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Mishlei 19-06

Generosity

Key Concepts

When someone is blessed with good fortune he has the opportunity to befriend others by helping people in financial need. Similarly a person who is blessed with Torah knowledge has the opportunity to share his wisdom with others who need a guiding hand. In either case, helping people is a mitzvah that can make the generous person feel good about himself. Indeed, it can be very gratifying to have people flock to his door, showering him with praise and friendship.

Mishlei encourages such generosity, but warns the donor not to count upon the sincere gratitude of those who are being helped. It is inevitable that people who need help will be drawn to the one who is able and willing to provide it. This means that the beneficiaries of the giver’s kindness will find it in their interest to reward him with their attention and good will, but consistent gratitude is too much to expect.

The reverse of this situation arises when a person falls upon hard times and is in desperate need of help. It is natural for him to expect friends or relatives to volunteer their assistance, especially considering that such help is a great mitzvah. Mishlei warns the dependent person that such help may not be forthcoming because people resist associating with someone who has an air of failure about him.

The conflicting scenarios of generosity versus dependency are touched upon by Mishlei in two related pesukim.

Exploring Mishlei

 רַבִּים יְחַלּוּ פְנֵי נָדִיב וְכָל הָרֵעַ לְאִישׁ מַתָּן

(6) Many entreat the favor of a philanthropist
and everyone is a friend to a man who gives gifts.

 כָּל אֲחֵי רָשׁ שְׂנֵאֻהוּ אַף כִּי מְרֵעֵהוּ רָחֲקוּ מִמֶּנּוּ
מְרַדֵּף אֲמָרִים לוֹ הֵמָּה

(7) All a pauper’s relatives shun him, even his friends withdraw from him.
Though he pursues [them] with words, [the words] remain his.

The first of these two proverbs concerns itself with people who are known in the community as generous individuals, especially when it comes to worthy causes. As we have previously seen in Mishlei 19-4 above, the friendship of people towards a rich man may not really be friendship to him, but friendship to his wealth. He can easily be misled into thinking that everybody likes him and approves of him, no matter how he behaves. That could be a serious mistake. Even if he is not a known philanthropist, he may have a reputation as a man who enjoys giving gifts. People are eager to be associated with such a man, for they are hopeful of being on the receiving end.

Similarly, the poor man may find himself shunned, not only by strangers, but even by close relatives. He may have disappointed them in their expectations of him, even though their expectations are unrealistic. Since they don’t share their thoughts with him, he has no way way of telling them how wrong they are. So the words are never spoken.

We also see that a poor man is often frustrated by the coldness and rejection of people who could help him. These people may resent the implication that the poor man is putting them on the spot or that he is not sufficiently grateful for help they may have given him in the past. If they are his relatives they may resent being associated with someone who makes them look bad.

Learning Mishlei

(6) Many seek — רַבִּים יְחַלּוּ
the favor of a philanthropist —
פְנֵי נָדִיב .
And everyone is a friend —  
וְכָל הָרֵעַ
to a giving man —
לְאִישׁ מַתָּן.

(7) All the relatives — כָּל אֲחֵי
of a pauper — רָשׁ
shun him — שְׂנֵאֻהוּ.

Even his friends — אַף כִּי מְרֵעֵהוּ
distance themselves — רָחֲקוּ
from him — מִמֶּנּוּ.

Though he pursues them with words —מְרַדֵּף.
the words remain his — אֲמָרִים לוֹ הֵמָּה

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