כ׳ בכסלו ה׳תשע״ג (December 4, 2012)

Shabbat 62a-b: Causes of Poverty

While discussing aggadic explanations of Biblical verses, the Gemara offers the following teaching –

Rabbi Abbahu said, and some say it was taught in a baraita: Three matters bring a person to a state of poverty as a divine punishment from Heaven: One who urinates before his bed while naked, and one who demeans the ritual washing of the hands, and one whose wife curses him in his presence.

In response to this, Rava offers a number of limitations to Rabbi Abbahu’s teachings:

– With regard to one who urinates before his bed while naked, Rava said: We only said this prohibition in a case where he turns his face toward his bed and urinates toward it; however, if he turns his face and urinates toward the outer portion of the room, we have no problem with it. And where one turns his face toward his bed, too, we only said this prohibition in a case where he urinates on the ground; however, if he urinates into a vessel, we have no problem with it since that is not considered disgusting.

– With regard to one who demeans the ritual washing of the hands, Rava said: We only said this statement in a case where he does not wash his hands at all; however, if he washes his hands and does not wash them with a significant amount of water, we have no problem with it.

– With regard to one whose wife curses him in his presence, Rava said: This is referring to a case where she curses him over matters relating to her ornaments, i.e., she complains that he does not provide her with jewelry. The Gemara comments: And that applies only when he has the resources to buy her jewelry but does not do so; however, if he does not have sufficient resources he need not be concerned.

The general approach taken by the rishonim is that poverty is not a natural consequence of the actions listed in the Gemara; it is a divine punishment (see Rashi). However, some commentaries explain that one who conducts himself in an unhygienic manner displays the traits of idleness and laziness, which ultimately lead to poverty. Even with regard to the case of his wife’s jewelry, one who treats his wife poorly will cause his wife to adopt a contemptuous attitude toward her household responsibilities, which will also lead to poverty (Me’iri). Some commentaries interpreted the issue of the woman’s jewelry as an example of the punishment fitting the crime, as is explained in the Gemara. Since one’s wife is dependent on him and he fails to meet her needs, he will be punished in kind and God will not meet his needs (Rabbeinu Nissim).

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