כ״ד בסיון ה׳תשע״ג (June 2, 2013)

Eiruvin 86a-b: Honoring the Wealthy

When deciding whether a renter needs to participate in the courtyard’s eiruv, the Mishna (85b) teaches that as long as the owner retains the right to enter the apartment to take what belongs to him, the renter is considered part of the owner’s household and does not need to contribute separately to the eiruv. As an example, the Gemara points to the case of Bonyas – someone so rich that his possessions were stored in the apartments that he rented out to others.

This story leads the Gemara to discuss the respect that various sages showed to wealthy people, based on the passage in Tehillim (61:8) – “May he be enthroned before God forever; appoint mercy and truth, that they may preserve him” – which is understood to mean that rich people who are able to offer food and support to others deserve to be honored.

This (homiletical interpretation) is explained in a number of different ways by the commentaries. Some say that the wealthy people deserve respect because their charity and generosity support the world. The Aruk suggests that the very fact that they are wealthy is an indication that they are being rewarded for their good deeds and compassion, so they are clearly deserving of honor. Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Chajes explains that it would be impossible for those people who are devoted to Torah study to sit “before God” and learn were it not for the wealthy people who are involved in the practical aspects of the commandments and community needs. The Maharsha argues that “before God” in this passage means “before of the generation,” and what is being suggested is that the generosity of the wealthy people allows them to sit before the Sages.

In a homiletical vein, the Maharil suggests that Rebbi and Rabbi Akiva – the Sages who honored the wealthy people – did so in order that, when the honor was reciprocated, the respect that they received would be due to their own wealth and not because of their Torah knowledge, since they did not want to derive any personal benefit from the honor that truly belongs to the Torah.

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