Thursday, August 17, 2017

don't give tzedaka because it's a mitzvah

Last week's post generated some comments in response to my having written that someone who observes mishpatim simply because it's the right think to do still can call on  zechus avos because he/she is doing the right thing.  Since I opened that can of worms, let me continue on the same theme.  R' Simcha Zisel of Kelm makes a striking claim with respect to the mitzvah of tzedaka mentioned in this week's parsha.  It's davka not the person who gives to charity because it's a mitzvah who fulfills tzedaka to its fullest.  Rather, it's the person who empathizes with the poor and gives because he is moved by their needs who fulfills tzedaka to its fullest. 

R' Simcha Zisel sees tzedaka as an extension of v'ahavta l'rei'acha kamocha.  Most of us don't eat because it's a mitzvah -- we eat because we feel hungry.  Says R' Simcha Zisel, treat your fellow Jew in need the same way.  Don't feed your friend because it's a mitzvah.  Feed your friend because you empathize with his pain to such a degree that if he is hungry, you are hungry, and when you are hungry, you eat. 

R' Ya'akov Naiman in his Darkei Musar uses this yesod of R' Simcha Zisel to answer a question posed by the Maharasha.  The gemara in Kesubos (67) relates that Nakdimon ben Gurion was punished for not fulfilling the mitzvah of tzedaka properly.  Asks the gemara: Nakdimon ben Gurion was rich and give a fortune to tzedaka; how is it possible to say he did not fulfill the mitzvah properly?  The gemara gives two answers: 1) as much as he gave, he could have done more; 2) he gave for the kavod of giving.  Maharasha on the spot questions this second answer.  We know that someone who gives charity "al menas she'yichyeh b'ni," with ulterior motives, because he wants the zechus of tzedaka to bring a refuah to his child, is called a tzadik gamur.  So who cares of Nakdimon ben Gurion did it for the kavod!?  He should still go down on the books as a tzadik gamur!

Yes, says R' Naiman, someone who gives with ulterior motives is a tzadik and fulfills a mitzvah -- but that mitzvah is not the mitzvah of tzedaka.  When you giving is motivated by any reason other than empathy, other than truly identifying with the needs of another, that's not true tzedaka. 

The point of the mitzvah of tzedaka is not the ma'aseh nesina -- the act of giving -- but rather it's the chalos in the gavra of becoming a person who is sensitive to the needs of others.

Rashi quotes a derush that the Torah juxtaposes "aser te'aser" with "lo tevaseh g'di b'chaleiv imo" because G-d is telling us that if we don't give ma'aser he will be forced to be "mevashel gedi'im shel tevuah" = cause the grain to rot in its husk before it is fully ripe and ready to harvest.  OK, it's talking about ma'aser, ma'ser sheni, and not tzedaka, but Chazal learn ma'aser kesafim from this pasuk, so derech derush you can give me some leeway and in turn I will give you a tremendous Ishbitzer (from Ne'os Desheh, the Mei HaShiloach's son).  Someone who does not give properly is like that grain rotting in it's husk -- on the outside, everything looks OK, but when you peel back the shell, the husk, there is nothing there on the inside.  A person who lacks empathy, who is not moved by others needs to want to help them, is just an empty shell of a person.   

Thursday, August 10, 2017

earning our own reward

V'haya eikev tishme'un es hamishpatim ha'eileh v'shamar Hashem Elokecha lecha es ha'bris v'es ha'chessed asher nishba l'avosecha.

Our parsha opens by telling us that if we observe the commandments, specifically mishpatim, then Hashem will fulfill his promise made to the avos and give us the brachos that follow.

If we are doing what we are supposed to, then shouldn't we deserve reward based on our own merits and actions, not because of the promise made to the avos?  (The Sefas Emes explains that the word v'haya, which always connotes simcha, appears here because Hashem has tremendous simcha when a person earns his own reward and doesn't receive gifts based on someone else's merit.)  Zechus avos is invoked when we have no other merits of our own to call on, not when we are doing everything right?

Maybe you can answer that question by way of another question.  Last week's parsha ends with the pasuk, "V'shamarta es ha'mitzvah v'es ha'chukim v'es ha'mishpatim..."  Meforshim are bothered by the fact that that pasuk lists off multiple categories of mitzvos -- mitzvah, chukim, mishpatim -- while the pasuk that opens our parsha refers only to the one category of mishpatim.  Why the difference?

Perhaps the point of our parsha is that even if we are not exactly doing what we are supposed to -- we are only fulfilling the logical laws of mishpatim that make sense to us, but are not on target with all the mitzvos and chukim -- nonetheless, Hashem will reward us because in addition to our own actions, we have zechus avos as well.

es Hashem Elokecha tira - l'rabos talmidei chachamim = community building

The gemara tells us that Shimon ha'Amsuni was able to darshen every single "es" in the Torah, but when he got to the pasuk, "Es Hashem Elokecha tira," "pireish," he could not go further.  R' Akiva, on the other hand, darshened even that "es."   It explained it as coming "l'rabos talmidei chachamim," to include havin awe of talmidei chachamim  (Pesachim 22)

When Shimon ha'Amsuni encountered the mitzvah of yirah, he thought the way to fulfill it was "pireish," through prishus=separating from the world, from the community, and digging inward to achieve self perfection.

R' Akiva, on the other hand, thought just the opposite.  One can achieve yirah by "l'rabos talmidei chachamim," by building the community, increasing the number of people involved in Torah and learning Torah.

Why was it R' Akiva in particular who was able to arrive at this insight?  R' Meir Shapira of daf yomi fame explained that R' Akiva early in life before he came to learning had an intense hatred for talmidei chachamim.  The Rambam writes that the way to correct a midah is to go to the opposite extreme.  Therefore, R' Akiva more than anyone else came to an intense love and appreciation for talmidei chachamim and their influence.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

T"u b'Av -- a feminist holiday

The gemara at the end of Ta'anis tells us that the two biggest yamim tovim for Klal Yisrael were 15 Av and Yom Kippur.  On those days the girls would go out into the fields and dance and the boys would come and find their shidduch (simple solution to the shidduch crisis).  The girls who had money would say, "Marry us for our money," the girls who had yichus would say, "Marry for yichus!" and the girls who had nothing would say, "Marry l'shem shamayim and then afterwards give us gold jewelry."

We all know why Yom Kippur is a special day, and the gemara gives a hosts of reasons why 15 Av was a special day, among them that on that day the dor ha'midbar stopped dying for the sin of cheit ha'meraglim.  But why were these days in particular the days set aside to make shidduchim?  What does finding a girl to marry have to do with the nature of these days?

Secondly, what does the gemara mean when it tells us that the girls who said to get married added, "And buy us gold jewelry!"  It seems incongruous with the call to act "l'shem shamayim."  Were the girls who said that being disingenuous and just needed a way to snatch a boy when they had nothing else going for them?  Do we really have to be that cynical?   It's strange that the gemara even bothers add this line about gold when it has nothing to do with the shidduch itself.   Maharasha writes that it's just a "milsa b'alma," but maybe there is more to it.

There were two major sins that Klal Yisrael committed en route to Eretz Yisrael: 1) the sin of the cheit ha'eigel = abandoning G-d; 2) the sin of the meraglim = abandoning Eretz Yisrael.  There was one group of people, however, who did not involve themselves in either sin -- the women of Klal Yisrael.  By the cheit ha'eigel the women did not willingly turn over their gold jewelry to their husbands to make the golden calf.  When it came time to apportion Eretz Yisrael, it was the Bnos Tzelafchad who demonstrated their love of the land and demanded a portion. 

Yom Kippur is the tikun of the cheit ha'eigel.  On that day Hashem gave us the second luchos, a second chance after the first were broken by Moshe in response to the eigel. 

T"u b'Av is the day the dying of the generation of the midbar stopped.  It brought closure to the cheit ha'meraglim.

For the women who needed no tikun, these days are "feminist" holidays -- days when they could boast of their superiority.  Not holidays of modern feminism, where women want to be men, but Torah feminism, when women can be proud of their own stellar achievements.  On these days the women reach out to their male counterparts and call, "bachur, sa na einecha," lift up your eyes and look at the madreiga we reached!   These are days of shidduchim because on these days the bachurim reach out to find partners to help bring up their level of ruchniyus. 

The conclusion, "Adorn us in gold jewelry," is not just an aside, but is part of the whole message, explains the Sefas Emes in Likutim.  The women could boast that they deserved to be adorned with the gold that they did not turn over to the eigel, the gold that we men so eagerly surrendered for avodah zarah.

When we lost Eretz Yisrael and the Mikdash and went into galus, we lost T"u b'Av.  We lost the tikun for the cheit ha'meraglim.  All that is left is Yom Kippur, the tikun for the cheit of avodah zarah.

Maybe a reinvigoration of T"u b'Av is something to look forward to as we get closer to geulah.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Ki tavo'u lei'ra'os panay -- coming to be seen

Ki tavo'u lei'ra'os panay, mi bikesh zos m'yedchem r'mos chatzeiray? 

Yishyahau haNavi, in the haftarah of Shabbos Chazon, says to those people coming to the Beis haMikdash, "Who needs you here?  What business do you have trampling through the Mikdash?"  When you come to make aliya la'regel on the three regalim, it's all for naught.

That's the gist of what the pasuk means, but that first phase is difficult. If the pasuk means to speak about coming to see Hashem in the Mikdash, it should say "liros panay."  If it means to speak about being seen by Hashem, it should say "lei'ra'os lifanay."  What's "leira'os panay?"  It's like a grammatical hodge-podge that makes no sense.

You can ask the same question about the pasuk in chumash that talks about aliya la'regel.  "...Yera'eh kol zechurcha es pnei Hashem"  Here too, if it means to see Hashem, it should say "liros;" if it means to be seen, it should say "lifnei Hashem?

There is an amazing Alshich that you can find in the Maros haTzov'os on Shmuel I 2:11 that I will save you some trouble looking for -- in your standard edition with the Malbim it's printed on the bottom of the page all the way in perek 22.  You don't make aliya la'regel "liros," to see G-d, because that's impossible -- G-d has no face.  The reason to make aliya la'regel is to be seen.  But, says the Alshich, it's not "lifanei," but rather "es panay."  There is a Zohar that tells us that the faces of tzadikim are called "apei Shechinta," the face of the Shechina.  You want to see G-d's face?  Look in the mirror.  G-d wants us to be tzadikim -- he wants us to be able to look in the mirror and see his face, his reflection there.  

On a previous 9 Av I posted a pshat that the greatness of Moshe Rabeinu, "temunas Hashem yabit," is not that he looked up to the Heavens and saw G-d like no other navi, but rather that when Moseh Rabeinu saw a simple Jew in Klal Yisrael, that was for him "temunas Hashem yabit."  Moshe Rabeinu saw the pnei Hashem in every Jew he met.  That's a navi, a manhig, the greatest of great (see the Netziv on that phrase).

The word "es" in Tanach often means the same as "im," with.  The mitzvah of aliya la'regel is "yera'eh kol zechurcha" -- to be seen, but in order to stand before Hashem and be seen, you have to come "es panay" = im panay, with MY face, with Hashem's face reflected in our own.  You want to have a Beis haMikdash and be able to walk in its halls?  First ask yourself when you walk down the street do people say there goes the pnei Hashem, there goes a reflection of kvod Shamayim.  

This is what Yishayahu was telling Klal Yisrael.  We were given a mitzvah "leira'os panay" -- to come to the Mikdrash so that our faces, our "apei Shechinta," can be seen by Hashem.  But if we don't behave the way we are supposed to, if our faces are indistinguishable G-d forbid, from the faces of the nations around us, then "Mi bikesh zos m'yedchem r'mos chatzeiray?"

My daughter this afternoon sent the picture below from Yerushalayim Ir Ha'kodesh where she has the zechus of spending the summer: 


There were mobs of people by the kosel, by the makom mikdash.

I got this picture a short while after getting home from finishing kinos, which closed with the kinah of the Bobover Rebbe written for the Holocaust.

Do you think any Jew who lived through the horrors of the war would have imagined that just 70 years later we would have hundreds of Jewish youth gathered on 9 Av in our Jewish homeland, standing by the kosel under a Jewish degel, protected by Jewish soldiers, so that they could learn Torah and sing ani ma'amin in that makom kadosh? 

We live in times of such great opportunity, such great potential, but when you read the news that is always so filled with machlokes and tragedy it is easy to lose sight of what we have achieved (or maybe I should say what Hashem has given us) and where we are headed.  Of course we are still in galus, and it's still 9 Av, and we have what to mourn, but we also need to recognize chasdei Hashem.  One day I am sure that we will not just be standing outside the walls of the kosel, but on top of the mountain as well.  That's probably as unbelievable to most people today as dream of standing by the kosel would have been to someone 70 years ago.  Yet here we are.  But the navi is clear: it has to be "leira'os panay," to come to be seen by Hashem because we reflect in our faces, in who we are, in how we act, his greatness.  That's what we have to work on.