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Torah Attitude: Parashas Vayishlach: Be happy to give
Our most powerful tool is our ability to pray to G'd. Tithing is another tool that can help us succeed in our business efforts. One has to tithe one's monetary income as well as agricultural produce. "A man who gives to the Kohein it shall be to him", meaning he will be blessed with plenty of produce. "Who is rich, the one who is happy with his lot." With the proper attitude, one is not only happy with one's own lot, but one is happy to give and help others. The Satan was trying to wrestle the power of Torah from Jacob. We must strengthen our commitment to tithe our income and pray to G'd that we will merit the words of the Prophet: "I [G'd] will open up for you the Heavenly windows and shower upon you boundless blessing."
Prayer powerful tool
As we are falling deeper into the global recession, everyone is looking for ways to secure their financial situation. Business owners struggle to keep their businesses open, and people who have been laid off are desperate to find new jobs. The stock market is so volatile that investors find it becoming exceedingly difficult to know what to do. We must constantly keep the words of our sages in mind that our most powerful tool is our ability to pray to G'd. As we mentioned in the Torah Attitude: Parashas Toldos: Our response to the recession (November 27, 2008) that the Talmud (Kiddushin 82a) teaches: "A person shall pray to the One Who owns all the wealth and assets, for there is no trade where there is not both poverty and affluence. For neither poverty depends on the trade, nor wealth depends on the trade. Rather, everything depends on a person's merits."
The Talmud (Taanis 9a) advises us of another tool that can help us to succeed in our business efforts. The Talmud refers to Rabbi Yochanan who quotes what it says (Devarim 14:22): "You shall tithe all the crops of your planting." Rabbi Yochanan points out that the Torah uses a double expression and says "aser te'aser". This can also be read "aser te'asher" meaning "separate your tithes in order to gain affluence". Rabbi Yochanan's nephew once asked him how he knew how to interpret this verse in this manner. Rabbi Yochanan answered, "I tested it." His nephew was shocked and asked him, "Is one allowed to test G'd? Doesn't it say (Devarim 6:16): 'You shall not test HASHEM your G'd?'" The great sage answered that in general his nephew was right but this was an exception to the rule. As the Prophet Malachi (3:10) says: "Bring all the tithes to the storehouse … and you can test Me with this, says G'd … If this will not [bring about] that I will open up for you the Heavenly windows and shower upon you boundless blessing."
Obligation to tithe
The Talmud deals with the obligation of separating tithes from one's agricultural produce. However, Tosafos in their commentary on the Talmud (ibid) quotes the Sifri that teaches that just like we have to tithe our agricultural produce grown in the land of Israel, the same applies to all other kinds of business profits. The Jerusalem Talmud (Peah 1:1) bases this on a verse from Mishlei (3:9) where it says: "You shall honour G'd from your possessions and from the first fruits of all your produce." Says the Talmud, this teaches us that one has to tithe one's monetary income as well. The Halchachic authorities discuss whether this is a Torah obligation or a Rabbinic obligation. But everyone agrees that in the very least it is a very old custom. In this week's parasha, it is related how Jacob tried to appease Esau by sending him a lavish present of livestock. The Torah (Bereishis 32:14) writes: "And he [Jacob] took from what came into his hand." Rashi quotes the Pesikta Zutrasa who explains that Jacob only sent what was rightfully his after having tithed his entire livestock. But Jacob was not the first to tithe. In Parashas Lech Lecha (Bereishis 14:20) it is related how Abraham gave Malki Tzedek one-tenth of everything. The Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer (Chapter 27) comments on this that Abraham was the first one in the world to tithe. Later in Parashas Toldos (Bereishis 26:12) the Torah relates how Isaac sowed the land and found that his harvest was one hundred times more than expected. Rashi quotes from the Midrash Rabba (64:6) that the reason why Isaac was careful to measure how much he had harvested was in order to establish how much to tithe. However, Jacob was the one who established that one should always tithe any income one has made. This is related in last week's Parasha (Bereishis 28:22) when Jacob, after he had his dream, made a vow and promised: "And all that You give me I shall always tithe to You." The Baalei Tosafos points out in the name of a Midrash that Jacob here instituted that one should always tithe any monetary income.
It shall be to him
One of the agricultural tithes goes to the Levi'im. The Torah also obligates us to separate a part of our produce to the Kohanim. In Parashas Nasso (Bamidbar 5:10) it says: "And a man, his holy [portions] shall be to him. A man that gives to the Kohein it shall be to him." The simple translation of this verse seems strange and redundant. Rashi quotes the Talmud (Berachot 63a) that explains that when it says "it shall be to him" it refers to the person that is obligated to tithe. If this person keeps the holy portions that he should have given to the Kohein and Levy for himself, eventually his field will only produce one-tenth of its original capacity. This is what the Torah hints when it says "it shall be to him" as he himself will only be left with what he was supposed to give away. But, continues the Talmud, if the person gives what he should to the Kohein and Levy, he will have plenty. This is what the Torah says: "A man who gives to the Kohein it shall be to him", meaning he will be blessed with plenty of produce.
Ten percent charity
With this insight we can gain a new understanding of the famous Mishnah (Pirkei Avos 4:1): "Who is rich, the one who is happy with his lot." The Hebrew word for "lot" is "cheilek". The literal meaning of this word is "a portion". In other words, the Mishnah is teaching us that the truly rich person is the one who is happy with his portion. The deeper significance of this may be that a person should always remember that only a portion of his income is truly his. Ten percent of what he makes has been entrusted to him by G'd to distribute to the poor and needy. A person who feels that everything he makes belongs to him will often find it difficult to dispense ten percent of his income to charity. Whereas, the person who realizes that ten percent of his income was never really his, will be happy to donate to the fund raiser who knocks on his door or to mail his cheque to a worthy institution.
Happy to give
My late father use to thank every fund raiser who came to see him. Once a fund raiser asked him "should it not be me that thanks you Mr. Kahn?" My father answered him, "No my friend, you have to understand. I have been blessed with this money to distribute it. I could not know where it was meant to go. Now that you came to me, I understand that part of it was meant for you and I thank you for helping me to let the money go where it truly belongs." With this kind of attitude, one is not only happy with one's own lot, but one is happy to give and help others. Many people wonder how to divide their charitable obligations and to make sure that it ends up in the right places. There are clear halachic guidelines how to deal with this and everyone should seek competent halachic advice.
Jacob wrestles with the Satan
Even in difficult times we must keep up our charitable obligations and remember that there are others who are worse off and who need our help. Later in this week's parasha (Bereishis 32:25-26) the Torah relates that Jacob was left by himself and a man wrestled with him till the break of dawn. The Torah continues: "And he [the man] saw that he could not overpower him and he hit the socket of his hip." Rashi quotes the Midrash Rabbah (77:3) that explains that Jacob's opponent was Esau's angel who is the Satan himself. Obviously, this was not a simple fight; rather it was a sign of what would happen in the future. It is well known that Jacob is the one our Patriarchs who symbolizes what would happen to the Jewish people in exile (see Torah Attitude, Parashas Vayishalch, (Enemy) salutations and (other) solutions November 23, 2004). As such it is especially significant that this took place until the break of dawn, indicating that this fight symbolizes a struggle that will take place towards the end of our exile till the break of dawn with the coming of Mashiach. The Zohar (171a) explains that the Satan was trying to wrestle the power of Torah from Jacob, as he knew that this would be his only chance to overpower Jacob and his descendants. When the Satan saw that he could not accomplish this he hit at the hip of Jacob which represents the supporters of Torah study. He figured that if the Torah scholars do not have anyone to support them, then they would have to stop studying and then Esau would be able to overpower Jacob. However, Jacob did not let him get away with it. Although Jacob was hurting due to the lack of support, he nevertheless strengthened himself and forced the Satan to bless him. This, says the Zohar, means that Jacob convinced Esau's angel to agree to the blessings Jacob had received from Isaac.
We are all struggling, but if is especially difficult for the Torah institutions and Torah scholars worldwide. But just as our Patriarch strengthened himself, we have the ability to rise to our challenge and support our needy despite that we are hurting. If, G'd forbid, an individual is suffering from financial difficulties he should ask competent halachic authorities whether he is exempt from tithing. But as a community, we must strengthen our commitment to tithe our income and pray to G'd that we will merit the words of the Prophet: "I will open up for you the Heavenly windows and shower upon you boundless blessing" till the break of dawn with the coming of Mashiach. Amen.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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