The verse (Yeshaya, 58) states: “Will you not share your bread to the hungry and bring the poor who are cast out to your house; when you see the naked, you shall cover him and hide not from your own flesh.” This means that Hashem wishes for his children, the Jewish nation, to do good unto one another and to the rest of the creations by giving from our bread to the hungry, being concerned with clothing and shelter for the poor, and not hiding from one’s own flesh. This means that there is a special obligation to donate Tzedakah and perform acts of kindness to relatives and family members, immediate or otherwise. (Similarly, one must bestow good upon one’s neighbors and friends, for “a close neighbor is better than a brother who is far,” see Yabia Omer, Volume 2, Even Ha’Ezer, Chapter 7.)
The Talmud Yerushalmi (Masechet Ketubot, Chapter 11, Halacha 3) recounts that Rabbi Yose Ha’Galili suffered from his wife’s bad temperament very much and she cause him much aggravation. Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya went to visit Rabbi Yose and told him, “Rebbe, divorce this woman! It is beneath your dignity to live with a woman who treats you this way.” Rabbi Yose Ha’Galili replied, “I obligated myself in an exorbitant sum for her Ketubah and I do not have any way to pay it so I cannot divorce her.” Rabbi Elazar told him, “I will provide you with the sum, just divorce her.” And so it was, Rabbi Yose divorced his wife, paid her the entire sum of her Ketubah, and they each went their separate ways.
Rabbi Yose Ha’Galili continued on with his life, learning amid sanctity and purity and he even merited earning a handsome livelihood, so much so that he had several houses and enough money to provide for himself and his entire household. His ex-wife, on the other hand, remarried another Jew, the city watchman. After a while though, their fortune turned and her husband lost all of his money and became poor. If this was not enough, he also became ill in both of his eyes until he became completely blind. Not having any other choice, this woman would guide her husband through the city streets so that they could knock on people’s doors and request charity to be able to sustain themselves.
Once, they knocked the doors of all of the houses of the city and received no donations. The husband turned to the wife and asked, “Are there no other streets where we can request donations?” She replied, “There is one more street where my ex-husband, Rabbi Yose Ha’Galili lives, but I am too ashamed to go there and be seen in such a state.” The husband heard this and became enraged because he took her words to mean that she was ashamed to be married to him. He then grabbed her and began beating her mercilessly. She then began screaming at him and retaliating. They thus stood and made a pitiful public spectacle in the middle of the street.
Rabbi Yose Ha’Galili was passing by just then and heard their voices as they were in the middle of their tirade in the street. He immediately took both of them, set them up in one of the houses he owned, and provided them with food and sustenance for the rest of their lives (Rabbi Yose lived longer than them) because of the verse “And from your own flesh do not hide,” which our Sages expounded refers to one’s ex-wife, for even after one divorces her, she is still considered his “flesh” (since one is still forbidden to marry the sister of one’s divorced wife, for she is considered the sister of his flesh).
Our Sages recount another incident in the Midrash (Vayikra Rabba, Parashat Behar) that there was once a drought in the days of Rabbi Tanchuma. Some people came before Rabbi Tanchuma and asked him to decree a public fast day so that people would pray and Hashem would send rain. Rabbi Tanchuma did so and still, it did not rain. Rabbi Tanchuma decreed yet another public fast day and still, it did not rain. The third time, Rabbi Tanchuma instructed the public to go and perform the Mitzvah of Tzedakah as much as possible (see Torat Chaim of Masechet Avodah Zara 5a) so that they may merit rainfall.
One man who heeded rabbi Tanchuma’s advice took whatever money he had at home and went out to the market where he met his ex-wife. She came over to him and told him, “Today, you can merit fulfilling the Mitzvah of Tzedakah, for since the day you divorced me, I have seen nothing good in my life.” When this man saw that his ex-wife was truly in a bad state, such that she did not even have normal clothing to wear, he was immediately filled with pity for her and he gave her the handsome some of money he had in his hands.
As this man was standing in the street speaking to his ex-wife, another man stood and observed this. He came to Rabbi Tanchuma and told him, “Rebbe, how can you just sit in the Bet Midrash when a sin is being committed?” Rabbi Tanchuma inquired, “What is it that you saw?” The man replied, “I saw this man speaking to his ex-wife in the street and handing her money.”
Rabbi Tanchuma summoned the man and told him, “My son, do you not see that everyone is suffering while you go to your ex-wife and give her money? Do you not know that this is inappropriate?” The man replied, “Rebbe, did you not teach us that the verse ‘And from your flesh do not hide’ refers even to one’s ex-wife? Did you not instruct us to go out and perform the Mitzvah of Tzedakah? I took whatever money I had and went out to search for a Mitzvah. At that point, my ex-wife saw me and told me that she has not had a good day in her life from the day she got divorced. When I saw her without adequate clothing and suffering terribly, I was filled with pity and I handed her the money I had.”
Rabbi Tanchuma then lifted his eyes to the Heavens and exclaimed: “Master of the Universe! If a man of mere flesh and blood, whose nature is to act cruelly to one’s ex-wife and has no obligation to provide for his ex-wife, can be filled with pity and provide for her in her time of need, we, your children and the children of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, whose sustenance is your responsibility, certainly you must provide for us!” Immediately, it started to rain and the ground became saturated.
We can learn from the above how much one must perfect one’s character traits and sensitivities to the extent that even if one has been hurt or insulted by someone, such as an ex-spouse (there is almost nothing more hurtful than fighting and discord between husband and wife), nevertheless, when the ex-wife was in need, these righteous men came through and helped them in whatever way they could. May the merits of these holy Tannaim protect us all, Amen.