Charity and Righteousness
by Chana Katz
The tomb of Benyamin HaTzadik
is one of Tzfat's more colorful gravesites. It is also the most homey.
The cinammon-red oriental rugs,
decorative head scarfs draped around the walls and electric urn perking
to provide the visitor with a hot drink combine to create a special warm
It seems a most appropriate
tribute for this Mishnaic sage, a disciple of Rabbi Akiva. It was his
unselfish giving from his own personal funds that sustained a desperately
poor woman and her seven children.
The Talmud tractate "Bava
Basra" relates this dramatic saga, taking today's reader back almost
a thousand years ago to the days when Benyamin HaTzaddik was administrator
over the community charity fund.
- Provide for me!" came a woman's heartwrenching plea, as she approached
the tzaddik for sustenance.
Unfortunately, a famine endured,
and times were very bad.
"I swear in the name of
the Holy Temple that there is nothing left in the charity fund,"
Benyamin sadly told her. (In those days they did not swear in G-d's name!).
But the woman persisted and
told him of her dire plight, concluding that if he could not help her
"a woman and her seven sons will perish!"
Moved by her plea, Benyamin
offered her money from his own personal funds.
His selfless, life-sustaining
assistance took place on earth but, the Talmud relates, the heavens clearly
Years later when Benyamin was
very ill and near death, an angel arose in the heavenly courts and argued
in his behalf: "If a person saves one life, it is as if he saved
a whole world. How much more so that he sustained this woman and her seven
children. How can such a man's life be cut so short?"
The decree was cancelled and
22 years were added to Benyamin's life.
A short version of this story
is actually etched into granite on the side of Benyamin's gravesite, which
is located just a few minutes from the heart of Tzfat, one block southeast
of the city's landmark coffee factory and directly across the street to
the south of the city's vocational school.
The tombsite itself is identifiable
by the multi-colored banners flapping in the breeze under a fairly new
wooden pavilion. Just the other day, a worker was putting finishing touches
on the seven steps leading up the grave, which were just rebuilt and widened
to make passage easier.
At the south end of the site
a picture is hung on the wall depicting
Shimon Bar Yochai as he was hiding in his cave for 13 years, fleeing
the Roman soldiers and penning the most famous work explaining the mystical
aspects of the Torah, the Zohar.
Plenty of holy books fill the
shelves and every Friday afternoon a minyan prays at this site, welcoming
the Shabbos Queen earlier than most other Tzfat minyans.
Its location off a main road
makes access easy, yet that it is setback on a side-street across from
a tree-filled lot provides a peaceful location for anyone to stop by and
pray or say Tehillim (Psalms).
It is taught in Kabbala
that while the soul ascends to greater spiritual levels once it is free
from the restrictions of the body, a certain level or aspect of the soul
remains at its bodily resting place.
It's further said that a tzaddik
has the merit to help our own personal prayers ascend on high. How much
that teaches us about our actions in this world and their effect in the
And how much more so the large
metal tzedaka boxes at Benyamin's gravesite -- and his own personal
story -- remind us of the importance of giving charity
Send your prayer to the grave of Benyamin HaTzadik from anywhere in
Use the Send
a Prayer service from the Kabbalah
[Chana Katz, a former South
Florida journalist, lives in Tsfat. Her articles on life in Israel have
reached publications throughout the world.]