1) THE JEWISH PEOPLE ARE ALWAYS THE CHILDREN OF HASH-M
QUESTION: The wicked Turnusrufus argued that the Jewish practice of supporting their poor was wrong. He likened the Jewish people to a person who feeds a king's slave after the king imprisoned him and ordered him not to be fed. Turnusrufus maintained that the Jewish people are slaves to the King, Hash-m, as the verse says, "For the Jewish people are My slaves" (Vayikra 25:55). Turnusrufus argued that just as a human king who jailed his slave would not approve if someone else provided the slave with food, Hash-m does not approve when the Jewish people provide food to the poor, whom He afflicted with poverty. Rebbi Akiva argued that the Jewish people are not like slaves, but are like children of the King, as the verse says, "You are children to Hash-m your G-d" (Devarim 14:1). Certainly, if a king imprisoned his son and ordered that his son not be fed, he would be happy if someone disobeyed him and fed his son anyway. Turnusrufus rejoined that the Jews are considered Hash-m's children only when they do His will, but when they do not abide by His will they are considered His slaves and not His children. Rebbi Akiva answered that, nevertheless, the verse instructs, "Distribute your bread to the hungry, and bring the poor, who are cast out, into your house" (Yeshayah 58:7). The verse tells the people to "distribute your bread to the hungry" when the poor are "cast out," meaning even when they do not abide by the will of Hash-m.
How does Rebbi Akiva's response answer the claim of Turnusrufus that the Jews are called slaves when they do not do Hash-m's will, and thus the King does not wish that they be fed?
ANSWER: The MAHARSHA explains that Rebbi Akiva meant that even when Hash-m is angry with the Jews, they are still considered His children, as the Gemara in Kidushin (36a, according to Rebbi Meir) says: even when they act destructively, they are still called "Banim," as the verse says, "Banim Mashchisim" (Hoshea 2:1). Rebbi Akiva cited the verse of "the poor, who are cast out" as further proof that Hash-m wants the Jewish people to support the poor.
However, it is only Rebbi Meir who maintains that the Jewish people are considered the children of Hash-m even when they sin. Rebbi Yehudah (in Kidushin 36a) argues and says that when they do not act like the children of Hash-m, they are not called His children. Why did Rebbi Akiva give an answer that is true only according to the opinion of Rebbi Meir?
The RASHBA (in Teshuvos, cited by Rav Chanoch Henoch Karelenstein zt'l in SEFER MAR'EI MEKOMOS) says that the Halachah follows the view of Rebbi Meir and not that of Rebbi Yehudah in this regard. Hence, Rebbi Akiva answered Turnusrufus in accordance with the Halachah. (I. Alsheich)
2) THE SEVERITY OF WITHHOLDING HELP FROM THE POOR
QUESTION: The Gemara relates that Rav Papa was once ascending some steps and his foot slipped and he almost fell. He lamented that since he had nearly fallen to his death, he had almost met the fate of a person who desecrates Shabbos or worships Avodah Zarah, both of which are punished with Sekilah (which can be fulfilled by falling to one's death, as in Kesuvos 30b). Chiya bar Rav suggested to Rav Papa that perhaps a poor person had come to him and Rav Papa had not supported him, for Rebbi Yehoshua ben Korchah teaches that a person who ignores the needs of a poor person and does not support him is considered as though he worshipped Avodah Zarah. Rebbi Yehoshua ben Korchah derives this from a Gezeirah Shavah.
What is the logic behind the comparison between worshipping Avodah Zarah and not helping a poor person?
(a) The MAHARSHA (9a, DH Shekulah) answers that when a person gives Tzedakah, he suffers no financial loss as a result because Hash-m will replenish his funds, as the verse states, "The one who is gracious to the poor is considered to have lent money to Hash-m, and He will pay him back for his kindness" (Mishlei 19:17). Accordingly, when a person refrains from giving to the poor, it is because he has heretical thoughts; he thinks that there is no one who will replenish his lost funds. In that sense, he denies the power of Hash-m and worships the power of money.
(b) RAV ELCHANAN WASSERMAN Hy'd (in KOVETZ SHI'URIM) writes that when a person worships Avodah Zarah, he does so because he believes that the idol has the ability to benefit him or to harm him. Similarly, when a person refuses to give money to the poor, it is because he believes that the money has the power to benefit him and that if he has less money he will suffer. He thus shows that he believes that his welfare depends on money and not on Hash-m. In this way, he makes money the god in whom he trusts. In truth, however, "Wealth will not help on the day of wrath" (Mishlei 11:4), and it will not save him from hardship or punishment if such is decreed upon him. On the contrary, when a person "suffers" as a result of giving his money to the poor, he will be saved from suffering in other ways, as is demonstrated by the incident of the nephews of Rebbi Yochanan ben Zakai. The same applies when a person does acts of Tzedakah with resources other than his money, such as with his body. If a person toils and exerts himself or suffers some disgrace in order to do an act of Tzedakah or a Mitzvah, he will thereby exempt himself from a decree of toil or shame from another source. (I. Alsheich)
2) THE UNIQUE PLACE IN "OLAM HA'BA" OF THE "HARUGEI MALCHUS"
QUESTION: Rav Yosef brei d'Rav Yehoshua reported that he heard a declaration in the World of Truth that "no one can stand in the place [in Olam ha'Ba] of the Harugei Malchus (those killed Al Kidush Hash-m)." The Gemara asks to whom the term "Harugei Malchus" refers. It cannot refer to Rebbi Akiva and the Chachamim who were murdered by the king, because even if they had not died Al Kidush Hash-m, they would have been beyond compare, and there would have been no need for the declaration to refer to them as "Harugei Malchus." RASHI explains that dying Al Kidush Hash-m certainly was not the only worthy thing that they did, and it is impossible that without it they were not deserving of a unique place in Olam ha'Ba. Rather, Rebbi Akiva and his colleagues were great in Torah and Mitzvos, and for that as well they were deserving of a unique place in Olam ha'Ba.
What is the Gemara's question? Granted, Rebbi Akiva and his colleagues were great in Torah and Mitzvos, but perhaps this would not exclude others from being able to reach their place in Olam ha'Ba. Perhaps it was only the fact that they died Al Kidush Hash-m that gave them a unique place in Olam ha'Ba which no one else could reach.
ANSWER: The YOSEF DA'AS quotes RAV A. NEVENTZAL who proves from this Gemara that greatness in Torah and Mitzvos is an achievement even greater than death Al Kidush Hash-m. Indeed, the Gemara in Megilah (16b) teaches that "Talmud Torah is greater than Hatzalas Nefashos (saving lives)," and derives this principle from the fact that Mordechai ha'Tzadik was held accountable for interrupting his learning of Torah even in order to save the lives of the entire community. Similarly, the Gemara in Avodah Zarah (18a) relates that when Rebbi Chanina ben Teradyon taught Torah even though the Romans had decreed a death sentence against anyone who does so (and, indeed, Rebbi Chanina ben Teradyon was ultimately tortured and killed for teaching Torah), Rebbi Yosi ben Kisma said, "From your share [in Olam ha'Ba] I should have a part!" This implies that Rebbi Chanina ben Teradyon's reward for learning Torah was greater than the reward he received for dying Al Kidush Hash-m. (I. Alsheich)