Why is there Poverty in the World?

In Parshat Re’eh we find two seemingly contradictory psukim:

Devarim 15:4 “End poverty so that there will be no one destitute among you when God will surely bless you in the Land that God is giving you to inherit”.

Devarim 15:11 “The destitute will not cease to exist within the Land, therefore I am commanding you saying, ‘Open your hand generously to your brother, to your poor and to your destitute in your Land’”.

According to Ramban, poverty will only cease to exist if the mitzvoth are observed. Since there will be generations where some people will not be observing the mitzvoth, there will be some poor people and therefore God must emphasize the importance of giving those people Tzedakah.

Rabbi Yehuda ben Moyal who lived in Morocco in the 19th century and died in

Jerusalem wrote a book called Shevet Yehuda which dealt with the issue of poverty. Rabbi Ben Moyal noted that the wealthy are not wealthy beacuse they are better (have better values etc.) than the poor people. As we know very well, there are horrible wealthy people and wonderful poor people and visa versa. Even a Tzadik (righteous person) can be poor if that is the "mazal" that God determined when he was born.

According to Rabbi ben Moyal, the impoverished are not poor because they did not observe the mitzvot. A wealthy person who thinks that the poor person should just deal with the lot that God gave him and therefore will not give him any Tzedakah (charity) is not following the laws of tzedakah and is actually causing that person to become even poorer than God intended, even destitute.

Rabbi ben Moyal adds that a wealthy person is meant to give Tzedakah. If he doesn't, it is as if he is stealing from the poor. When he does give, he shouldn't act like he is so terrific, since it is his obligation. When he gives tzedakah he should do it with a full heart and say I am giving because it is my obligation. If everyone gave what they should then there would be no poverty- that is to say that the poor people would not become rich, but they would be able to get by.

God wants us to work it out amongst ourselves.

As Rosh Chodesh Elul approaches lets keep in mind the words from the High Holiday Prayer Service: “U’teshuva (repentance) u’tefillah (prayer) u’tzedakah (charity) ma’avirin et roa Ha’gzerah (can transform the bad decree)”.

 Let’s do what we can to eliminate poverty in Israel and throughout the world!