The Torah commands us to treat our poor and impoverished brethren with dignity and respect. The Alshich HaKadosh zt”l explains that if one sees that his friend or neighbor has become impoverished, he must consider that person as “your brother,” literally as your family member, because the whole reason why there are poor people in the world is just so the wealthy can gain merit through them by giving tz’dakah and supporting them. If not for the poor, these wealthy people would have fewer z’chuyos. Thus, the Torah states: “You must support him...so that he shall live.” In other words, support him while he is still considered “alive” and he has not fallen into total indigence and destitution, when he is considered as if he was dead. The wealth and riches that HaKadosh Baruch Hu doles out to those who are fortunate to receive Heavenly bounty are meant to give life to our brothers. That is the purpose of wealth.
A married man who studied in the yeshivah in Radin under the Chofetz Chaim, Rav Yisrael Meir HaKohen Kagan zt”l, was an extremely diligent scholar who suffered from dire poverty. He continued to learn Torah, but he often had no food to put on his table. This distressed him greatly and, every so often, he would turn to the Chofetz Chaim and complain about his predicament. “Rebbi,” he would say, “why must I be so poor? If only Hashem would shower me with wealth, I would give generously to tz’dakah!” The Chofetz Chaim would listen with empathy but did not respond.
Shortly thereafter, the man started a small business and was blessed with success. At first, the success was quite modest, and he continued to learn in the yeshivah. However, in a short period of time, he actually became an extraordinarily wealthy individual. He moved away from Radin, and his business flourished. He lived in a large house and life was good for him. Unfortunately, he forgot all about the promise that he had made to the Chofetz Chaim years earlier, and not only did he not give tz’dakah, but he became a full-fledged miser, as well. He developed a terrible reputation that the money-collectors should not even bother coming, since they would get nothing from him for their efforts.
Several years later, the Chofetz Chaim happened to visit the wealthy man’s city, and his former talmid came out to welcome him. The Chofetz Chaim greeted him warmly and asked if he gave charity as he once said he would.
“Rebbi,” said the wealthy man, “I have been stricken with the trait of miserliness. It is as if my hand is sealed shut with both lock and bolt, and I am unable to give any tz’dakah at all. What should I do?”
“I will tell you a mashal (parable),” replied the Chofetz Chaim. “A farmer from a village approached a storeowner in town and asked to purchase a ruble’s worth of flour. ‘Go ahead and fill your sack with flour,’ the storeowner told the villager.
“When the farmer heard that he could take the flour on his own, he quickly rushed over and took a large sack, which he then filled up with flour. When the sack was totally filled to capacity, he went over to the storeowner and handed him a ruble. The storeowner looked at him and then at the sack filled with fine flour. He shook his head. ‘My friend,’ exclaimed the storeowner in surprise, ‘You have filled up such an enormous sack with flour and yet you pay me only one ruble?’
“But the farmer did not understand the question. ‘Yes, that is correct,’ responded the farmer. ‘I told you I wanted a ruble’s worth of flour, and you told me to fill up my sack. So that is what I did. But I still only wish to pay you one ruble.’
“‘True,’ replied the storeowner. ‘I told you to fill up your sack, but when I saw the huge sack that you brought, I figured that you had changed your mind and wished to buy a larger quantity of flour. Many merchants do that as well. As you placed more flour in your sack, the weights on the scale grew heavier and heavier. Now the cost is much more than one ruble.’”
The Chofetz Chaim looked at his talmid and shook his head sadly. “What did you expect?” concluded the tzadik. “Did you really think that you could amass hordes of wealth and ‘fill up your sack’ to the top, and your yeitzer ha’ra – which persuades you to close your hand to the needy – would remain exactly as it was when you were poor?”