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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


If your brother becomes impoverished and sells part of his ancestral heritage. (25:25)

David HaMelech says in Tehillim 41:2, Ashrei maskil el dal, "Praiseworthy is he who contemplates the needy." The Midrash Tanchuma submits a number of expositions concerning the meaning of "maskil", contemplating the plight of those in need. Rabbi Yonah notes that the pasuk does not say that one should "give" to the needy, but rather, one should "contemplate" their situation. This means that one should look at the individual in need, appraise his circumstances, and see how to share with him in his plight. Horav Chaim Zaitchik, zl, explains that when one contributes to the poor, it should not be only with his wallet, but with his whole heart. When one gives with the heart, the contribution has greater and deeper meaning and value. Furthermore, it is not enough simply to give; one must empathize with the pain, sense the bitterness, feel the loneliness, and even, in some way, experience the need, the want, the lack from which he is constantly suffering. Indeed, it should be as Rashi comments on the pasuk in Shemos 22:24, "When you lend money to My People, to the poor person who is with you - view him as if you are the poor person." The man standing at your door is none other than you. How would you like to be treated? Well, that is exactly the manner in which you should act towards others.

Let us go a step further. Being poor means physical deprivation, as well as the emotional pain and humiliation that are engendered by such dire circumstances. By giving the poor person a check, we alleviate his hunger, but what about his pain? What about the humiliation of being different, of being poor in a society which is, by and large, affluent in comparison? How does one remove the poor person's feeling of insecurity, shame, helplessness? This is what Rashi is suggesting when he says that we are to view him from our perspective. It is essential that the benefactor erase the boundary, the gap, the chasm, that glares out between him and the poor fellow who is seeking his assistance. We must give in such a manner that the poor person actually feels that he is doing us a favor. He should sense that Hashem stands at his side and supports him in his quest for assistance. He is not alone. In fact, he is more privileged than his benefactor. One who gives in such a manner understands that he is not giving; actually, he is taking. He is the beneficiary - not the poor person. If anything, the poor person is enabling him to achieve merit.

Rav Zaitchik adds that the mitzvah of tzedakah is unique in the sense that simply contributing money without giving of oneself does not fulfill the spirit of the mitzvah. One who gives generously, but without emotion, empathy and love, does not complete the mitzvah. Does he continue to feel the poor man's pain after he has left his home? When he leaves the hospital, does he sense the anguish and fear that courses through the patient's mind? Do his cries of pain still ring in his ears, or did they dissipate as soon as he left? The rule is simple: It is the heart that counts most. To give without feeling is to miss the essence of giving.

This is the meaning of "contemplating" the needy. It means crying with the fellow, sensing his pain, and feeling his anguish. A young man once came to Horav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zl, seeking his blessing. Apparently, his wife had been experiencing great difficulty conceiving. After spending some time with Rav Shlomo Zalman, pouring out his heart's pain to the sage, he left with little hope. Rav Shlomo Zalman told him that it did not appear that he was destined for this elusive blessing. He felt bad for him, but, regrettably, could not offer his help. The young man returned home with an empty heart, depressed and hopeless. He felt that his last hope had dissipated.

About two hours later, the young man heard a soft knock at his door. He arose to answer the door and was shocked to see the gadol hador, preeminent leader of the generation, Rav Shlomo Zalman himself, standing in his doorway. "Rebbe, come in. To what do I owe this honor?" he asked. Rav Shlomo Zalman replied, "I could not give you a brachah, because I did not "see" it achieving fruition, but I could not allow you to cry alone. I am here to share in your pain." Rav Shlomo Zalman proceeded to sit down with the young man and his wife, to cry with them and to offer his solace. This is the meaning of contemplating.

Rav Chaim Zaitchik cites the Kav HaYashar who relates an incident which is cited by the Baal HaChareidim. A distinguished, righteous Jew had the exalted opportunity of hosting the Arizal in his home. Obviously, he spared nothing in his appreciation of and reverence for the eminent mekubal, mystic. Prior to leaving, the Ari acknowledged the kindness of his hosts and asked, "What can I do for you? How can I repay you for your outstanding hospitality?"

The host replied, "When we were first married, my wife and I were blessed with children, and then she suddenly became infertile. We have not had a child in a number of years. Will you pray for us?"

The Ari revealed the following to the host, "At one time, there was a ladder that was at the side of your house, which the chickens conveniently used as a means for reaching the water bucket that was on the shelf near the top of the ladder. One day, your wife instructed the maid to remove the ladder. Certainly, her intention was not to cause any pain for the chickens, but, inadvertently, this is exactly what occurred. Their access to water was cut off. Ever since that day, as a result of the moved ladder, they have been miserable. Hashem Yisborach has compassion for all of His creations, and, therefore, the pain of these chickens did not go unanswered."

As soon as the host heard this, he immediately returned the ladder to its original place. Shortly thereafter, the couple was blessed with a child. How careful we must be to take the "feelings" of every creature into consideration.

If your brother becomes impoverished and his means falter in your proximity, you shall strengthen him. (25:35)

Jews are well known for the charity they give. Indeed, the concept of charity plays a central role in all of Jewish ethical behavior. It goes far beyond writing a check and donating food. This broad concept encompasses everything from contributing money, to giving assistance, offering words of encouragement, and judging people in a favorable light. It is far more than an act of compassion. It is a religious activity like that of any other mitzvah. Thus, it is governed by the structures of halachah. It is Hashem's mitzvah, and, as such, is not defined by man. It is the Almighty Who determines the priorities for tzedakah - not man.

Halachah determines: who is to be the recipient of funds; who and what takes priority; how to maintain the recipient's self-respect; who is considered in extreme need; and who is needy. The bottom line is that all Jews, regardless of background or position, deserve assistance. This applies even to those Jews who have erred and placed themselves in situations in which they have hurt others, as well as themselves. At times, it is difficult to help such an individual. After all, he has asked for it. Who asked him to act in a foolhardy manner? The Bostoner Rebbe, Shlita, notes that sometimes the recipient's cause seems so unworthy that only a religious genius, who stands on a sublime level in his relationship with Hashem, can pierce through the obscurity that clouds every human failing in order to view the faltering soul, who needs help to escape the self-imposed muck which is drowning him. Horav Avraham Kalmanowitz, zl, the legendary Mirer Rosh Yeshivah, who guided his students from Europe-- through Shanghai-- to America, was such a genius. He succeeded in rebuilding his beloved yeshivah on these shores. He was asked to come to Boston in the early 1950's to assist in the mitzvah of Pidyon Shevuyim.

A poor, immigrant rabbi fell into the clutches of temptation by attempting to smuggle valuables out of this country. He was apprehended in Boston, and the judge, not known as a friend of religious Jews, was about to throw the book at him. When he realized that he was dealing with a member of the clergy, he asked his friend, a non-Orthodox Jewish clergyman, for advice. The "clergyman," whose opinion of his observant co-religionist was far from favorable, agreed that the rabbi should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. The judge acquiesced and he sentenced the rabbi to a lengthy term at a local correctional facility.

Rav Kalmanowitz heard about the travesty of justice, and, while he did not condone the Jew's actions or the ensuing chillul Hashem, desecration of Hashem's Name, he could not allow a fellow Jew to languish in prison. He implored the Bostoner to join him in meeting with the clergyman who was undermining the Jew's application for a reduced sentence. The fact that they would have to meet with him in his temple bothered them, but, if that were the only way to help a fellow Jew languishing in prison, so be it. They visited with the clergyman and listened to him expound on his religiosity and extol his temple's commitment to the "furtherance" of Judaism in the modern world. Finally, after he finished patting himself on the back numerous times, they pleaded with him to arrange an appointment with the judge to help them free a fellow Jew.

This was a difficult defense by any measure. There was no question concerning the convicted smuggler's guilt. What could Rav Kalmanowitz say in his defense? When Rav Kalmanowitz was asked to approach the bench, he came over and drew himself up to his imposing height. Standing there, with his long, white beard flowing down his majestic face, he told the judges, "Your honor, there is no question regarding the facts. This has already been confirmed. There is a question, however, concerning the underlying rationale which led to this act that must be brought to the attention of the court. I feel it has bearing on the case and the defendant's culpability.

"The defendant lived in Austria prior to World War II. He was there during the Anshluss, when the Nazis degraded the Jews in the most inhuman manner, making them clean the public streets. This man tried to escape the country. There was only one way: smuggling himself from one hostile border to another. He succeeded in saving himself, but, unfortunately, smuggling lost its degree of iniquity. Rather, it became for him a way of life, an avenue for survival. Can you blame him for smuggling? He did not see the crime in his actions."

The judge was reasonably impressed by this line of argument, and, after a short interval, he reduced the original sentence. This was the length to which Rav Kalmanowitz was willing to go to save his fellow Jew. It also gives us an idea of the various perspectives we must utilize in order to perceive the "other side of the story," so that we are able to judge our fellow Jew in a favorable light.

Parashas Bechukosai

He shall distinguish between good and bad, and he shall not substitute for it. (27:33)

Rashi explains that it is forbidden to arrange the animals in such a manner by which the choicest animal will emerge the tenth one. This is unlike all of the other sacrifices which demand that the individual only use his best as a sacrifice. This law begs elucidation. If one may not arrange the animals before the tenth one is designated, he surely may not substitute another animal to take the place of the tenth one once it has been designated. Why does the Torah find it necessary to state the halachah of V'lo yemirenu, "He should not substitute it," when it is so obvious?

Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, sees in this halachah a powerful lesson concerning the sanctity of the individual. While it is clear that the world cannot exist without people who serve as its working force, one might be led to think that, since the individual does not see himself personally as capable of studying Torah, he must decide to go to work. This person has just made a personal judgment call, determining that others are more suited for Torah learning than he, so why should he bother? This is a common error made by those who lack the self-confidence, or are just simply seeking an excuse, a way out, a validation. The impropriety of this attitude is underscored by the rule of V'lo yemirenu, not distinguishing between the good and the bad. The yetzer hora, evil-inclination, will always find some way to convince a person that he is not suited for learning; he is just not destined for it.

The Torah informs us that when one is young, he should not make the foolish error of distinguishing between himself and others. He should not say, "I am not as capable as others. I am not as smart. I do not have the ability to apply myself diligently to Torah study. Learning is not for me." Moreover, a father may not take it upon himself to distinguish between his sons, determining which one he feels is destined for Torah eminence and which one is not, who should receive the extra tutorial assistance and who should be encouraged to take up a sport. Yes, there are fathers who have this illness. On the contrary, says Rav Moshe, one must learn, regardless of his ability, and one must teach each and every one of his sons, because, in this matter, one my not make any distinctions.

Interestingly, everyone "seems" to have sufficient intelligence for what he deems important and "happens" to forget only those things that are of minor importance to him. After all is said and done, it is clear that one who acknowledges that studying Torah is the most important thing in life will understand what he learns and will remember it. He understands that all he can do is endeavor. Hashem will do the rest. Torah is the result of Divine authorship and is, thus, not subject to the criteria of other forms of erudition. This attitude should prevail, guiding the individual even after he has achieved and been sanctified by the Torah he has studied. It is never enough. Regardless of how much knowledge one has gained, he must continue in his quest to acquire more knowledge and deeper understanding of the Torah's profundities. He should not feel that he can now engage in other disciplines, since he has already learned as much as necessary. There is no such thing as "enough." We have no definition of the word "sufficient" in regard to Torah study.

The Torah also prohibits substituting hekdesh, consecrated, animals. This halachah, likewise, provides us with a practical lesson. At times, one feels that learning is not his cup of tea, and he will instead persuade someone else to study Torah, while he engages in other pursuits. This is one case in which delegating to others is very wrong. He must maintain himself on the level of sanctity which he achieved when he was learning. He must learn; others must also learn. Their learning does not take the place of his learning. The Torah alludes to this idea when it says V'lo yemirena, "and he shall not substitute for it."

And if you then despise My statutes and utterly reject them (or those who interpret My laws) (to the point that you) prevent all My commandments from being carried out, (thereby) nullifying My covenant. (26:15)

Sforno interprets this pasuk in the following manner: "If you despise My statutes" - if you not only disobey My statutes, but are disgusted by them. "And (if you) utterly reject them (or those who interpret My laws) - like a person who deliberately vomits, without any reason to be sickened by them, since they are known to be good. The term mo'es, which is translated here as, "despise," is applied to chukim, statutes, laws which are beyond human comprehension. Because the individual cannot understand these laws, since he cannot rationalize them in his limited mind, he deems this genre of laws to be despicable. It may sound petty and irrational, but that is how some people are. The next term, tigaal, which is translated as reject, is applied to mishpatim, laws that we understand-- or at least which we find rational. These are laws that are necessary to maintain society's infrastructure. Sforno adds the notion of rejection to the point of vomiting, similar to the Roman practice of eating and vomiting, so that they could consume more food. One who loathes mishpatim, laws which are sensible and usually palatable and agreeable, does so artificially and intentionally, as a result of his own volition.

In the Torah's recording of the retribution for those who despise and reject mitzvos, it employs a reverse phraseology in relation to the two types of commandments, "But the land will be left bereft of (its people) and will appease (G-d's anger on account of) its (unobserved) Shemittah years, while it lies desolate of (its people); and they will gain appearance for their transgressions. This is redress (for that) they despised My law and redress (for that) they utterly rejected My statutes." (Ibid 26:43, 44)

Here we see the chukim, which man does not comprehend, described as goalah nafsham, "loathsome," while the mishpatim, rational laws, are termed as moasu, despicable. In this case the chukim, which had originally been described as despicable, are now described in the term implying intentional hatred, artificially spewed out and rejected. The mishpatim which previously had been defined as rejected-- and artificially and intentionally vomited out-- now have the word mo'es applied to them, implying that, by their very nature, they are intolerable. How can there be such a discrepancy between the actual sin and its retribution?

The Alter, zl, m'Kelm, explains that no physiological difference takes place when one performs chukim, in comparison to when he carries out mishpatim. He writes: "When one is involved in injunctions which he does not understand, he often experiences a deep love and ardor. An example of this principle is the recitation of the service performed in the Bais Hamikdash on Yom Kippur. People lack an understanding of the basic meaning of the procedure, with its many details and enigmatic rites. Yet, the words are uttered with profound devotion and enthusiasm. People accept their lack of understanding, content with the knowledge that comprehension is beyond the scope of human intellect and comfortable with the realization that many mysteries and holy secrets lie in the command."

The Alter posits that people carry out acts which they do not understand with greater devotion than acts about which they have some level of comprehension. According to Sforno, however, the hatred that people show to mishpatim is artificial, sort of forced loathing. Apparently, he feels that people perform mishpatim with greater satisfaction, since they understand them. Veritably, man should recognize that just as chukim are Divinely ordained and, thus, filled with unfathomable depth, so to are mishpatim dictates of the Almighty which contain within them profundities that the human mind cannot comprehend. How are we to reconcile these two approaches?

Horav Mordechai Miller, zl, explains that actions stemming from a Divine source must contain infinite wisdom and depth. Thus, when one has the correct and proper approach towards mitzvah observance, he views mishpatim as profound as chukim, and he will concomitantly perform the mishpatim with the same fervor as he performs chukim. Sforno is referring to one who is involved in the initial stages of observance, when he appreciates chukim in relation to mishpatim, in accord with his level of human comprehension. Such a person does not yet see the depth of mishpatim. Therefore, he perceives chukim to be naturally repellent, while he must force himself to loathe mishpatim.

At a later stage, one is inspired by the enigmatic nature of chukim, their mystique shrouded in secrecy. One is motivated to perform these mitzvos out of enthusiasm and love - specifically because of their hidden nature. This engenders a deeper understanding of mishpatim, since he now understands that they all are derived from the same Source and are, thus, all impenetrable. The love that he now has for mishpatim is profound, as he realizes how little he actually understands of G-d's Torah.

In summation, the incongruence between mishpatim and chukim, as interpreted by Sforno and the Alter, is the result of two disparate levels of appreciation of mitzvos: initial and advanced. This also resolves the discrepancy in the pesukim. In the first set of pesukim, chukim are naturally despised. In the retribution, chukim are described as loathsome, the subjects of intentional and artificial hatred. It all depends on what level one stands in his approach to-- and understanding of-- mitzvos.

Teitzeih rucho yashuv l'admaso bayom hahuh avdu eshtnosav.
When his spirit goes out, he returns to his own earth; on that day, his big plans are lost.

Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, explains that the only piece of earth that one really owns, and with which he is identified, is the four amos, cubits, which become his burial place. This can be called admaso, his earth, which is waiting for him from the day of his birth. Any other parcel of real estate which he thinks he owns does not truly belong to him. As Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, explains, ownership of property is determined by one's ability to alter, dispose of, or destroy it. This power does not apply with regard to real estate, since the property had been there before him and will survive him. This is why the Hebrew word used to describe real estate is achuzah, which means "to hold on to." In truth, one only "holds on" to his real estate. He does not actually "own" it.

Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, explains that trust in man is actually trust in "earth," because no man knows his end, when his spirit will suddenly leave him, and he immediately becomes "earth." Thus, the trust one places in man is actually trust in earth, because that is all he really is.

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