Tuesday, May 28, 2024

We Can Help

The Gemara in Maseches Megillah (4b) discusses the possibility of observing Purim and reading the megillah on Shabbos. Rabbah and Rav Yosef agree that Megillas Esther cannot be read on Shabbos, but they dispute why.

Rav Yosef says that Purim does not fall out on Shabbos because “eineihem shel aniyim nesuos lemikra megillah.” The impoverished of Klal Yisroel look at the calendar during the cold months of winter, waiting eagerly for Purim. Purim and megillah offer a promise of hope for the poor among us. Were Purim to fall out on a Shabbos, the poor would lose the opportunity to raise much-needed sums for their families. Thus, Chazal arranged for Purim and megillah reading to always take place on a weekday.

The poor are hungry and have just endured the bitter cold of the winter season. They anticipate the day when Jews open their hearts and wallets more than on any other day of the year. On Purim, the spirit of generosity reigns supreme. The poor rejoice.

The month of Adar reminds us of the obligation to be charitable, as the Torah teaches us not just to give, but also how to give.

Parshas Shekolim ushered in the season last week, with its message of he’oshir lo yarbeh vehadal lo yamit. The wealthy who contribute large donations are able to enjoy tangible benefits of their munificence, seeing buildings rise, families changed and the world improved. They derive no pleasure from donating the tiny sum of a half-shekel, an unbefitting contribution for an oshir.

Conversely, the dal, the pauper, has difficulty parting even with the minute sum of a machatzis hashekel. Yet, when it comes to the Mishkon, the poor are expected to contribute, regardless of the difficulty in doing so.

The mitzvah of machatzis hashekel appears to satisfy no one. For the rich, it is a pittance; it doesn’t arouse any feelings of satisfaction normally associated with giving. For the poor, it is an imposition on those already stretched to the limit.

Yet, this mitzvah symbolizes the essence of communal giving, because tzedakah isn’t about the giver. Tzedakah is about the recipient. What the Torah seeks to accomplish with the donation is that the giver negates any self-interest or benefit associated with giving. The ultimate motivation in philanthropy must be to bring joy to the needy recipient of the donation. The benefit of the cause is what should motivate us, not the joy of giving or the pride associated with the granting of large gifts.

A story concerning the founding of the yeshiva in Volozhin is transmitted from generation to generation. Rav Chaim Volozhiner conceived of the concept of establishing a formal bais medrash where bochurim from different cities would join in common purpose and learn from seasoned talmidei chachomim. Until his day, there was no such a place. With foresight, Rav Chaim recognized that a yeshiva was necessary to preserve Torah for future generations. With great excitement, he traveled to his rebbi, the Vilna Gaon, to request his blessing for the new undertaking.

Rav Chaim shared his plans and vision for the yeshiva. Treasuring every moment and blessed with a brilliant mind, the Gaon generally responded to issues placed before him with lightning speed, often before a question was completed. This time, however, he didn’t respond.

Rav Chaim understood that his rebbi’s silence was not a sign of acquiescence and accepted his rejection of the transformative idea.

Time passed – some say as long as three years – and Rav Chaim returned to broach the subject with his rebbi a second time. The Gaon agreed to the plan and gave it his approbation. Rav Chaim was perplexed and asked him why the idea was favored now when it wasn’t the first time he brought it up. What had changed?

“When you first approached me,” the Vilna Gaon explained, “you were so captivated by the idea and so taken by the concept that I worried that perhaps a tiny strain of machshovah zorah (self-interest) had entered your mind. As great as any idea is, if the motivation is impure, it will not succeed.

“When it comes to building a place for Torah, if the aspect of lishmah is lacking, the endeavor will fail. Torah can only be built with complete purity. Total truth comes from total truth. A yeshiva cannot be established based on anything other than pure truth. When you initially came, you were so excited about the idea that I feared that perhaps there was a latent negiah in your heart and you were not acting wholly lesheim Shomayim. Therefore, I could not approve your proposal.

“But this time, you presented your idea calmly, as though you are a bystander, and I ascertained that your motivation is fully lesheim Shomayim. Now, not only is your idea proper, but your  motive is as well. You will succeed.”

Hashem told Moshe, “Veyikchu li terumah – And they should take for Me a donation.” Rashi explains that the word li refers to lishmi. The donations should be lesheim Shomayim and not for any personal reason. The essence of tzedakah is when it is given lishmah, much like limud haTorah, of which the prime mitzvah is when the person performing it receives no benefit.

Last week we lained Parshas Shekolim and this week we read Parshas Terumah, for they are both prerequisites for Purim, the day identified with the mitzvah of kol haposeiach yad nosnim lo, when we negate our personal feelings to gladden the hearts of the unfortunate.

In the parshiyos we lain during chodesh Adar, we transition from the creation and salvation of Am Yisroel and the development and evolution of the nation to the practical details of erecting a Mishkon and bringing korbanos.

In Hashem’s instructions to Moshe Rabbeinu regarding how and from whom to solicit material necessary for the construction of the home of the Shechinah in this world, He directs him to look for a character trait: “Veyikchu li terumah mei’eis kol ish asher yidvenu libo tikchu es terumosi.”

Moshe Rabbeinu was commanded to accept contributions only from people who possessed “nedivus halev.”

The Vilna Gaon explains that although the Shechinah rests in the heart of every Jew, there is a need for a place where all hearts can join together. The Mishkon would be that place and the nedivus lev would be the prerequisite to take part. What is it about this attribute that made it so vital?

In Parshas Shemos (4:13-14), when Hashem asked Moshe to be His representative and return to Mitzrayim to redeem the Jewish people, Moshe demurred and suggested his brother, Aharon, for the position. The posuk states that Hashem was upset with Moshe and told him that his brother Aharon would happily welcome his return to Miztrayim, joyful that Moshe was selected for the exalted position.

The posuk states, “Vero’acha vesomach belibo – And when he sees you, he will rejoice in his heart.”Rashi states that in reward for his heartfelt joy over the promotion of his younger brother, Aharon merited donning the Choshen – which was worn over the heart – and serving as the kohein gadol in the Mishkon.

The fact that he experienced selfless joy over his brother’s promotion was what proved his worthiness to serve in the inner sanctum, lifnai velifnim. Aharon Hakohein, the same person who was happy for his brother Moshe, was the one who was the quintessential “oheiv shalom verodeif shalom.”

Because he was blessed with a good heart that could rejoice for his brother, he was able to bring peace between his fellow Jews. He was able to relate to other people and their problems, drawing people together, and minimizing the rifts between them. He was able to accomplish this because it wasn’t about him. It was about them.

Baalei mussar say that to feel the pain of another is to be a mentch, but to share in the joy of a friend’s success requires one to be a malach, an angel.

Aharon, possessing the middah of “vero’acha vesomach belibo,” was angelic, unencumbered by the jealousy that hamstrings lower people.

Nedivei lev, characterized by selflessness, are able to appreciate, rejoice with and work towards the good fortune of others, as they possess a divine middah. The converse is true as well: Where there is envy, jealousy and divisiveness, there cannot be Elokus.

The Mishkon, that ultimate place of hashro’as haShechinah, had to be created through nedivus lev, because the middah is found amongst those who are connected at their roots to Hashem. The nediv lev is able to be generous with what he has and feel other people’s joy, because his life is guided by the belief that no one gets what is not meant for him and that Hashem has a distinct plan for each individual.

It starts by understanding that we are all brothers and sisters, serving one Father, and that each person has his singular role and situation. The heart of the nediv lev is pure and holy, his life a chain of goodness, happiness and greatness. Nedivei lev exist to help and support others. People such as they are integral to the mission of the Mishkon Hashem.

They are a source of inspiration to others, and their life is a string of positive reinforcement directed at their fellow man. They can share and give, because they know that they lose nothing by doing so.

There is no better time than now to start educating ourselves to be forces for good.

Adar is the month of happiness. Mishenichnas Adar marbim besimchah.

This obligation of increasing joy as the month begins is present only in Adar. Even the month of Nissan, when we celebrate our greatest Yom Tov, there is no mitzvah to be marbeh besimchah.

Pesach freed us from slavery and domination by Paroh. Following the neis of Purim, we were still “avdi d’Achashveirosh” in exile. The happiness of the month of Adar requires an explanation.

Chazal derive that on Purim we accepted anew, and willingly, Torah Shebaal Peh. Though delivered to Moshe Rabbeinu at Har Sinai, it came to us through much toil and is mastered to this day only through arduous ameilus.

On Purim, the day that commemorates a miraculous salvation brought about through working hard to do teshuva, we merited accepting the Torah anew and gladly received the word of Hashem that is arrived at through drashos and ameilus.

We labor with our minds and hearts to acquire Torah and thus merit serving as vessels for the Shechinah. Only those who are ameilim in Torah can achieve perfect traits and reach the level of nedivus lev. The devotion to Torah and mussar coupled with the abandonment of selfish thoughts enable man to rise to the level of being able to construct a home for the Shechinah in this world.

People who are selfish are unable to overcome their jealousy and distrust of others. They can’t participate in an endeavor that benefits all equally. Donations that are forced cannot construct a collective home for the Shechinah. The Mishkon can only be erected through unity and shared purpose. The neis of Purim was achieved through perfect achdus.

When the Jews engaged in discord, the Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed, and because we continue to squabble and succumb to sinas chinom, it has not yet been rebuilt.

There is so much good in our world, yet, at the same time, there is way too much animosity. There are too many arguments and too many people working against each other. There is an absence of nedivus lev. We must work to overcome the divisions that exist, break down the walls that are being erected, and work together to bring about harmony and nedivus lev, without enmity, without agendas, and without acrimony.

We are on the cusp of elections in Eretz Yisroel. We all saw the churban that the last election caused. There is a chance now to turn around that awful result. But if we are fragmented, we cannot overcome those who seek our demise. If we can’t come together responsibly and agree on the basics, then we are doomed to experience disaster again.

In this country, as well, we must ensure that peace reigns and that we do what we can to create conditions in which nedivei lev can grow.

Now we have a chance to show what we are made of and to display the nedivus lev that defined our ancestors. The Yomim Tovim of Purim and Pesach are times associated with helping the less fortunate. Across our communities and kehillos, there are families struggling to maintain and uphold their dignity. They are our neighbors and friends. They sit next to us in shul and stand next to us in line at the grocery store. We fail to see the load they are carrying and the burden that is breaking them.

Some are single parents who struggle alone, day by day, month by month, emotionally and financially. When Yom Tov comes, the pain is doubled, as they await a yeshuah that will save them from this enormous responsibility and embarrassment.

Others may be people you’ve helped in the past, perhaps following a tragedy or a mishap, and while they appear to be managing, often times they are not. Their pain is raw and real, and with a little bit of financial help, some of their many worries can be alleviated.

They are trying their hardest, but they are cracking under the strain. This time of year, their eyes are raised to us. And so we turn to you, a nation of nedivei lev with a rich history of nedivus lev.

Open your hearts to feel the pain of these families and donate generously. Let us all help these needy families and try to ease their pain at a time that should be filled with happiness. Help them experience simchas Yom Tov, joy and serenity.

No one asked to become an almanah or a yasom, or for their marriage to fall apart, or to lose their job or suffer a financial downturn. It is their lot and it is our responsibility to be there for them.

Join me and my dear friend, the noted and respected Lakewood rov, Rav Simcha Bunim Cohen, in supporting our fund that seeks to preserve the self-respect of these suffering families and distributes the money directly to them.

While there are so many worthy causes that you contribute to, we ask you to help this one as well to bring the light of Yom Tov and Yiddishkeit into needy homes. Help us help these good people hold their heads up high. Help us help them bring smiles to their and their children’s faces. Help us show them that they are not alone and that Klal Yisroel is a nation of rachmonim and nedivei lev.

After all, Rachmona liba bo’i. We must show that we care.

Part of our own mandate in a season of simcha – the joy of Purim, the simchas Yom Tov of Pesach – is to see to it that our simcha is complete by creating simcha in others. As Jews would bring their maaser sheini to Yerushalayim, they would recite viduy. As the posuk states, they would say, “Asisi kechol asher tzivisoni – I have done as You commanded.”

Rashi explains that this refers to the obligation to be happy and to cause others to experience joy: “somachti vesimachti.”

In the middle of Yerushalayim, there is a hidden neighborhood called Botei Broide, a bastion of tzaddikim and tzidkaniyos, pure Yerushalmi souls. One of the most beloved of those saints was Rav Yitzchok Nosson Kuperstock, a mechaber seforim and rosh yeshiva in Tchebin. The holy Yid and his rebbetzin were a magnet for visitors, who came for chizuk, a brochah or advice.

The Brisker Rov advised people to seek out Rav Yitzchok Nosson for his brachos when he was still a young man in his thirties. Ever since then, he has been revered in Brisker circles.

An American bochur learning in Brisk heard about this and thought that it would be an experience to eat a Shabbos meal at the Kuperstock home. He found their number and called to see if he could eat there on Shabbos morning. The rebbetzin told him that he is welcome to come, adding that they eat their meal when the rov comes home following davening in Botei Broide. When the boy inquired what time they usually finished, the rebbetzin informed him that Rav Kuperstock davened vosikin.

The bochur expressed his appreciation, but explained that he couldn’t be there that early. He thanked her for the offer.

When the rov came home and heard about the phone call, he was upset. “A bochur is hungry, a bochur wants a meal, a bochur might not have where to eat,” he remarked again and again, unable to leave the matter alone.

He approached a neighbor who had contact with American bochurim and asked him to identify the bochur from Brisk who had called seeking a Shabbos meal. The neighbor saw how upset the tzaddik was and tracked down the bochur who had placed the call.

When the boy called back, Rav Kuperstock insisted that he join them for the meal and of course he did. To the tzaddik, it was unthinkable that he could enjoy his Shabbos meal when there was a bochur who appealed to him for a meal and he wasn’t sure if he would be fed.

We are entering a season when, with Hashem’s help, we will be spending money on mishloach manos, costumes for the children, and wine and delicacies for the seudah. Pesach will bring bills for new clothing, matzos and meat. How can we enjoy our Yom Tov if we forget about helping others?

To paraphrase the tzaddik of Botei Broide, “A bochur is hungry, a bochur wants a meal, a bochur might not have where to go.”

We can help. We can make sure that there will be a little less hunger and a little more happiness in the world. We can take our simcha to the next level by increasing simcha around us.

Contributions to the Family Support Fund can be made out to Congregation Ateres Yeshaya and mailed to Rabbi Simcha Bunim Cohen, 37 Fifth Street, Lakewood, NJ, 08701, or Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz, 53 Olympia Lane, Monsey, NY, 10952.

Eineihem nesuos. Let us not disappoint them. Our eyes are also nesuos as Dovid Hamelech pleads in Tehillim, “Essa einai el hehorim mei’ayin yavo ezri.” In the zechus of what we do for others may that for which we await be delivered to us.



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