While it would be inaccurate to say that I have a favorite Biblical verse, Midrash, or Halachah, there are several I have taught many times.
What I have learned over and over again is that the Talmudic phrase (Chagiga 9b) — “One who reviews the material 100 times is not the same as one who does it 101 times” — is absolutely true. It often happens that, when I think I have “cracked” the real meaning of a text, in a discussion with my audiences and students, very frequently someone reveals a new, surprising, and welcome breakthrough.
One of the texts I have taught innumerable times during the last four or five decades is:
Mar Zutra said: Even a poor person who is supported by Tzedakah must give Tzedakah. (Gittin 7b).
I have read articles about homeless people who have taken change or a bill out of their pocket or purse — sometimes representing their next meal. The reporter has written the article because it, indeed, is very moving, and certainly unexpected. When I see these articles, I am not surprised, because I know the Talmudic text.
My audiences and students have offered a few reasons for Mar Zutra’s statement:
1. Inclusion: If someone is asking for donations from others, you would be denying the poor person his or her place within the chevra of other human beings.
2. The money: Whatever the goal is (in terms of the amount of Tzedakah to be raised), every donation makes a difference.
3. Empowerment: The poor person is generally a taker — in Mar Zutra’s example, one who is surviving on the givers to the communal Tzedakah fund. By the poor person’s giving, he or she has significantly changed the relationship.
4. Dignity: By not asking the poor person, we are essentially saying, “You are not worthy.” Diminishing the poor person’s human value is a dreadful wrong — a felony, not a mere misdemeanor. We are labeling that person as not really a someone, but part of an abstract category of “poor people”, or worse, “the poor”.
And I certainly believe that there is reason to assume that in my future Torah sessions there most assuredly will be more insights to add to the four listed above.