Parshat Eikev - knowing what is important
Reb Shlomo on Parshas Eikev
When Something is Missing
I want to share something very deep with you. The most important things in Avodas Hashem, in serving G-d, are always the things you don't have to do; you can get by without them. The truth is some of the most important things in life are the things which we don't really have to do. The most important things between my wife, my children and me are always the things I don't have to do. If I don't - it's also okay, but gevalt are they important. Gevalt are they important.
I want you to know, when Moshe Rabbeinu says 'Ribbono Shel Olam, I have to go into Eretz Yisrael,' Moshe Rabbeinu brought down a new teaching from Heaven. Moshe Rabbeinu is showing Yidden that it's not only about what you have to do; it's what my neshama mamesh wants... deep, deep inside. And deep, deep inside, every Yid knows 'I have to go into Eretz Yisrael.'
Rashi says that Eikev is talking about "Mitzvos Kalos She'adam Dash Be'akeivav." You know what that means? We are talking about mitzvahs you step on, mitzvahs which I don't have to do. Let me ask you something. I see a poor man and I give him ten dollars, do I have to smile at him? I don't have to. Let me ask you something else. When I say 'Good Shabbos' to a Yid, where does it say that I have to say it besimcha? It doesn't say it anywhere.
You know something, the truth is that mide'oraysa, from the Torah, you don't have to wear a yarmulke. That means that a person can say 'I'm very strict on everything the Torah says, and I don't have to wear a yarmulke. Yes it's a minhag, it's a custom. I'm not into customs. I have enough from what the Torah says'. You know what? Maybe I'll go to Heaven, maybe I will sit next to Avraham Avinu without a yarmulke, but gevalt something is missing... something so deep is mamesh missing.
This week's parsha Eikev is very challenging. Verse after verse we are challenged to learn and to know what being a Jew is all about. In the northern hemisphere this is the time of year that many of us go on 'vacation' to rejuvenate and to strengthen our bodies and spirits. The real summer challenge is to 'reJewvenate' our lives.
Life is challenging. Life as Jews is particularly challenging. No, I'm not about to talk politics. From a few years ago ..We are at war in Gaza. This summer we see our 'allies' telling us to be quiet and not criticize a very bad deal with Iran that will endanger not only Israel, but also the entire world. We are being threatened not only by avowed enemies, but also by our 'friends' threatening us that we will find ourselves alone. So what else is new? Just a few weeks ago we already read in the Torah Balaam's prophecy about us "Behold! a people that shall dwell alone and will not be reckoned among the nations." [Bamidbar 23:9] The truth is that Hashem is also alone.
The real truth is that we are not alone and Hashem is not alone. We are with Him and He is with us- always!
We have to make sure that we don't leave Hashem alone and Hashem surely will not leave us alone. Whenever we put our trust in man we end up in trouble. Our job is to be one with each other and one with Hashem, one with the Torah and the mitzvot. That is the only thing we can really do that will make a difference. Let's stop pretending that we are like everyone else. Isn't it clear that the world will never accept that? And they shouldn't! Because what they all really want from us is to see us as a united people, living in harmony with one another and with Hashem. And then we will be able to unite the whole world. Let us all read and learn this parsha carefully.
Let our hearts be open to the challenges of being real Jews; and let us rise to them and reJewvenate with much joy.
[based on בעל שם טוב עה"ת ואתחנן אות נ"ב]
What can be learned from all those movies I watched, that I shouldn’t have? What can be learned from all those places I shouldn’t have gone to? What was I looking for? What did I find there? What positive and redeemable things could be found now, years later, when it all still lingers within the recesses of my memory?
We pursue pleasure. Like with everything else, there are higher and lower pleasures, refined and coarse, healthy and toxic, unifying and divisive. Even the holy Torah can be the ‘elixir of life’ or the elixir of the opposite. We have to really analyze our intentions and motivations in seeking pleasure.
Pleasure is found in פנימיות – pnimiut; in the innermost life essence connection. The highest of pleasures is called עונג – oneg, delight. In holiness, oneg is the delight that is felt without being aware of yourself; oneg is found in having a real, sincere honest and complete relationship with Hashem, with Torah, and with one another.
Our parsha is called ‘Eikev’ which means, because. This word ‘eikev’ also means, a heel. “It will be that you will hear with your heel,” – the heel is the densest and least sensitive part of the body. By using the word ‘eikev’ [instead of כי – ‘kee’ -that, or אם – ‘eem’ -if] the Torah is suggesting that we can listen so deeply, that even our heels hear and respond.
There is a short anecdote in Tractate Gittin, 56b, that illustrates how even our bones react to our feelings. This occurred when Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai met with Vespesian:
A messenger came to Vespasian from Rome saying, Up, for the Emperor is dead, and the notables of Rome have decided to make you [Vespasian] head [of the State]. He [Vespasian] had just finished putting on one boot. When he tried to put on the other he could not. He tried to take off the first but it would not come off.
He said To R. Johanan: What is the meaning of this?
R. Johanan said to him: Do not worry: the good news has done it, as it says, Good tidings make the bone fat.
[He asked R. Johanan:] What is the remedy?
[R. Johanan said to him:] Let someone whom you dislike come and pass before you, as it is written, A broken spirit drieth up the bones.
He did so, and the boot went on.
When you experience oneg – the highest of all physical and psychological pleasures, you are also honestly humbled and you realize that the pleasure is simply the reality of being in true union; it is the union that is the real goal. At the highest level of true union we experience oneg - delight, because that is what emanates in true union.
But if one has swallowed the toxins of forbidden pleasures, sensitivity to true union is lost. You can get addicted to pleasure itself and you may end up seeking it even at the expense of others. You might even knowingly take pleasure in hurting another, even one who loves you. May Hashem have compassion on us.
So what is one to do after having been intoxicated on forbidden pleasures? How do we get rid of the poisons? How do you stop being a victim of your past? Both the victimhood that was inflicted upon you as well as the self-inflicted victimhood?
It is important to look at why we seek pleasure. Actually, it is completely natural to seek pleasure, we don’t need to explain why. But the deeper truth is that we are really looking for the source of pleasure.
We are looking for the pnimiut – we want to be connected in the deepest way, we seek the oneg of true union, and when we don’t find it in a healthy way, we look for pleasure in the forbidden fruit. If you were being taught Torah, and there was no oneg and instead you were being abused, you ended up running away and you lost faith in getting it from what you were told is holy because what was being delivered was coming in very unholy packaging. And so you went looking for pleasure wherever you could find it and you found it in the forbidden fruits- but it also was mixed with a lot of bad stuff that really messed up your capability to be in holy union.
So, don’t regret that you were looking for pleasure. But know that the highest pleasure is the pleasure of giving with love, giving yourself with love to Hashem, to Torah and mitzvot, to your brothers and sisters. That is your highest honor.
Now you also need to clean up the mess, put things in place, eliminate the toxins. Do this by regretting that you are intoxicated and deciding on seeking only holy and permissible pleasure. To do this, you need to coronate Hashem as your King, your only King over all your limbs, your heart and mind, even over your dense heels. At each step along the way remember why you are doing this- because you want to be real and true to your essence soul. You want to be a true, free servant of Hashem. You want to bring His goodness into your life, into the world.
Ask Hashem to forgive you and to help you and believe that He does forgive. Work on falling in love with Hashem. Do your mitzvot with joy; with the joy of making Hashem proud of you and happy to see you moving towards being your real self. With the joy of being in union with Hakadosh baruch Hu- the Holy One blessed is He.
Pnimiut and Oneg
In our holy tongue, we have two words for pleasure: hana’a and oneg. We might say that hana’a -simple pleasure is stimulated through ‘garments’ so as to arouse us to move towards union beyond garments- union in which you can’t even speak, because there are no words in human tongue to describe it.
In learning Torah, in learning halacha- Torah laws, we are engaged in bringing Hashem’s presence into the ‘worldly’ domain. The holy Zohar (Zohar Chadash on Shir HaShirim) enlightens us that the word ‘halacha’ is the same letters as hakala (the bride). The bride is to be beautifully adorned. We learn the letters and words of the halacha and we adorn them and make them beautiful through deep study and understanding. These are the beautiful and colorful robes of the bride. That is the ‘hanaha’ – pleasure of learning. However, the ultimate oneg is the union of Chatan v’kala - the bride and groom. The union without the robes, beyond robes, beyond all robes, beyond words, beyond letters - there is Oneg.
I heard from the Skverer chassidim, who regularly study the holy Me’or Eynaim, that the holy Tchernobler Rebbe said many divrei Torah every Shabbos. After every Shabbos, his Chassidim would write down everything they heard him say over Shabbos and would then give him their notes. The Tchernobler would allow them to publish only the Torahs he did not recollect giving over. If he consciously remembered the words, he didn’t trust them completely for maybe they were ‘his’ words and not Hashem’s.
It may be understood that the divrei Torah which he did not remember saying, were the words that came from beyond the garments of the intellect. These holy words emanated purely from the Oneg of the union with Hashem. These words he trusted as being true Torah.
The Kalla is beautifully adorned in colorful robes (or maybe in white robes) to arouse the union beyond robes. To bond pnimim b’pinimin (innermost with innermost), essence with essence. Where there is no separation whatsoever. There you find true Oneg (pleasure).
There, is the secret of kissing and the secret of love. The secret of four kisses corresponding to YKVK, corresponding to AHaVA. Giving breath to one another and receiving breath from one another; birth breaths of life and love. Being one within One.
Have a wonderful Shabbos b’ahavah ubivracha.
The Mitzvah Of Birkat Hamazon
In this week's parsha we learn the mitzvah of Birkat Hamazon – Grace After The Meal: "[And When] You Will Eat And You Will Be Satiated And You Shall Bless Hashem Your Gd For The Good Land He Has Given You." (Devarim 8:10)
There is a most amazing story related in the Talmud [Brachot 7a]:
It was taught: R. Ishmael b. Elisha says: I once entered into the innermost part [of the Sanctuary] to offer incense and saw Akathriel Jah, (Lit., 'crown of God'.) the Lord of Hosts, seated upon a high and exalted throne. He said to me: Ishmael, My son, bless Me! I replied: May it be Thy will that Thy mercy may suppress Thy anger and Thy mercy may prevail over Thy other attributes, so that Thou mayest deal with Thy children according to the attribute of mercy and mayest, on their behalf, stop short of the limit of strict justice! And He nodded to me with His head. Here we learn [incidentally] that the blessing of an ordinary man must not be considered lightly in your eyes.
G-d is asking man to bless Him! Seems absurd, doesn't it? The Ishbitzer Rebbe explains that this is exactly the relationship that Hashem has established with us. Hashem has given us a role in manifesting His presence and blessings in the world. Hashem is waiting to hear our blessings. Like an infant stimulates the mother to nurse him/her, our blessings stimulate Hashem to manifest His blessings and kindness upon us.
The Holy Zohar brings us a beautiful teaching about praying for and thanking Hashem for, food and water. [I should tell you that this is my understanding of the teaching found in the Zohar parshas T'rumah 170a. – I hope that it is correct.]
From our physical perspective we would say that the order of events is as follows: first we feel hungry and thirsty – then to satisfy these bodily needs we are propelled to seek food and water, both in prayer and in action. Once satisfied, we bless and thank Hashem for the food and water that we received.
The Zohar Hakadosh teaches that the order of events is otherwise. It is the desire and yearning of the Shechinah to praise Hashem. The Shechinah wants us to be close to Hashem – it desires that every one of us should seek Hashem. Therefore we experience physical hunger and thirst, so that we should be inspired to feel a spiritual hunger and thirst to be close to Hashem, which is satiated by our thanking and praising Hashem for the food that He gives us.
It is interesting that we hunger for food and we thirst for water. But we don't 'gasp' for air unless we don't have it. In other words Hashem designed the world in such a manner that we should regularly 'feel' thirst and hunger, but we seldom experience feeling a lack of air – for it is given to us consistently. We have a mitzvah to make blessings over food and drink, whereas we do not a specific mitzvah to thank Hashem for the air we breathe. Nevertheless the Talmud does teach us to praise Hashem over every breath of air. It says in Psalm 150, "Kol haneshamah tehallel Y-H, Hallelu-Y-H." – Every soul shall praise Y-H. 'Neshamah' – soul, is related to the word 'nesheemah' – breath, thus the Talmud teaches: Praise Hashem for each breath.
I also heard another teaching from the Zohar Hakadosh, that it is great gift from Hashem that we have been given the mitzvah to bless Hashem. Blessing Hashem implies that in some way we are contributing to Hashem, bringing about - 'so to speak' - some benefit and increase to Hashem.
The Alter Rebbe zt”l taught that our praises and blessings provide Hashem with His ‘parnassah’- His livelihood, [so to speak]. This he derived from the verse; “V’attah kadosh yoshev tehillot Yisrael- You, Holy One, sit upon the praises of Yisrael.”
Hashem desires our blessings and praises and they cause Him to bestow more and more upon us – Hashem wants to do good for us always. Through the mitzvah of making a blessing, and in particular when making the blessing with love, we bring about the manifestation of Hashem’s Infinite Light in this world.
Making blessings and saying praises is a great gift to us. Why so? Rabbi Weinberg n"y explained that in order to fully love someone we need to be able to contribute to them. If we can only receive but not give in a relationship, we cannot love the other fully. Hashem has given us a mitzvah to love Him. By giving us the mitzvah to bless him and praise him over the nourishment that we receive from Him, Hashem has given us the opportunity to ‘contribute’ in our relationship and thereby gives us the ability to love Him fully.
The Zohar explains that Hashem created this world because ‘He desired to have a dwelling place in the lowest of all worlds’. He placed us in this ‘distant’ and fragmented world of concealment to fulfill His Will.
Hashem yearns that we should unify all the fragments and thereby bring all of creation ‘close’ to Him, such that the entire creation will radiate the glory of Hashem.
Everything has an inner Divine illumination, which is its essence point, its source of life energy and existence. The Children of Yisrael need to be acutely aware of and consciously bond themselves with the Divine illumination in everything they do and are involved with. Thereby they can draw forth the hidden Divine light and hear the life creating words of Hashem from within everything in all situations. By doing what Hashem want us to do, just because it is His Will, by consciously connecting with the Divine in our daily routines and chores, everything becomes glorious; everything proclaims the voice of Hashem. [Based on Sfas Emes עקב תרל"א]
…. Do this and you will never feel alone.
Every one of us has a part in bringing the Shechinah closer, in bringing Mashiach closer. There is much to do and there is much to learn. With devotion, joy and humility we will be blessed with Hashem's help and we will succeed. Amen.
"Vehayah EIKEV tishme'un et hamishpatim ha'eileh, u’shmartem va'assitem otam - and it shall be because you will 'hear' [hearken to] these laws and you will guard them and do them and Hashem will keep unto you the covenant and the Chessed [loving kindness] which He swore to your fathers:.
And He will LOVE YOU and He will bless you ... " (Devarim 7: 12 and further)
Let's look at a number of teachings on the opening verse of our parsha, which address themselves to a number of peculiarities in Moshe Rabbeinu's choice of words. These are:
A] The use of the opening word "vehaya" – it shall be; the verse could easily have been written without this word at all. For example in parshas Bechukosai it says "Eem bechukosai teyleychu," – if you will follow my commandments, like wise here the verse could have begun without the word 'vehaya'.
B] The use of the word "eikev" is also unusual. The intent of this word in the context of the verse is "if" or "because". The Hebrew words that are usually used for 'if' and 'because' are 'im' and 'ki'. Why then did Moshe say 'eikev' – what else might he be implying?
C] The use of the word 'et' – the, instead of 'el' – to. One hearkens to, or listen to – 'el' – the commandments, rather than "you will hear 'et' – the commandments.
Serving Hashem With Your Heel, Joy and Love.
'Eikev'- above we translated ‘eikev’ as 'because' or 'in exchange for' [your keeping the mitzvot]. Rashi explains that the very choice of this word 'eikev', instead of the more familiar 'ki' [because] or 'eem' [if],] must also contain an important lesson. Therefore, Rashi, paying attention to the other meaning of ‘eikev’ – a ‘heel’, explains "Vehayah eikev tishme-un el hamitzvot ...”
as follows: “… IF - the easy mitzvot that a man ‘threshes with his heels- YOU WILL LISTEN TO…”
Thus according to Rashi the promised rewards for doing the mitzvoth, requires that we listen to and do all the miztvot, including those that we regard as ‘mitzvot kalot’- light or easy mitzvot.
In Pirkei Avot we learn: Rebbe [Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi] says: "You should be as diligent in the fulfillment of an easy mitzvah ['mitzvah kallah] as you are in the fulfillment of a significant mitzvah ['mitzvah chamurah]." Avot 2:1
A 'mitzvah kallah', literally 'a light mitzvah', the commentators explain, is a mitzvah that ‘you’ consider to be of lesser importance; and/or as Rashi put it, mitzvot that a person ‘threshes’ with his heels’. Hence Rebbe instructs us to be as diligent in the performance of a ‘light mitzvah’ as we would be in the performance of a mitzvah that we consider to be of great importance. We need to understand this.
Hashem gave us all the mitzvot, and when we do a mitzvah we are connecting and bonding with Hashem. We bond with Hashem in the performance of a 'mitzvah kallah' a light mitzvah, no less than we bond with Him in the performance of a 'mitzvah chamurah'- a very significant mitzvah. The Baal Shem Tov zt”l stressed that it is utmost important that we bond with the root of the mitzvah – the root of the mitzvot is Hashem. Just ‘doing’ a mitzvah without bonding with Hashem, as imp0ortant and holy as it is, remains detached from its root.
When you are in love, you want to be with the one you love in everything that they are doing. If you are in love with a great musician and you love music, you want to be with him or her not only when they are playing your favorite music. You want to talk, eat, walk and just be with him/her. You don't make distinctions as to which activity is more important, or less important, if you love this person totally. Similarly, if there are mitzvot that I consider less important than others, namely mitzvot that I 'thresh with the heel of my foot', this betrays less than total trust, love and commitment; though I may truly believe in Hashem, I am still keeping somewhat apart from Him. I am not yet serving Hashem with complete love.
To Shine In Doing A Mitzvah
There is a Chassidic [maybe from the Baal Shem Tov?] interpretation: "Heveh ZAHIR b'mitzvah kallah k'vachamurah" means – "You should be as 'shining' in the fulfillment of an easy mitzvah ['mitzvah kallah] as you are in the fulfillment of a significant mitzvah ['mitzvah chamurah]." Avot 2:1.
We tend to put more of our 'selves' into the performance of a significant mitzvah than we do into the performance of an easy mitzvah. Each mitzvah is one of Hashem's lights, therefore Rebbe’s instruction means that we should ensure that Hashem's light will shine brightly in the performance of each mitzvah. A holy person is one who is transparent to his source. The more transparent you are, the more the pure light of Hashem can shine through your doing mitzvot.
Hear The Mitzvot
We need to 'HEAR' the mitzvot. Note the unusual phrasing - "Vehayah eikev tishme'un ET [instead of 'el'] hamishpatim ha'eileh, va'assitem otam - and it shall be because you will 'hear' the mitzvot." The Lubavitcher Rebbe explained that 'hearing' is deeper than 'seeing'! One can 'see' something awesome, but 'seeing' it, does not guarantee that the person will make any changes in his way of life. But when we 'hear' the mitzvot, the words of the Torah are planted into our hearts and they take root there, and we grow with the Torah.
With Joy And With Humility
The verse, more particularly the word 'Eikev', may also may translated in the following ways: And it will be: a) that in 'the end' you will listen, [and alternatively,] b) the 'heel' will listen.
The Kotzker Rebbe said, "The end will be that we will have to listen, therefore, better that we listen now," He also taught that according to the teaching of the Rabbis, the word "ve-hayah" [and it will be] implies JOY. Thus he interpreted the verse:
"Vehayah eikev tishme'un et hamishpatim ... the JOY will be that you will listen.
We also learn from this opening verse that we need to combine joy [vehayah] with great humility [eikev, the heel]. The Bialer Rebbe ztz"l, explained that humility by itself is not good, because it can lead to depression. It must be combined with joy.
Study Torah with Joy and Humility
The holy Ohr Hachayim learns from our opening verse that Torah must be studied with joy. 'Vehaya' implies 'simcha' – joy … with joy – you will 'hear' – study, the commandments.
Further he says, 'with joy' and with humility [eikev-heel], by making yourself as humble as the heel, you will merit that the secrets of the Torah will be revealed to you and you will understand them. The wisdom of the Torah is Hashem's wisdom. It is revealed only to those who are humble. Chassidut explains that the word 'chochmah'- wisdom, implies 'the power of what' – the ability to humbly recognize that whatever you know thus far is but an infinitesimal amount of all there is to know. By doing so, you make room to receive more wisdom. Thinking that you know it all, does not allow you to learn any more.
'Vehaya' implies joy. The holy Ohr Hachayim brings another amazing teaching based on the holy Zohar that says that there is no greater joy before Hashem than when the Children of Israel study Torah. When we study torah we bring joy to Hashem and when Hashem is joyous the whole world is joyous. Thus 'Vehaya' there will be great joy in the world, when you study the Torah and hear its commandments.
Listening With Your Heel - 'mesirut nefesh'
The word 'eikev' also means a heel. In Chassidic teachings we find there is the listening of the mind, the listening of the heart and the listening of the body, all the way down to its lowest and densest part, the heel. The Lubavitcher Rebbe ztz"l points out that the heel's listening has an advantage over the mind's listening, even though the mind is the 'intellectual' and the heel is at the very bottom of our body. This is because the heel represents total devotion; whereas the mind always has some questions, and always has to be convinced into serving Hashem under difficult circumstances. When entering a hot tub, with which part of the body do we enter first, the head or the heel? The heel has 'mesirut nefesh' in that it gives itself over totally to the instructions of the mind. So to, in order to bring down Hashem's promises and blessings we must be totally devoted to Hashem and His mitzvot.
In Each Mitzvah Hashem Is Whispering "I Love You"
Surely we are rewarded for all the mitzvot that we do. However to evoke Hashem's love for us requires that we do the mitzvot as an act of love for Hashem. This explains why in addition to all the blessings and rewards that we will receive for doing the mitzvot, it also says in the above verses "and He will LOVE YOU." Moshe Rabbeinu is teaching us that when we do the mitzvot with complete love and devotion we will also merit to 'hear' Hashem whisper, "I love you," in each mitzvah! [based on some teachings in the Netivot Shalom]
Not By Bread Alone
In Chapter 8, Moshe Rabbeinu is once again exhorting us to keep Hashem's mitzvot:
"All the commandments which I commanded you this day, you shall observe\ to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that Hashem swore to your fathers. And you shall remember the entire journey that Hashem has led you on these past forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and to prove you, to [so that you] know what is in your heart; whether you will keep His commandments or not. And he caused you suffering and He starved you, and [then] He fed you the Manna, [a food] that you did not know, nor did your fathers know it, because He wanted to make it known to you that it is NOT BY BREAD ALONE THAT MAN LIVES, FOR IT IS BY EVERY WORD THAT EMANATES FROM THE MOUTH OF HASHEM THAT MAN LIVES!"
This is one of the most important verses in the Torah. We humans, have an intense desire for independence and victory. We like to think that it is by virtue of our strength and ingenuity that we survive. We tend to think that as long as we are in possession of bread, we don't need anyone, not even G-d, G-d forbid. We often forget that Hashem's creative words are present in every morsel of food that we eat; it is these very words of Hashem that provide us with life energy. When we face obstacles and challenges, and we use our creative ingenuity to overcome them, all too often we forget that Hashem is present in all these hardships that we experience, that it is all for the good, and that it is Hashem who provides us with the intelligence to overcome and grow. All this for the sake of getting to the wonderful land that Hashem is giving us, for the sake of transforming this lowest of all worlds into a veritable dwelling place for Hashem.
There is yet another deeper level- ‘body listening’. They say that your body 'knows' your truth. The body that has learned to 'listen' to the mitzvot will not willingly do a transgression and it is glad to do a mitzvah.
Would that we be conscious of Hashem's presence in everything; that every breath of life that we breathe, emanates from Hashem's ongoing creative words.
On Being Kind and Generous
Some people are generous, some are very generous and some are not [yet]. Are character traits innate or are they acquired? Are we born with certain character traits and dispositions, but we can change or improve these? These are well known questions that have been discussed by religious thinkers, philosophers and psychologists over many generations. According to the Talmud, almost everything about us has been predetermined except for one thing- "tzaddik o rasha", whether you will be righteous or wicked is a matter of your free choice!
Another question that maybe is not discussed frequently is, can a person say that they "own" their 'midot tovot'- positive character traits? If you are a good and generous person, can you be sure that you will always be this way? And what if Hashem asks of you to do something that is not kind, something that goes against your sense of righteousness and kindness- should you protest, should you argue? Do you 'own' your kindness and generosity, or is it a gift from Hashem, to be used according to His will?
In this week's parsha we find Moshe Rabbeinu commanding us not to have any pity upon the seven Caananite nations, as stated in Devarim 7:16, You shall consume all the peoples that Ad-noy, your G-d, is giving you; do not take pity on them. Do not serve their gods, because they are a snare for you.
This instruction to get rid of the Caananite nations and not to take pity on them is found a number of times in the Torah. We are warned that if we will not listen and even if it is because 'our' compassion does not allow us to be so cruel, and we don't get rid of the enemy, in the end we or our children, or our children's children will be ensnared by their idolatrous practices and they, the children of those we were compassionate with, will drive us out of the land.
The story of King Sha'ul, the first king of Israel, is [to me] one of the most tragic stories in the Tanach [Bible].The Rabbis in the Midrash teach us "Don't be overly righteous, for whoever acts compassionately when cruelty is appropriate and required, in the end will act cruelly instead of compassionately [when compassion is called for]." [Kohelet Rabbah 7:16]
G-d had chosen Sha'ul to be king because "from his shoulders and upwards, he was taller than all people"- he was the most righteous and spiritually advanced person in all of Israel. He was the one that Hashem had entrusted with the task to completely wipe out the nation of Amalek- the arch-enemy of the Jewish people, which he almost did, but not completely, because he could not overcome 'his' kindness and compassion. "And Sha'ul and the people had compassion upon Agag and upon the best of their sheep." [Samuel I 15:9]
The Talmud tells us that Sha'ul had argued with Hashem and pleaded with Him, even citing the precedent of Avraham Avinu having argued with G-d, when he tried to convince G-d not to wipe out Sodom and Amora. Though Hashem agreed to Avraham Avinu's request, that if He would find even as few as ten righteous people in Sodom and Amora, He would not destroy the inhabitants, He did not agree to Sha'ul pleas. Instead He told him "don't be overly righteous!"
In the end the kind and righteous King Sha'ul ended up not fulfilling Hashem's command concerning Amalek, and we suffered from their descendants. Tragically Sha'ul was overcome with depression and jealousy, "And the spirit of the Lord departed from Sha'ul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him." [Samuel I 16:14]
Eventually he became quite cruel. On three occasions Sha'ul personally tried to kill Davide, whom he had become jealous of. He ended up killing out the innocent priests of the city Nov, because they had provided Davide with food as he was escaping from Sha'ul. And Hashem told him "don't be overly cruel!"
We do not 'own' our middot tovot- good character traits; they are gifts from Hashem, and like with everything else that Hashem gives us, we must use them in accordance with Hashem's will. Sha'ul thought that he 'owned' his compassion, that he was a master of compassion. And so Hashem challenged him, 'let's see how compassionate you will be when faced with jealousy?'
Recently I opened for the first time a sefer that I bought many years ago- "Or Hashemesh"- The Light of The Sun, collected teachings and stories of Rav Sar Shalom Sharabi zt"l, a Sephardic Kabbalist who lived over two hundred years ago. Partly out of guilt, I decided that I should look into this sefer at least for a moment, now that I had it in my hands and had never yet learned anything from it. So I opened it and found the following teaching, that Rav Sar Shalom gave over in the name of his holy master, Rav Gedaliah Chi'yun zt"l.
In Psalm 146:3-4, King David says: "Do not place your trust in generous benefactors, in mortal man, for he does not have the ability to bring deliverance. When his spirit departs, he returns to his earth; on that very day his plans come to naught."
Rav Sar Shalom asked his master, why does King David need to tell us not to place our trust in the generous benefactor, everyone knows that when the benefactor dies, that is the end of his generosity? But while the benefactor is alive and is generous, we do benefit from him, can we not then rely on a human benefactor at all?
His master answered him. The attribute of generosity emanates from the 'side of holiness'. However sometimes it does happen that our gross physicality and materialism become overbearing and cause our generosity to depart. That is why King David prays to Hashem, "uphold me with a spirit of magnanimity", [Psalm 51] i.e., please support me and give me the strength to always be generous.
Thus when King David says, "Do not place your trust in generous benefactors" he is also referring to your own spirit of generosity. Though this is a holy spirit, nevertheless, it is possible that "his spirit departs"- that his generous spirit will "return to his earth"- that it will be devoured by his materialistic attachments.
Even the generous individual, who means the best and sincerely wants to be generous, should not put his 'trust' in 'his' generosity, for it does not belong to him! It is a gift from 'sitra d'kedusha'- the holy side that Hashem shares with those who trust in Him. As it says, "he who trusts in Hashem, will be surrounded with 'chessed'- kindness." [Psalm 32:10]
In the Avinu Malkeinu prayers we say, "Our Father, our King, be gracious to us and answer us, for we have no meritorious deeds; for the sake of Your great Name, deal charitably and kindly with us and deliver us." There is a Chassidic interpretation that says: "Hashem, we are asking of You, not only to be charitable with us, we are asking of You that You should use us [let us be Your messengers] in [delivering] Your charity and kindness to others."
We are blessing each one of you with a good Shabbos.... with a joyous Shabbos.... A Shabbos of peace, love and blessings. Shalom al Yisrael.
Sh'yiboneh Beit Hamikdash bimheirah b'yameinu v'tein chelkeinu b'Toratecha... NOW quickly in our days... Amen.
Reb Sholom Brodt z”L