The Midrash (T’hilim 37) describes the famous meeting between Avraham Avinu and Malki-Tzedek (found in next week’s parshah). Chazal teach that Malki-Tzedek was in fact Sheim, the son of Noach, and he told Avraham that it was in the merit of tz’dakah (charity) that they survived in the ark.
“With whom did you do tz’dakah?” asked Avraham. “With the animals and the birds,” Malki-Tzedek answered. “We did not sleep at night. We went from one animal to the next, making sure they had enough to eat. Once, we were late, and my father was injured (see Rashi [7:23] who says it was by a lion).”
Avraham said to himself, “If they were only saved by the charity they did with animals and birds, and the one time that Noach was late he was ‘repaid’ and injured, then if I perform charity with people, who are formed in the image of the angels, surely in this merit I will be protected from injury!” Immediately, Avraham pitched a tent and provided his guests with food, drink, and lodging.
A number of years ago, a man by the name of Reb Nissim rented out an apartment on the ground floor of a building that he owned in Tel Aviv. The previous tenant was not observant at all and had lived in this apartment for two years. However, problems had already started within the first month of her lease, when she had complained about seeing mice in her apartment. Reb Nissim was perplexed, since he had been renting this apartment for a very long time, and nobody ever had such a complaint. True, it was located on the ground floor, but mice? There had never been any mice there before.
Whatever the case, he certainly wasn’t going to argue the point. If the tenant was claiming that there were mice in her apartment, then the solution was simple: He would call the city and ask them to carry out a pest control sweep of the area. When he called, the city sent someone over and swept the area. Yet to Reb Nissim’s surprise, the procedure wasn’t successful! Within a few days, the tenant was calling him once again with the same problem: “There are still mice in the apartment!”
After another pest control sweep also proved ineffective, Reb Nissim offered to tear up the tenant’s lease without penalty. She refused, however, preferring to stay in the apartment, brave the mice, and continue to complain.
One day, Reb Nissim came up with a novel idea. When the tenant called the next time to complain, he told her the story of Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair (Yerushalmi, D’mai 1:3), whom all the inhabitants of a certain city went to see. They sought his help because of an epidemic of mice that was threatening their entire harvest and could lead to a famine. After investigating the matter, Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair discovered that these people did not give tz’dakah (a tenth of their harvest for maaser), which is why their harvest was being attacked by mice. “I don’t know if this will help, but perhaps if you gave tz’dakah, the mice will leave,” Reb Nissim said to the tenant. In fact, from that day on, she never called him about the issue again.
Of course, as the relieved landlord, Reb Nissim himself never called to find out what happened in her apartment. As long as she wasn’t complaining, he preferred to steer clear of any potential problems and not contact her. A few months later, however, she called him because she had decided to move. At that point, she described all the changes that had taken place in her life since their conversation, the one in which he had encouraged her to give tz’dakah. “My friends here in the big city view the poor as ‘parasites’ and ‘opportunists,’ and there certainly isn’t any reason to help them! At first, I disagreed with them but, little by little, their words wormed their way into my heart, and I began refusing to help people, eventually followed by no longer giving money to charity. That was the day when the mice started to appear!”
By bringing up the subject of tz’dakah, Reb Nissim had triggered something within her, and she knew she must change her ways. A miracle then happened, and when she started giving charity, the mice vanished as if they had never existed!
The story doesn’t end there. The tenant in question left the apartment and someone else moved in. After a short time, this new tenant called Reb Nissim with the same complaint: Yes, there were mice in the apartment. This time, Reb Nissim knew just how effective municipal services were, and so he did not try contacting them to solve the problem. Instead, he directly advised the tenant to give some money to tz’dakah, all while explaining what had happened to the previous tenant. As expected, once the new tenant gave money to tz’dakah, the mice vanished as if they had never even been there!