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PARSHAS BEHAREach of you shall not aggrieve his fellow, and you shall fear your G-d. (25:17)
Chazal teach that, unlike the previous pasuk (14), "Do not aggrieve one another," which refers to business conduct, this pasuk addresses the prohibition of onoas devarim, hurting people with words. Regrettably, too many ways exist in which we knowingly and unknowingly transgress this sin. Who does not know the meaning of the term shtoch, sticking a needle into a person? Sadly, a needle comprised of words is ultimately more painful, and the pain endurance longer, than a needle of steel. Reminding people of their earlier infractions or other embarrassing events in their past, be it their own or that of their tainted ancestors, is one example of this malevolent behavior. Rendering advice to someone who trusts us, who believes in us, whom we manipulate to our own personal advantage is another example of this sin. Lest one think that he will get away with it - (After all, who knows, who will tell?), the Torah responds, V'yareisa mei Elokecha - "Hashem knows, and He will exact punishment."
Interestingly, when the Torah refers to onoas mamon, financial aggrievement, it writes, Al tonu ish es achiv, "One should not aggrieve his brother." In contrast, concerning onoas devarim, it uses the term amiso, "his fellow." Horav Gamliel Rabinowitz, Shlita, explains that the Torah is alluding to the fact that, with regard to money, one invariably finds a dispensation to permit larceny:" "I need the money; He has the money. So, why not?" In the course of discovering a dispensation with which we can live, we slowly help ourselves to another fellow's hard-earned money. While we may allay our own conscience with all forms of excuses, at the end of the day it is all about one thing: my wallet. I want to have more, and what easier way than relieving my "friend" of his money?
Therefore, the Torah teaches us a lesson which should set a standard for us. When we are about to be moreh heter, impose a self-generated, prejudicial dispensation, we should ask ourselves, "If this fellow was my brother, would I act so callously toward him?" If he is certain that he would not act in such a callous and heartless manner to his brother, then this Jewish fellow should be no different. All of Klal Yisrael is part of one large family. Why distinguish between relatives?
Horav Yisrael Yaakov Fisher, zl, Ravaad of the Eidah Hachareidis, once remarked that he was amazed that sheilos, halachic queries, are presented to him on issues discussed in the Shluchan Aruch Orach Chaim and Yoreh Deiah, which cover the gamut of daily life and kashrus. Surprisingly, very few questions concerning Choshen Mishpat, monetary laws, are brought to him. It seems that people are not interested in hearing what the rabbanim have to say concerning these issues. They feel that they can render their own viable solution to any question that might arise. Why "trouble" the rabbis?
When Horav Yaakov Kaminetsky, zl, was Rav in Tzitevian, Lithuania, a member of his community informed him that the postal clerk had erred in giving him change. Instead of giving him the change for a ten zloty bill, he had given him the change for a one hundred zloty bill. He asked the Rav what he should do. Rav Yaakov instructed him to return the overage immediately.
Several weeks later, Rav Yaakov went to the post office to purchase stamps. The postal clerk gave him more stamps than he had paid for. Rav Yaakov immediately returned the extra stamps, thereby asserting a Kiddush Hashem, sanctification of Hashem's Name. The postal clerk was duly impressed, since his "error" had been intentional; he had been testing the new Rav's integrity. He wanted to see if, in fact, he was personally as honest as he instructed his congregants to be. Rav Yaakov noted the man's mischievous smile when he returned the stamps. The man was actually impressed by the Rav's behavior. A number of years later, Rav Yaakov had occasion to meet a Holocaust survivor from Tzitevian, who related that, when the Nazi's overran Tzitevian, it was the postal clerk who was willing to hide Jews in his home during the war. Rav Yaakov was convinced that the gentile had risked his life to save Jews as a result of the honesty manifested to him by Rav Yaakov.
This is with regard to integrity in financial matters. The Torah mentions a second Lo sonu: onoas devarim, which covers interpersonal relationships. We may do nothing that might remotely hurt a fellow Jew. The Torah concludes the prohibition, saying, V'yareisa mei Elokecha, "And you shall fear your G-d." The Sifsei Kohen comments that adding this suffix to the prohibition teaches us that the punishment for onoas devarim is exacted in this world! This means simply that, if we aggrieve another Jew - regardless of our rationale for doing the reprehensible, we will pay - here. This is a frightening statement. How often do we stop to think before we say or do something to another Jew who might be offended by our words or actions? How often do we casually put someone down without thinking twice? I am not talking about outright slander or downright humiliation. This is a reference to simple, thoughtless, careless words, which have a stinging effect on people. Those seemingly "harmless" words can be quite destructive.
Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, suffered a heart attack on Shabbos HaGadol, while giving his derashah, lecture. He was in acute pain, but he refused to halt the derashah. He gripped the lectern, and, in a cold sweat, continued his derashah. He later described his ordeal as the most painful experience of his life. He was taken to the hospital, where a pacemaker was implanted in his chest. A week later, it was discovered that the procedure had failed and had to be repeated.
Horav Reuven Feinstein, Shlita, relates that his father subjected himself to some serious soul-searching to determine why he was undergoing such suffering. He wondered what he had done that it had been decreed upon him to go through an ordeal akin to the death penalty.
Rav Moshe delved through his past and, after much soul-searching and introspection, he arrived at the conclusion that it had been the result of embarrassing someone. Apparently, when he was a young child, some eighty plus years earlier, the rebbe in cheder had posed a difficult question to the class. One of his friends gave one answer, while he gave another one. The rebbe preferred the young (Rav) Moshe's answer to that of the other child. Rav Moshe thought that perhaps he might have enjoyed that moment - at the other boy's expense. He felt that he was guilty of embarrassing the boy. This was the only instance in his life that Rav Moshe could find that might have catalyzed such intense pain some eighty years later! He had felt a trace of pride and haughtiness.
The true nature of a person is most noticed, as Chazal say: b'koso, b'kiso, u'b'kaaso; when he has imbibed an alcoholic beverage; with his wallet - his reaction to monetary loss; when he is angered. The effects of these experiences can be overwhelming, causing the individual to lose control of his self-discipline, thereby revealing his true nature. At this point, we see if the strict demeanor to which one has subjected himself is real or merely a fa?ade. Towards the end of the social laws for helping our fellow Jews, the Torah writes, V'yareisa mei Elokecha - v'chai achicha imach, "And you shall fear your G-d, so that your brother may live along with you" (ibid. 25:36). The Chassidic Masters teach: "If your brother can live along with you, then the two of you are living. If, however, you take advantage of your brother and oppress him, then you are oppressing your own life as well."
The statement addresses the crux of all interpersonal relationships. We think that, if we take advantage of the "other guy," it is he who is losing out, but we are still at an advantage. How untrue this hypothesis is, and how sad and pathetic is such a person. By taking advantage of the other fellow - we are thereby destroying ourselves.
If your brother becomes impoverished and his means falter in your proximity, you shall strengthen him - proselyte or resident - so that he can live with you. (25:35)
In Avos D'Rav Nassan 2:43, we are taught that a poor man has eight names, eight frames of reference based upon his sad state of affairs. They are: ani; evyon; miskein; rash; dal; dach; mach; and holech. An ani is the standard name for implying his impoverished state. Evyon is derived from taavah, desire; a poor man wants everything, because he has nothing. Miskein means unfortunate, miserable, for he is humiliated due to his wretched state. Rash, destitute, means he has been left bereft of his possessions. Dal refers to being poor, meager. Dach is dejected and distressed. Mach means impoverished. Holech relates that his possessions have left him (walked). These are eight distinct descriptions for the misery of poverty.
Horav Chaim Zaitchik, zl, understands Chazal as opening up a window for us into the psyche of the poor man. If we were to analyze his mindset, we would discover no less than eight forms of dejection. These are not simply synonyms or a play on words. Each descriptive word represents another adjective which expresses the wretched state of the poor man: eight forms of pain; eight types of shame. All of these emotions coalesce into his one bitter heart. In his mind, even if he possesses a hidden grace, it is buried beneath so many layers of melancholy and shame. He feels like a doormat that people ignore. People look through him as if he does not exist. All of these pent-up emotions become one amalgam of pain, which, when he cries out, is not merely one cry - but actually, eight varied emotions.
When the poor man emits a tear, it is not a single tear, but it should be multiplied by eight. Its intensity is eight times more than the tear of one who is not in his abject circumstance. If we were to measure his shame, it would be a humiliation on a scale which was eight times heavier.
Man is unable to discern between varied degrees of pain, shame and helplessness. Only Hashem hears the eight different sounds. Thus, He admonishes us to listen, to observe and hear the cry of the ani, poor man, for He is acutely aware of the distinction of his cry. Hashem will listen, because He hears it all, and He will respond. It is not one sound, one tear. It is a multifaceted sound, a torment of tears. It cannot - and it will not - be ignored. Hashem listens.
The Torah adds ger and toshav: the ger tzedek, convert, who has accepted all mitzvos and, hence, is a Jew to the fullest extent; and a toshav, resident, a non-Jew who has accepted the sheva mitzvos bnei Noach, seven Noachide commandments. The halachah that one should support his fellow applies to all. Why does the Torah underscore that one should support the ger and toshav? Perhaps, the idea of a toshav being included in the mitzvah might be novel, but a ger is achicha, your brother. What is the Torah teaching us by emphasizing the ger and the toshav?
In Sefer Shemos 23:9, the Torah states, "Do not oppress a stranger; you know the feelings of a stranger." We know what it means to feel left out of place. We were strangers in Egypt. In fact, we have been treated as strangers wherever we were - regardless of how much some of us have attempted to ingratiate and assimilate ourselves. Anyone who is a stranger is called a ger. The Torah wants us to remember our own roots. If we aggrieve the ger, he can counter, "You were no different." The Torah demands sensitivity, which is the result of affinity. Atem yidaatem nefesh ha'ger, "You know the feelings of a stranger." This is the criteria for helping a Jew in need: atem yidaatem - "you know" - you must feel his pain. The poor man who stands before you, tattered, disheveled, broken in spirit, nowhere to turn - you must feel his humiliation, as he stands in your kitchen gazing at the granite countertops, the marble floor, the sumptuous dinner which he just interrupted. Put yourself in his shoes - just for a day, as he goes around from door to door, relating his tale of woe, to which people either do not want to listen or might not believe. Imagine what he must feel like, and how much better he will feel when you give him a decent check, accompanied by a smile and good wishes.
The problem is that we do not want to get down and listen to his story, because it plucks at our consciences and invades our comfort zones. This is why the Torah tells us that when our brother turns to us for help - do not forget the ger. The same sensitivity that we must show to the ger, because atem yidaatem, "you know how it feels" - likewise, we must make every attempt to identify with the plight of our fellow Jew in need. We may not know his pain, but we should stop what we are doing to listen.
Horav Moshe Yechiel Epstein, zl, the Ozhrover Rebbe, was a unique individual. He was a talmid chacham, Torah scholar, with an encyclopedic knowledge of Torah and the the author of over thirty volumes of commentary covering every aspect of Torah. He wrote from memory, since the author, who was more or less blind, was as humble as he was great. He downplayed his greatness and led a simple life out of the limelight. His empathy for a fellow Jew was one of his hallmarks. He gave tzedakah, charity, with love, but, as the following episode indicates, he gave much more than money. He gave of himself. The Bluzhover Rebbe, zl, related the following story: "I reached America as a destitute Holocaust survivor. The day after I arrived, the Ozhrover called and invited me to come live in his house. He said, 'I did not merit going through all seven levels of the Gehinom of the Holocaust, as you did. I am, therefore, leaving my home and giving you my shtiebel and my chassidim, until you are properly settled.'" Imagine, giving up one's home, shul and followers to assist a penniless Holocaust survivor! This is the meaning of empathy.
If your brother becomes impoverished… you shall strengthen him. (25:35)
It is not always about money. Some of the wealthiest people are depressed, and, conversely, some of the poorest people are filled with joy. A person's attitude reflects his needs. V'chi yamuch achicha, 'If your brother becomes impoverished," is not necessarily about money. He might need a shoulder to cry on; a hand to pat his back; a smile to brighten his day; a compliment to make him feel relevant. Emotional depression is worse than financial woe. People cover up their feelings. They smile, laugh, joke, all while they are crying bitterly from within. A number of years ago, a student in a mainstream yeshivah in Eretz Yisrael sadly succumbed to his overwhelming depression. Afterwards, the Mashgiach of the yeshivah lamented, "If one of us would have smiled at him that day, if someone would have included him in a conversation, if someone would have greeted him with a resounding "good morning," this gathering might not have been necessary.
We have no idea concerning the therapeutic value of a greeting, a smile, a "have a good day." It elevates a person's self-esteem and makes him feel valued. It can also save a person's life. In Sefer Tehillim 41:2, David Hamelech says, Ashrei maskil el dal, "Praiseworthy is he who contemplates the needy." He does not say nosein el dal, who gives to the needy, but rather, who contemplates; who understands; who delves into their psyche to figure out what it is that they truly need. The Yerushalmi Peah 37b relates the story of a poor, blind man who approached Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov for alms. R' Eliezer seated the man at the head of the table in the chair reserved for the Chief Rabbi of the community, while he sat on a lower, farther removed seat. Thus, people would say that this must be a very distinguished man, for otherwise, R' Eliezer would not have accorded him such honor. As a result, people supported the man handsomely. He did not have to suffer the abuse of walking blindly throughout the streets, knocking on doors, asking for help. Afterwards, the blind man discovered what R' Eliezer had done for him. He blessed him, saying, "You performed a chesed, act of kindness, for one who is seen, but himself cannot see. May the One Who is not visible, but yet sees everything, repay you in kind."
This is what is meant by maskil el dal. R' Eliezer not only sustained this poor man materially, but also emotionally. He lifted his spirits and gave him the opportunity - even if but for a short interval - to feel like everyone else. When we help people - and many of us do - we must approach our aid-giving rationally. Are we giving them what they really need? Do they need money - or do they need guidance? Perhaps they need help determining how to spend the money, where to spend the money. Is it possible they need help getting back on their feet? Reaching out to help is all-important. Indeed, it is the Jewish way - but, with seichal, common sense.
If your brother becomes impoverished, and his means falter in your proximity, you shall strengthen him. (25:35)
Rashi explains vehechezakta bo, "you shall strengthen him," to mean that, if one sees a decline in his fellow's business, if he sees that the money does not flow in his home as it once used to, he should step in and slow the descent, helping him to regain his financial footing. It is that much more difficult once the fall has gone too far. Rashi compares this to a donkey who is struggling with a heavy load. As long as the donkey is erect, albeit struggling, one person can support him. Once the donkey has fallen to the ground, even five people are unable to right him.
A powerful lesson may be derived from Rashi. At times, we have no idea the extent our assistance provides to the person in need. We might think, "What did I do? It was nothing." Little do we know that we quite possibly have saved the individual's life. The Midrash Rabbah takes this idea further. "Whoever gives a poor man a penny, Hashem will give him many pennies. Does Hashem then give him pennies? Hashem gives him his life! How is this? A loaf of bread sells for ten pennies. A poor man who is starved and at a point of near exhaustion must eat, or he will die. Along comes a kind-hearted man and gives him one penny. He has saved the poor man's life." He gave one penny and he is rewarded with his life. Why? He only gave a penny! That penny was the turning point in this man's sustenance. Otherwise, he would have died.
Chazal are teaching us that it is not how much we give to the individual in need; rather, it depends on the effect it has. That poor man only needed a penny. The man only gave a penny, but that penny saved his life. Thus, Hashem will save the benefactor's life. Who knows what punishment, what decree had been lurking in his future? At least now, one of those life and death decrees will be averted - because of one single penny.
This Midrash serves as the basis of an appeal made by the Lomza Rosh Yeshivah, Horav Yechiel Mordechai Gordon, zl, during the dark days of the Holocaust. From among the distinguished Roshei Yeshivah of Pre-World War II Europe, Rav Gordon was the only one who was stranded in relative safety prior to the war. As a result, he could not return. He succeeded in saving the lives of thousands through his unstinting involvement in Vaad Hatzalah, the relief and rescue organization, and through his travels through the United States raising money to save European Jewry. Alas, he failed to save his own yeshivah and family from the death knell.
Rav Gordon happened to be in America prior to the war, and, when war broke out, it was impossible for him to return. He was shocked at the pathetic attitude of American Jewry toward their European brothers and sisters. He partnered with Horav Eliezer Silver, zl, and others to raise money and guide the efforts to ransom whomever he could. Basically a withdrawn and quiet person, Rav Gordon's speeches were passionate and fiery, because of his intense love for every Jew. The following is an excerpt from one of his most famous speeches.
"How can we stand idly by as thousands of our brothers and sisters are being led to their slaughter?! Let me share with you some of the terrifying events which have recently become public. When the evil beasts were gathering the poor men, women and children to be killed, anyone who had with him fifty dollars was able to buy their way to freedom - and life.
"Imagine for yourselves, if any one of you would know that for fifty dollars you could rescue a Jew from the inferno - who would not jump at the opportunity to help a fellow Jew? Yet, the yetzer hora, evil-inclination, has its ways of subverting our efforts. It raises questions: Can it really be done? Will fifty dollars really be enough? Surely, if everyone knew his moral obligation to save a Jewish life - no one would refrain. Everyone would certainly do everything within his ability - and beyond - to help his fellow Jew!"
The Rosh Yeshivah cited the above Midrash, indicating to the assemblage that, when one gives to help a fellow Jew, it is not how much he actually gives that matters, but rather, the benefit which it engenders to the subject in need.
Let us be so bold as to go one step further. Chesed extends beyond the realm of material sustenance. We quickly forget that spiritual sustenance might be even more important. Reaching out to someone who is searching, who is making the attempt to embrace a life of Torah and mitzvos, can be more difficult than writing out a check. It requires time and an abundance of patience - which may be tested at all intervals of the journey. Chumash, Mishnayos, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, etc. require time, which many of us do not have. If it may be the catalyst, however, for turning around one's life, saving a family, changing a generation - can we say "no"?
V'nasati eisav b'sadecha livihemtecha, v'achalta v'savata.
I will provide grass in your field for your cattle and you will eat and be satisfied.
The sentence structure raises questions. It begins with a blessing that we will have grass in our fields to sustain our animals, and it concludes with the blessing that we will be satisfied. How is having sufficient food for our animals connected to our satisfaction? Chazal derive from here that one should feed his animals before he himself eats. Thus, while one may not be mafsik, interrupt between a brachah, blessing, and the beginning of eating - and, if he does so, he must recite another blessing - if he makes an interruption for the purpose of giving an order that his animal should be fed, it is not viewed as an interruption, because feeding his animal is a pre-requisite for his own meal.
Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, writes that he was once invited to have breakfast with Horav Yosef Breuer, zl. Prior to eating, the venerable Rav first placed some bird food into the birdcage, and only then did he commence his meal.
In memory of my dear wife,
RAchel bas Avraham a"h
Dr. Jacob Massouda
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