1) WHY NAKDIMON'S ACTS OF TZEDAKAH DID NOT PROTECT HIS FAMILY
AGADAH: The Gemara explains that Nakdimon's daughter suffered a terrible loss of fortune even though her father gave tremendous amounts of Tzedakah. The Gemara asks how such a fate could befall the offspring of such a righteous man who used to spread out carpets of expensive wool upon which he would walk and then distribute to poor people. The Gemara answers that "he did it for his honor." (Perhaps he had the poor people roll out the carpets for him in return for taking the carpets when he was finished.) Because of this, the merit of his acts of Tzedakah was not able to help his descendants in the difficult times that ensued.
Why did Nakdimon's merit fail to protect his offspring? The Gemara in Pesachim (8a; see Insights there) says that a person who gives a Sela to Tzedakah and says, "I am giving this Sela to Tzedakah in order that my [ill] son should recover and live," is considered a "Tzadik Gamur," a completely righteous Tzadik. Although the giver has personal motives, his act of Tzedakah is considered to have been fulfilled in a full and complete manner. Why, then, were Nakdimon's acts of Tzedakah not considered complete acts of Tzedakah to protect his children? (MAHARSHA)
(a) The MAHARSHA answers that although an act of Tzedakah done for personal motives is considered a complete Mitzvah, if it is done for the sake of personal honor the act is considered flawed. Personal honor detracts from the Mitzvah of Tzekadah and makes the Mitzvah incomplete.
Why should this be so?
1. The CHAFETZ CHAYIM (cited in Chafetz Chayim Al ha'Torah) writes that honor is not a physical experience but a spiritual one. Although no physical pleasure can replace the spiritual pleasure which Hash-m gives to a person as reward in Olam ha'Ba for his fulfillment of Mitzvos in this world, nevertheless experiencing the spiritual pleasure of honor in this world can reduce the reward that a person otherwise would receive in Olam ha'Ba for his fulfillment of Mitzvos. Accordingly, the Maharsha means that the honor Nakdimon received from his performance of the Mitzvah of Tzedakah replaced the reward that he and his descendants would have received otherwise, which included the Peros (fruits) of the Mitzvah of Tzedakah that they would have received in this world.
2. The HAFLA'AH and BEN YEHOYADA explain that the honor Nakdimon received from his acts of Tzedakah was not a byproduct of the Mitzvah, but it was as if the money he gave for Tzedakah was used to purchase for him that honor by his giving it in such a public manner. It was as if he was conducting a business deal -- he was paying money to the poor in order to purchase honor. He was effectively buying honor.
It is true that when a person gives away his money with intention that Hash-m do for him a particular favor in return, his act of Tzedakah is still considered a complete Mitzvah. However, since Nakdimon's money was given away to purchase honor directly (and not in order to merit compensation through Divine intervention, like the intention of the person who gives Tzedakah in order to merit the recuperation of his child), his fulfillment of the Mitzvah of Tzedakah was flawed. His act is not comparable to the act of a person who fulfills Mitzvos so that he should be honored by others as a righteous person. Such a person does not perform the act as a way of purchasing honor for himself honor; the honor comes as a byproduct at a later time. In this case, however, the act itself was an act of acquiring honor.
(b) The CHAFETZ CHAYIM (cited by the KOVETZ SHI'URIM) explains that Nakdimon lived at the time of the Churban of the Beis ha'Mikdash, as the Gemara says in Gitin (56a). That was a time of Divine wrath (what the Gemara calls "Idan Rischa"). The Gemara in Menachos (41a) says that although a person usually is not held accountable for not doing more Mitzvos than he actually does (as long as he does not transgress any Aveiros), during a time of Divine wrath Hash-m does punish a person for not trying to do more Mitzvos. Similarly, at the time of the Churban, which was a time of Divine wrath, Nakdimon was punished for not giving Tzedakah in an even more virtuous manner, even though he fulfilled the Mitzvah of Tzedakah in an acceptable manner. That is why his descendants were not protected.
(c) The HAFLA'AH suggests that the fate of poverty does not always come as a punishment. Rather, it is part of the nature of the world for some families to become wealthy and some to become poor, based on their particular Mazal, as the Gemara says in Shabbos (151b; see also Ta'anis 25a).
The Mitzvah of Tzedakah can save a person from punishment, but it cannot save a person from enduring the fate he was destined to receive. In order to change his destiny, he must be perfect in every way and he must have very great merits, as Tosfos says in Shabbos (156a, DH Ein Mazal; see also Ta'anis 25a, with regard to Rebbi Elazar ben Pedas), and he must give Tzedakah entirely Lishmah with no ulterior motives.
2) AGADAH: GIVING UP ONE'S LIFE IN ORDER NOT TO EMBARRASS SOMEONE
QUESTION: The Gemara teaches that it is better for a person to jump into a fiery furnace than to embarrass another person in public. The Gemara records a number of incidents which demonstrate this precept.
The Gemara relates in many places (such as Kesuvos 19a) that there are three Aveiros for which a person must give up his life and not transgress: Avodah Zarah (idolatry), Giluy Arayos (immorality), and Shefichus Damim (murder). If a person is required to jump into a furnace in order to avoid embarrassing someone, as the Gemara here says, why is the Aveirah of embarrassing someone not included in the list of cardinal sins?
(a) TOSFOS in Sotah (10b) explains that the list includes only Aveiros mentioned explicitly in the Torah. The prohibition against embarrassing someone and the requirement to avoid it at all costs -- although it is derived from the incident with Tamar and Yehudah -- is not an explicitly written Mitzvah in the Torah, and thus it is not included in the list.
(b) RABEINU YONAH (Sha'arei Teshuvah 3:139) explains that the three Aveiros are general categories, each of which includes Toldos, or subcategories, of Aveiros for which one must also give up his life. For example, a subcategory of Avodah Zarah is using leafs of a tree of Avodah Zarah in order to heal oneself. (See also RAMBAN in Milchamos to Sanhedrin 74a, end of chapter 9; Pesachim 25a and Insights to Pesachim 25:1.) Rabeinu Yonah explains that embarrassing one's friend is a subcategory of Shefichus Damim, as the Gemara says in Bava Metzia (58b). Accordingly, it is included in the list as a subcategory of Shefichus Damim.
(Sotah 10b, Berachos 43b) implies that although the Gemara compares embarrassing another person to killing him and says that one must jump into a furnace and not embarrass another person, the Gemara is not to be understood literally. The Gemara is merely emphasizing the severity of embarrassing another person ("Derech Tzachus v'He'arah"). According to the Me'iri, the Gemara might mean that a person should subject himself to discomfort rather than embarrass another person, as Mar Ukva and his wife did. One is not required to actually give up his life in order to avoid embarrassing someone. (Whether or not one is permitted
, if not required, to give up his life in order to avoid embarrassing someone, is subject to a Machlokes; see Insights to Kesuvos 3:3