Subscribe to a Weekly Series

Posted on June 7, 2002 (5760) By Rabbi Yaakov Menken | Series: | Level:

“Gaze down from your Holy residence, from the Heavens, and bless your nation, Israel, and the land which You have given us as You swore to our forefathers, a land flowing with milk and honey.” [26:15]

Our Torah prescribes a declaration to be made at the end of the third year, when a person has completed giving his “ma’aser ani,” one-tenth of his crops to the poor. “And you shall say before HaShem your G-d, ‘I have removed the Holy [tithes] from the house, and I have also given them to the Levi, to the stranger, the orphan and the widow, according to all your Commandments which You commanded me; I did not violate Your Commandments and I did not forget.'” [26:13] At the end, the person says the verse above, calling down blessing upon Israel.

Rashi says in Parshas Vayeira [Genesis 18:16] that whenever “gazing” is mentioned in the Torah, the intent is negative. In that parsha, the angels left Avraham and “gazed” towards S’dom, which was then destroyed. Our case, however, is the exception, when we are commanded to ask G-d to gaze down upon the nation. Rashi explains that the power of gifts to the poor is so great that it “reverses the attribute of anger to mercy.”

The Divrei Shaul explains this, based on the Zohar. In II Kings 4:13, the prophet Elisha asks the Shunamite woman if anything might be said to the authorities on her behalf, and she replies, “I sit among my people.” The Zohar says that she did not want to remove herself from the congregation. She did not want to be singled out. Were she to do so, she would be judged independently, and this is worse than being judged together with everyone else. Individuals may sin, but the nation itself is a Holy nation.

If HaShem gazes down upon one individual, to judge him as an individual, this is negative. But in our case, when the person is making the declaration that he has given charity as appropriate, that he has given of himself on behalf of others, and has placed the needs of the community ahead of his own — then the Holy One, Blessed be He, Judges him together with the congregation, which is favorable towards him. This is why the person says “and bless your nation, Israel.” He does not ask for himself as an individual, but rather for the entire nation — and within the blessing of the nation, he too is blessed.

Rosh Hashanah is approaching — the Day of Judgement. On that day, each individual is judged. How can we face this day, alone?

Our Sages teach us that return to G-d, prayer and charity reverse a bad decree. Return to G-d and prayer — we understand why these are singled out, since they reestablish the connection which we have broken through our errors and sins. But why is charity so special?

The Divrei Shaul has answered this question. Charity demonstrates that we care about others. We care for their needs. We are not merely living for ourselves, and cannot, then, be judged merely by ourselves. We must be judged only as part of the congregation, as part of the Holy nation.

May we all merit a favorable decree this Rosh HaShanah!



“As we go to press” here in Baltimore, I just received the details of an amazing story which I must share with you.

Several weeks ago, a bus driver on the NJ Transit Manhattan to Lakewood route found a pair of Tefillin on her bus. For some reason, she took them home rather than putting them into the company’s lost and found bin. Recently, she decided to throw them out, but then the image of a store she’d seen with Israeli owners and clientele flashed through her mind. So she decided that instead of throwing out the Tefillin, she would take them to the store.

The Israeli storeowners are completely secular; none of them wear Tefillin. One of them, however, plays soccer every week with a fellow who learns in Lakewood, in the famous yeshiva there. So the Israelis gave the soccer friend the Tefillin from the bus driver.

The wife of a friend of _his_ works in the office of the aforementioned yeshiva. So he gave her the Tefillin hoping she could track down the student who perhaps owned them. So at this point the Tefillin had travelled from bus, to bus driver, to Israeli storeowners, to “soccer friend,” to yeshiva secretary.

The current student record showed no one with a possible English spelling of Mem-Yud-Nun-Kuf-Yud-Nun, so she then looked in the yeshiva’s fundraising database. One of the matches was my mother, listed as a yeshiva parent because I spent one summer in Lakewood over a decade ago (come to think of it, I should be on their list too, but they found my mother first). She participated in a raffle, so they have her current address.

The secretary called several of the names on the list, but none answered. In the early afternoon, no one should have been home at my mother’s house in Colorado, but her husband just happened (to the same extent that any of this “just happened”) to be in and answered the phone. His last name isn’t Menken, but he immediately suggested that she call me in Baltimore — even though no one in our family is named Shaul.

My wife answered, and said no, no one in the family was named Shaul… and then remembered a friend of her brother’s who lives in central NJ, who does not spell his name “Menken,” but does have a son named Shaul who became a Bar Mitzvah not long ago. So she suggested that the woman call that family.

Lo and behold… Shaul is getting his Tefillin back!

What’s more, they had replaced the Tefillin already — and they have an 11-year-old son, who is now the first boy in his class to already have Tefillin for his Bar Mitzvah…

Text Copyright © 2000 Rabbi Yaakov Menken and Project Genesis,Inc.
The author is the Director of Project Genesis.