The story is told of an evil person who transgressed every mitzvah in the Torah. There was not a sin that he did not commit. Before he died, he was given a hard-boiled egg to eat. Just at that moment, a poor person knocked at his door and begged for food.
“Give him my egg,” said the sick man. “He needs it more than I do.” The poor man ate the egg and thanked the sick person profusely.
Three days later the man died. The following week his son had a dream in which he saw his father in a very happy frame of mind.
“I am in Gan Eden,” declared the erstwhile evil person. “I was saved by a hard-boiled egg. When I came before the Heavenly Court, the egg appeared as my advocate and that one deed of charity outweighed all of my sins. Therefore, if you want to assure yourself a part in the future world, make sure you give charity, and the more charity you give, the better your portion in Gan Eden will be.”
Arguments Against Charity
Rabi Meir used to say: “The critics of Judaism may bring against you the following argument, ‘If your G-d loves the poor, why does He not support them?’
This question was actually put to Rabi Akiba by Turnus Rufus (the Roman governor of Judea).
“Rabi Akiba replied: “So that we may be saved through them from the punishment of Gehinom.”
“On the contrary,” said the governor. “It is this that condemns you to Gehinom. I will illustrate with a parable. Suppose an earthly king was angry with his servant and put him in prison and ordered that he should be given no food or drink and a man went and gave him food and water. If the king heard, would he not be angry with him? And you are called ‘servants,’ as it is written, ‘For unto Me the Children of Israel are servants’” (Vayikra 25).
Rabi Akiba answered him: “I will illustrate with another parable. Suppose an earthly king was angry with his son and put him in prison and ordered that no food or drink should be given to him, and someone went and gave food and water. If the king heard, would he not be grateful for saving his son? And we are called ‘sons’ as it is written, ‘Sons are ye to the Lord your G-d’” (Deuteronomy 14:1).
The governor then said: “You are called both sons and servants. When you carry out the desires of the Omnipresent, you are called ‘sons.’ When you do not carry out the desires of the Omnipresent, you are called, ‘servants.’ At the present time, you are not carrying out the desires of the Omnipresent.”
Rabi Akiba replied: “The Scripture says, ‘Is it not to give your bread to the hungry and bring the poor who are cast out into your house?’ (Yeshaya 58) When do you ‘bring the poor who are cast out’ to your house? Now. And it says at the same time, ‘Is it not to give our bread to the hungry?’” (One must feed the poor at all times.)