Thursday, Jul 25, 2024

My Brother's Keeper

At family bar mitzvahs, my esteemed father-in-law, Rav Moshe Eisemann, often talks about the mishpacha's ancestry. He feels it is important for the bar mitzvah bochur to know about the previous generations, so that he can strive to live up to their way of life. Some of these were rabbonim and talmidei chachomim who made impacts on their communities. Others were plain, simple, G-d-fearing Jews who served their Creator with unquestioning faith and integrity. One of these anecdotes is about his maternal grandfather, Mr. Goldschmidt. One might say that his profession was very elevating. He supported his family by entertaining people by doing a high wire act, balancing himself while walking a tightrope. His son, Moshe Goldschmidt, went into the antique business and struck it rich.

When the father was on in years, a widower living all alone, Moshe, who lived in a different city, beckoned his father to come live with his family. There, he could enjoy living in the company of his progeny in an affluent environment where all of his needs would be taken care of. “The crown of elders is grandchildren and the glory of children is their parents”(Mishlei 17:6). What a gratifying move it was for the father to live out his later years in such a happy milieu.
But just about two weeks after he settled into his new home, a letter arrived from an old friend, a neighbor of his in his hometown. It read:


Dear Mr. Goldschmidt,


I hope that all is well with you and your family. I am sorry to say that all is not well with me. Since you left, my life has changed drastically for the worse. Until now, as I am blind, you were my eyes…you were my light. You would take me shopping and for pleasant walks and you would converse with me. Now that you have left, I am closed up in my house, alone in the darkness, with no one to talk to…


Without any hesitation, Mr. Goldschmidt packed his bags and thanked his son and daughter-in-law for their kind hospitality. He could not enjoy the wonderful nachas of his grandchildren at the expense of his neighbor. He returned to his hometown for the sole purpose of helping his friend. It was only after the blind man passed away that he returned to live with his family.


This wasn’t a rov, a rosh yeshiva or even a talmid chochom. He was a plain, simple Yid with a pure heart who felt a responsibility for his fellow man and was willing to sacrifice his own comfort and security for others.


– – – – –


Chazal tell us that the Bais Hamikdosh was built on a portion of land, part of which belonged to shevet Yehudah and part of which belonged to shevet Binyomin. “What was in the territorial portion of Yehudah? The Har Habayis, the lishkos (various chambers) and the Azarah (Courtyard). And what was in the territorial portion of Binyomin? The Ulam (Antechamber), the Heichal (Sanctuary), and the Kodesh Hakodoshim. A strip of land protruded from the portion of Yehudah and entered the portion of Binyomin and on it the Mizbei’ach was built” (Megillah 26a).


Nothing in the Torah is a coincidence. Why did Hashgachah decree that the makom haMikdosh would be in the territory of two shevatim and not solely in the area of only one of them? And wouldn’t it be more appropriate for the dwelling place of the King of kings to be in the land of Yehudah, the shevet of malchus? And what is the significance of the Mizbei’ach being erected on a parcel of land seemingly within the boundary of Binyomin but usurped by a strip of land of Yehudah’s that protruded into his space?


We must also mention that not everyone agrees that Yerushalayim belonged to these shevatim. Rather, it was designated for the Shechinah. But this was only after it was determined that it was meant to be the place of the Bais Hamikdosh. When Yehoshua originally divided the land upon first entering Eretz Yisroel, this was the area apportioned to Yehudah and Binyomin. If so, our questions still remain. Why was the makom haMikdosh destined to be on land divided by two shevatim?


– – – – –


What an enormous sacrifice Yehudah made. He was willing to become a servant of Yosef instead of his brother Binyomin. This was no simple matter. It meant that his life would be drastically changed forever. It involved leaving Eretz Yisroel, the Holy Land, and parting with his beloved family, the environment of Yaakov Avinu, which was tantamount to leaving a Bais Hamikdosh.


And for what? For a corrupt land full of idolatry and immorality. Being a slave under a master who wielded such power had tremendous risks. One wrong move and he could be imprisoned or even put to death. Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl discusses if this move was permitted from a halachic standpoint, since one doesn’t sacrifice his own life to save another. After offering a few solutions, he explains it from a mussar perspective.


Actually, the Torah itself answers this question: “Ki avdicha orav es hana’arFor your servant has taken responsibility for the youth” (Bereishis 44:32). And what a responsibility it was. Perhaps nowhere in history was the commitment for another so great, for Yehudah guaranteed Yaakov Avinu that if he would not bring Binyomin back safely, then “I will have sinned before you for all time” (Bereishis 43:9), both in this world and in the next. He would even forfeit his portion in Olam Haba.


The word areiv, guarantor, explains Rav Nebenzahl, stems from the word eiruv, a mixture, two entities combined. From the moment Yehudah accepted responsibility for his younger brother, he and Binyomin became one. If Yehudah and Binyomin are one and the same, then what difference is there if one is the servant or the other is the servant? The halacha of not giving up one’s life to save another applies to two separate people. Here, however, they were bound together like one.


In halacha, we find the concept of arvus.Kol Yisroel areivim zeh lozeh” (Shavuos 39a). Each member of Klal Yisroel entered a covenant to be responsible for each and every member of our nation (Sotah 37b). Consequently, if one already fulfilled a mitzvah by reciting a bracha, he may still be motzi another Yid with this bracha.


How can this be, when we know that only one who is obligated to do the mitzvah can be motzi another, and here the motzi is no longer required to perform the mitzvah? It is only because of the concept of arvus. For as long as other Yidden have not performed this mitzvah, I have not fulfilled my own personal obligation. The covenant of arvus binds us all together as one.


The bond between Yehudah and Binyomin to the extent that Yehudah was willing to sacrifice his life and his Olam Haba for his brother is the ultimate in caring for another Yid. When Yidden live in achdus, it gives Hakadosh Boruch Hu tremendous pleasure. It is why Yehudah’s and Binyomin’s portion of Eretz Yisroel was specifically chosen for the place of the Bais Hamikdosh. For a prerequisite of the holy Shechinah dwelling amongst us is that we live together as one.


It is also why the Mizbai’ach was built precisely where it was. That strip of land that extends from Yehudah’s property into Binyomin’s represents the outstretched hand of Yehudah to hold on to Binyomin and protect him. This was the quintessential sacrifice, subjugating his own needs for the sake of his brother. No wonder, then, that the Mizbei’ach, the place upon which our korbanos were brought, was located particularly on this spot.


This also explains why after the tragic division of our nation into two parts, the ten shevatim and the two shevatim, Yehudah and Binyomin were always together. One would have thought that Binyomin would be together with shevet Ephraim and shevet Menashe, descendants of Yosef and both sons of Rochel. But the bond forged between Yehudah and Binyomin kept them together throughout the generations (Niflaos Mitoras Hashem).


Arvus means a lot more than just doing chessed for others. It means realizing that every Yid is bound together as one. It means someone else’s need is my need. Another’s pain is my pain. When one is in pain, he doesn’t sit back and remain silent. He immediately seeks out a doctor and the required medicines for a cure. And when one feels pain in his arm, he doesn’t comfort himself by saying, “Well, the rest of my body is just fine.” He will go to all lengths to find the remedy.


Merubim tzorchei amcha. The needs of Klal Yisroel are so great. The letters for tzedakah and advertisements beseeching us for financial help are so in abundance that we get overwhelmed and perhaps our sensitivity for others becomes dulled. But if we realize that we are all one, then my friend’s pain is really my own.


Every person, in his own way, can alleviate someone else’s distress. There are those who can help monetarily, while others can help by giving of their time for important causes, like bikkur cholim, helping make shidduchim, helping collect for aniyim, etc. But even those who are so busy raising families that they cannot spare a moment or are so strapped financially that they haven’t the means to give away can still engage in tefillah.


Yes, davening to Hashem for my brother and sister. The old saying in Yiddish, “Az es tut vei, shreit men – When one is in pain, one screams,” is very applicable here. The difference is that the screaming from pain cannot help the malady. But crying out to Hashem, beseeching Him for the yeshuah of a friend, is an old, time-tested remedy. We can accomplish so much in this respect if only we realize that my brothers and sisters and I are one.



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