha’ir…even during these great moments, when he davened for himself, for his household, and for the entire Jewish people- a place of honor was given to Kupat Ha’ir donors, the tzedakah organization that allowed him, as he mentioned many times, to learn in peace, knowing that his obligation to care for the poor and to plead their case was being taken off his shoulders.
Between receiving the public who constantly knocked at his door, his different shiurim, and his rigorous daily learning schedule, Rabeinu would always find time for public tzedakah meetings, even though until Kupat Ha’ir was founded he never attended such meetings. A number of times Kupat Ha’ir conducted tzedakah events and gatherings in his house, around his table, and Rabeinu opened his heart for the mitzvah of tzedakah.
Each Chol HaMoed, when Rabeinu would travel to the Kosel HaMa’aravi, the entrances would be closed and no vehicle would be granted entry. The few who were permitted entry time after time, as per the explicit request of Rabeinu, were “the papers of Kupat Ha’ir.” The list of donors was an inseparable part of his tefillos, also at his most private and personal times.
Before Kol NIdre, Rabeinu requested that the tzedakah box of Kupat Ha’ir be brought to him so he could contribute; after kapparos, before Sukkos, at Chanukah, at the lofty moments of matanos ha’evyonim on Purim, on erev Pesach and before Shavuos- every time he would be turned to for tzedakah campaigns, Rabeinu would strive to show everyone that the proper way, in his eyes, was not to donate to individuals, after personal investigation, but specifically to contribute via Kupat Ha’ir, in which he placed his full trust.
Rabeinu’s amazing self-sacrifice for the mitzvah of tzedakah caused a great awakening for this mitzvah in all strata of the public, and turned tzedakah into an inseparable part of daily life in every Jewish home. The tzedakah box wasn’t just another box into which one drops a coin once a week before Shabbos candlelighting; it became de rigeur for every issue, whether small or great: one precedes tzedakah to tefillah; to bracha; to any act;to any activity;to any concern; to any simcha- and the results were seen in every Jewish home.
Throughout all the years Rabeinu didn’t rest, but offered Kupat Ha’ir any assistance possible without considering his personal honor or standing. He received its gabbais at all times; he showed interest in its smallest details; he greeted its “big” donors most warmly and encouraged them to continue to contribute; he received questions and requests for brachos which Kupat Ha’ir donors sent him daily without letup; he wrote long and detailed letters for Kupat Ha’ir.
Throughout the years, from the time that Rabeinu founded Kupat Ha’ir, tens of times he sent out letters in which he called upon the community to strengthen his organization, Kupat Ha’ir, and as an enduring testimony, he wrote in his last letter from the 4th of Adar Beis of this year: “Kupat Ha’ir is faithful to me in all matters relating to tzedakah.”
According to the will of Rabbi Akiva Eiger zt”l which speaks of giving tzedakah at the time of the levayah, and in accordance with the directive of Rabeinu Maran Rosh HaYeshiva HGR’ Gershon Edelstein shlit”a, 785 shekels [$241], the numerical equivalent of the name Shmaryahu Yosef Chaim, should be contributed within 72 hours of the petirah (Monday noontime), and will be distributed to the poor l’ilui nishmaso.