Our parashah opens: “See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse.” R’ Yosef Shalom Elyashiv z”l (1910-2012; Yerushalayim) asks: Why does the verse say “today”?
He explains: If a person remembered everything that ever happened to him and all of Hashem’s kindness to him, he would stop at nothing to be able to devote all of his energies to serving Hashem with all his heart. However, man’s nature is that, although when he is first saved from danger he thanks Hashem profusely, he soon returns to his routine and forgets Hashem’s kindness.
This, writes R’ Elyashiv, is the meaning of the verse (Devarim 32:18), “The Rock gave birth to you forgetful, and you forgot Kel Who brought you forth.” G-d gave man the ability to forget as an act of kindness; otherwise, life would be unbearable. Without forgetfulness, man would remember at every moment every terrifying experience he had ever had and every mistake he had ever made. Who could bear such a burden? Forgetfulness allows man to put those thoughts behind him. For the same reason, G-d decreed that one’s memory of the deceased would diminish with time.
R’ Elyashiv continues: Hashem gave man the power to forget as an act of kindness, but man uses that power to forget Hashem. That is why our verse says “today.” At all times, one must remember that Hashem has placed before him a choice between receiving a blessing or a curse. Man must remember “today” and every day so that he chooses properly. (Kitvei Ha’GRYS: Avot Vol. II p. 274)
- “If there shall be a destitute person among you, . . . you shall not harden your heart or close your hand against your destitute brother. . . You shall surely give him [literally, ‘give, you shall give him’], and let your heart not feel bad when you give him.” (15:7, 10)
R’ Aharon Lewin z”l Hy”d (rabbi of Rzeszow, Poland; killed in the Holocaust) writes: The Gemara (Berachot 10b) teaches: “If one has a Torah scholar as a guest in his house and allows the scholar to benefit from his (the host’s) property, it is as if he (the host) offered a Tamid offering in the Bet Hamikdash.” What, asks R’ Lewin, is the purpose of the words, “in his house”? He explains:
We learn in Pirkei Avot (Ch.1): “Let your home be wide open and let the poor be members of your household.” This is a message to the many people who give charity generously but never allow the poor into their homes. Rather, collectors and beggars must stand in the front hall and receive their donations there. Even if they are given food, they must eat it standing at the door or even outside the house. This is not proper; rather, says the Mishnah, “Let your home be wide open and let the poor be members of your household.”
But what about the carpet and the couch? What if the poor track mud or snow into the house? King Shlomo already answered these questions in Mishlei (31:20-21–in the description of an Eishet Chayil / “Woman of Valor”), “She spreads out her palm to the poor and extends her hand to the destitute. She fears not snow for her household, [though] her entire house is clothed [i.e., upholstered] in scarlet wool.”
If this is how one must treat an ordinary charity collector, how much more so a Torah scholar! This is what the Gemara means when it says, “If one has a Torah scholar as a guest in his house . . . ,” not merely at the door.
The importance of the attitude with which one gives charity is taught in our verses. Not only must one give, one mustn’t feel bad when he gives. To the contrary, one must speak gently to the beggar and console him over his troubles and embarrassment. (Ha’drash Ve’ha’iyun)
From the same work . . .
There are two attitudes that can lead one to give tzedakah / charity. One can feel sorry for the downtrodden pauper and give him charity as an expression of mercy. Such charity certainly is a worthy deed, but it is not the highest form of tzedakah. The highest form of charity is to give because it is a good deed; it is G-d’s Will and His commandment to us.
R’ Lewin continues (citing his grandfather, R’ Yitzchak Shmelkes z”l): One advantage of giving tzedakah just because it is a mitzvah rather than because one feels pity is that the feeling of pity wears off eventually. Moreover, when we see that poverty is widespread, we become insensitive to it. Not so if one gives charity to fulfill the Will of G-d. That Will is unchanging, and so one’s charity will be unending. This is the teaching of our verse: “Give, you shall give him.” Say Chazal: You shall give to a pauper repeatedly, even a hundred times. How can you train yourself to do this? “Let your heart not feel bad when you give him” – don’t give because you feel bad, but because G-d commanded it.
- “You are children to Hashem, your G-d.” (14:1)
R’ Yisroel Meir Kagan z”l (the Chafetz Chaim; died 1933) writes: Imagine that someone (“Reuven”) has a son who behaves improperly. Imagine further that another person (“Shimon”) gossips about Reuven’s errant son and publicizes his misdeeds. Reuven would be justifiably angry at Shimon. Reuven (the father) would say, “Even if you meant well, you should have rebuked my son privately rather than humiliating him publicly. Moreover, I know that your intentions were not pure; rather, you enjoy seeing other people’s shame.”
Our verse teaches that we are children to Hashem. The Torah means this literally; Hashem’s love for us is similar to a parent’s love for a child, even an errant child. Therefore, Hashem “rejoices” when good things happen to us, and He is “pained” when we have troubles. Let us imagine, then, how He “feels” when someone shames a fellow Jew! (Shemirat Ha’lashon: Sha’ar Ha’tevunah ch.5)
- “You shall rejoice on your festival . . .” (16:14)
R’ Eliyahu Shlomo Raanan z”l Hy”d (1934-1998; murdered by Arab terrorists in his home in Chevron) writes, citing the medieval work Orchot Tzaddikim:
One must rejoice on Shabbat, Yom Tov and Purim, all of which recall the Exodus and other miracles that He performed wondrously for His chosen ones. Therefore, one should rejoice in his heart as he recalls G-d’s kindness and His great goodness toward those who do His will. Because of this, we prepare fine delicacies and finer suits, and drink wine which gladdens the heart. The key, however, is not to rejoice over “havalim” [loosely translated: "mundane trivialities”] but rather one should channel the joy toward loving G-d and reveling in the mutual love between G-d and His people. One should also reflect at this time on the ultimate pleasure that will be attained in Olam Haba and should yearn for it. The purpose of all of this, however, is not for one’s personal enjoyment but to further promote one’s service of Hashem.
Continuing this theme, R’ Raanan cites R’ Nachman of Breslov z”l (1772-1810; chassidic rebbe): When one performs a mitzvah with joy, it is a sign that he is whole-heartedly allied with Hashem. The Arizal (16th century; the foremost teacher of kabbalah in post-Talmudic times, many of whose teachings have become incorporated into daily halachic practice) confided to a friend that all that he attained was because he rejoiced at performing mitzvot more than one would rejoice at finding a treasure. It was in this merit, said the Arizal, that the gates of the Heavens were opened for him and he understood what he understood.
R’ Nachman adds: Once must never become distracted for a moment from true rejoicing, which means rejoicing that one is associated with G-d and rejoicing in whatever good attributes one possesses himself, even if the only good in a person is that he performs mitzvot on a daily basis. (Quoted in Neshamah Shel Shabbat p.24)
- This coming year – 5775- will be a shemittah / sabbatical year, when certain agricultural activities are prohibited in Eretz Yisrael. Beginning this week, approximately 30 days before the shemittah begins, we will devote part of each issue to legal and philosophical aspects of the shemittah year. The following laws are taken from Chapter 1 of Sefer Ha’shemittah, by R’ Yechiel Michel Tukachinsky z”l (1872-1956), a prominent halachic authority in Yerushalayim, perhaps best known outside Israel for his work Gesher Ha’chaim on the laws of mourning.
1. [E[Early halachic sources proposed a number of different methods for calculating when the shemittah year will occur.]The universally accepted method today is to divide the years since creation by seven (e.g., 5775 ÷ 7 = 825). Poskim / halachic authorities now agree that we should not even consider this a matter of doubt, but rather a definite calculation. [E[Ed. note: In a future issue, we will discuss the implications of treating the calculation as a matter of doubt.]/p>
2. In the time of the Bet Hamikdash, certain activities in the fields were prohibited by halachah le’Moshe mi’Sinai / oral tradition received by Moshe at Mount Sinai beginning thirty days before the shemittah [c[corresponding to this coming Tuesday] In certain types of fields, plowing was prohibited from the preceding Shavuot or even the preceding Pesach. Today, when we have no Bet Hamikdash, working the fields is permitted until Rosh Hashanah, except that planting trees and grafting onto trees must be completed 44 days before the shemittah. This allows 14 days for the sapling to take root and 30 days [o[of growth, so that it is considered a tree that grew before the shemittah] This rule was instituted so that one who sees young plants will not suspect their owner of having planted them during the shemittah.
One should not plant any tree [d[during these 44 days]not in a field, nor in a courtyard, not even in a planter. If one did plant, he should uproot the tree. But, if he did not uproot it, the fruits are permitted to be eaten.
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