By Rabbi Yisroel Shusterman
This week's Torah portion—Mishpatim (Shmos [Exodus] 21:1-24:18) deals with many Mitzvot relating to social and monetary issues, between man and fellowman. Following is a beautiful story, recounted by the previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch, which highlights the results of one’s showing sensitivity and support to a person’s needs.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (1789-1866), known as the "Tzemach Tzedek," was orphaned from his mother, Rebbetzin Devorah Leah, at the age of three, and raised by his maternal grandfather, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (founder of Chabad, 1745-1812), who devoted much time and attention to the education and upbringing of his beloved grandson. Following Rabbi Schneur Zalman's passing, the young Rabbi Menachem Mendel continued to enjoy the guidance of his grandfather and mentor, who would appear to him in his dreams and in visions during the day to answer the questions that arose in the course of his studies.
But then these visits suddenly ceased. Rabbi Menachem Mendel had accumulated a number of questions which he was unable to resolve to his satisfaction, and was growing quite eager to see his grandfather. But the Rebbe did not appear to him. This caused Rabbi Menachem Mendel great pain.
Early one morning, Rabbi Menachem Mendel was making his way to the synagogue of his uncle and father-in-law, Rabbi DovBer of Lubavitch (who had succeeded Rabbi Schneur Zalman as the leader of Chabad Chassidism). Rabbi Menachem Mendel's path took him through the marketplace of Lubavitch, which was just coming to life at this early hour. There he was approached by Reb Mordechai Eliyahu, a simple but G-d-fearing man who earned a meager livelihood by buying and selling in the marketplace.
"Please, Rabbi Menachem Mendel," Reb Mordechai Eliyahu was saying, "can you loan me five rubles until this evening or tomorrow morning? Today is a market day; if I had a few rubles in hand, I could hope to earn something, with G-d's help."
"Of course, Reb Mordechai Eliyahu," replied Rabbi Menachem Mendel. "Come to my home after the morning prayers, and I'll give you the money."
Rabbi Menachem Mendel arrived at the synagogue and began to prepare for his prayers. His tallit was already folded over his shoulder and he was examining its tzitzit prior to putting it on when the thought occurred to him: "Why did I tell Reb Mordechai Eliyahu that I'd give him the money after I've finished my prayers? Today is market day; surely every moment is precious to him. I should have given him the money immediately."
Removing the tallit from his shoulder, he rushed home, got the money, and went to look for Reb Mordechai Eliyahu. After a lengthy search, Rabbi Menachem Mendel located Reb Mordechai Eliyahu, gave him the loan, and returned to the synagogue.
And when Rabbi Menachem Mendel had put on his tallit and wrapped his tefillin around his arm and head, he saw his grandfather standing before him, his face radiant with joy.
Thirty years later, Rabbi Menachem Mendel related the events of that morning to his youngest child, Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch. "When one helps a fellow earn 70 kopeks on the sale of a calf," concluded Rabbi Menachem Mendel, "the gates of the heavenly chambers are opened before him."
Rabbi Shmuel subsequently told this story to his son, Rabbi Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch. "Do we even know," he mused, "where to find the 'gates to the heavenly chambers' that are opened to us every time we do an act of charity? But no matter. The main thing is that we extend ourselves with a complete heart and true feeling. What greater joy can there be than the joy of being privileged to help a fellow man?"