|Back to This Week's Parsha|
PARSHAS BEHARIf your brother becomes impoverished that his means falter in your proximity, you shall strengthen him. (25:35)
We have an obligation toward our fellow Jew that is both moral and filial. In order to help him get back on his feet, it is essential that we feel his pain and experience his hurt and humiliation. The Ben Ish Chai gives an incredible mashal, analogy, that underscores this point. A king wanted his only son to become proficient in all areas of knowledge, so that when the time came, he would be able to assume the position of monarch. He also wanted him to become knowledgeable in all areas pertaining to running the country. The king chose a wise man who was a master teacher to perform the task of educating the prince. After a number of years, the teacher sent the prince home to the king to be tested in all areas of knowledge. After successfully passing the various tests, the king acknowledged the teacher's singular ability to teach the prince, rewarding the wise man with one hundred thousand gold coins.
A short while later, the wise man approached the king with a request, " If it pleases the king, I would like to take the prince for a short course to teach him something that he has not yet learned. It will take only about an hour." The king acquiesced to the wise man's request, immediately sending the prince to the wise man's house for his lesson. The prince entered the man's home, and the teacher locked the door, pulled out a rubber truncheon and began beating the prince mercilessly on his legs. Fifty times he struck him until blood began to ooze from the welts. The prince cried out in pain, but no one heard his pleas for help. When the "lesson" was concluded, the teacher sent the wounded prince home to his father.
We can only imagine the king's anger upon seeing his blood-spattered, injured son. He immediately sent his guards to pick up the teacher and prepare him for the gallows. Yet, the king could not bring himself to go through with the execution until he received some kind of explanation for the teacher's inexplicable behavior.
"Before I carry out the death sentence against you, explain to me why a person in his right mind would throw everything away - the wealth, the glory, the honor! Why?" asked the king.
"I will explain my actions, my dear king," replied the teacher. My intentions were totally noble, consistent with your mandate to me that I teach the prince the dynamics of monarchy. A leader must mete out punishment that is commensurate with the degree of the transgression. Imagine if a person would steal a cow valued at two hundred dollars, and the prince would sentence the thief to one thousand lashes. As a prince, he is unaware of the experience of pain and injury to one's body because he has never sustained any punishment. Therefore, it was necessary for the prince to feel firsthand what pain felt like. Otherwise, when he issued a sentence, he would conceivably overdo it."
When the king heard the logic behind the teacher's actions, he immediately freed him and added to his reward.
The same idea applies to those who are asked to assist those who have fallen on hard times. How should the wealthy man know what it means to go hungry? Hashem provided them with one day a year - Yom Kippur - when we all fast and sense the feeling that poor man has on many-a-day. When the poor man stands at your door seeking alms, put yourself in his shoes, so that your assistance to him will be meaningful as well as beneficial.
If your brother becomes impoverished that his means falter in your proximity, you shall strengthen him. (25:35)
The mitzvah of Vehechezakto, "And you shall strengthen him," remains in force regardless of how many times one is called upon to help his fellow. Moreover, the obligation to lend financial assistance to a fellow Jew in need applies, no matter how the person uses the money - even if it is used inappropriately. That is precisely what the yetzer hora, evil inclination, tells us: "Do not help him, for he only squanders the money that you give him. Do not waste your valuable time from Torah study on charitable acts of loving-kindness. Leaving the house at night to help a Jew in need taxes your shalom bayis, marital harmony." The list goes on. The yetzer hora will always present you with an alternative to the chesed you are about to perform. In reality, some of these taanos, claims, have merit. How does one respond to the yetzer hora?
The Chafetz Chaim gave the following response. When he attended the Kenisiah Gedolah in Vienna in 1923, he was a guest in the home of Rav Akiva Schreiber. Many people came to the house to get an audience - or even a glimpse of the Chafetz Chaim. The answer to most people was - no. The Chafetz Chaim was not a young man, and his time was limited. A wealthy Torah askan, mover and shaker, from England came to Rav Schreiber and said that he must speak to the Chafetz Chaim for a few moments. Indeed, his entire future depended upon the result of his meeting with the Chafetz Chaim. Apparently, the man's toil and involvement on behalf of Klal Yisrael made a difference, and he was invited to the Chafetz Chaim's table.
The man waited for the Chafetz Chaim to bentch, say the Bircas Hamazon, Grace after the meal, to present his dilemma. It did not take that long. During the meal, the Chafetz Chaim recited the twenty-third Psalm of Tehillim, Mizmor leDavid, Hashem ro'ie lo echzar, "Hashem is my Shepherd, I shall not lack." As he concluded the last pasuk, "May only goodness and kindness pursue me all the days of my life," he turned to the guest from England and asked, "What does David Hamelech mean when he requests that goodness and kindness be his pursuers? To be pursued is to be harassed. Why would David want to be badgered by tov and chesed?"
"The answer is," explained the Chafetz Chaim, "that there are times when one's involvement in many acts of loving-kindness can actually haunt him as they rob him of his every free moment. He has neither night nor day. The acts of chesed get in the way of his business. They disrupt his home life. He literally becomes a prisoner to the many demands on his time and good nature. The yetzer hora sees this situation as an auspicious time for him to sneak in and use his wiles to put a halt to these wonderful activities. David Hamelech admonishes us, Do not worry if your pursuers are tov and chesed. On the contrary, pray to Hashem that they should be your only pursuers and nothing else. From such lofty pursuers as tov and chesed, one has nothing to worry about."
When the guest heard these words from the Chafetz Chaim, he picked himself up and thanked his host. To the bewilderment of his host, he was about to leave. "Why are you leaving?" he asked. "You came to seek the Chafetz Chaim's advice. Why are you leaving so soon?"
The visitor replied, "I came to ask the Chafetz Chaim a question which he has already answered for me. Let me explain. In my city, I have undertaken to support a school and also a gemillas chesed, charitable organization. These two endeavors are eminently successful, but they rob me of my time. I simply have no time whatsoever left for myself. My personal business ventures are suffering because I do not have the time to attend to them properly. My wife feels I should transfer the daily control of these organizations to someone else, so that I can return to my business. I personally would rather not defer control of these wonderful organizations to others. Thus, in the interest of shalom bayis, I came to the Chafetz Chaim to advise me. When I heard the saintly Chafetz Chaim explain the pasuk in Tehillim that David Hamelech asks that good and kindness should always be his pursuers, I realized that the sage was referring to my query. He had given me the answer before I even asked the question. I am returning home to my wife to relay to her the gadol hador's reply."
A Jew who trusts in Hashem maintains the firm belief that regardless of the situation, Hashem is always there and can turn things around at any time. Indeed, Chazal have stated it best with their powerful maxim, "Even if a sharp sword lays on the neck of a person, he should not give up believing that Hashem's compassion will spare him." We have only to look at Eretz Yisrael and the way people live there to see this truth. Hashem protects us under the most precarious circumstances. Horav Yaakov Galinsky, Shlita, relates an incident that occurred during one of the more traumatic days of World War II, when he was prisoner in one of the concentration camps. On that day, the accursed Nazis had burnt all the inmates' Tefillin and - if that was not sufficiently devastating - they killed out many of the Jewish prisoners. It was a day when hopelessness and despair reigned throughout the camp.
It was on that very day that an inmate, a simple Jew from a small village in Poland, came over to Rav Galinsky and said, "Even if a sharp sword lays on the neck of a person, he should not give up believing that Hashem's compassion will spare him."
The man continued by underscoring the various parts of this maxim. "First, what greater danger can one face than having a sharp sword on his neck. The sword is there; it is already sharpened; and it is already in place on the neck. Death is imminent! Yet, Chazal tell us to continue hoping, not to give up, to believe that even at this very last moment - he could still be spared - if Hashem wills it."
Rav Galinsky remembers how those poignant, but powerful, words left an enduring impression on him, infusing him with courage and hope to keep on hoping. Do not worry about tomorrow. Live today to its fullest. All too often, we waste today's gift of life wondering what tomorrow will bring. A Jew never gives up.
But if you will not listen to Me… and I will turn My attention against you, you will be struck down before enemies; those who hate you will subjugate you. (26:14,17)
Anyone who has studied Jewish history knows that this curse has regrettably become true. Sixty years ago, during the European Holocaust, the world saw how Hashem orchestrated events so that we were "struck down before enemies;" and "those who hate you will subjugate you." There were also those who survived those tragic years with their faith and conviction intact. Regrettably, there were those who survived in body, but their belief in the Almighty was impaired. While no one can question anyone who survived those atrocities, there is one question that keeps on being asked, a question that goes right to the core of our "emunah", faith, in Hashem: "Where was Hashem during the Holocaust? How could He have allowed this to happen?"
While there are a number of possible explanations, the following analogy cited in Otzros HaTorah gives us a practical approach. A young boy was acting his age. At times, he was proper and his behavior was exemplary. Every once in a while, however, he would lose it and act up. Whenever this occurred, his father would take him to the window of their home and point to the forest. "My child, do you see that forest outside of our home?" the father would ask. "In that forest there is a fierce wolf. When you act inappropriately, the wolf will come out of the forest and hurt you." This form of discipline would probably not receive any great accolades from any child psychologist, but it seemed to work for that father. After a few days, the child's fear of the wolf dissipated, and he was back to his old ways. The father warned his son one more time, but the response to that did not last very long either.
Seeing that he had no recourse but to take action, the father went to the forest, sought out a hunter and purchased a wolf's skin. He dressed himself in the wolf's skin and went home. As soon as his son saw him masquerading as a wolf, he trembled with fear. He thought this was the real thing. The father went through the whole act, howling and baring his teeth. The child was already hysterical. For good measure, the father even scratched his son slightly with his "paws" and left the house.
The child cried bitterly, realizing that he was being punished for his misbehavior. A bit later, the father returned home to find his son crying. The child related to his father everything that occurred and then asked, "Where were you when the wolf attacked me? Why were you not here to protect me?"
Anyone with a modicum of intelligence understands the message of this analogy. One who studies the history of the Holocaust sees quite clearly that there was no mere concealment of Hashem's Presence. This was no simple chain of events. On the contrary, one can sense Hashem's Guiding Hand throughout the process. Hitler's rise to power is a historical anomaly. He was poor and unstable, totally incapable and unfit for any kind of employment. Yet, this man who lived on the fringe of society rose from the dung heap to reign over half of the civilized world. He ascended to the throne of German leadership directly from a jail cell. Is this to be regarded as a natural course of events?
The entire progression of the Second World War was atypical and unnatural. The German Army's ability to vanquish strong countries in a short span of time was unpredicted by the greatest military strategists. Hitler's pact with Soviet Russia, a pact which enabled him to quickly overrun Poland, was inexplicable. Stalin's refusal to respond to intelligence about an imminent German attack was unexplainable. The result was that two million more Jews became subservient to the Nazi empire. Indeed, the only thing more astounding than the Nazi's success was their sudden failure and ultimate defeat. Historians are hard-put to develop any sort of reasonable theory to explain these anomalies.
Thus, it seems clear that "Hashem was there." Indeed, He brought it about. We have to wonder why. It was unquestionably the Middas Ha'Din, attribute of Strict Justice, that was visible throughout. While we cannot fathom Hashem's reasoning, we are obliged to deal with those matters that are in the realm of our understanding. To the extent that we can, we are mandated to define and clarify for ourselves the general paths of Divine Justice. This paper is neither the place nor the forum for this thesis. Our objective is to ponder - not to accuse; to derive a lesson - not to critique. The question which is catalyzed by the Holocaust is not the issue of Divine Justice, but rather the meaning and significance of the Holocaust, its message and future lessons. The question is not, "Where is G-d?" but rather, "Where was man?"
Any tithe of cattle or sheep, any that passes under the staff, the tenth one shall be holy to Hashem. (27:32)
Chazal describe the process of tithing animals as being a tedious process in which each group of ten animals are counted, with the tenth animal being marked as Maaser for Hashem. This procedure applies regardless of the number of animals one owns. One can have ten thousand head of cattle; he must count each one individually, with the tenth one being designated as Maaser. This seems quite inefficient. One would think that it is more efficacious to simply count all the animals and deduct ten percent.
Horav Eliezer Gordon, zl, was once on a fundraising trip for the Telshe Yeshivah in Lithuania, when he posed this question to a wealthy man who had balked at the Rosh Hayeshivah's request for a sizable contribution. Rav Leizer asked the businessman, "Why does the Torah demand such a roundabout, inefficient manner for counting one's assets?" The wealthy man was also at a loss for an answer.
"Let me explain," said Rav Leizer. "If the Torah would enjoin a wealthy man to give up ten percent of his possessions, he would be hard-pressed to comply. Ten percent can amount to a considerable sum of money. Therefore, the Torah prescribes the method of individual counting of one's flock. Over and over, the wealthy man counts his flock, realizing that for every nine animals that he keeps for himself, he gives only one to Hashem. He might even feel a bit of embarrassment at how much he possesses and how little he is giving to Hashem. This will motivate him to give generously and joyfully. When a person realizes with how much he has been blessed, he will gladly part with the Maaser."
"My friend," continued Rav Leizer, "look at how much you have and you will realize that, in proportion, I am not really asking for that much."
In citing the above, Horav Avraham Pam, zl, notes that people often refrain from being as charitable as they should be because they do not acknowledge all of Hashem's blessings to them. When a person takes the time to contemplate the many blessings that Hashem has granted him, he moves readily to acquiesce to share some of it with those less fortunate than he.
Asher nosan la'sechvi binah - Who gave the rooster understanding.
Rabbeinu Yonah and the Rosh see added meaning in the word sechvi. They translate sechvi as "seeing" or "insight," as we find in Sefer Tehillim 73:7, maskios ha'lev, insights of the heart. Thus, the human being pays tribute to Hashem for the cognitive ability of the rooster, which, in turn, raises the heart's awareness of the approaching dawn. Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, wonders why the emergence of stars at night illuminating the sky does not evoke the rooster's crow and, concomitantly, why no special brachah is made. He explains that the dawn of a new day, with its sense of promise and hope, elicits our gratitude. However, at the end of the day, with the approaching nightfall, no such emotion is evoked. Indeed, the end of the day can bring with it feelings of depression. We, therefore, await the next dawn when we can once again express ourselves in praise to Hashem.
Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, explains that just as the rooster has been given the ability to distinguish between day and night at a time when that difference is hardly noticeable, so, too, has Klal Yisrael been mandated with the function of enlightening the spiritual darkness of the world. As a mamleches Kohanim v'goi kadosh, "kingdom of Priests and a holy nation," we acknowledge our spiritual superiority and the imperative that accompanies it. This brachah is followed with the blessing of Shelo asani goi, "That He did not make me a gentile," recognizing the fact that, as Jews, we are endowed with a neshamah, soul, which illuminates the darkness, so that we can see clearly through the ambiguities and darkness that plague the world.
Mrs. Seliga Ahuva (Schur) Mandelbaum
by her parents
Rabbi Doniel & Shoshana Schur
The Ninth volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.
He can be contacted at 216-321-5838 ext. 165 or by fax at 216-321-0588
Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to firstname.lastname@example.org