Halacha Date: 14 Cheshvan 5780 November 12 2019
Question: Can one pay a Torah scholar a substantial sum of money in order to acquire a portion in all of the Torah he has studied thus far?
Answer: Indeed, included in the Mitzvah of Torah study and Tzedakah is the great Mitzvah of financially supporting Torah scholars, especially the needy among them, so that they may continue their holy work amid peace and tranquility. Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l spent decades explain to the masses, in Israel and abroad, how fortunate those who merited to support Torah study were and how great their reward would be in this world and the next.
Nevertheless, the Gemara (Sotah 21a) recounts that Hillel the Elder had a brother named Shevna. Hillel studied Torah amid tremendous poverty while Shevna engaged in business and become very wealthy. Although Shevna was aware of his brother’s difficult financial situation, he did not see fit to offer Hillel assistance. When Hillel emigrated from Babylon to Israel and was appointed to head the Sanhedrin because of his vast knowledge, Shevna approached his bother and proposed that they split half of Shevna’s wealth for Hillel and half of Hillel’s share in the World to Come for Shevna. At that moment, a Heavenly voice rang out and exclaimed the verse, “Should a man give all the wealth of his house for love, they shall despise him!”
This means that although one has the opportunity to partner with a Torah scholar who wishes to dedicate his life to Torah and service of Hashem thus taking a share of the rewards amassed by the Torah scholar (since he was able to study Torah and serve Hashem as a result of the financial assistance he received), nevertheless, this “deal” can only be accomplished in advance. However, to show up after the fact and request to “purchase” a share of the Torah scholar’s World to Come is something incomprehensible, for it is impossible to purchase something whose value is unfathomable in the physical realm for any sum of money, as great as it may be.
Maran zt”l would commonly recount the story of the great Gaon, Harav Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor zt”l, who was extremely destitute in his youth and toiled in Torah amid much poverty. Once, in the middle of the frigid European winter, his shoes tore and the freezing cold penetrated his bones and caused him much suffering. Across the street from the Bet Midrash where he studied, the was a large shoe store owned by a wealthy Jewish man who lived in the town. In his despair the young Rav Yitzchak Elchanan turned to the owner of the store and asked him for a pair of shoes as his had torn and he was occupied with Torah study day and night. The owner replied sternly, “Do you think that I give out shoes for free? I am in the business of selling them!” Rav Yitzchak Elchanan left the store upset and continued studying Torah amid great poverty.
Later on, as a result of his great genius and erudition in all areas of Torah, Rav Yitzchak Elchanan was chosen to serve as chief rabbi and head of the rabbinical court of Kovno. It was then that he began to publish his epic works filled with deep and penetrating Torah novella and many wealthy individuals approached him to sponsor the printing of his works and for their names to appear on the front pages of the books.
Among those wealthy individuals that approached this holy Gaon to sponsor the printing of his Sefarim was the owner of the shoe store. The rav asked the wealthy man, “Do you know a Yitzchak Elchanan?” The man replied, “I am not sure what the rav is talking about.” Rav Spektor continued, “If you recall, I was a young boy by the name Yitzchak Elchanan who grew up in your town. I came into your store and asked you for a pair of shoes to protect my feet from the freezing cold. You scolded me and I left your store distressed. If you would have given me a pair of shoes then, you would have instantly gained your share in the World to Come. Now, however, it is too late. You have lost your chance! ‘Should a man give all the wealth of his house for love, they shall despise him!’”