Parshas VaYikra introduces the concept of Korbanos, which is meant to atone for our sins. The worst of all punishments consists of “riches hoarded by their owner to his misfortune” (Koheles 5:12). When Hashem wants to inflict a particularly severe punishment upon someone, He first lets him rise in social status. He allows him to live a pleasure-filled life in the midst of a society that reflects his own values. At that point, once he has grown accustomed to leading a life of luxury and has become known in “high society,” Hashem takes away his wealth. This principle (that the bestowal of wealth may end up being a punishment) is applicable in every area. “Wealth” does not necessarily mean money, but may include honor, abilities, and children. Indeed, everything that a person benefits from may constitute “wealth” that may be to the detriment of its owner. We must always remember that if we do not possess a certain kind of “wealth,” it is because His will is not to give it to us. It is not because He does not love us. On the contrary, it is precisely because Hashem does love us that He doesn’t give us benefits in excess. His will is motivated by His love and desire to help us.
All his life, Rav Chaim Kreiswirth zt”l, the Chief Rabbi of Antwerp, was involved in tz’dakah and helping other people. He would not concern himself with his personal well-being; all that mattered was that he could help another Jew in his time of need. In the latter part of his life, Rav Kreiswirth was very active collecting tz’dakah for hachnasas kallah for poor orphans.
There is a story told about a wealthy Jew who went to see Rav Kreiswirth and confided a secret to him: “Rebbe, everyone thinks that I’m a rich man. People see me dressed in fine clothes and driving a luxury vehicle. In reality, I was wealthy, very wealthy; but I’ve lost my entire fortune and don’t have anything to live on. I don’t even have food with which to feed myself.” Moved by this account, Rav Chaim decided to collect money for him.
The Rav therefore went with his gabbai to see a wealthy man in the community and shared this story with him. After listening to the Rav’s account, the rich man asked him: “Rebbe, what amount are you looking for?”
Rav Chaim thought for a moment. “One hundred thousand dollars,” he replied.
The rich man whistled softly. “That is quite a considerable sum of money. I would need to know the identity of the man who went bankrupt. I am prepared to give him $30,000 in cash, but only if you reveal his name to me.”
The Rav replied, “He asked me not to divulge his identity, so that would be impossible for me to do.”
The wealthy man increased his offer. “I really want to know who this man is. If you tell me his name, I’m ready to give him $50,000.” However, R’ Chaim continued to refuse. He would not divulge the name no matter what.
The rich man stood up and implored Rav Kreiswirth to tell him who needs so much money. He offered an even greater amount, eventually promising that he would immediately provide the Rav with the complete sum he was looking for, the full $100,000, but only if he revealed the identity of the recipient.
Rav Chaim also stood up. He turned to his gabbai who had accompanied him and said, “Come, we’re leaving. If this man will only give tz’dakah with conditions, we won’t accept anything from him.”
They had already reached the door when the man called out to Rav Chaim. “Rabbi Kreiswirth, please don’t leave. Please come back into my office. I want to speak to the Rav privately.”
The Rav agreed, and so they went into the man’s office. After the man closed the door, he sat down and burst into tears.
After having calmed himself a little, the man started telling his story: “Rebbe, I found myself in the exact same position as the person you are taking care of. I also lost all my money, and today I barely have enough to live on. Until now, I haven’t asked anyone for help, even though my family and I are suffering from hunger. I prefer to die from starvation rather than to ask anyone for help, for fear that my situation becomes known. Until now, I’ve found no solution to my problem, and I haven’t counted on anyone. Now, however, I know that I can trust you to keep a secret. That’s why I am, please, asking you to help me, as well.”