Torah Portion of the week – Beshalach – Why the World is Built on Kindness – Everyone Needs Something – A Powerful Parable about the Slow Cook – A Great Story about Rav Shach and Peace in Your Home – The Essence of a Jewish Home – The Ultimate Torah Podcast
The Torah Podcast Transcript
043 The Torah Life Podcast – Why The World Is Based On Kindness – Everyone Needs Something
Torah Portion of the Week – Beshalach
In this week’s Parsha there’s a verse that says, “With Your kindness you guided this people that you redeemed. You led with your might to your Holy abode.” This is a verse inside the Shir Shel Yam, the Song that the Jewish people sang after the parting of the Red Sea. The verse started out, “In Your kindness you led the people that you redeemed.” The Tanna de Reb Eliyahu explains, it’s talking about the kindness of the Jewish people that they did, one to each other. He says, “When the Jewish people were still in Egypt, they assembled and they sat down together, for all of them were like a tightly knit group. They made a covenant, all of them together, that each will bestow kindness upon each other and they would safeguard the covenant of Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov. They would only serve their Father in Heaven, and not abandon the language of the House of Yaakov their father, and not learn the language of Egypt.” While the Jewish people were in Mitzrayim and they were suffering, they got together and they said they would be kind, one to each other.
The Chofetz Chaim explains that since they couldn’t escape Pharaoh’s decrees and it was getting worse and worse by the day, they jointly resolved to walk only in the ways of Hashem, and not to change their names and their language, and to bestow kindness one on each other. They reasoned this commitment would arouse Hashem’s kindness towards them, so they could nullify the decrees of Pharaoh. They didn’t know what to do, they were suffering so much. They figured if they’d get together and they do kindness one to each other, it would arouse the kindness from Heaven. And this is exactly what happened. It was the kavod, honor of chessed, kindness, that brought about the redemption. That’s what the verse said, “In your kindness you guarded your people that you redeemed.” This is exactly what it says in the Yerushalmi in Sanhedrin, that Rav Yehuda Bar Channan taught in the name of Rav Berachya, Hakadosh Baruch Hu said to the Jewish people, “My children, if you see that in the merit of the patriarchs and the matriarchs that the power has to been lost to protect you, go cling to the trait of chessed, of kindness.” He brings a verse from Yeshayahu that says, “For even if the mountains depart and the hills collapse…” Who are the mountains? The Patriarchs. Who are the hills? The Matriarchs. “And even if they collapse, my chessed will not depart from you,” says Hashem who has mercy upon you. In other words, even if we don’t have zechus avos, merit from the patriarchs. The situation was so bad in Mitzrayim, Egypt, the people were suffering so greatly and there was no way to break the decree, so the only thing left was to do chessed. If they would do chessed one to the other, that’s enough to break the decrees. Also in the future, also now – if we do chessed, if we are kind one to each other, we can break the evil decrees that are against us.
The Ramban says at the end of the possuk, “You led with Your might to Your Holy abode,” that’s talking about the Beis Hamigdash. This goes all the way from the time of the parting of the Red Sea to the Beis Hamigdash, that kindness one to each other can save us. The Chofetz Chaim continues and he brings the Yalkut Shemoni that says exactly this. “In Your kindness” alludes to gemilus chassadim, bestowing kindness one Jew on another. And, “With your might,” is referring to Torah, because the Gemara Yuma says that even in Mitzrayim before the Torah was given, there were still Yeshivas in Mitzrayim, because we received the tradition from our fathers, of Torah. The Jews were learning Torah even in Mitzrayim, before the Torah was given. And because the Jews were kind one to another, on that zechus, on that merit, they were redeemed.
The Maaser LeMelech explains on the Chofetz Chaim, “We know there’s a verse in Tehillim that says, ‘Olam chessed yibanei.’ The whole world is built on kindness, chessed.” What does that mean? He brings a proof from the blessing that we say after we eat, that we thank God for the food that we ate. The possuk says, “Borei nefashos rabbos v’chesronan,” who creates an abundance of living things along with their deficiencies. You’ve got to hear this. He says, “Every living thing that’s created is created deficient. It’s lacking something, whether it’s an individual or an entire tzibbur, or an entire public could be missing something. Each living thing has to look towards somebody else or some other thing to fulfill its deficiency. No creature is completely self-sufficient.” That’s how the whole world is built on chessed, because every person needs somebody else. They need something else. We’re all missing something. The blessing continues, “lechayos bahem nefesh kol chai,” to give vitality to the soul of every living thing. In other words, this interdependency is the thing that gives life to all of creation. It fosters togetherness and a social framework as compared to each individual living by himself. All of society is built on chessed. Since people need each other, they want to live together with each other. They want to relate to each other. If each person was completely self-sufficient, they have nothing to do with anybody else. That’s what’s happened in our society nowadays. Since the physicality is so available and food is so available and comforts are so available, people don’t need each other anymore, so they don’t have to do chessed one from the other. Each person is independent, ve taiva, ve taiva mevakesh nifrad, a person who wants his desires, he wants to be alone. He doesn’t want to be involved with other people – “Leave me alone, let me do what I want.” But that’s not what Hashem wants. The brocha, blessing says, “To give vitality to the soul of every living thing.” In other words, we should interact with each other, that we should give each other life. That’s what a proper community should look like. Society should be based on chessed – giving, not taking. And it was on this merit that the Jewish people were redeemed.
Like the Ramban says, “All the way to the time of the Beis HaMigdash.” When the Temple is going to be rebuilt on the merit of each Jew helping out another Jew, Hashem will take away all the bad decrees that are against us now. Look what’s happening in the world. Jews are being killed left and right; tremendous anti-semitism. So, now is a time to care about each other. Now is a time to help each other. Religious have to help non-religious, non-religious have to help religious. It should make no difference. The situation is so horrible that the Jews should be helping each other no matter where they are, because that’s the thing that’s going to save us – when we come together as a community, break down the barriers between the religious and the non-religious, and not be in our own little world and care about our own little things. What are we doing to help the Jewish people as a whole?
I once saw an interview before Obama was elected. They were interviewing an old lady in Florida, and she was pro-Obama. The interviewer said to her, “Don’t you know that Obama is not pro-Israel?” She says, “What do I care about Israel?” This is a Jewish lady in Florida. How disconnected can she be? How disconnected? What does she mean, “She doesn’t care about Israel?” She doesn’t care about the Jewish people? With everything else going on in the world, now is a time to care.
The Maaser LeMelech also brings down on the Chofetz Chaim a very interesting thing the Chofetz Chaim said on how to do chessed, and why to do chessed, because a lot of people feel, “Why should I help somebody else? Let him help himself. The guy’s a bum, he’s not working hard. Let him work harder, what does he want from me? If he’s not doing everything he can do, why should I help him?” It sounds logical, but you’ve got to hear what the Chofetz Chaim said. He says, “We know whether a person is poor or rich, it’s decreed from Heaven.” So, how does Hashem make it work? He makes the person who is going to be rich to have tremendous amounts of energy, and their nature is to work hard. And therefore, they’re going to come out to be rich. The person who’s going to be poor, he makes his nature to be lazy. Since he’s lazy, automatically he doesn’t have money. The Chofetz Chaim says, “Like He filled them up with lead. They can’t move.” This person is willing to eat even low quality food, just so he doesn’t have to work too hard. If a person thinks, “Why should I help that person? He’s not doing his best.” The answer is, he is doing his best. His nature is to be lazy. His nature is not to work. That’s his nature. So, help him out. That’s his lacking. His lacking is that God built him that way. You can’t complain that the other person’s not doing their best. If you were in their shoes, you’d also be like them. It’s a very deep principle – how to do chessed to other people. And each person is lacking something. Everybody’s missing something. The other person has to help fulfill them, and you have also have something to help somebody else out that they need.
This is all connected with the geula, with the redemption of the Jewish people. In this zechus, in this merit that if we help each other out, we care about each other as a people, Hashem will redeem us. You can’t say, “I don’t care about those Jews over there, and I care about these Jews. Just leave me alone, let me live my life.” In the end, it’s going to affect you. It’s going to affect your children. What about assimilation? Assimilation is up to 70, 80%. By being kind to another Jew you bring them closer, you bring them closer to the Torah because kindness is a Godly quality. When you act with kindness towards other people, they feel closer to God because they see you, that you’re acting in the right way and it brings them closer to God.
I just want to end off with a little story that the Chofetz Chaim said. The Chofetz Chaim himself used to bring, when he had a guest, the pillows and the blankets and everything to the guest. One time there was a guest who was saying, “Listen, let me do it myself. Let me help you.” The Chofetz Chaim answered, “Would you help me put my tallis, prayer shawl, and my tefillin, phylacteries on? The mitzvah of chachnasas orchim, the mitzvah of having guests, it’s my mitzvah. It’s my obligation, not yours. Let me do my mitzvah.” So, in the zechus, merit of us helping each other and being kind one to the other, we should merit to see the Beis HaMigdash in our days.
A Powerful Parable
The Maggid Mi Dubno brought a verse like this. The king of Egypt was told that the people had fled. Pharaoh and his servants had a change of heart regarding the people and they said, “What have we done? How did we release the Jews from serving us?” He brings a parable. One time there was a wealthy man who was going to make a very large banquet. What he did is, he hired a chef and he says, “I’m going to send all the food to her house, and she’s going to cook it in her house. At the end we’re going to send her our servants, and they’re going to bring the food back to our place to have the party.” This chef happened to cook very slowly and very deliberately. But she also happened to taste the food, and give a little bit to her kids on the side. During this period, the chef, the woman had to leave her house and she left her daughter in charge. Her daughter wanted to show what an efficient cook she was. She made the fire larger, and she cooked up all the food fast. She finished everything, and she sent it back to the ba’al habayis, to the guy who was having the party. She sent the food back to him. When her mother came home instead of being all happy like the daughter thought, she was all upset. She said, “You fool. Why did you hurry up so much with the food? What are we going to eat now? We’re going to eat bread and onions? We could have continued eating this food. If we would have just dreyed, delayed, it would have gone on for a little bit longer.”
That was the moshul, parable. What was the nimshsal, conclusion? Hashem also, He sent the Jewish people into Mitzrayim. They had to be purified, and they had to be enslaved. But along with them came a blessing to Mitzrayim. Egypt was blessed because of the Jewish people. But since Pharaoh made them work so hard, instead of staying there for 400 years they only had to stay there for 210, so they came out early. But once they came out early they said, “Oy, what did we do? What have we done? We let the Jews go, and now we lost our blessing.”
Great Stories – Rav Shach
The possuk says, “And the people feared God.” The Zohar explains, Who were the people? The great mixture that went up with them.” He was talking about the erev rav. They came out of Mitzrayim. There was a set of people who attached themselves to the Jewish people to go out of Mitzrayim. This was the lowest level of the Jewish people but the possuk says, “They feared God.”
One time, someone came to do an interview with Rav Shach. They wanted to ask permission from the gabbai, warden. This guy, he had no kippa, skullcap on his head, and he had long hair. The gabbai said, “No, sorry. Rav Shach doesn’t do interviews.” The man brazenly took a kippa out, he put a kippa on his head. He said, “Okay, so I’m going to ask him for a blessing.” What is the gabbai going to do? He has to let the guy in, to get a blessing from Rav Shach. He lets the guy in and says, “Listen, though. If you make trouble, we’re going to kick you out.” He says, “Okay, okay. I’m not going to make trouble.” He goes in brazenly, he grabs a chair and he sits in front of Rav Shach. Rav Shach is an old, old man. He’s barely above the level of the table. But the young man who was about to give the interview, all of a sudden he was in shock. He was in awe of Rav Shach. He could hardly speak. The gabbai had rachmanus, pity on him. He went to Rav Shach and said, “Listen, maybe you should start. He’s like from the Pesach Seder, Passover, the boy who doesn’t know how to ask.”
Rav Shach starts talking to him, in a weak voice because he was so old. He asked him, “Have you ever been to synagogue?” He says, “Of course I have.” He says, “How many times?” He said, “One time, at my Bar Mitzva.” He says, “Are you shomer Shabbos, do you keep Shabbos?” He says, “Yeah, I go to the beach for pleasure. We drive there.” He says, “What about on Pesach? Do you eat matzo?” He says, “Yeah, we eat matzo but you know at night time we go to different restaurants. We’re not exactly keeping it 100%.” So then he asked him, “What do you eat on Yom Kippur?” The young man couldn’t answer him, because he doesn’t eat anything. Rav Shach jumped up with energy, with a strength that no one knew he had, and thunderously said, “You see? After everything, you still have fear of God.”
Peace in Your Home
Rav Nachman Diament explains – the essence of the Jewish home. Sometimes he hears complaints that husbands or wives say, “My spouse doesn’t treat me properly. They don’t give me what I deserve.” He says, “That’s a wrong attitude. A person should be looking at what he’s obligated to do, not what he’s supposed to get back. Chazal tells us for example, “Whoever buys himself a slave, buys himself a master.” It’s Gemara Kiddushin. But that doesn’t mean if the master asks the slave to give him a cup of tea, so the slave could say back to the master, “You will get the cup of tea, and bring me a cup also.” Why? Because Chazal say, “Whoever bought himself a slave, he bought himself a master.” It depends what side you’re looking at it from. Are you looking at it from the slave’s side or the master’s side? Because he has to give his slave a pillow, he has to give him the best food, he has to take care of him – so, from his side but not from the side of his slave.
So, you have contradicting Chazals, different words of the Rabbis which seem to contract each other. For example, you have a Rambam that says, “A wife should consider her husband a king and do whatever he wants.” On the other side you have another Rambam saying, “And he shall love her like himself and honor her more than himself.” If the husband’s bringing this Chazal and the wife is bringing that Chazal, they fight each other, who’s right? It all depends on which side. Like I said, there is a Rambam for the slave, and there’s a Rambam for the master. There’s a Rambam for the wife and a Rambam for the husband. From the master’s side, he has to look at it like he bought himself a master. And from the slave’s side, he has to understand that he’s still a slave.
Another Chazal for example, “Don’t act like a demanding creditor.” The other Chazal says, “There’s a mitzvah to pay the loan.” If you’re the guy who lent out the money, you shouldn’t be demanding. But the other guy can’t say, “Yeah, but it’s a mitzvah to give me a loan.” No. It’s a mitzvah to pay back the loan. He has to look at it from that side. The husband’s Rambam says “He should love her as himself, and honor her more than himself.” And the wife’s Rambam says, “A wife should consider her husband as a king and do whatever he wants.” Each one has to look at it from the side of obligation, not from the side of what the other person owes them. It’s a tremendous chiddush, a very beautiful thing. All these contradictory Chazals, all these Gemaras that don’t fit together – it depends what side you look at it from. You have to look at it from the side that you have to fulfill your obligation, not what the other person owes you. Nobody owes you anything. Man was not made to receive, man was made to give.
He brings a proof. What’s the proof? If you keep borrowing something from your neighbor, at a certain point you yourself will get fed up and then you’ll say, “I’m not going to borrow anymore.” He told a story where the neighbor kept borrowing, so he told his wife, “Go borrow something from her.” The wife says, “But I don’t need anything.” “It doesn’t matter, go borrow from her that she feels good that she’s borrowing, and she’ll continue to borrow from us.” If you don’t feel it’s a reciprocal relationship, you can’t take. You have to give. That’s what it means, “A Jewish home.” The essence of a Jewish home is giving, not taking. Each side has to look at what’s my obligation? What am I obligated to do? Not what am I going to get? Obviously, if you give, you will get back tenfold. We have to control ourselves. Why are Jews called “Yehudim” after the name Yehuda? Because Yehuda controlled himself, that’s what made him the king. When he found out about Tamar, he admitted right away. He controlled his emotions and he said, “You’re right. I’m wrong.” That was the character that made him the king. A Jewish home is about controlling yourself – not just taking, This is the essence of a Jewish home, and if we look to fulfill our obligations, for sure we’re going to have peace in our homes.
That’s it for this week’s podcast. I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it with your friends, and if you can, leave a comment on iTunes. It will really help.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mitterhoff