007 – The dilemma of community rights versus individual rights and how the Torah views the solution. This also relates to how the Jews were saved during Purim
The Torah Podcast Transcript
007 The Torah Life Podcast What’s Wrong With Individual Rights – Purim
A Powerful Parable – The Chofetz Chaim
We’re going to start off with a parable of the Chofetz Chaim. He’s got a whole book on parables. Parables means we’re learning from the known to the unknown, so it’s going to be a story and from the story, we’re going to learn something. He starts like this. He says, “If you walk up to a Jew in the street and you ask him, ‘Do you know how great is the mitzvah, commandment, of Torah study, and how much punishment there is in store for people who don’t study Torah?’ He says, ‘Of course I know.’ The question is, why is he not sitting and learning, if he knows?
He wants to give a story like this, to explain that. One time, a new king was crowned by the ministers and they decided to honor his coronation by buying him a brand new crown. They tried to find the best goldsmith in town, and they got the best jewels. They spent tons of money, and they wanted to make him this unbelievable crown. So, that’s what they did. They sent all the money over there. He made this unbelievable crown, and they sent these guys to go pick it up. On the way back, they decided to show this crown to a couple of farm workers on the way. ‘Would you like to see something beautiful?’ They said, ‘Yeah, sure we want to see.’ They showed them and the villagers were amazed. ‘Wow, look at that crown. It’s unbelievable.’ One of the carriage drivers said, ‘You know what? You want to trade it? I’ll give you this crown for two oxen. For those oxen that are ploughing your field, I’ll give it to you.’ He says, ‘Wow, that’s sounds like a great trade. Of course, it’s worth it. I’ll give you my oxen for the crown.’ Another one of the farmers there says, ‘What are you doing? What are you going to do with a crown? At least with your oxen you can plough, you can make money. You can do something with your oxen. What do you do with a crown? I agree it’s very beautiful, but it’s useless.’ The ministers who were there who were bringing the crown back to the king, they were laughing. They said, ‘What, are you kidding us? With a tiny part of this crown you can buy yourself a hundred teams of oxen. This crown is worth thousands of times more than all your fields and forests and oxen put together.’” That’s the story, that’s what’s called the moshul.
The nimshal, the thing that we’re comparing it to is, the Torah. The Torah is actually a priceless thing. The reward is unbelievable. The blessing that a person will get if they start to sit and learn is beyond comprehension. Everybody agrees that the Torah is a priceless thing. It comes from Heaven above. So, why do people not sit and learn? Because they start to sit and learn or they get the idea, “Maybe I should go to a class here and there.” All of a sudden, their neighbor the yetzer hara, evil inclination, comes in and says to them, “What are you doing? You’re wasting your time by going to learn. You could be working. You could be doing something with your life. Why are you going and sitting and learning?” But that’s exactly like the farmer who said, “Don’t trade your oxen for the crown.” The moral of the story is, a crown is worth a fortune, even if you can’t plough with it. We have to realize where the source of the blessing comes from. If we learn Torah and do mitzvos, we’ll have much, much more blessings.
Great Stories – Rav Meir Chodosh
I want to tell a story about Rav Meir Chodosh, the famous mashgiach who came from Europe to Eretz Yisroel. He says like this. His son is Rav Chodosh in the Mir, the mashgiach of the Mir Yeshiva right now. The story is, he was about 20 years old, and he was in Russia. The Cossacks were acting up. He was walking along the street with a couple of friends and they say, “Hey, there’s a Bolshevik Jew.” He tried to run away, but the Cossacks came and they caught him. They came from both sides. They started to bring him into this courtyard and they were going to shoot him. The Cossacks stood him against the wall and they started to aim their guns at him. They said, “Stand up straight.” They wanted him to stand up straight. He said he was paralyzed with fear, he could hardly move. All of a sudden, a window opened up above his head. There was a commander in the window screaming down, “Who’s making so much noise down there? You guys are ruining my rest. Get out of here.” So, slowly all the soldiers started to pull away, and they ran away. He was left by himself in the courtyard, shaking. It was a miracle that the commander happened to be taking a nap at that time, and the soldiers were bothering him, or he would have got killed. As he started to walk home, he started to take on different things upon himself – to have to learn better, to have to daven, pray better. He started to accept upon himself things that he should live a better life. There is a famous saying of the Rabbis that goes like this. “Even when a sharp sword is resting on a person’s neck, he must not despair of Heaven’s mercy.” He was about to be killed. It was a question of seconds. Even if the sword is on a person’s neck, he shouldn’t have despair.
10 years later he was also at the Chevron massacre. The Arabs were going around shooting and killing people. He was lying there wounded, and there was somebody else lying next to him. The other person, his friend, was about to get up and try to run. He says to him, “Don’t run. Just stay here. Lie still, and hope. Don’t move.” The Arabs went through different houses, different things. In the end they were both saved. They thought that they were left for dead. His friend asked him, “I don’t understand. Where did you get the strength to just lie there and trust in God like that?” He said, “I got strength from the time in Russia where I was almost killed. I was sure that God is with me, so that gave me strength.” He said, that thing that happened to him in Russia gave him strength for his entire life.
Torah Portion of the Week – Shekalim
Now, I want to speak about the Torah portion of the week. This week’s Torah portion happens to be Shekalim, that’s the Haftorah that we read. The Haftorah we read on the Shabbos before Rosh Chodesh Adar is Shekalim. It’s talking about giving the chetzi shekel, half shekel, which is a commandment in the Torah. It happened to be that that chetzi shekel that we gave also saved us at the time of Purim. I’m going to explain.
You have a philosophical problem. It’s the right of the individual versus the right of the community. How much can the individual do that’s going to infringe on the community? And how much does a person have to give up for the sake of his community? This is an age-old problem and the Talmud is going to deal with it.
We know that the Talmud connects the mitzvah of the half shekel with tzedakah. What was the mitzvah of the half shekel? Moshe Rabbeinu had to count all the Jewish people. Instead of counting people he wanted to count the coins, so he commanded to give a chetzi, specifically a half a shekel. That half a shekel was then used for community sacrifices in the Temple. We used a half a shekel for the sacrifices. The strange thing is that there’s many Gemaras that refer to this chetzi shekel as tzedakah, but it’s not really tzedakah. It’s not charity, because we give it and then we get back more than what we give. It’s not really charity. So, there are three different levels of giving. Chessed means giving to somebody who doesn’t deserve it. You just give with nothing in return. You’re giving out of generosity. Then you have the opposite which is mishpat, which means judgment. You give because you’re obligated to give. If you owe somebody money, if there’s damages, so you have to give. Then the third type is tzedakah, which is really like a combination of the both. On one side, we have a general commandment to give – we have to give tzedakah, it’s one of the most important mitzvos in the Torah. But it’s not like damages where we have to give to the specific person. It’s not like borrowed money; you have to pay this guy back. Nobody can demand from me that I have to give him tzedakah. On the other hand, it’s not exactly a chessed. It’s not just purely generosity, because I have to do it. So, what is it? And tzedakah is not just a way to keep the lower half of society down – in other words, the upper society gives away money in order to keep the lower half of society quiet so they could do what they want to do. That’s not what tzedakah is either. So, what exactly is tzedakah? Not only that, but the Rambam says we have to be the most careful with tzedakah, more than any other positive commandment of the Torah. It’s so important. What’s so important about tzedakah, and what is the concept of tzedakah, charity?
Rav Moshe Shapiro wants to explain that tzedakah is an obligation that comes from the goodness of our hearts. If it’s mishpat for example, if you owe somebody money, so you have to pay him. It’s not coming from the goodness of your heart. You’re giving it because you have to give it, you are obligated. But it’s not coming from the goodness of your heart. If it’s nezek, you did damage to somebody’s property and you have pay them. But tzedakah means you are obligated, but at the same time it has a chessed aspect. It has the aspect that it’s coming from the goodness of your heart. And in a certain sense, this is the purpose of all avodas Hashem. In serving God, we have to get to the level where we’re doing it from ourselves, and at the same time it’s an obligation. We’re lifting ourselves up to be obligated. We want to be obligated. We want to give from ourselves also out of obligation. It’s greater a person who’s commanded to do something than a person just does it out of his own free will. But you see, we were given free will. We’re put into this world and really we could do whatever we want, as individuals. That’s why it gets back to our first question. As individuals we could do whatever we want. But in terms of community, we can’t do whatever we want. So you see, there’s a balance there between using our free will in any direction that we want to, because God gave us life and he gave us control over all our lives. As individuals we could go up but we could go down. We could elevate ourselves or we could go down. But in terms of community, there’s more of an obligation, because when you start to affect more people, the obligation goes up. It’s not just you could do whatever you want.
For example, if a person wants to watch things that are not clean, so he says, “This is my right, human rights, right? I could do whatever I want as an individual.” Can you put this stuff out in the street? Can you put out screens in the middle of the street that show things that are not appropriate? Of course not. “Yeah,” but you say, “As an individual, I want to do it.” So, do it. Do it in your house. Don’t bring it into society. You’re affecting society. What kind of things do you want to bring into society? You’re affecting your children, your grandchildren. You’re affecting my children. You want to do what you want, but it’s like you’re drilling a hole in your part of the boat. You’re going to bring down all of society, if you bring it out into the street. And on one side, every individual is part of society. So, it’s a hard mix. On one side you’re an individual and you want to do what you want. On one side, you’re part of society so you can’t exactly do what you want. That’s exactly what tzedakah is. Tzedakah means that I give as an individual from my heart that I want to give. But I’m also giving as an obligation, as being part of society, community, family.
How does this all relate back to the chetzi shekel? When Moshe Rabbeinu was commanded to give this shekel, he was a little bit confused. He didn’t know exactly what it was. It was called the matbeach shel aish. Hashem said to him, “Listen, take this shekel, here it is. It’s a shekel that’s underneath My throne,” that was called the matbeach shel aish. He said, “What do you mean, a coin of fire?” Half a coin of fire. This coin of fire means a coin that nullifies every other value before it. It’s the highest value. That is the half a shekel that we were supposed to give. Now let’s get this straight. Moshe Rabbeinu was supposed to use this coin to count the Jewish people. When you count something, we know the Rabbis tell us, it gives a klalah, a curse on the thing. Why? Because it separates it. Anything that becomes separated from a group loses its blessing, because then it becomes middas hadin, in other words it’s looked at in terms of judgment.
I’ll give you an example. How does ayin hara work? How can it be that someone else looks at another person and he affects him, it affects his money, his car, his house. How can it be? Either way you look, it doesn’t make any sense. If the guy deserved to be punished, so why isn’t God punishing him? Or you tell me that the guy doesn’t deserve to be punished, so how can it be that somebody else looks at him and he gets punished? The answer is that when a person starts to look at him and starts to talk about him, in the Heavens they also start to focus on him. As you focus on something you start to see the impurities in it. For example, let’s say this guy has a police record. Okay, nobody pays attention that he had a parking ticket, he had who knows what. All of a sudden he becomes the President. The next thing you know, they start checking out all his things that he did in high school. Actually, I have a good joke about that. There were these three politicians that wanted to get rid of the fourth politician – three senators, and they didn’t know how to get rid of him. They were thinking and thinking, “What could we do? How are we going to get rid of this guy?” One of the senators says, “I know what we’ll do. We’ll make him President.” That’s going to get rid of him. Why is it going to get rid of him? Because as soon as the guy becomes President, they start checking out what he did in high school, what he did in college, or what group he was part of, and all these different things. The more you focus on something, the more the middas, measures of judgment comes on that thing. So, this counting of the Jewish people could have brought a curse to the Jewish people. That’s why we don’t count people.
How did the half a shekel fix it up? Now, because what happened is the half a shekel represents that the person is giving from himself in terms of obligation. In other words, he’s connecting, re-connecting with the group, with the community. He’s not looking at himself as an individual, and that’s why we give half a shekel. Half a shekel means, I’m going to give part of myself. I’m going to give myself over to be obligated to the community. I want to be part of a higher society. I want to dedicate myself to the Jewish values, family values, community values. And therefore, the curse was taken away because when you give the half shekel from that perspective, you’re reconnecting to the group. So, even though they used a half shekel to be counted, it didn’t have a curse on it. That’s why tzedakah, charity, is one of the most important mitzvos. It’s the basis of the whole Torah, that each individual should reconnect with the group and get the values of the group, and have an obligation like the group and not the individual. Our whole society right now is focused on the individual and look where it’s leading. It’s leading to all kinds of weirdness. Individual rights, okay individual rights – but who says you could drill your hole in your part of the boat. You’re part of society. Jewish values means family, marriage, community. We’re part of a group and not only that, the shechina, God’s presence, comes on the group when the group is together. Where an individual, he may or may not have God’s presence. But a person who is part of the group is surely going to be saved. He’s surely going to have the blessing of the group.
How did this half shekel save us by Purim? Every year the Jews would do the mitzvah of the half shekel, and it saved us. Chazal tells us that the mitzvah of the half shekel preceded the money that Haman was trying to give to Achashverosh to buy off the ability to kill all the Jewish people. Our half shekel came first. How did that save us? It says by Yehezkel, the verses say that the Jewish people at that time were comparing themselves to a wife who is divorced from her husband. And we know that a wife who is divorced from her husband has zero obligation back to the husband. In other words, society was going in the direction of the individual more than the group. And the individual rights were saying, “Listen, we have individual rights so we can do whatever we want.” That’s where the curse started to come from, from there. The curse started to come on the Jewish people as they were about to be destroyed, and that’s why the half shekel saved the Jewish people. It was the coin of fire, which meant the value that has above all values. It came from underneath the throne of God. In other words, the individual now is going to reconnect with the group, reconnect with God, reconnect with the family values and the community. That’s what gave us the blessing, because we reconnected with the Jewish people and as a whole, we are blessed. As individuals, we may not be blessed. But as long as we connect up with the group and we keep Shabbos and we’re shomer the mitzvos, and we’re part of the Klal Yisroel, we are going to be saved and we’re going to be blessed.
Peace In Your Home
What are you going to do about getting peace in your home? Not a simple story, huh? This rule is called giving without exceptions. Privileges cannot be demanded. A privilege can’t be demanded. For example, Rav Nachum Diament said, “If you invite a guy for a job interview and he starts telling you, “Listen, I want to have power to do this, and I want to have power to do that,” you’d better get rid of the guy right away. Why? This guy’s going to take over your whole business. You don’t get power until you show that you deserve to be given power. The same thing should be in a relationship. You shouldn’t be demanding from your relationship, “Give me this and give me that.” What is this demanding? The proper starting point is, let me fulfill my obligation and we’ll see how it goes from there. If you give to the other person and they’re happy with you, they’re going to give back to you. You can’t start from a point that you have to give to me. Your spouse doesn’t owe you anything. You say legally, okay, legally. I’m talking about emotionally. Nobody owes anybody anything. You can’t demand your rights. That’s not a way to create love. The way to create love is to give. If you want to create love in the house, you have to give. You can’t demand love. Not only that, the derech eretz says, “If you want to cleave to your friend then constantly seek what’s good for him.” In other words, the giver is going to actually have more love than the one who receives. Also Rav Dessler says the same thing. The number one way to come to love somebody is to give to them. Okay, it’s counter intuitive, but it makes sense. If you want to create a feeling of love in your house, you have to give.
I have a little secret to tell you. God doesn’t need us. Sometimes when I say that to people it shocks them. “What do you mean, God doesn’t need me? He needs me to serve Him, He needs me to do this for Him.” God has no needs. If He has needs, He’s not God. God doesn’t need us. What is life about? It’s only giving. That’s why God loves us so much, because He constantly gives to us. He doesn’t need us. It’s all for us. The same thing in a relationship, you have to be Godly. You have to give to the other person. Don’t expect back. You’ll get back. But the main thing is giving.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s podcast. Please, please leave comments on the blog. Leave comments, I need to know what’s going on; if you guys are enjoying this, not enjoying this. Tell your friends about it. Have a great Shabbos.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mitterhoff