April 9, 2008

Ben Avuyah 2008?

There is a story in the news about a man who was killed in an auto accident a day after he gave $5.6 million dollars in charity for Purim. Onionsoupmix discusses this here and even brings up the similarities between this story and that of Ben Avuyah's OTD journy after seeing the death of a person who sent a mother bird away to retrieve her eggs. The reward for this, the torah says is that your days will be lengthened (Deut. 22:7). The Gemera says that the reward actual is for the next world, though it also mentions that for Charity it can also be to prolong your days

Beyond granting monetary success and protecting one's possessions, giving Tzedakah even protects one's life.

In Mishlei (10:2; 11:4) we read, "Tzedakah saves from death." The Gemara (Bava Batra 10a) explains that Tzedakah saves a person from two kinds of death: from "death" (i.e., non-participation) in the world to come, and from dying an unnatural death. In Shabbat 156b the Gemara extends the power of Tzedakah to preventing (that is, postponing) death altogether. (See the Gemara in Shabbat ibid., which records a number of true stories that illustrate this fact.)

It is for this reason that the Gemara (Rosh Hahsanah 16b) tells us that before Rosh Hashanah a person should give charity. Charity, the Gemara tells us, is one of the three things that have the power to change an evil heavenly decree concerning a person's fate. Even if it has been decreed that a person is to pass away during the coming year, giving charity may change that decree and extend his life.

Perhaps this is what the Gemara means in Sanhedrin 35a when it says, "If a fast day is declared and Tzedakah is not given on that very day, it is as if innocent blood had been shed." Why should the withholding of charity be compared to bloodshed (see Rashi ad loc.)? According to what we have said, we may suggest the following explanation. A fast day called for by the prevailing rabbinic authorities is usually declared in the face of a current or imminent disaster. If a catastrophic heavenly decree is indeed in store for the fasters, then by not giving Tzedakah to prolong their own lives that are at stake, it is as if they have shed blood -- their own blood.

In Bava Batra 10a we learn that Rav Elazar used to set aside a small amount of money for charity before his prayers. The explanation for this practice is perhaps also based on this same theme. A person asks his Creator for health and long years to use for the service of Hashem, when he prays. In order for these prayers to be fully effective, a person must complement them with the life-giving effects of Tzedaka.

Measure for measure is the reward for giving charity.

The passuk they are talking about is is Proverbs 10:2

לֹא-יוֹעִילוּ, אוֹצְרוֹת רֶשַׁע; וּצְדָקָה, תַּצִּיל מִמָּוֶת
There is also this section from a book called Gates of Light, Sha'are Orah that seems to also imply one gets his life prolonged for giving tzedakah or a righteous act.

So it seems there is a lot of sources for it being a reward here. So, what's up with chazal saying it's a reward for the next world? Is Onionsoupmix correct in saying this is an example of cognative dissonance? Did Chazal simply try to cover all their bases? I mean when it comes to the mitzvah of driving away the mother bird, it explicitly says your days will be prolonged. And aren't all mitzvot rewarding in the next world which makes this then redundant and unnecassary if one understands it the way chazal did? Is there actually more to this than meets the eye? (hint hint to upcoming post)

Personally, when such horrible tragedy occurs, I am a big fan of simply saying "I don't know." I would rather that, than explanations that seem forced. And to tell you the truth, I am not so much bothered by chazal, than I am by people today simply parroting chazal's manner of thinking without carefully thinking about it themselves.