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Torah Attitude: Parashas Vayikra: No charity without justice
Just like Adam did not bring any stolen animal as an offering, since everything belonged to him, in the same way no one may bring any offering that was acquired through theft. An item acquired dishonestly cannot be used to fulfill a commandment. The Talmud compares this to a king travelling who instructs his servants to pay the appropriate toll. A commandment that is fulfilled by transgressing something that is prohibited is not acceptable. The first question a person will be asked when he stands in front of the Heavenly Court is "Were you honest in your business dealings?" There are many anecdotes concerning Torah-observant Jews who went out of their way to make sure that they did not misrepresent the product they were selling. Despite the visitor's protest, Rabbi Dushnitzer refused to sell him his orchard. These G'd-fearing Jews were aware how careful we all have to be to make sure that any money we make is rightfully coming to us. As we strive to emulate our great patriarch, and continue in his ways of charity and justice, we continue to bring blessings upon our houses and the houses of our children, as G'd promised Abraham.
No stolen offerings
In the beginning of this week's Torah portion, G'd told Moses to instruct the Jewish people and say to them: (Vayikra 1:2) "When a person among you brings an offering to G'd, you shall bring your offering from the cattle and from the flock." In general, when the Torah refers to a person it would use the word "ish". In this verse, the Torah uses the word "adam". Rashi quotes the Midrash Rabba (2:7) which points out this anomaly. The Midrash explains that this is a hint to the very first man who bore the name "Adam". The Torah wants to imply that just like Adam did not bring any stolen animal as an offering, since everything belonged to him, in the same way no one may bring any offering that was acquired through theft.
The Prophet Isaiah (61:8) spells this message out very clearly and says, "For I, G'd, love justice. I hate theft brought as a burnt offering." Similarly, the last of the prophets, Malachi (1:13) says, "If you bring a stolen animal … would I be pleased with that from your hand, says G'd." Based on these quotations, the Talmud (Succah 30a) teaches that an item acquired dishonestly cannot be used to fulfill a commandment. As the Mishnah says, (Succah 29b) "A lulav that is stolen … is disqualified." The same applies to any of the other four species taken on Succos, as well as any other item used to fulfill a commandment.
The Talmud compares this to a king travelling with his entourage when crossing the border back into his own country. As they approach the border the king instructs his servants to pay the appropriate toll. To this the servants ask, "Your Majesty, do not all the tolls in any case go into the royal coffers?" The king answers them, "You are right. However, let everyone learn from me not to cheat from paying the toll." In the same way, continues the Talmud, G'd says, "Let everyone learn from Me and distance themselves from theft."
Lesson of honesty
The analogy is clear. The whole world basically belongs to G'd. As King David says (Tehillim 24:1) "To G'd [belongs] the earth and its fullness." Therefore, G'd could justify accepting a stolen offering as in any case everything belongs to Him. However, G'd wants to teach us a lesson of honesty since any kind of theft is totally unacceptable to G'd. The Torah clearly teaches us that the end does not justify the means. This does not only apply to theft. As the Talmud continues and teaches, any commandment that is fulfilled by transgressing something that is prohibited is not acceptable.
In another place (Shabbos 31a) the Talmud teaches that the first question a person will be asked when he stands in front of the Heavenly Court is "Were you honest in your business dealings?" The Chofetz Chaim used to say that any person who wants to go into business must first study the laws pertaining to business conduct as outlined throughout Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat, mainly in Chapters 227-238. There are many pitfalls and challenges in the world of business. For example, says the Chofetz Chaim, it is prohibited to sell an item that is somewhat faulty, or has a blemish, without notifying the buyer. The Chofetz Chaim further mentions that sometimes the buyer is obligated to notify the seller that he is selling his items cheaper than the market price. This would apply in a case when the seller is not aware that the general market price has gone up. If the buyer refrains from notifying the seller, by Torah law it is considered that he cheated the seller.
There are many anecdotes concerning Torah-observant Jews who went out of their way to make sure that they did not misrepresent the product they were selling. The late Rosh Yeshiva of Mesivta Torah Vodaath, Rabbi Avraham Pam, used to tell a story about a certain gentleman, Reb Avraham Horowitz, who had a mattress store in the Lower East End, New York. When someone entered his store and asked, "Have you got a good mattress", he would answer, "I can't tell you if it's good. Maybe other stores have better ones. But I can show you what I have." Sometimes sitting in the back of the store while his wife was serving clients, he would call out to his wife and say, "Did you remember to show the client the particular blemish on that mattress?"
The famous Maggid, Rabbi Sholom Schwadron (see The Maggid Speaks, p.66) would relate the story of Rabbi Elya Dushnitzer, who had an orchard outside Tel Aviv that he wanted to sell. The orchard was not profitable and he found himself getting deeper and deeper into debt. The Rabbi asked his Yeshiva students to say Tehillim that he should be successful in selling his orchard. He was especially concerned as he was already at an advanced age and he did not want to die not having paid off his debts. The only way he could pay his debts was by selling the orchard, so this was a constant concern for him. One day, a wealthy American tourist came into the office of one of Rabbi Dushnitzer's former students and told him that he was looking to buy an orchard in Israel. The student was very excited. Here was the perfect opportunity to help his saintly teacher as well as this American tourist, and maybe the student could even gain a profit from the deal. He immediately contacted Rabbi Dushnitzer and arranged a meeting. When the three met, Rabbi Dushnitzer turned to the prospective buyer and said, "You know, the Talmud (Bava Metzia 29b) says that if someone hirers workers and does not watch over them, he is sure to lose his money. If you plan to stay in America and won't be here to oversee your workers, I can't recommend that you buy my orchard. In addition, I have to inform you that there are quite a few trees in the northwest corner of the orchard that do not bear any fruit at all." The American tourist was not concerned and answered, "Don't worry. I want to buy the orchard anyway." The Rabbi responded, "But you still don't know everything about the orchard. There is also a small section of trees surrounded by rocks and stones that have stunted the growth of the oranges." As they finally arrived at the orchard, the Rabbi took the visitor by the hand and said, "Let me show you where those bad trees are. As our sages say, you cannot compare seeing with just hearing." Suddenly, the tourist looked at his watch and stopped and took out some medication from his pocket. The Rabbi got nervous about the visitor's health and asked, "Are you alright?" "Oh it's nothing," said the American, "don't worry. I have a minor heart problem and I have to take these pills every few hours. But I'm fine." "Oy", exclaimed Rabbi Dushnitzer, "may G'd help you and you should be well, but I'm afraid that in your condition I cannot sell you this orchard. You won't be able to travel here that often and I know how much aggravation this orchard can cause. You will be throwing out your money and hurting your health at the same time." Despite the visitor's protest, Rabbi Dushnitzer refused to sell him the orchard.
These G'd-fearing Jews were aware how careful we all have to be to make sure that any money we make is rightfully coming to us. Imagine someone who earned money in a dishonest way. Later he donated a generous amount of this money to charity and bought the best matzah and wine for Seder night, or a special pair of tefillin for himself or his son for his Bar Mitzvah. At the time when he spent the money he had long forgotten that it was acquired in a dishonest way and felt very good about himself for his generosity and readiness to spend his hard-earned money to fulfill a Torah commandment. How surprised and ashamed will this person feel when he stands in front of the Heavenly Court and will be informed that his charity and his fulfillment of the Torah laws were disqualified because he used dishonest money for these holy purposes.
Charity and justice
Our Patriarch Abraham merited a special closeness to G'd. This brought down upon him an abundance of Divine blessings, as it says (Bereishis 18:19) "For I have loved him [Abraham]. For he will instruct his children and his household after him that they keep the way of G'd to perform charity and justice so that G'd can bring upon Abraham that which He has spoken..." G'd chose Abraham first of all for his high qualities and his care and concern for his fellow human beings. Secondly, G'd saw that Abraham not only performed acts of charity himself, but he also educated his children to follow in his footsteps. However, all this was not sufficient. What good would it have been if Abraham had done charity with money that was not rightfully his? Therefore, it further says that G'd observed that whatever belonged to Abraham he had acquired with complete justice. This was the final quality that G'd saw in Abraham. And only with this additional quality did he merit to be the patriarch of the Chosen People. As we strive to emulate our great patriarch, and continue in his ways of charity and justice, we continue to bring blessings upon our houses and the houses of our children, as G'd promised Abraham.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network