“When... any of your brothers is poor, do not harden your heart or shut your hand against your needy brother. Open your hand generously, and extend to him any credit he needs to take care of his wants.” (Deut. 15:7-8)
Below are two stories which illustrate Rav Kook’s remarkable generosity. Both incidents occurred during the years that he served as chief rabbi of Jaffa, from 1904 to 1914.
Rav Kook’s wife once appeared before the community directorate of Jaffa, headed by Mr. Meir Dizengoff, with a serious complaint. She had not seen her husband’s salary for months and had no means of support. The leaders of the community were shocked. After investigating the matter, however, they discovered that the rabbi himself was distributing his income to the needy.
The leaders asked Rav Kook how he could act in such a manner, caring more for strangers than his own household.
Rav Kook responded simply, “My family can buy food at the local grocery on credit. Others, however, cannot do so. Who would agree to give them what they need on credit?”
From that day on, the treasurer of the community was given strict orders to give the rabbi’s salary only to his wife.
In 1907, the Jaffa correspondent for the Chavatzelet newspaper published an article criticizing the Anglo-Palestine Bank (now known as Bank Leumi). Apparently, a man applied for a loan in the bank and was asked to provide eleven guarantors. The man managed to find fourteen people who were willing to sign, one of whom was Rav Kook. The bank, however, disqualified most of them - including the rabbi. The correspondent’s conclusion was that the bank deliberately discriminated against religious Jews.
A few weeks later, a rejoinder appeared in the paper. The author, almost certainly associated with the bank, argued that the bank was justified in its rejection of Rav Kook’s guarantees. He wrote:
“The rabbi is extremely good-hearted and gentle by nature. The poor cling to him. The only reason there are some beggars who do not knock on his door is because they know he has no money. If they only knew that they could get money in exchange for a small piece of paper, which he can always grant them, they would give him no peace.”
“Besides which, [if the rabbi would be accepted as a guarantor], he would unwittingly put himself under the burden of debts, from which he would be unable to escape. Large amounts of money would be lost, and one of the following would suffer: either the esteemed rabbi — and it would be highly unpleasant for the bank to extract money from him — or the bank itself. Therefore, the bank decided unanimously not to honor the rabbi’s guarantees.”
(Adapted from An Angel Among Men by Simcha Raz, translated by R. Moshe Lichtman, pp. 344-346)