Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
This week's parsha, Naso, contains the well-known Birkas Kohanim,
the priestly blessing with which Aaron and his sons are to bless the
Jewish nation. "May Hashem bless you and safeguard you. May
Hashem enlighten His countenance to you, and give you grace.
May Hashem lift His countenance towards you, and give you
Regarding the third blessing, the Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 11:4)
records an interesting discussion between the Almighty and His
"Master of the Universe: You have written in Your Torah,
'May Hashem lift His countenance towards you etc.' How
is this possible? Is it not written in the Torah [regarding
Hashem], 'Who does not lift a countenance [i.e. show
favouritism], and does not accept bribery?
(Devarim/Deuteronomy 10:17)' Replied the Almighty: How
should I not lift My countenance towards them? I wrote in
the Torah (Devarim/Deuteronomy 8:10), 'And you shall
eat, and be satisfied, and you shall bless Hashem your
G-d,' [i.e. the obligation to recite Birkas HaMazon (Grace
after Meals) only applies to one who has eaten his full]. Yet
they bless me even when they only have a small portion of
bread to eat - the size of an olive or the size of an egg!"
This is the sort of Midrash that, in the immortal words of Rashi, cries
out, "Interpret me!" How does the fact that we "go beyond the letter
of the law" by reciting Birkas HaMazon on less-than a full meal
answer the angels question? And what indeed is implied by the vague
and mysterious words "lift His countenance?"
The Gemara (Ta'anis 9a) relates that R' Yochanan once met a small
boy on his way home from yeshiva. "Tell me," he asked the young
lad, "which verse did your rebbe teach you today?" "Today we learned
(Devarim/Deuteronomy 14:22) "A'ser t'aser, You shall surely tithe your
produce!" What does it mean?" Said R' Yochanan, "A'ser bi-shvil she-
tis'asher - Take tithes and you will surely become rich!" [This is a
double entendre: A-ser means to take a tithe. A-sher means wealth.
Thus: Give tithes, and you will become wealthy.]
The Maor Eynayim (parshas Re'eh) asks: How is it possible to make
such a bold promise - give tithes, and you will be rich? Are there not
many people that diligently separate their tithes yet never become
Chazal, our Sages, say (Avos/Ethics of the Fathers 4:1): Who is rich?
One who is happy with his portion. At first glance Chazal seem to
be taking a moral standpoint. I.e. don't be jealous of those who have
more than you, for true wealth is to be happy with what you have.
Taken in this vein, the usual response goes something like: "Sure, I'm
happy with what I have. But giving me what so-and-so has sure
wouldn't make me less happy!" Or, "True - but happiness won't pay
In truth, the Sages are not simply trying to cajole us into avoiding
jealousy by making glib statements that, "the main thing is finding joy
in your lot." If so, they would say something like "Be happy with what
you have!" When they ask, "Who is rich?" they mean it in an absolute
sense. One may have the riches of the Rothschilds, yet if he is not
happy - is he truly rich? If the real-estate magnate spends his days
agonizing over that one last development that would "put him over
the top," and make him the biggest land-owner in Ontario, or
Canada, or North America etc., is he really any richer than the beggar
scrounging for his next meal? At least the beggar's ambition is one
likely to be satisfied. No matter how much one may have, it is still
possible to fall into the trap of lusting after that one last thing he has
yet to acquire.
The story is told of the big-city magnate who one day comes across
a small-town fisherman, who spent only a few hours a day at work,
after which he relaxed and lazily enjoyed the remainder of his day.
"You know," says the magnate, "if you were to work a full day, you
could buy a bigger boat." "And then?" "Well, then you could hire
more workers, and catch more fish." "So?" "Well then, you could buy
more ships - eventually you'd have a fleet of ships." "And after that?"
"Why, you could move to the big city, get yourself a big house, and
sell your fish there, where you'd make even more money." "And
then?" "Well, you'd put aside some of your profits every year, and
within a short time, you'd be able to retire." "Yes? And then?" "Don't
you see it yet?! Then, you could move to a quaint, small village, and
spend the rest of your days fishing and relaxing and doing what you
really want to do!"
The riches promised by R' Yochanan - a'ser bi-shvil she-tis'asher/give
tithes and you will be wealthy - do not necessarily mean, says Ma'or
Eynayim, that you'll be blessed with big bank accounts and fancy
cars. What it does mean is that you will experience the beracha of,
"Who is rich? One who rejoices with his portion!" R' Yochanan
derived from the Torah's wording that tithe-giving influences its giver
to feel more positive about the blessings he already has in his life,
and the ability to feel happy with what he has. While this blessing may
not have the razzle-dazzle appeal of a big stash of bills, it is a rare
quality in men, and one who acquires it is truly fortunate.
Kaballists explain that each of the phrases of the Birkas Kohanim
alludes to different blessings that are bestowed upon the blessed. The
words, "May Hashem lift His countenance to you," they say, contain
the blessing of Osher - wealth. Perhaps, then, this explains Hashem's
answer to the angels. "How can I not bless the Jews with wealth -
i.e. with the ability to derive joy from what they have and to be happy
with their lot? For I wrote in the Torah, 'And you shall eat and you
shall be satisfied and you shall bless Hashem your G-d,' yet they
bless Me even over an olive-sized piece of bread - by being
scrupulous to recite Grace even over a less-than-satisfying portion,
they demonstrate precisely this quality, that one should thank
Hashem for everything he has, even if it's less than "optimum." It is
therefore only appropriate that I indeed bless them with the joy that
the "true blessing of wealth" brings.
Have a good Shabbos.
This week's publication was sponsored by R'
Zalmen Deutsch, in memory of the beloved members of
his family who perished in the Second World War.
Text Copyright © 2002 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.