August 13-14, 2004 27 AB 5764
"[If your Hebrew slave] says to you, 'I shall not go out from you' because he loves you and your house because he fares well with you" (Debarim 15:16)
The Gemara teaches that the owner of a Hebrew slave must treat him and view him as an equal in every respect, and he sometimes even has to treat him as a superior! However, the Gemara also teaches that if two Jews are in dire need of water, and only one of them has a jug of water, his own life takes precedence, and he is not obligated to give the water to the other person. Why is this case different than the case of the slave who must be treated at least as an equal, if not better?
A poor man and a rich man can live in harmony with one another, even though the poor man can't satisfy his physical needs like the rich man. Still yet, he does not feel inferior in any way to his friend as a human being. The slave, on the other hand, is always reminded of his bitter status as a mere servant of another man. Therefore the Torah goes out of its way to demand special treatment for him.
There is a very important lesson to be learned from this. We must understand that different people have different sensitivities. We must recognize each person's uniqueness, and treat him in a way that we will not hurt his feelings or make him self-conscious of his station in life. Let's take it upon ourselves now, as we approach the selihot season, to treat our fellow man with the proper respect, and to make amends with those to whom we may have shown disservice to in the past. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka
"He will give you mercy and be merciful to you." (Debarim 13:18)
The Jewish people are characterized by three distinct traits: mercy, modesty and kindness. That the Jewish people are merciful is learned from the verse in this week's perashah, "He will give you mercy." The Gemara (Yebamot 79a) asserts that "Whoever has mercy on Hashem's creations is obviously a descendant of Abraham Abinu. Conversely, one who has no pity on Hashem's creations is evidently not a descendant of Abraham. Another lesson is that, in Heaven a person will be shown mercy if he acts with mercy. One summer Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan was on vacation in a neighboring town across the river from his city. One morning he left the inn where he was staying with a letter in his hand. He started looking for a messenger with a boat who would agree to take his letter to his hometown across the river. A young Jewish man who was curious to know what urgent matter the great Rabbi was writing home about offered to take the letter back by boat. When the man reached the opposite shore and read the letter, which, of course he should not have done. He was overwhelmed. The letter went as follows: "The verse in Tehillim says, 'His mercy is over all his works...' I am writing to you because in our backyard there is a cat to which I have an obligation. The cat has been getting a bowl of milk from me daily. I forgot to appoint someone to take care of feeding it while I am gone, so please ensure that the cat is fed. I cannot rest until I know that someone will take care of this for me."
Mercy is a wonderful trait of our people. Be proud of it. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah
"See I am placing before you this day a blessing and a curse. The blessing if you will listen to the commandments of Hashem which I am commanding you this day, and the curse if you do not listen to Hashem's commandments" (Debarim 11:26-28)
Seforno comments on these verses that there is no middle way. If a person follows the Torah, his life will be a blessed life. If a person fails to live by the commandments, he will have a cursed life.
At first glance, this might seem to be an extreme statement. But just a little thought will show that this is so. Life is either purposeful and meaningful or not. A life of meaning is a blessed life. A life without meaning is a life devoid of satisfaction. How then can there be a middle way? Living with an awareness of Hashem gives one's life a context that makes everything one does a step towards one's blissful eternal home.
Living without this awareness makes each day another day closer to oblivion. How then can people live meaningless lives, as many people seem to be living? The answer is that they are sleepwalkers. There are in a semi-drugged state of unawareness. They live each day without thinking of their purpose in this world. If they do wake up from their hypnotic state to ask themselves about the meaning of their lives, they have two choices. They may look at life as meaningless. All that they are involved in will not make any difference when life is over. This is the greatest curse that could possibly befall anyone. On the other hand, if they become aware of the Creator and decide to live a life of fulfilling His will, they will experience the greatest of blessings in this world. Each day will be an exciting adventure full of the joy of doing the Creator's will. Truly then there is no middle way: only a blessing or a curse. The choice is yours to make. Choose life! (Growth through Torah)
"Every man according to what he can give, according to the blessing which G-d your G-d gives you" (Debarim 16:17)
The words "Ish kematanat yado - every man according to what he can give," are extra. It could have just said, "Ten kebircat Hashem Elokecha - give in accordance with what Hashem blessed you."
According to our Sages (Erubin 65b) the character of a man is evident in three things: kiso - his purse, koso, his cup (drinking), and ka'aso - his anger. Thus, one of the ways to recognize a man's true character is to observe the way he conducts himself with his money. Does he give graciously and with a congenial disposition, or does he make the receiver feel unworthy and uncomfortable?
This pasuk alludes to this by telling us "Ish - [you can tell the character of the] man - kematanat yado - by the way he conducts himself when he gives, and particularly if the amount is commensurate with kebircat Hashem Elokecha - the blessing that Hashem has bestowed upon him." (Vedibarta Bam)
Question: Why do we say, "Baruch yosrich, baruch osrich, baruch konich, baruch bore-ich" during Bircat Halebanah?
Answer: By taking the first letter of each word, the name Ya'akob is spelled out. He is compared to the moon (vis-?-vis the sun) since he was the younger of two brothers. (Excerpted from Siddur Abir Yaacob, published by Sephardic Press)
"You shall open your hand to your brother, to your poor, your needy, in your land." (Debarim 15:11)
Our Rabbis teach that there are different levels of priority when it comes to giving charity. As we see from the order of the pasuk, first come your brother and other family members. Next are "your poor," meaning the poor people in your own city. Third on the list are "your needy." This refers to those who are most in need. Finally come those "in your land," in the land of Israel. It is clear that there are set guidelines as to how we are required to distribute our charity funds. We are not permitted to make our decisions based on emotion, nor should we give an equal amount to every cause.
When a person makes a fist, it appears that all of his fingers are the same size. However, when he opens his hand, it becomes obvious that they are all different sizes. The pasuk hints to this point. When you are about to give charity, "open your hand." Recognize that just like your fingers are all different sizes, so too charity organizations are not all the same. Each should be fit into the guidelines that our Rabbis have set for us, and should be supported accordingly. Hashem has entrusted us with sedakah funds, and we must be careful to distribute them according to His wishes. Question: What criteria do you use when deciding how much and to whom to give sedakah? Are there any needy causes close to home that you have neglected?
This Week's Haftarah: Yeshayahu 54:11-55:5.
This week's haftarah is the third in the series of seven haftarot that deal with consolation and hope, which are read between Tish'ah B'Ab and Rosh Hashanah.
In this haftarah, the prophet Yeshayahu tells a prophecy of how it will be in the times of Mashiah. No enemy will be able to rise up against us. Rather, all the nations will recognize that Hashem has chosen us to be His nation.
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