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Haftarah: Yeshayahu 54:11-55:5

AUGUST 29-30, 2008 29 AB 5768

Rosh Hodesh Elul will be celebrated on Sunday and Monday, August 31 & September 1

Pop Quiz: In which years is a ma'aser (one-tenth) of the crop given to the poor?


"But rather open wide your hand to him" (Debarim 15:8)

I would like to dedicate this week's message to my beloved father, Mr. Irving Semah A"H. There is a misvah that is hinted to in our perashah that he was always careful to observe. Our verse quoted above says the word "open" twice. Rashi explains that it means open your hand even many times and give charity. However the Gemara adds: "Rabbi Elazar would give a coin to the poor and then would pray"(Baba Batra 10, as quoted in Torah Ladaat). The Meiri explains that the Hachamim would give charity before praying in order that the misvah of sedakah would be an advocate for them between them and Hashem. The source of this important custom is another Gemara (Berachot 8) that a "person should always enter the shul in the amount of two openings and pray." Although this is usually interpreted to mean the distance of the doorway opening about eight feet, it also refers to charity. Our verse refers to two openings of your hand when describing giving charity. The Gemara now takes on a new meaning, "Enter the shul with charity and then pray." Although the Gemara says to give to a poor man, the charity kupah is also fine. The Ari z"l used to give the charity at the words "Ve'Atah moshel bakol" during Shaharit and the Ben Ish Hai (Vayakhel 6) says one should give before Minhah also.

My father was extremely careful with this misvah. This summer he prayed in our shul every morning and every evening. He was constantly rummaging through the sedakah plate to have enough quarters for the Shaharit and Minhah charity even though he couldn't reach the sedakah plate. He separated the coins so when the plate came by he could drop it in. I now remember that when I was a little boy, he would give me money every morning before we went to shul, a dime to spend and a nickel to give to charity in shul. As I write these lines, I take a walk into his bedroom that he used in our home. I notice that on his night table is a cup partially filled with coins. He prepared these coins to fulfill this misvah not wanting to take a chance and not be ready to drop the coin in the sedakah plate. I realize now that he was very meticulous with many misvot. I guess it is the way of the world for children not to pay much attention to their parents' greatness until they pass on. Should it really be this way? Tihyeh nishmato serurah b'sror Hahayim. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah

"If your brother entices you saying, 'Let us go and serve gods which you have not known." (Debarim 13:7)

The Torah seems to emphasize that these other gods which are forbidden are not known to us. What is the difference or relevance whether the other gods are known or not?

The Hatam Sofer points out something which is especially important in our days. There are always people who will propose ideologies which are considered revolutionary. Each one will make a claim that his way is unique, his way is novel and his way will be the answer to all of man's problems. Even though others tried it and failed, they will say that this is guaranteed success. The Torah predicted this from way back and showed how all these "new gods" are all false, just like the old ones. Just like we see new claims to dieting and other fads which are said to be easy and quick, and yet we know it's impossible to do anything without effort, so too when it comes to Torah. None of the "isms", the non-Torah ideologies have worked in the past and none will work in the future. There is only the true Torah way of life, which involves commitment, effort and perseverance, but ultimately brings with it success, happiness and blessing! Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka


"You shall open your hand to your brother, to the poor, to the needy, in your land" (Debarim 15:11)

There are four levels of sedakah. First is one who is "your brother." One's family takes precedence in charity. Second is "your poor." The poor citizens of one's city are to be cared for before one accepts responsibility for the poor of another city. The third degree is "your needy." He who is most needy is to be helped first. Last is "in your land," the poor of Eress Yisrael.

The laws regarding charitable donations are unambiguous. One does not contribute according to his heart's sentiments. Torah provides a prescribed manner and order for giving. The needy person or organization should meet the standards and criteria set forth by the Torah. All too often we make decisions regarding our charitable donations based solely upon our affinity with an organization or individual. If the Torah's standard for charity is met, we no longer have license to render a decision based upon religious affiliation or personal prejudice.

Rav Shalom M'Blez z"l suggests a novel interpretation of this pasuk. When one's hand is open, the fingers are not all the same size. Once one's hand is closed in a fist, however, all of the fingers seem equal in size. The Torah demands, "Open up your hand." Notice that there are various sizes, or situations which call for different approaches to sedakah. Not all of the poor are the same. One's decision should not be based upon a "closed" hand, in which all the fingers seem to be the same. We are adjured to proffer our contributions each according to its own unique degree of importance. As Hashem bestows upon us the ability to contribute, so, too, does He issue us the framework for distribution of our sedakah. (Peninim on the Torah)

Answer to Pop Quiz: On the third and sixth year of every 7-year shemittah cycle.

A quick tip to boost the power of your prayer. Hazal tell us (Masechet Baba Kama Daf 92A) that Hashem loves the tefilot of one Jew for another so much that anyone who prays on behalf of a fellow Jew with similar needs will have his prayer answered first. A special service has now begun to provide people with names of others who find themselves in a similar predicament. You can call with complete anonymity and get the name of someone to pray for and give the name of someone that needs our prayers. The name of the service is Kol Hamitpalel. Categories include: Marriage; Income; Health; To have children etc.

Call to 646-279-8712 or email (Privacy of email limited by the email address)

Please pass this message along. Tizku L'misvot.

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