Poverty

Ilfa and Rabbi Yohanan were studying Torah but they were hard pressed financially. They said, “Let us get up and go into business and fulfill with ourselves the verse, ‘There shall be no poor among you (Deut. 15:4).” They went and sat under a derelict wall and ate bread. Two ministering angels came. Rabbi Yohanan heard one saying to the other, “Let us toss this wall down upon them and murder them, since they set aside life in the world to come and occupy themselves with temporal life.” The second angel answered, “Leave them alone, for one of them his hour has not yet come.” Rabbi Yohanan heard and Ilfa did not hear. Rabbi Yohanan said to Ilfa, “Sir, did you hear anything?” He said, “No.” He said, “Since I heard and Ilfa did not hear, it must mean that it is me whose hour has not yet come.” Rabbi Yohanan said to Ilfa, “I will return and fulfill through myself, ‘the poor will never cease out of the land (Deut. 15:11).” Rabbi Yohanan returned to his studies but Ilfa did not. By the time Ilfa came, Rabbi Yohanan was ruling. They said to Ilfa, “If you, sir, had sat and studied, would you not, sir, rule?” Ilfa went and suspended himself from a ship’s mast and said, “If there is anyone who can ask me about a braita of Rabbi Hiyya and Rabbi Oshaya, and I cannot derive it from our mishnah, I will fall from the ship’s mast and drown.”  An old man came and said, “If a person says, ‘Give my sons a shekel a week,’ and they deserve to be given a sela, we give them a sela. But if he says, ‘Give them only a shekel, we give them only a shekel. If the person said, ‘If they die, let others inherit in their place,’ then whether he said, ‘Give my sons a shekel a week’ or ‘Give my sons only a shekel a week,’ the sons are only given a shekel a week. Ilfa said to him, “Whose opinion does this follow? It follows Rabbi Meir, who said, ‘It is a mitzvah to fulfill the words of the deceased.” (B. Taanit 21.)

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