Parshas Behar - Bechukosai

Chizuk & Chazak


Parshas Behar

When your brother becomes impoverished and slips down among you, you must come to his aid. Help him survive... (Vayikra25:35)
The Talmud asks why the Torah writes, "You shall love the L-rd your G-d with all of your hearts, your life, and your possessions" (Devarim 6:5)? The posuk seems to start off from the least important toward the most important, which is why "possessions" seems to be out of place. However, the Talmud answers that for some people, their possessions are more valuable than their own lives.

As we have discussed in the past, according to the Vilna Gaonthis means that some people would rather give of their time than of their money. Even though "time is money," still, it is not money like money is money. Therefore, it is easier for some to be stingy with money more than with their time, and understanding that, the Torah spoke to such people as well: Be willing to part with your money ALSO when the time comes for such a mitzvah.

One such mitzvah is the subject of the posuk above. Often, we're so busy trying to keep ourselves from financially sliding that we can't even consider helping others who are on the slide. Sometimes, oddly enough, it is the people who are not so well off who help to the best of their ability more so than people who are better off. Sometimes the more you have the more insecure you are about losing it.

On the surface, this appears only to be a mitzvah ofchesed. True, chesed is what makes the world go around, spiritually- and physically-speaking as well, but it is still only one mitzvah. No question that G-d wants us to be nice to one another and feel for other people who are suffering, but if we don't, is it really such a big deal?

The truth is, this mitzvah is more than just a mitzvahof chesed. It is a test, a BIG test for all parties involved, but in different ways. For the person experiencing financial woes it may be a test of his trust in G-d, to see how deeply he believes that all G-d does He does for the good. It is also, more than likely, atikun for something not quite right in his relationship to materialism.

However, since these reasons already existed to financially pressure the person in need for his OWN good, then G-d can use his situation as a vehicle to test others as well, to see how they respond to the need to be caring and charitable. It is a way to bring out how people relate to their own financial success, whether they see it as a gift from G-d or simply the reward for the efforts they have made.

However, the Talmud warns, "All is in the hands of Heaven except for fear of Heaven" (Brochos 34b). Principally, this means that all of our successes are not necessarily the result of our efforts, physical OR spiritual. When the rabbis teach, "According to the effort is the reward" (Pirkei Avos 5:22), the reward they were referring to was that of the World-to-Come. Regarding life in this world, they say elsewhere: There is no reward for amitzvah in this world (Kiddushin 39b).

In other words, you can spin your wheels doing the right thing, but receive little for it in this world. In the NEXT world the points rack up. However, in this world, there is not a direct cause-and-effect relationship between one's effort to financially succeed and one's actual success. There's a lot of "mazel" (read: Divine Providence) involved.

That's why there are people who can work hard all their lives and yet never get ahead financially. And yet some people can work half the time and make a quarter of the effort and become multi-millionaires (I said "some," not most). Heaven takes into account far more than a person's desire and effort to "make it" financially, even if they graduated with honors from the top college.

Therefore, point number one is: The fact that we have worked hard for our physical possessions does not mean we had them coming to us. Thus, our relationship to them is not absolute. As Iyov said, "G-d gives and G-d takes," and the Talmud remarked:

Rebi Meir said: A person should teach his son and clean and easy trade and pray for mercy to the One to Whom belongs wealth and possessions. For, poverty does not come from one's work, nor does wealth, but from the One to Whom wealth belongs, as it says, "The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine, testifies the L-rd of Hosts" (Chaggai 2:8). (Kiddushin 82b)
As one person (I think who survived the Holocaust) once said, "The Holocaust was the great equalizer, where the once Jewish rich and mighty were reduced to the poor and humble, just like the rest of their previously less fortunate brethren."

It sounds a little precarious, because we'd like to know that what we have worked for is securely our own. However, it is a small price to pay for the right to go to the World-to-Come, which leads us to Point #2...

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"Please! No!" said Ya'akov... "Please accept my welcoming gift as it has been brought to you. G-d has been kind to me, and I have all [I need]." (Bereishis 33:10-11)
Point #2 is: We are blessed with whatever physical possessions we have for a reason, and it is usually for a spiritual one at that. In other words, as the rabbis point out on many occasions, "G-d has many messengers" to execute His plan for creation throughout history (Rashi, Beshallach 16:32), and our physical and spiritual abilities allow us to be just that.

Western thinking has come to the conclusion that the main part of human existence is the here-and-now. I wouldn't say that people walk around each day saying, "Eat, drink, and be merry" -- at least not the more realistic ones -- but it IS an underlying principle of Western society. Such a philosophy is what transforms "means" into "ends" and makes materialistic success the goal of life since it often seems to be the most reliable path to merriment in this world.

It is not a new point of view, but one that is as old as man himself. It is the type of perspective that develops when one does not pursue a close relationship with G-d, for whatever reason. However, we don't have to go back to the very beginning of history to find its earliest roots. It is sufficient to examine the following dialogue in the Torah:

Ya'akov looked up and saw Eisav approach-ing with 400 men... [Ya'akov] then prostrated himself seven times as he approached his brother. Eisav ran to meet them. He hugged [Ya'akov], and throwing himself on his shoulders, kissed him. They wept...
"What did you have to do with the whole camp that came to greet me?" asked Eisav.
"It was to win favor in your eyes," replied [Ya'akov]. "I have plenty, my brother" said Eisav. "Let what is yours remain yours." "Please! No!" said Ya'akov,... "Please accept my welcoming gift as it has been brought to you. G-d has been kind to me, and I have all [I need]." [Ya'akov] urged him, and he [Eisav] took it. (Bereishis 33:1-11, excepted)
What was supposed to have been the fight of the century turned out to be an ideological battle. Imbedded in this short re-union of one of history's most famous twin brothers, Ya'akov and Eisav is their very different world perspectives, and the underlying message of the mitzvah about which we began speaking.

As Rashi explains, Eisav was bragging to Ya'akov. He wasn't just rejecting Ya'akov's gift, he was saying that he was so fantastically wealthy and powerful that it couldn't possibly make a difference to his life! However, since quantity was the issue for Eisav, as evident from his words, "I have plenty," in the end he did keep the gift and increased his wealth.

However, says Rashi, Ya'akov's answer indicated that quantity did not concern him. After all, what is "enough"? What happens if he needs more tomorrow and regrets having been so generous to his brother the day before?

Not possible, says Ya'akov. The point of materialistic possessions is to allow for expression of spiritual desire in the physical world. They are to allow a person to act on behalf of G-d to take care of himself and others. Materialism can only be a means to an end, and that end being the spiritual fulfillment and the fulfillment of the will of G-d and purpose for creation. As long as I am focussed on that, Ya'akov says, then G-d will always make sure that I have what I need to accomplish exactly that. That's a guarantee.

So now, when we come back to the mitzvah of helping a fellow whose financial "empire" is crumbling, though we may wonder what he did to deserve such a Heavenly decree, it is not really our concern (unless we have some true and objective criticism to offer regarding the matter). We can conjecture all we want, but the real truth will remain hidden from us until the end of days.

What does concern us is the Divine Providence that has brought us together so that we have become aware of his plight, and have the means to help him. When that is the case, then the test has begun. Our decision is going to do much more than simply alter the financial position of our downtrodden neighbor. It is going to reveal whether we share Ya'akov's position with respect to materialism, or Eisav's.

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Parshas Bechukosai

If you walk in My laws and keep My commandments, and do them, then I will give you the rain in its season... However, if you will not listen to Me and do all of these commandments; if you will deride My laws, and detest My judgments and not do all My command-ments, but void My covenant, then I will do the following to you. (Vayikra 26:3-4; 15-16)
We could talk about the curses as we do every year, and extract some lessons from them that apply to our present-day dilemma. This year, unfortunately, it would not be hard to do. However, in light of the situation, I think it is important to address one point that stands alone in any time period -- as Kabbalistic as it is -- whether the situation is good or bad for the Jews, G-d forbid. Then we'll see later how it ties back to this week's parshah.

The Arizal writes:

The K'lipos themselves are actually called the "level of death," whereas holiness is the "Living G-d" and "King of the world." Therefore, they (the K'lipos) chase after holiness which is called "life" in order to feed from them and survive. (Sha'ar HaGilgulim, Chapter 15).
The Hebrew word 'k'lipah' means 'peel,' like the one you would find around a fruit. In terms of its Kabbalistic meaning, I have seen it translated as 'encrustations.' However, it is easier to refer to it in terms of what it does and the role it plays in creation.

In general, the 'k'lipos' are a spiritual anti-spirituality creation. It is their role to provide the possibility for spiritual barriers between man and G-d, which, as the Arizal says, is the essence of death. They encase the heart of man to allow him to be able to deny G-d on whatever level he does.

However, they have no intrinsic existence of their own, which is why they will go the way of all evil, ceasing to exist during the Days of Moshiach. Nevertheless, in the meantime they DO exist and they blind man to higher spiritual realities while they themselves feed off holy things. Ironically, while people remain entrenched within them pursuing physical pleasures, oblivious to their own spiritual deaths as a result, the K'lipos seek out holiness as way to maintain their lives.

Thus, the Arizal says:

"As long as something from the side of holiness is among them, they are able to derive sustenance and can survive. The moment the source of holiness leaves them, they die. Therefore, they pursue holy sources and cause the holy soul of man to sin, since this brings the holy soul to enter their 'vicinity'."
In other words, when a person sins, it opens the spiritual door for impurity to envelope the person and his soul. When Jews engage in unholy activities, it is as if they have laid honey for bees, and the effect is to further physicalize the body and bury the soul, to the point that a person can become unaware of his or her own spirituality. Such a person may think he is truly living when in fact it is the ultimate in dying.

Eventually, if the process remains uninterrupted, it will begin to manifest itself in the physical reality. The person himself will begin to seem less and less spiritual until it will seem as if he lacks any source of spirituality. The relationship to G-d is now a distant reality, personal Divine Providence becomes less of a possibility, and the person becomes subject to the laws of nature, which have often been described in terms of "survival of the fittest."

Torah and mitzvos come to ply layer after layer ofk'lipos off the person, and at a more advanced stage, to envelope the person in a spiritual protective shield, which, as we spoke about last week regarding the Omer-Period, is particularly possible between Pesach and Shavuos.

This is the reality being alluded to by this week's (second)parshah. Any war the Jewish people are forced to fight ultimately is fought on this level. Having to actually confront an enemy and use a weapon against them is a very advanced stage of the battle, the REAL battle.

Later on, the Torah will give us a choice, and ask us to choose life and good. It is this that we are choosing, a life free of spiritual impurities and the good that results. This week's parshah is warning us of the consequences for choosing death and evil.

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Trust and Faith In G-d, Part 5

One of the classic questions that invariably arises when discussing trust and faith in G-d is, "But you see righteous people who suffer, and terribly for that matter! Surely they have mastered trust and faith in G-d much more than we have, so how can we expect miracles when miracles were not done for them?"

Anticipating this question, the Leshem writes:

"There is no need to wonder, regarding many righteous people from earlier times who underwent many troubles and evil things, why they simply didn't trust in G-d and merit being saved. The reason is because there is another trait with respect to them, because they are able to withstand suffering with love, as Rebi Akiva did who said, 'All of my life I was troubled ... wondering when I could fulfill it... (Brochos 61b)."
In other words, it is true, they could have employed the trait of trust in G-d and 'forced' G-d to save them. However, instead they welcome their suffering as an opportunity to prove the depth of the love for G-d, as Rebi Akiva did who died saying the 'Shema.'

"Furthermore, there are those who do not wish to trouble their Creator and instead use a different trait of 'Mesiros Nefesh' (self-sacrifice for G-d and Torah), handing themselves over to The Holy One, Blessed is He, to do with them as He sees fit rather than trouble G-d to do their will. It is as Rebi Yehuda ben Babba said, 'Behold I am before You like a rock who has no one to turn it over.' (Sanhedrin 14a)."

In other words, righteous people look at life differently than the average person does, and understands the will of G-d on a higher level. Indeed, their whole perspective of life is much different, relating mostly to spiritual goals rather than physical ones. Though they do not pursue pain they are not afraid of it, and they view all that comes their way as a test and as a process to further refine them spiritually.

Since they deal with G-d and Divine Providence differently, G-d and Divine Providence deal with them differently, the result being a phenomenally huge reward in the World-to-Come.

"There is another, more hidden matter. Sometimes, if G-d wishes to execute a specific decree, on the level of what is called 'kavshei d'Rachmanah' (a term employed to allude to a spiritually high and uninterpretable level of G-d's will) and His 'hidden thoughts'), then He might even suspend the free-will and put fear in his heart so that the (righteous) person cannot come to strengthen himself to trust."

Furthermore, when the righteous people persevere and accept their suffering by trusting in G-d's judgment, it not only cleanses the righteous person himself, but it also acts as a spiritual cleansing for the entire generation.

History is a 'give-and-take' between man and Divine Providence, and as a result of mankind's ineptitude at bringing creation to fulfillment, G-d may decree that certain events occur to rectify the situation, a situation we ourselves may be completely oblivious to notice at the time. This can, and has often resulted in the suffering of the righteous, and since it MUST occur, G-d even interferes with their free-will to allow their suffering to ward off even greater danger to the world.

This can't just happen to anyone, and though must of us are glad to hear that, it is really a merit for someone to be chosen by G-d to play that role. For, the implication is that G-d sees the spiritual greatness of the righteous person and has found him to be a fitting 'vessel' to fulfill His will. The righteous person, of course, is rewarded completely for whatever he undergoes.

So, in conclusion, the suffering of the righteous is not a reason to doubt the system of Trust in G-d, especially if you have yet to reach the level of righteousness. For the rest of, the principle still applies: One who trusts in G-d will be encompassed by kindness.

Pinchas Winston

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