כ״א בניסן ה׳תשע״ה (April 10, 2015)

Ketubot 67a-b: Into the Fiery Furnace

We all know that it is a mitzva to give charity. According to Jewish law, the ideal would be to offer support to others anonymously, particularly when it might be embarrassing to know who the giver is.

Our Gemara tells of Mar Ukva who would slip four zuz under a needy neighbor’s door every day. One particular day, when Mar Ukva was accompanied by his wife, the neighbor decided that he wanted to see his benefactor. When they realized that he was coming after them, the couple ran away and found a hiding place in a large oven. Although there was no fire going, it was still hot from previous use, and Mar Ukva’s feet were singed. His wife suggested that he stand on her feet in order to protect his own. Mar Ukva was disturbed that his wife’s merit protected her from the heat of the furnace, while his did not. Her explanation was that as someone who was found in her kitchen at home, she was able to offer direct support to poor people who came to her door, while he gave charity that still needed to be taken and used by the poor person to purchase his needs. In explaining their behavior, the Gemara quotes Rabbi Yohanan in the name of Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai, who taught that a person should sooner throw himself into a fiery furnace than publicly embarrass his friend.

Mar Ukva headed the Babylonian community in the first generation of amoraim. Aside from his political position, he was also one of the acknowledged rabbinic leaders, who was a student of Shmuel. He is quoted many times throughout the Talmud in discussions with his contemporaries, and he was in close contact with of Israel, with whom he exchanged letters. Most important, for our purposes, was his reputation as a righteous, generous man, particularly in the realm of charity.

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