These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tapes on the weekly Torah portion: Tape # 76, Katlanis: The Twice Widowed Woman. Good Shabbos!
This issue of “RavFrand” is dedicated in memory of Arnold Ginsberg [Aharon Yehuda Ben Nassan] by his children.
Chanukah & Gelt — The Connection Between Fire & Money
In the beginning of Hilchos Chanukah [3:1], The Ramba”m says, “In the time of the Second Temple, the Greek Government made decrees against Israel and tried to abolish their religion. They did not permit them to learn Torah or perform the mitzvos, and they sent forth their hands against their property and their daughters.”
Let us consider this list: They nullified our religion, they did not let us learn, they did not permit us do mitzvos, they took away our daughters, and they took away… our money. Money may be important, but should it be listed in the same breath with the others? Should the Ramba”m be equating taking our money with taking our daughters (and not only that, but the Ramba”m mentions money first!)?
How are we to understand this statement of the Ramba”m?
Many people have the custom, on Motzaei Shabbos [Saturday night], to say a Pizmon [poem] which begins with the words “HaMavdil bein Kodesh L’chol, chatoseinu Hu yimchol” — He who distinguishes between that which is holy and that which is not holy, He will forgive our sins. These are beautiful words. The poem says that we sin because we do not appreciate the difference between that which is Sacred and that which is mundane. We spend our time and efforts on foolishness. We do not know what is Kodesh and what is Chol. We ask G-d, Who has the ability to distinguish between Kodesh and Chol, to please forgive our sins.
(The Lubliner Rav, Rav Meir Shapiro, once said about American Jews that they know how to make Kiddush, but they don’t know how to make Havdalah. In other words, they put the wrong emphasis on things. That which is holy, they treat lightly, and that which is really unessential, they make holy. They do not know how to differentiate.)
What is the next line of the Pizmon? “zareinu v’chaspeinu yarbeh k’chol,” which means: “May our children and our money increase like the sand.” This, in and of itself — the lumping of children and money in the same breath — would be difficult to comprehend. But, moreover, we just finished saying that we are inadequate for not being able to distinguish between Holy and mundane, and now we go ahead and make the same mistake all over again — equating that which is Holy (children) with that which is mundane (money)!
This would be like davening Ma’ariv [the evening service] immediately after Yom Kippur, without having the proper Kavanah [concentration]. We’ve just finished confessing our sins for improper thoughts during prayer, and then we turn around and do it all over again! Here too, we have just confessed our failure to properly set priorities, and then we lump children together with money.
Rav Shimon Schwab offers a beautiful insight, both in the Ramba”m and in the Pizmon. Rav Schwab says that what the Ramba”m means by saying the Greeks took away our money and our daughters, is that the Greeks knew how to destroy us. If we are to succeed with our children and with our religion, we need money. In order to have Yeshivos, shuls, a community, one needs money. Money is a wonderful thing. Let’s not kid ourselves. We can do tremendous things with money. We cannot exist without money.
But money corrupts, sometimes… most of the time. However, money, in and of itself, can be the greatest tool that there is. The Midrash says that when G-d showed Moshe Rabbeinu [our Rabbi] a Half-Shekel coin, He showed Moshe a ‘coin of fire.’ The reason is because that is what money is. Money can be terribly destructive, like a fire. But where would we be without fire? No heat, no light, nothing.
Money is the same way. If one handles it right, it can save him. If one handles it wrong, it can destroy him.
This, the Ramba”m says, is what the Greeks understood. When they wanted to take out the foundations of the Jewish people, they sent forth their hands against their money and their daughters. Take away their money. Don’t let them have Yeshivas, don’t let them have Torah educators. That is how the Jewish People will be destroyed. The Ramba”m has his priorities very straight. The Greeks knew how to wage a war.
Rav Schwab says that this too, is what we say on Motzaei Shabbos: If we want to be successful with our children, then we also need ‘our money (to) increase like sand.’
Imagine! Money like sand, unlimited funds! Consider what that would mean. We could pay educators, instead of their current low rate salary — one-half, one-third, or one-quarter of what the lawyers and the doctors are earning – an amount that they truly deserve.
Imagine if we could pay our teachers top dollar. What would the face of Torah education in America look like if we had unlimited resources and could pay top dollar? What would be if we could drop the class ratio from one teacher per 25 kids, to one teacher per 15 kids?
What about the children that need extra help? For those children, we could even have one teacher for every two children. It wouldn’t matter if that would require an extra salary! We could do amazing things. The Jewish People would be a different Jewish People if our children and our money were ‘increased like the sand.’
That is the prayer. We know what is holy and sacred and we know what is mundane and profane… and we know what money can do. We can do the right things with money. We can change the Jewish People with money. We pray that we have ‘children and money like sand’ to accomplish wonderful things for the Jewish people.
Motzaei Shabbos — the departure of the Sabbath
Pizmon — Liturgical Poem
Kodesh — Holy
chol — mundane
Kiddush — Sanctification (of a Holy Day), performed at the onset of the Sabbath or Festival
Havdalah — (literally distinction), ritual performed at the conclusion of the Sabbath or Festival going into the weekday.
davening Ma’ariv — reciting the evening prayers
kavanah — concentration and religious focus (e.g. — in prayers)
darshanim/drush — homiletic expositors / homiletic exposition
chinuch — (Jewish) education
Personalities & Sources:
Ramba”m — Acronym for R. Moshe ben Maimon (1135-1204), Spain, Egypt; author of “Mishneh Torah”, Code of Jewish Law.
Rav Meir Shapiro — (1887-1934) Polish Rav and Rosh Yeshiva; he visited America in the early 1920s as part of a fund-raising tour for his Yeshivat Chachmei Lublin; creator of the Daf-Yomi learning schedule.
Rav Shimon Schwab — (1908-1995), Rav of the ‘Breur Kehilla’ in Washington Heights, New York, formerly a Rav in Baltimore, MD.
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, Maryland.
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tapes on the weekly Torah portion (#76). The corresponding halachic portion for this tape is: Katlanis: The Twice Widowed Woman. The other halachic portions for Vayeishev from the Commuter Chavrusah Series are:
- Tape # 034 – Chanukah Licht on Erev Shabbos
- Tape # 125 – Ha’Malbim P’nei Chaveiro: Shaming Another
- Tape # 172 – The Complex Issue of Child Custody
- Tape # 218 – Grape Juice and Yayin Mevushal
- Tape # 262 – Yichud and the Open Door Policy
- Tape # 308 – Secular Studies
- Tape # 352 – “Chamar Medina” — What can be used for Kiddush
Tapes or a complete catalogue can be ordered from:
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Call (410) 358-0416 for further information.
Also Available: Mesorah / Artscroll has published a collection of Rabbi Frand’s essays. The book is entitled:
and is available through your local Hebrew book store or from Judaica Express, 1-800-2-BOOKS-1.