Every so often things come up that can seriously affect Klal Yisroel. Excessive pricing and rising economic costs is one example. The halacha is filled with illustrations of great Torah leaders who were concerned about the rising costs that Klal Yisroel faced.
THE ORIGIN OF PLAIN TACHRICHIM
The Gemorah in Moed Katan 27b tells us that when Jews were burying their dead in the finest clothing, Rabban Gamliel HaZakain arose and declared that enough was enough. The rising pressures, the “keeping up with the Joneses” in how to dress the deceased was causing enormous economic pressure on the living. “It must stop,” declared the rabbi, and the tachrichim, burial shrouds, we now use became the norm.
The great Tzemach Tzedek (of 17th century Poland), cited by the Mogain Avrohom in the beginning of hilchos Shabbos, once ruled (responsa #28) that when local fishermen collude and lift up the price the fish excessively, a prohibition can be levied upon the consumption of fish on Shabbos. It may take a week or two or even three, but eventually the collective buying power of ordinary people would force the price back down.
OBLIGATION UPON EVERYONE
We will see, however, that it is not just great Torah leaders who have saved and are concerned for the financial well-being of their fellow Jews. It seems that this is what is expected by the Torah of everyone. The Gemorah (Menachos 76a) tells us that Hashem commanded Moshe to also feed the nation’s livestock from the water that He had caused to emanate from the rock at Mei Merivah. Also, Rashi (Rosh Hashanah 27a) points out that the kohain first removes the vessels from the house before declaring a house impure. So we see examples of the Torah being concerned with the financial well-being of the Jewish nation.
FOR THE PUBLIC AND FOR PRIVATE INDIVIDUALS
The difference between the two cases is that the former is for the entire nation, while the latter demonstrates that the Torah is concerned even for the individual’s finances.
SOCIAL NORM AND TORAH OBLIGATION
The Chasam Sofer on Bava Basra (54b) states that, generally speaking, one can make the assumption that fellow Jews are concerned with the monetary well-being of their fellow man, and that this assumption has legal ramifications. So we see that it is the normal behavior expected of all Jews. Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher, author of the Tur, discusses (in the Choshen Mishpat section of Shulchan Aruch, chapter 35) a person who does not care about Jewish money, and he writes that such a person will, in the future, surely answer for it. The Minchas Chinuch writes that one who is concerned about the preservation of his fellow Jew’s money fulfills the Biblical commandment of v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha (see his commentary on that mitzvah). The clear indication from all these sources is that demonstrating concern for the financial well-being of others is not just a mitzvah, it is an expected social norm with reward for those who do it and punishment for those who do not.
There are many areas in which we can fulfill this Torah Mitzvah, and there are many businesses that can join in. Businesses ranging from retail establishments to service providers to doctors and dentists can attempt to pass the savings along to consumers. When done lishmah, with the proper motivation, this would, in fact, be a fulfillment of a Torah commandment of loving thy neighbor as thyself.
The essence of such a program is simple: Look to implement various cost-cutting measures and strategies, and opt to pass the savings along to the customer base. This can be done by businesses, medical practices and even Yeshiva administrators.
Often doctors already do it. How many times have we seen a doctor give a patient some sample medicine in order to save the patient the costs of filling a prescription? Or how many times do we see that a doctor will selflessly perform a procedure in his office just to save his patients the time and money involved in having to pursue it elsewhere? Many businesses offer a group health plan to their employees, but have stopped paying for it because of the expense involved. Still, trying to negotiate a better deal for them would be a fulfillment of this very noble Torah ideal—being concerned for the financial well-being of our brethren.
Another avenue in which we can fulfill this Torah mitzvah is just by familiarizing ourselves with various programs and prices that are available so that we can be in a better position to recommend it to others. For example, there are many people out there who are eligible for either (or even all) state-subsidized dental, orthodontic, and medical insurance for their children. There is no stigma in taking advantage of these programs for people who are truly eligible. It is just that a huge percentage of people are completely unaware of these programs. It would be a mitzvah of v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha to be informed about these programs and to pass them on to others.
What is important to keep in mind is that the mitzvah is not just to benefit the poor; the mitzvah applies to everyone.
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The article was originally posted on http://5tjt.com/the-mitzvah-to-be-chas-al-mammon-yisroel/