Who Is Poor? Meztora 5779

D'var Torah | Leviticus

Rabbi Meir Simhah of Dvinsk (d. 1926) was one of the most respected and influential Eastern European rabbis of the beginning of the twentieth century. He was a prolific scholar and served one community for almost forty years until his death. His legacy includes a masterful commentary on the Torah called Meshekh Hokhmah. Reflecting on the sacrifices brought by the recovering leper, Rabbi Meir Simhah notes the difference between the ordinary Israelite and one who is termed by the Torah “dal” (Leviticus 14:21). The ordinary Israelite must bring a guilt offering along with two other animal offerings. But the “dal,” while responsible for bringing the guilt offering, may replace the two animal sacrifices with doves or pigeons. Typically, “dal” is understood to mean “poor.” Thus the poor Israelite is given financial relief and is allowed to bring a less costly sacrifice. Rabbi Meir Simchah offers a more sophisticated and thus more insightful explanation.


There is some support for the view that “dal” means “poor.” Rabbi Meir Simhah points to Pharaoh’s dream reported in Genesis 41:19. The seven “lean” cows that devour the seven fat cows are called “dalot v’ra-ot.” Hence, the Hebrew word “dal” means “lacking.” In reference to the cows, they were lacking flesh. In the case of the recovering leper he was lacking resources. But then Rabbi Meir Simhah highlights an alternative “lack.” The Torah might have in mind someone who is lacking friends or intimates. The person who is blessed with friends is fortunate for if he finds himself in need, his friends will lend him support. But a person with no friends is indeed poor – and poor in two ways. He is financially without support and also alone. Rabbi Simchah Meir goes further. If the “dal” is financially disadvantaged, why must he bring a guilt offering? That should be reduced as well! No, says Rabbi Meir Simhah. It is his lack of friends that makes him realize that he is need of atonement.


Friendship is a necessary component of human life. Human beings are social animals and as such are lost without friends. Even the sacrificial requirements of the recovering leper acknowledge this fact.


Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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