These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: CD #947 – Birchas Kohanim – Whose Mitzvah? Good Shabbos!
The Role Of The Kohen: Agent of the Almighty
Parshas Nasso contains the Torah section dealing with the wife suspected of infidelity to her husband (sotah). Immediately preceding the parsha of the sotah is the exhortation to give the appropriate priestly gifts (Matnos Kehuna) to the Kohen. Rashi [Bamidbar 5:12] comments on the juxtaposition of these two Torah sections: If you withhold the gifts of the Kohen, (I swear) by your life you will need to come to him to bring him the sotah.
The Shemen HaTov (Volume 5 – by Rav Dov Weinberger) provides an interesting insight into this connection. The Shemen HaTov suggests another connection between the neglect of giving priestly gifts to the Kohen and Parshas Sotah. He analyzes the reason a person holds back from giving the Kohen what the Torah tells us belongs to the Kohanim. There is a psychology among people that operates as follows: “You want me to donate to the Beis Hamikdash? Fine. You want me to donate to the Temple upkeep. I can live with that. But why do I need to give my money to somebody else?” That bothers people. To give it to “G-d”, that is one thing; but to give my hard earned money to someone else – that he should profit off me – that is much more difficult for people to come to terms with.
There is a well-known phenomenon in the rabbinic world: Reuven goes out and buys a roast for Yom Tov. It cost him $90. By accident, milk falls into the pot where his wife was cooking the roast. Reuven goes to the Rav and the Rav asks him to supply the details of the incident, but finally he tells Reuven, “I’m sorry. The roast has become treife – there is a violation here of the prohibition of milk and meat cooked together.” Ninety dollars down the drain. What is Reuven’s reaction? “Ok. So it goes (far-fallen).” He is not happy about it, but that is the law. He is committed to living by halacha. However, if Reuven gets into a civil dispute (Din Torah) with Shimon for the same $90 and the Rav paskens in favor of Shimon and Reuven loses $90, then he is all upset. Why? What is the difference? Ninety dollars is ninety dollars and a Din is a Din!
The difference is that it bothers Reuven when he needs to pay Shimon. When the roast is treif, Reuven lost money, but nobody won anything from him. When somebody else takes my money, it leaves me inconsolable. That is why the person is hesitant to give the various priestly gifts to the Kohen.
How do we educate the person who withholds his Matnos Kehunah? He has a Sotah in his house. The Ramban, in his Torah commentary, says that the mitzvah of Sotah is unique among all the mitzvos of the Torah in that it involves a miracle. No other commandment assumes a supernatural event will take place upon carrying out the Divine command. The mitzvah of Sotah contains such an assumption. The Ramban notes that the value of Shalom Bayis [domestic harmony in the home] is so paramount that the Almighty intervenes in the case of the suspected adulteress to unambiguously clarify the wife’s status.
Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky writes that when a man suspects his wife of infidelity, the man will always not feel comfortable with her. Therefore, G-d says, “I need to intervene.” If the wife is vindicated after drinking the Sotah mixture – this is a Divine assurance that she is innocent and the husband can confidently reestablish a faithful and loving relationship with her.
However, how do we get the Ribono Shel Olam to intervene? The answer is that the husband must go to the Kohen. All of a sudden, it will hit the husband: Why am I going to the Kohen to obtain Divine clarification in this matter? It is because this Kohen represents the Hand of G-d. When I give the Matnos Kehuna to this fellow, I am not giving my money to someone else. I am giving it so someone who is literally the agent of the Almighty (shlucha d’Rachmana).
This is why the punishment for withholding one’s money from the Kohen is finding oneself with a suspected sotah in his house. He will then need to go to the Kohen so that it will hit him and he will understand the role that the Kohen plays. The Kohen is a conduit. He is an agent of the Almighty. The husband of the sotah, who was so hesitant to give his money to someone else, will finally realize that the money given to the Kohen is really given to the Ribono shel Olam.
A Farewell to the Baer-Sterns Mincha Minyan
Here is a further insight along the same lines as what we mentioned above.
In connection with the discussion of Matnos Kehuna, discussed above there is an apparently redundant pasuk: “A man’s holies shall be his, and what a man gives to the Kohen, it shall be his.” [Bamidbar 5:10].
Rashi quotes a Gemara [Berachos 63a] that the repetition lo yiheyeh [shall be his] teaches that the Israelite who gives to the Kohen, he will have much wealth. However, I once saw a different interpretation in a sefer:
This pasuk is telling us that the only thing a person has in this world that is his forever is the mitzvos he does and the tzedakah he gives. No matter how many other assets a person thinks he has, they are not really his. They can be here today and gone tomorrow. However, that which he gives to the Kohen – indeed, they shall be his! That one can take with him, and no one can take it away from him.
I have said this insight in the past and my general practice is not to repeat. However, I am repeating this insight today (in 2008) because there is a story that comes with it that was not around the last time I cited it.
Two different people sent me the following e-mail, which is really an essay by someone who was a vice president at Baer Sterns, Inc. (For those who do not follow the financial world, Baer Sterns was a very old line banking institution that was 85 years old. It was one of the old-line “WASPy” companies, which happened to have many Jews in their employ. In the course of one weekend, from a Friday afternoon to a Monday morning, Baer Sterns went bankrupt. The entire company worth billions and billions of dollars was sold for a final price of 10 billion dollars, a mere pittance of what it had been worth, pennies on the dollar!)
In Baer Sterns, as amazing as it may seem, there was a mincha minyan. It originally started in a stairwell in Baer Sterns. It grew to the extent that they ultimately used a large conference room every day for their mincha prayer quorum. They had 40 people on a regular day for mincha and on a fast day they would get up to 100 people. This vice-president wrote a “farewell to the Baer Sterns mincha minyan”:
After two great years at Baer and having been observant for about the same amount of time, I have chosen to exit galus [exile] and the world of gashmiyus [materialism] in order to immerse myself in the ruchniyus [spirituality] that I hope to find at Yeshivas Ohr Sameach in Yerushalayim.
I had been planning to go learn at some point and despite having had the potential opportunity to go over to J.P. Morgan which bought out Baer Sterns, the events that took place in mid-March made my decision that much clearer. Not only has Hashem provided me with the opportunity to go learn but He also blessed me with a scholarship c/o J.P. Morgan.
The Baer mincha minyan was my really first regular minyan and it provided me with such inspiration. The whole concept was foreign to me. The idea that a few dozen men at a major financial institution would take time out of their busy schedule and express their gratitude to Hashem in a conference room — within the building no less – was a big motivator for me. Moreover, nobody was talking; rarely were there any cell phone interruptions; and some were even able to achieve serious kavanah [intent focus] in their prayers. Thank-you to everyone who davened there for inspiring me with your tefilos [prayers].
While I sympathize with those who lost money and jobs, we know that everything happens for a reason and that it will eventually work out for the best. That being said, the collapse of Baer Sterns provided a great deal of mussar [moral lesson] to anyone who wishes to see it. Some employees gave their heart and soul to the company for many years and some lost thousands or even millions of dollars (Jimmy literally lost a billion dollars).
They learned the hard way that money is fleeting. Still others were with the company for only a few months who will receive a nice severance package and have already accepted offers elsewhere at higher salaries. There are those who because of the extraordinary amount of time they spent at the office missed many milestones – birthdays, weddings, and lost it all. And there were those who were just at the right place at the right time. And of course there are stories of everything in between.
There are no accidents in this world. Hashem is in charge. Sometimes we are in certain situations such that it is difficult to have a clear perspective. In the business world, it is so easy to be caught up in the day to day and to lose sight of what really matters. This experience has truly served to clarify for me the idea that the only things that are timeless are the mitzvos that we do and the tzedakah that we give.
Baer Sterns will soon be a distant memory, but this lesson will hopefully remain with us.
This man is in effect saying “Ish es kodoshav – lo yiheyeh“. The only thing that really we have is the mitzvos and the tzedakah that we give. That is the “lo yiheyeh” [to him will it belong]. What we give to the Kohen, that will remain ours. On Friday, this person was worth nine hundred million dollars and on Monday morning, he was worth ten million dollars. We think – well $10,000,000 – I could live with that! However, when you were worth 900 million and you are only left with only 10 million, you feel like a pauper.
We just experienced Shavuos. The Yom Tov of Shavuos is dedicated to one thing. “If not for this special day, how many other ‘Joes’ are there in the market place.” [Pesachim 68b] Shavuos is the Yom Tov about appreciating what we have. “He has given us the True Torah; He has separated us from those who err; He has planted Eternal life in our midst”. We have something. We have a Torah; we have a Ribono shel Olam; we have mitzvos. We have something. They can never take that away from us.
However, if a person’s whole life was Baer Sterns; if a person’s whole life was Arthur Anderson; if a person’s whole life was all these mighty companies that have literally gone out of business, then one is left with nothing. Therefore, we must appreciate the Yom Tov of Shavuos –- in the context of the times – with the gratitude that we express in the blessing that praises He who has chosen us from all the nations and has given us His True Torah and planted everlasting life in our midst. Happy is the nation that has it so, happy is the nation that Hashem is their G-d. We are so lucky that He separated us from those who err. Let us take leave of the Yom Tov of Shavuos with this recognition.
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion.
A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Nasso is provided below:
- 059 Sheitel: A Woman’s Obligation to Cover Her Hair
- 103 Birchas Kohanim
- 148 Sotah: The Case of the Unfaithful Wife
- 195 Birchas Kohanim: Who Can and Who Can’t?
- 241 Yichud and the Housekeeper
- 285 Sa’ar B’isha Ervah
- 331 NassoMust A Kallah Cover Her Hair at the Chasunah?
- 375 Ain Osin Mitzvos Chavilos
- 419 Causing the Erasure of Hashem’s Name
- 463 Dee’chui Eitzel Mitzvos
- 507 The Faithful Unfaithful Wife
- 551 Being Motzi a Wife in Kiddush
- 595 Chazonim and Chazanus
- 639 The Unfaithful Wife – Is Ignorance an Excuse?
- 683 Shalom Bayis – How Far Can One Go?
- 727 Singing During Davening – Pro or Con?
- 771 Ashkenazim, Sephardim and Bishul Akum,
- 815 The Laws of Sotah – Still Very Relevant
- 859 Walking Behind a Woman
- 903 Shavuous- Fascinating Halachos
- 947 Birchas Kohanim−Whose Mitzva−The Kohain or Yisroel?
- 990 Cutting Down A Fruit Tree for Home Expansion
- 1034 Ba’alas Teshuva Who Was Not Honest With Her Husband
- 1078 The Elderly Gentleman and the Female Nurse – A Yichud Problem?
- 1121 The Enigma of Shimshon HaGibor
- 1163 Avoiding Yichud: Must the Door be Open or Merely Unlocked.
- 1207 Listening to music – as mutar as you think?
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