Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 6 No. 12

Parshas Va'Yechi

The Power of Charity
(based on R. Bachye's introduction to the parshah)

"On the path of charity there is life, and along that path there is no death" (Mishlei 12:28). Shlomoh ha'Melech is coming to publicly sing the praises of charity, for those who hold on to it are rewarded with long life. It is a salvation for both the Soul and the body, and it has the power to overturn what the stars foretell. It is well-known that the life of man is predestined according to what is written in the stars (a concept that is usually referred to as 'Mazel'). A proof of this lies in the possuk in Shmuel "or his day (when he is destined to die) will arrive soon". In fact, whenever the term 'approaching days' is used (such as by Ya'akov, Moshe and Dovid) it is a reference to the day that that particular person is destined to die.


Having established that a person's life-span is predetermined by his Mazel, the power of the Almighty supercedes the Mazel, to prolong his life or to curtail it, according to his desert - in the manner that He curtailed the life of Yehoram, the son of Ach'av for sending messengers to seek advice from Ba'al Zevuv, the god of Ekron, instead of consulting Him.

When Shlomoh said "On the path of charity there is life", he meant that charity is a powerful agent, one that is able to add years to those alotted to him at birth. And we find this with Binyomin ha'Tzadik who, in his capacity as officer of the tzedokoh-funds, once informed a woman in a time of famine, that there was no money in the funds to give her. When she informed him that she and her seven sons were starving, he supported her out of his own pocket. When, some time later, Binyomin ha'Tzadik was about to die, the angels pleaded with Hashem on his behalf, on the basis of his having sustained the woman with her seven sons. We are told that G-d accepted their plea, and twenty-two years were added to his life.


That being the case, Shlomoh continues "and along that path there is no death" - whoever chooses to walk on the path of charity is assured that he will not die before his time arrives, as he himself writes in Mishlei (10:2) "And charity saves from death", which means that it will protect him from a premature death. Because, if charity has the power to add life to the years that a person was initially destined to live, then it can certainly prevent those years from being curtailed.


The definition of charity is to give of what is his to someone who needs his assistance. In that, there are many levels:

1. To give a p'rutah to a needy gentile (a mitzvah that is based on 'darkei sholom' rather than on intrinsic tzedokoh);
2. A greater mitzvah than that is to give a poor Jew from another town;
3. Greater still, is to give to a poor man from one's own town;
4. And greater even than that is to give to a poor relative, one's own flesh and blood;
5. On a higher level is to sustain one's little sons and daughters;
6. And on a higher level still, to support one's parents - the highest possible form of charity that exists, since it incorporates the mitzvah of honouring one's parents. That is why it is rewarded with long ife, as the Torah writes in Yisro (20:12) "in order that your days will be long". (It is not at all clear what Rabeinu Bachye means, since the reward to which the Torah refers here is for honouring one's parents, even if they are wealthy, and has nothing whatsoever to do with charity. What does emerge however, is that someone who supports one’s poor parents, or who looks after parents who are no longer able to look after themselves, has now earned himself long life on two scores: one for the mitzvah of honouring his parents; the other, for the mitzvah of charity, which he has fulfilled in the noblest possible manner.)


In fact, sustaining parents is a form of paying them back for the years of one's childhood, when the roles were reversed and it was the parents who sustained him - it is a classic example of measure for measure but performed, not by Hashem, but by us.

And so we find that Yosef sustained his father for seventeen years, measure for measure, for the seventeen years that Ya'akov sustained him before his sale. That is why the Torah informs us that Ya'akov lived in Egypt for seventeen years - a possuk which is otherwise superfluous, as the author himself explains in the opening possuk of the parshah.

Parshah Pearls
Adapted from the Chofetz Chayim
To Make Oneself Small

"And Yisroel stretched out his right-hand and he placed it on the head of Ephrayim, since he was the younger one ... May G-d make you like Ephayim and Menasheh" (48:20).

Do you know why Ephrayim merited to be blessed before Menasheh?

It is because he was the younger one. He made himself small. "But," Ya'akov then told Yosef "his small brother will be greater than him." Someone who is humble and who makes himself small, will merit greatness, says the Chofetz Chayim. This teaches us the extent to which Hashem detests pride and how much he loves humility.


The Partnership

The world was only created for Torah (see Yirmiyah 33:20), and Torah-study is therefore the most important occupation. It is however, impossible for an entire nation to study Torah full-time, points out the Chofetz Chayim. The Torah therefore teaches us how it is nevertheless, possible for everyone to acquire an equal portion in the Torah - without actually studying it full-time. It is by taking their cue from the tribe of Zevulun. Zevulun dwelt by the sea. They were merchants and as such, were unable to apply themselves diligently to Torah-study. So they supported Yisochor, whose profession was Torah, supplying them with all their needs (‘all their needs’ notice; because that is the true Yisachar-Zevulun partnership - half of Zevulun’s earnings for half of Yisachar’s Torah).


From the above possuk in Yirmiyoh, Chazal derive that, if Yisroel would not have accepted the Torah and studied it, the world would not have been able to exist. Without Zevulun, Yisochor would not be able to study Torah (if there is no flour, there is no Torah); and without Yisochor, the world would not have a raison d'etre. Consequently, Yisochor and Zevulun between them, are like the pillars on which the world stands.

(Perhaps we can compare it to two people who carry out a table on Shabbos: if each person could have carried it out on his own, then it is considered a joint project for which one is not punishable. But if each one of them could not have carried out the table on his own, then they are both liable. Why is that?

Because, since without the efforts of either one, the table would not have been carried out, it is as if each one of them carried out the table on his own. And so it is in our case. Since without either Zevulun or Yisochor, the Torah would not be studied and the world would not exist, each one individually, can be considered the pillar on which the world stands.)


The Shulchan Oruch in Yoreh Dei'ah (Si'man 246) rules that someone who is not able to study Torah himself, is obligated to support those who do. If he does, it will be as if he had studied Torah himself. If he does not, then he will have no part in the most importan of all occupations.


The Better Bargain

Generally, one tends to think that the person who enters into such a partnership or who donates a large sum of money to a Torah institution, has performed a wonderful deed inasmuch as he has helped Torah to grow. That may well be. One should know however, that it is the donor who comes off best, says the Chofetz Chayim, since for a relatively small sum of money, he receives an eternal chunk of the Torah that the recipient learns on account of him.


This gives tzedokoh of such a nature a double advantage, since Chazal have already taught us (Medrash Rabah) that the rich man who gives tzedokoh to a poor man receives more from the poor man than the poor man receives from him. How come? For a few p'rutos he receives an eternal portion in the World to Come. An eternal chunk of Torah plus an eternal portion in the World to Come, in exchange for a small sum of money, seems quite a bargain, doesn't it?



(The Mitzvos Asei)
Adapted from the Seifer ha'Mitzvos ha'Kotzer of the Chofetz Chayim.

67. To judge the laws of buying and selling, in keeping with the laws of the Torah - seeing as there are cases where the transaction between seller and purchaser is valid, and there are cases where it is not. The Torah therefore obligates the community to arbitrate between the two sides according to the law of the Torah. And it comes in the form of a specific mitzvah in a specific parshah (Behar 25:14) (i.e. it is not included in the general mitzvah of judging all money matters) because the issue at stake is such a regular one, an issue without which society could not survive for even a day.

Land can be acquired with money, with a document and by establishing ownership of it, whereas movables, as well as animals, one acquires even by moving them or causing them to be moved, by picking them up (which is a stronger act of acquisition), or by exchanging one item for another (even if the article that is used to acquire is returned).

This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times (to men only).


68. To return the article that one robbed (by force) - as the Torah writes in Tzav "... and he shall return the article that he robbed ...".

Someone who steals an article worth more than a p'rutah (a very small amount) must return it to the person from whom he stole it. If he is no longer alive, then he returns it to his next of kin. If the article is lost or broken, then he must pay its value. Included in this mitzvah is the return of the article that he stole (on the quiet), or that he obtained by overcharging (or by any other dishonest means). One is not obligated to return an article that is worth less than a p'rutah, though that does not necessarily absolve him from the moral obligation of doing so. The mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and women alike.


About the Mitzvos
Little Mitzvos - Part I

The Mishnah in Pirkei Ovos (2:1) teaches us to perform little mitzvos with as much care and concern as big ones, and the Tana even supplies us with a reason - 'because you do not know the reward of the mitzvos'.

The Mishnah here is talking about the mitzvos asei, as the Bartenura explains. The mitzvos lo sa'aseh are divided into categories, he explains, and it is easy to tell which one is more important than the other from the stringency of the punishment: e.g. where there is no official punishment (such as a la'v that is connected to an asei), malkos (thirty-nine lashes), Kores or Miysah (excision or death), to mention some of the subdivisions in their progressive order. But the reward for mitzvos asei is not specified (other than in terms of long life or goodness - both of which are vague terms which convey no concrete understanding of what is in store for someone who fulfills them).

And perhaps, what Chazal mean when they say that we do not know the reward of the mitzvos, is precisely that: that even after the Torah has informed us of these rewards, we still do not know what the reward is. For what is the meaning of long life and goodness in terms of the World to Come? Perhaps if we were to appreciate their meaning, we would find it worthwhile to run to the ends of the earth to perform even the smallest mitzvah.


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