Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg
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Vol. 5 No. 47
The Power of Tzedokoh
When it comes to earning G-d's blessings, there is no mitzvah that can compare to the giving of tzedokoh: it saves from death in this world, for so Shlomoh ha'Melech wrote in Mishlei (10:2) "And charity saves from death"; it gains a person wealth, for so Chazal said, in explaining the posuk in Re'ei "Aser te'aser" - 'Aser bi'shvil she'tis'asher' (give Ma'aser in order to become rich); it saves a Jew from going to Gehinom (even if he otherwise deserves to go there -Bovo Basra 10a) and prolongs one's years in this world (ibid. 11a).
Rashi, in Bereishis (18:16) writes that, although the expression 'hashkofoh' in the Chumash always has a connotation of harm (as is the case there, where, due to their evil ways, Hashem looked down upon S'dom with the intention of destroying them), it is nevertheless used here in connection with G-d's blessings, when the Torah writes "Look down from Your holy dwelling-place and bless Your people Yisroel". The reason for this, he explains, is because when Yisroel give gifts to the poor, that has the power to transform G-d's anger into mercy.
The Kli Yokor ascribes this to Hashem's tendency to pay measure for measure. When we overcome the natural human reluctance to part with one's wealth, and show the poor mercy, Hashem responds by suppressing His own anger - that is our due for our misdeeds - and showers us with Divine mercy.
And Its Pitfalls
Yet one may not take one's wealth, nor even the mitzvah of tzedokoh, for granted. Someone who does not give tzedokoh in accordance with his means, or whose motivation is a negative one, may well find that the tzedokoh that he gives will not save him in his hour of need, and perhaps even lead him to his downfall. See what the Gemoro relates about one of the wealthiest men in Yerusholayim - and probably in the world - Nakdimon ben Guryon. Nakdimon was one of the three men who was prepared to sustain the whole of Yerusholayim for twenty-two years. He was also the man for whom the sun stood still (like it did for Moshe and Yehoshua) when he borrowed thirteen wells of water for the inhabitants of Yerusholayim, against a vast sum of money should he fail to repay the loan until a certain date.
But all of this did not help him, and he lost everything, to the point that his daughter, to whom he had promised one million golden dinarim for her kesubah, was forced to collect barley from the dung of the animals belonging to Arab nomads (Kesubos 66b), because he was unable to honour his promise.
She explained to Rebbi Yochanan ben Zakai that her father had simply not given tzedokoh. Quoting a popular saying of that time, she compared tzedokoh to salt: just as salt preserves the meat, she said, so too does tzedokoh preserve one's wealth. And conversely, someone who fails to give tzedokoh - like someone who fails to salt the meat - will lose everything. But how can that be, asks the Gemoro in amazement? It was said about Nakdimon ben Guryon, that when he went from his house to the Beis Hamikdosh, he would arrange to have silk carpets placed under his feet, and that, after he had passed, the poor were free to come and take them? Correct, answers the Gemara, that is prfecisely what he did, but he did it for his own glorification, a motive that is purely negative (see Agodos Maharsho). Alternatively, he may even have donated the carpets generously; however, he did not give the amounts that a man with the means of Nakdimon ben Guryon was expected to give.
Yes, tzedokoh works wonders - but only if one gives according to his means and with the right motivation. Otherwise, it can even lead to one's downfall.
The Voice of Ya'akov
"And we cried out to Hashem"... "and Hashem listened to our voice" (26:7) - to our voice, not to our prayers, points out the Chofetz Chayim. To teach us that, at the time of trouble, one must beseech G-d with a loud voice, because that is when He answers straightaway (though this does not pertain to the Amidah, which must be recited silently).
True, Chazal did point out that some prayers are answered only after a few days, and others after only a few years, as the Medrash says. But when one cries out in prayer, then Hashem responds immediately.
A similar thought lies in the words of Yitzchok Ovinu, when he said to Ya'akov his son "the voice is the voice of Ya'akov, but the hands are the hands of Eisov" (Bereishis 27:22). It is not the prayers (alone) of Ya'akov that stay the hands of Eisov, but the voice! An urgent prayer elicits an urgent response.
Once the Angel's Here
Another vital condition in successful prayer is that one must also pray for the individual only as a member of the community - to ask G-d to heal the sick man together with all the other sick in Yisroel, and to comfort the mourner together with all the other mourners of Yisroel.
And here the Chofetz Chayim would relate the story of the Gaon R. Shlomoh Kluger, who was once invited to be Sandek at a bris. He arrived on time, and was most surprised when he was made to wait for a quite some time. But his surprise turned to consternation when he discovered why. It appears that the baby's father was dangerously ill, and was expected to die any minute. So they were waiting for his death, to name the baby after him.
When he heard that, R. Shlomoh Kluger ordered them to proceed with the bris without another moment's delay. After the bris, he went personally to wish the father 'Mazel-tov'. 'To trouble the Angel who is in charge of healing (Refoel) is outside of my jurisdiction' he explained. 'However, once Eliyohu ha'Novi comes down anyway to stand on the right-hand side of the Mohel to heal the baby after the bris, there is no reason why I should not ask him to go next door and heal the father too!'
Three days later, the Chofetz Chayim concluded, the father got up and went to shul.
To Uphold Torah
"Cursed be the one who does not uphold the words of this Torah, to do them" etc. (27:26). This possuk has two meanings, says the Chofetz Chayim: it means that each Jew is duty-bound to accept the entire Torah (i.e. he has no authority to accept those mitzvos that he finds beneficial, and to reject those that he does not) - and that he is blessed if he does so, and cursed if he does not; but it also places an obligation upon those who are able to see to it that all other Jews (or at least as many as come within the orbit of their influence) remain loyal to Torah.
The Yerushalmi in Sotah writes: "Cursed be the one who does not lift up this Torah". But has the Torah fallen, asks the Gemoro, that it needs to be picked up?
Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafto says that this pertains to the Beis-din who have the power and the authority to lead others along the right path. Rav Yehudah and Rav Chisda quote Shmuel, who says that it was this very feeling of responsibility that caused King Yoshiyohu to rent his garments, when Chilkiyohu the Cohen discovered the Sefer-Torah, and he (Yoshiyohu) realised how far Yisroel had degenerated - and said 'It is up to me to uphold it!'
At first,the Chofetz Chayim quotes the Ramban, who confines this sacred obligation to the influential members of the community, who are able to make an impact on those with whom they have contact. But then he goes on to extend this great mitzvah to include every Jew, for everyone is blessed with some sphere of influence over others - as Chazal have said (explaining the possuk in Mishlei (3:9) "Honour Hashem from your wealth" ("me'honoch") - "Honour Hashem with whatever He graced you!" ("me'chonoch"): one person has been graced with wealth, and he is able to uphold Torah by building Yeshivos and houses of Torah-study; another, with eloquence - he is obliged to uphold Torah with his d'roshos; and yet others have the charm, the wit and the pursuasive powers to encourage others to grow in their Yiddishkeit or to return to it; and others possess the ability to stand in the breach, to prevent those who set out to destroy the foundations of Judaism.
Anyone who upholds Torah in any of these ways is indeed blessed.
THE MITZVOS OF TODAY
52. To give the Cohen the first of the wool - as the Torah writes in Devorim (18:4) "And the first of the shearing of your sheep you shall give to him". The Torah does not specify a minimum amount. The Rabbonon however, fixed it as one sixtieth of the total amount of wool shorn.
This mitzvah is confined to sheep's wool and only someone who has at least five sheep, each of which produces at least twelve selo'im (making a total of sixty selo'im) is obliged to give. The dinim of this mitzvah are equivalent to those of the gifts (refer to mitzvah 51).
53. To sanctify every male first-born, that opens the womb - as the Torah writes in Bo "Sanctify for Me every first-born that opens the womb in B'nei Yisroel, with regard to both children and animals". And regarding a kosher animal (i.e. a sheep, a goat and a cow), the Torah also writes in Re'ei "You shall sanctify (it) to Hashem your G-d". If one failed to declare it holy, it is nonetheless holy automatically (only it is a mitzvah to do so verbally). The mitzvah does not apply to the seven species of wild animals (e.g. the various types of deer etc.) that are kosher. Nor does it apply to any species of non-kosher animals - with the sole exception of the donkey, as we shall see in the next mitzvah.
Sanctifying a first-born incorporates treating it with the respect that something which is holy deserves (see Mitzvas Lo Sa'aseh 109) - unless it becomes blemished and is redeemed. (With regard to a human first-born, see Seforno Sh'mos -13:2.) Nowadays, a firstborn animal should be allowed to graze until it becomes blemished, and should then be given to a Cohen, who may do with it as he pleases.
This mitzvah applies to men and women alike.
54. To redeem one's first-born son - provided both parents are Yisraelim (i.e. neither Cohanim nor Levi'im by birth) - One redeems him for the value of five selo'im (twenty dinrim) or any goods to the value of five selo'im, which one gives to the Cohen. The money is mundane (i.e. need not be treated as holy money).
If the father is a Cohen or a Levi, or the mother the daughter of a Cohen or a Levi, then they are exempt from redeeming their first-born son.
The mitzvah falls due after thirty full days have elapsed since the birth of the baby, as the Torah writes (Bamidbor 18:16) "And you shall redeem him from the age of thirty days".
If the baby has no father, then (unlike Bris Milah, where the Beis-din i.e. every Jew, becomes obliged to see that the mitzvah is fulfilled), he himself will become obliged to redeem himself from the age of Bar Mitzvah.
This mitzvah applies everywhere, at all times.
55. To redeem the first-born male donkey with a lamb - as the Torah writes in Sh'mos (34:20) "And the first-born donkey you shall redeem with a lamb". One gives the lamb to the Cohen, as it is written "All those that open the womb. . . shall be yours". Cohanim and Levi'im are exempt from this mitzvah. In the event that one has no lamb, one redeems the donkey for its full value, which one then gives to the Cohen. Whereas if he would redeem it with a lamb, he would be permitted to redeem even a donkey worth ten sela (forty dinrim) with any lamb, even if it was worth only a dinar.
About the Mitzvos
In the mundane world in which we live, it is generally accepted that someone who volunteers to perform a good deed, is more praiseworthy than someone who is obliged to do so. After all, one is doing it without even having been asked!
This is not however, the opinion of our sages. The Gemoro in Kiddushin (31a) cites the story of Domo ben Nesinah, the gentile who preferred to forego the opportunity of obtaining a fortune rather than to arouse his father from his sleep. The following year he was rewarded with a red heifer that was born into his herd, and which he sold to the Jews for the same price as he initially forewent.
Rabbi Chaninah concludes that if a non-Jew, who is not obligated to honour his parents, is nevertheless so richly rewarded for honouring them, then imagine what sort of reward G-d has in store for a Jew who does is obligated, when he honours his parents.
Tosfos there, gives the reason for this: because someone who is commanded, is worried that he may not fulfill the mitzvah properly (a concern which the volunteer, who is able to step down at will, does not share).
Tosfos' answer appears closely connected to the principle which we discussed recently: namely, that 'the reward is commensurate with the effort'.
Tosfos Ri ha'Zoken however, gives quite a different explanation. According to him, someone who is commanded is due to receive more reward, precisely because he has been commanded and is taking upon himself the yoke of mitzvos. Because the great thing about mitzvos is the fact that one is fulfilling the word of G-d, as is hinted in the very word 'mitzvah'. When one volunteers, one is doing one's own thing; but when one is obligated, one is performing the will of G-d - the highest motivation possible for a Jew.
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