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PARASHAS KI SISAWhen you take a census of Bnei Yisrael according to their numbers. (30:12)
How does one count the Jewish People? We are taught that at the Bris Bein HaBesarim, Covenant of the Parts, Hashem promised Avraham Avinu, "Gaze now, toward the Heavens, and count the stars if you are able to count them…so shall your offspring be!" (Bereishis 15:5) We are not countable - just like the stars. Likewise, it says that the number of Jews will be like the sand of the sea - which also cannot be counted. The Talmud Yoma 22b, distinguishes between a time in which the Jewish People carry out the will of Hashem and a time in which they do not. How is it possible not to be countable? Numbers are an absolute. If one has a machine capable of counting at his disposal, he will ultimately be able to count them. If they are people, and there are numbers available, then they can be counted.
Horav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, zl, explains that the key is to compare Klal Yisrael to stars. Koh yiheyeh zaracha, "So will be your offspring," is a reference to qualitative value, not quantitative. Every star gives off its own degree of light. Some stars have a certain amount of light, while others have hundreds of times more light. Thus, it is impossible to count the qualitative number of stars, because the light which emerges from each individual star is distinct from the others, and hence, uncountable.
When Jews carry out the will of Hashem they are not countable, because each Jew serves Hashem on his own personal madreigah, spiritual level. Each Jew shines differently. When they are not worthy of qualitative counting, however, when it is their bodies which are counted - it is quite a different story.
Ki Sisa es rosh Bnei Yisrael - V'nasnu ish kofer nafsho laHashem, "When you take a census of Bnei Yisrael according to their numbers, every man shall give Hashem an atonement for his soul." The Jewish Nation is not counted as other nations are counted. The other nations count bodies. We do not count bodies, because, by placing a quantitative number on the Jewish People, we are attributing distinction to the body - not the mind. When the body has greater value than the mind, we are risking a plague.
When we count by having each Jew offer an atonement for his soul, we demonstrate that our concern is to know how many Jews care about Torah and Klal Yisrael. How many Jews take an active role in participating with the nation? How many Jews sacrifice themselves for Torah? They are the ones to be counted! They are the ones who are included in Moshe Rabbeinu's book, his roll book of the nation. They are the ones who comprise Knesses Yisrael.
The wealthy shall not increase and the destitute shall not decrease from half a shekel. (30:15)
It is not uncommon for someone who has struck it rich, who has received the blessing of wealth from Hashem, to think that the world belongs to him. While this is certainly not the Torah way, human nature often prevails. It goes so far that one begins to believe that, if he were not deserving of all of this good fortune, he would not be its recipient. Apparently, he is a "good guy," who is worthy of this blessing. As a result, a baal mamon, one who has been blessed with wealth, becomes a baal gaavah, arrogant and pompous, often lording himself over others, because, after all, he has it all.
We, sadly, find the opposite attitude among those who are relegated to living a life of poverty. While there are varied levels of poverty - none of them is encouraging for a person's psyche. One who is impoverished often feels that he is a lo yitzlach, unsuccessful, just cannot make it; nothing ever seems to go his way. It becomes so bad that one who is poor feels worthless, second class, and obsequious to anyone and everyone who has more than he does.
Let me add that these feelings of both superiority or inferiority are transitory. They travel down the generational chain to their offspring. Parents who view themselves as inferior invariably raise their children with similar feelings of mediocrity, resulting in either intense timidity or overcompensation manifest by exaggerated aggressiveness. Those who are infused with a sense of entitlement may outdo their parents with social behavior that is overly pretentious and arrogant.
Having said this, we lay the groundwork for the Torah's admonition, "The wealthy shall not increase, and the destitute shall not decrease." Zeichar Binyamin interprets this pasuk homiletically: "The wealthy shall not increase," the fact that you have been blessed with material abundance does not grant you license to arrogate yourself, to increase your feelings of superiority. It does not, in any way, mean that you are more "increased" than others, that you have greater attributes, that you are more worthy. It means nothing of the sort - other than demanding greater responsibility, increased obligation. It does not reflect anything about your character. Likewise, "The destitute shall not decrease." The fact that you do not have an abundance of wealth, that you are poverty-stricken, does not grant you the right: to be depressed; to believe that you are unworthy, without much value, a useless, unproductive person. Money does not define who you are. Our greatest Torah leaders were poor, and, despite their indigence, they rose to incredible prominence, inspiring generations of Jews.
One name which immediately comes to mind is that of Horav Aryeh Leib HaKohen Heller, zl, the author of the Ketzos HaChoshen, Avnei Milluim and Shev Shemaitsa, three sefarim which changed the way we study Gemorah. The Chafetz Chaim, zl, would relate the interesting origins of the Ketzos. Rav Yechiel Michel Heller was forced to flee Russia, finally finding a safe haven in Stanislow, Galicia. A descendant of Horav Yom Tov Lipa Heller, author of the Tosfos Yom Tov, and a premier scholar in his own right, he was accorded the respect reserved for a man of his stature. While there, a shidduch, matrimonial match, was proposed for his brilliant son, Yosef, with a poor girl from a reputable family. The two sets of parents agreed to the shidduch, although in the back of their minds they were increasingly concerned about how the young couple would be supported. Their joy was ambivalent. Looking for sound advice, they sought the counsel of Horav Chaim Halberstam, zl, Sanzer Rav. Their question was simple: Should they go through with the marriage, since there were absolutely no funds on either side with which to support the young couple?
The Sanzer Rav advised them to continue as they had been doing until that time. The chosson's parents would continue supporting their son, and the kallah's parents would do the same with their daughter. A match of two such distinguished families should not be halted due to lack of money. The arrangement continued for a number of years - even after children were born. They simply divided the children. The older son, the Ketzos, ate with his father, while his brother, Rav Yehudah, author of the Kuntros HaSefeikos, ate with his mother. Years later, the family was reunited when they came into some money.
The Ketzos took the position of Rav in Rozintow and later in Staria, where he taught many distinguished disciples. These rabbinical positions paid practically nothing. Indeed, the Ketzos knew nothing but poverty his entire life. The table upon which he learned, wrote and ate was a board placed over two barrels. During the cold winter months, he would sit all day in bed, wrapped in a blanket. This is where he wrote his magnum opus, the Ketzos HaChoshen. In order to keep the ink from freezing, he kept placing the ink under his pillow to keep it warm.
When Rav Aryeh Leib completed his Ketzos, he sought approbations for his sefer. He traveled to Horav Tzvi Hirsch Bushka, and, after presenting him with the manuscript, asked him to review it and give his approbation.
"What chiddushim, novel ideas, are included herein which will add to the commentary of Horav Yonasan Eibeshitz in his commentary, Kaeisi u'Pleisi? Nonetheless, leave it here. I will glance at it."
The Ketzos returned to his lodgings for the night. The next day, shortly before Minchah, the shul's shamash banged on the bimah and announced, "The entire assemblage is invited to gather at the Rav's house to begin a processional to the shul, as we accompany the induction of a new Sefer Torah to our shul. " Excitement immediately filled the room, as everyone anticipated the pomp and joy of bringing a new Torah to its place in the shul's Aron Kodesh. Rav Aryeh Leib joined the throng. He was not a member of this community, but a simchah of such stature was not a daily occurrence.
As Rav Aryeh Leib moved closer and closer to the Rav carrying the Torah, he became more and more excited. He finally saw Rav Tzvi Hirsch carrying the covered Torah in his arms. As Rav Aryeh Leib came closer, Rav Tzvi Hirsch lifted the wrap, revealing the "Sefer Torah," which was none other than the manuscript of the Ketzos HaChoshen!
Rav Aryeh Leib HaKohen Heller achieved the epitome of Torah scholarship without such supportive accoutrements as pedigree, wealth, or friends in high places. It was his unparalleled diligence, commitment and extreme devotion to Torah that earned him his place in the past, present and future of Torah scholarship.
To weave designs, to work with gold, silver and copper. (31:4)
The Jewish mind has throughout time proven itself to be extraordinary. While we have a reputation for being gifted with an inordinate level of acumen in proportion with the size of our own nation, it is specifically in the area of commerce, i.e. making money, that our worldly reputation seems to soar and take on a life all of its own. While the Jewish mind shines in all areas of human endeavor -- from our primary vocation, Torah study, to the various disciplines of science, mathematics, medicine, law, social services, etc.-- one thing all Jews have in common is the way in which they use their money. As Rachamanim bnei Rachamanim, compassionate sons (and daughters) of compassionate ones, we are all in one way or another devoted to chesed, carrying out acts of loving kindness, in order to help those who are less fortunate. Money plays a vital role, without which we could not be such great baalei tzedakah. Perhaps, we might postulate that our inordinate success coincides with our commitment to helping others. Otherwise, what purpose does money really have? One can live in just so many homes, wear just so many suits, drive just so many cars. The money is not there for us to hoard; rather, it is for us to share.
With the above in mind, I share the following story, which at first reads like any other tzadik story. It is the punch line that is different, changing the entire focus and lesson of the story. The Pupa Rav, zl, arrived in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, NY, shortly after the Holocaust. His goal was to rebuild the Chassidic dynasty that had been decimated during the war. His passion and fervor, coupled with uncompromising integrity and love of his Jewish brothers, helped him to secure a strong group of followers, which quickly grew by leaps and bounds. Soon the building that had served as their home was no longer sufficient. They had to move into larger quarters. They looked to Boro Park as the place where they would establish their chassidus. As part of the foundation of a strong Chassidus, it was vital that Pupa establish its own yeshivah from cheder through bais medrash, where the students would receive a strong education based upon the principles of learning which distinguished Pupa Chassidus. One problem held them back from seeing the realization of their dream: money. The vast majority of Pupa Chassidim were not men of means; they were barely eking out a living. Therefore, the steering committee decided to arrange for a dinner which would, hopefully, generate funds for their building project.
In order to motivate attendance, the committee arranged to have the Rav attend the dinner. Not to waste the Rav's precious time, they decided that tickets for the dinner would cost one thousand dollars. This way, only the seriously committed would attend. The crowd of well-to-do supporters were very inspired by the Rav's presence. Toward the end of the dinner, each person's contribution was publicly announced, followed by a blessing from the Rav. As per pre-arrangement, every gift was one thousand dollars or more. It was, therefore, surprising when one of the wealthiest Chassidim, an individual who was not only a man of means, but also a scholar and a devout follower of the Pupa Rav, announced that he was contributing two hundred dollars toward the project. Surprised, the Rav commented, "I thought that we had requested a thousand dollar minimum contribution." The man replied, "Rebbe, I have been blessed with only daughters. Thus, I will not personally benefit from the school. Two hundred dollars is what I feel I should contribute."
"If this is the case," the Rav countered, "if you give a larger donation, you might be blessed with a son."
Hearing this, the Chasid asked, "Rebbe, is that a guarantee?"
"There are no guarantees," the Rav replied. "However, I am certain that a sizable donation will generate much nachas, Heavenly pleasure. I cannot imagine that your gift will be overlooked."
"If that is the case," the Chasid said, "I will immediately give ten thousand dollars toward the project." The man wrote a check, and the Rav blessed him to soon hold his son in his arms.
Nine months later, the Chasid's wife gave birth to a healthy boy. The joy that permeated their home was palpable. Because the Rav's blessing had played such a pivotal role in realizing the birth of his son, the Chasid asked the Rav to serve as sandek, hold the baby, during the actual Bris, circumcision. The Rav agreed; the Bris, however, had to be held at the Rav's summer home in the Catskill Mountains. It was a long trip for such a young infant, but how often does one have an opportunity to have the Pupa Rav serve as sandek?
The infant's father had a brother who was very wealthy. His fortune was valued in the high millions. Sadly, one blessing eluded him: he was childless. He and his wife had been married for years and had exhausted every therapy. They had visited doctors and clinics all over the world, to no avail. He was incredulous that his brother would make such a long trip with a newborn infant, just so that the Pupa Rav would serve as sandek. When it was explained to him that it was the Rav's blessing that had generated this blessing, his attitude quickly changed. He immediately approached the Rav and asked how much he would have to give in order to obtain a blessing for a child. Name the amount, and he would write a check.
The Pupa Rav responded with his usual humility, "Am I a contractor who accepts to perform a service for a given price? When your brother came to me, it was an eis ratzon, a time when the Divine will was readily acquiescent. We were in dire need of funds to build the yeshiva, and anyone who would help us would have an incredible merit. As a result, Hashem looked kindly upon your brother, and he was blessed with a son. Our situation has, Baruch Hashem, changed for the better. I do not know if the merit of giving will have the same effect."
The wealthy man did not give up hope. He turned to the Rav's gabbai, secretary, and said, "Please - anytime that the Rav is in need of funds, call me immediately. I will help! Do not hesitate to call - even if it is in the middle of the night. I will respond positively to your summons!"
A number of months passed, and the Rav intimated to his secretaries that it was necessary to build apartments for the young married men in their growing kollel. Sadly, there was no money available for such a huge project. When the gabbaim heard this, they immediately summoned the wealthy brother and related to him the Rav's need. The man came running: "Rebbe, I will donate any amount of money that the Rav asks. However, I need a guarantee that I will be blessed with a child!"
The Rav replied, "Am I in place of Hashem? All I can say is to give whatever you can, and Hashem will do His." The man removed a blank check from his pocket and said, "Rebbe can write for any amount up to seven figures." The Rav took the check and filled it in for one hundred and eighty dollars. Incredulous, the man simply asked, "Is that all?" to which the Rav replied, "It is ten times chai. You want living children. Hashem should bless you." Nonetheless, the man would not accept the Rav's response, and he proceeded to write another check for ten million dollars, with the hope that he would be blessed with a child!
A number of months went by and nothing happened; his wife had yet to conceive. People do not just dole out ten million dollars, regardless of how wealthy they might be. Once again, the man visited the Pupa Rav and pleaded, "Rebbe, I still have not been answered. Please help me!" "I told you that it is not in my hands," the Rav said. "However, I pray for you constantly that you be blessed with a child." The man left in a somewhat ambivalent mood that went from hopelessness to hope. He would not give up on the Rav's prayers. Sadly, a short while later, the man's world came crashing down with the bitter news of the passing of the Pupa Rav. His world became bleak and dark. Now what was he going to do?
His depression did not last very long, when nine months after the Rav's passing, the man's wife gave birth to a healthy baby girl. What the Rav could not affect in this world, he had rectified in the next world.
A few weeks later, the Rav's son and successor summoned the leaders of his Chassidic court to his office and showed them a sealed envelope, signed by his holy father. The following words were written on the envelope: "On the day that Mr. So and So's wife has a child; you may open up this envelope and use its contents to complete our Kollel project." The Pupa Rav would not avail himself of the wealthy man's money until he had upheld his end of the deal. This is the meaning of greatness.
Hashem said to Moshe, "I have seen this people, and behold! It is a stiff-necked people. And desist from me…and I shall annihilate them. (32:9,10)
The severity of the chet ha'eigel, sin of the Golden Calf, is beyond description. It represents an egregious rebellion against Hashem, a sin for which we still are paying for to this very day. One would think that, after Hashem related to Moshe Rabbeinu the sequence of events leading up to the sin, He would have addressed the iniquitous sin which the people so flagrantly committed. Idol worship immediately after receiving the Torah was an unpardonable sin. Yet, all Hashem says is that Klal Yisrael is an am kshei oref, stiff-necked people. This is why Hashem is prepared to annihilate the entire nation - due to their self- asserting, pretentious nature? Being stiff-necked is certainly not a positive character trait, but is it the most important attribute in describing the sin of the Golden Calf?
Horav Sholom Schwadron, zl, explains that kshei oref is actually an extension of the sin of the Golden Calf. Rashi defines kshei oref as, "They turn their neck against those who rebuke them and (thus) refuse to listen." This is quite possibly why they killed Chur when he attempted to reprove and stop them from continuing their descent to spiritual oblivion. Therefore, he explains that the actual sin was creating and worshipping the Golden Calf. It was their refusal, however, to listen to reason, to accept responsibility - by continuing to justify their nefarious sin - that caused their punishment.
We must realize that sin is an indication of error, of weakness, of a spiritual falling out. The justification which follows the sin, however, the qualifying of the sin, the lying to and degrading of those who only want to help, actually causes the punishment. This is similar to transforming the sin into a mutiny against Hashem. This does not chas v'shalom, Heaven forbid, in any way gloss over the sin; it is only a perspective on the punishment that follows. We all make mistakes; we all have our weak moments, but to transform them into ideologies, to rebuff and abuse those who would help us return, is the ultimate chutzpah. It is kshei oref, for which there is no countenance.
The first step following a spiritual fall is to concede that one has sinned - not to blame it on the whole world, as many do. I just read the expose of a young ex-Chassidic woman who left the fold. She rants and raves about everyone, her parents, teachers, Rav, friends, etc. At no time does she concede in any way that she might be wrong. She projects blame on others, as a means for justifying her crude behavior. Parents are the first scapegoats, followed by the system. It is never the individual who executed the sin. This is why the sin of the Golden Calf still haunts us to this very day. We are still qualifying our egregious behavior, refusing to accept the responsibility, to listen to reason, to talk it out. Why? Because that would mean conceding that we might be wrong. This is where our kshei oref kicks in, preventing us from accepting responsibility for our deplorable behavior.
Elokei Avraham Elokei Yitzchak v'Elokei Yaakov.
The question is obvious: Why is Yaakov Avinu mentioned by his birth name, Yaakov, rather than by the name which Hashem designated to him later- Yisrael? Achas Shoalti quotes an explanation based upon the upcoming verse, U'meivi goeil livnei v'neihem, "And He brings a redeemer (to redeem) their children's children." There is a well-known tradition that Yaakov's name is spelled five times in the Torah with the vov, and Eliyahu HaNavi's name written five times without the vov. This teaches that the Patriarch took the vov as a security that Eliyahu would herald the Final Redemption specifically in the name of Yaakov. Therefore, we say the Bircas HaAvos in the birth name of Yaakov, because that is the name which will herald the Geulah, Redemption.
Jeffrey and Jane Belkin
In loving memory of their parents
Leibel ben Chaim z"l
Chana bas Yaakov a"h
Shimon ben Gedalya z"l
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