Torah Portion of the week – Mishpatim – How to Become Pure – Love is the Answer – A Powerful Parable about the Blind-folded Traveler – A Great Story about the Chafetz Chiam and Peace in Your Home – Shidduchim – The Ultimate Torah Podcast
Torah Podcast Transcript
045 – The Torah Podcast – How To Become Pure – Love is the Answer
Torah Portion of the Week – Mishpatim
Now we’re holding right after last week’s Parsha, where we received the Torah. We had this tremendous experience bein adam leMakom, between man and God – that relationship was sealed. In this week’s Parsha, God comes to tell us, “Listen, it’s not sufficient just between man and God. You also have to have bein adam l’adam, the relationships between men – people and people. This week’s Parsha is filled with mitzvos that have to do with man and his fellow man. And from these possukim there are tons and tons of Gemaras. Much of the Talmud is filled up with the possukim of this week’s Parsha. Even though we received all these wonderful mitzvos of how to deal with other human beings, we still have to go another level deeper, which is the purity behind the mitzvos; the motivations and the intentions of the individual doing the mitzvah. This applies both on the level of between man and God, and on the level between man and man. We’re going to discuss it.
Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz brings this verse, the verse that speaks about ribis, interest. According to the Torah, it’s forbidden to charge somebody else interest. It’s a very, very strict prohibition. The verse says, “When you lend money to my people, to the poor that be with you, be not unto him as a demanding creditor. Nor shall you place any interest upon him.” The Rabbis expand on this. What does it mean, “Es Ami, lend money to my people? Do not treat him with a bezayon, with embarrassment, because you’re lending to my people,” God says. “Be careful.” The verse also said, “Es haoni imech,” the poor person that’s with you. Why with you? Chazal tells us, you should imagine yourself that you’re the poor person. What does it mean, “Do not be a demanding creditor?” Do not press a person for payment if you know they don’t have the money. That’s how Rashi explains it. You see how careful you have to be when it comes to the mitzvah of lending out money to people. Even though it’s a tremendous chessed, a tremendous kindness, but you have to be very careful. It’s very interesting, that ribis, interest, is very very severe. There’s a verse in Yehezkel that says, “Le chayav lo yihyeh, a person who lends with interest, he will not live.” That’s very extreme. Not that it’s the punishment, it’s that the person is not worthy of life. Shemos Rabba says, “He’s not worthy of life in this world or in the next world.” The question is, what’s so strict? It’s extreme – why? The person lent the money. He did a kindness. He did exactly what Chazal said. And we’re assuming that he did everything else that Chazal told us to do. Besides charging interest, okay that he didn’t do. But for sure, if we isolate the factor, he must have treated him properly, and he didn’t press him for payment. So, he did the chessed, he lent the guy $100,000. It’s not a chessed? What a tremendous mitzvah. Yes, but he charged the guy interest. With this, he doesn’t deserve to live. The question is, why? The answer is, because he did the mitzvah for himself. He didn’t do the mitzvah to help the other guy. He did the mitzvah for his own self-gratification. He’s fallen very far from what God demands from us.
We know there are two separate words for interest in the verses. One is called tarbis, and the other one is called neshech. Tarbis means to increase, in other words, do not increase – when you lend somebody else money, don’t increase the amount that you can receive back more. And neschech means biting. Don’t bite the other person, because you can hurt the other person. So, these are two sides to the same coin. On one side you’re going to hurt the other person. On the other side, you’re going to take. Which one did Yeheskel say when he said that the person doesn’t deserve to live, which one was he talking about? He wasn’t talking about that you’re going to hurt the other person. He used the loshen, the language, tarbis, that the person is going to take, he’s going to gain. He’s going to gain from doing the mitzvah, and that’s what he did wrong. A person who does a mitzvah for the wrong sake turns into an averah, it turns into a sin. It would be better off if he didn’t do the mitzvah. It would have been better off not lending the money, because what’s he doing? He’s just doing it for himself. The verse says, “V’chessed haamim chattas,” if a person does chessed for the sake of lifting himself up – he’s helping other people to get a good name, to become famous, to become rich, whatever reason he’s doing it for – that’s a sin. And nothing is lacking in the act. The act is a perfect act, he lent him the money. What’s lacking is in the intention. He did it for the wrong reasons. He did not have pure intention. This turns out to be a tremendous sin. So, God-forbid even if we do all the mitzvos and we’re religious, and we keep the Torah, but if we do it for the wrong reason we’re in serious trouble. On the other hand, there’s a Gemara in Bava Basra that says, “If a Jew gives tzedakah, charity, and he has it in mind that it should heal his wife or heal his son, it’s still considered a mitzvah.” Why is that true? It looks like an alternative motive. The answer is no. He really is doing it for tzedakah. As a side point he would like that his wife will get healed and his child will get healed. But he’s still doing it l’shem shemayim, he’s doing it for God. He’s doing it for the right reasons. There’s two parts to the mitzvah, there’s the act of the mitzvah and the intention of the mitzvah, and they both have to line up to be pure.
Now, listen to this. This could even apply to purely spiritual things. For example, we have a verse also in this week’s Parsha that Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron, were punished because the verse says, “They beheld Hashem and they ate and they drank.” What do you mean, “They ate and they drank?” According to Onkelos, it doesn’t mean that they actually ate and drank food. They had a tremendous perception of God’s presence. They relished in it, they took it for themselves. They got pleasure, self-gratification from God. That doesn’t sound like such a bad thing. It is. If you’re not doing it leshem shamayim, even spirituality itself can be a sin. And we know the punishment was that they were killed. This is very heavy stuff, but we see the importance of the intention, of what’s a person’s kavanna? Ah, you’re trying to come close to God. You want to perceive God. You want to see the shechina. It’s true, but why? For the sake of God, or for the sake of yourself? If it’s just selfishness, it has nothing to do with the Torah, Ma she ain ken, which was not true by Moshe Rabbeinu. The verse says, “Not so, my servant Moshe.” Moshe did not take anything for himself. He did everything 100% leshem shamayim, for the sake of God.
There’s a famous story of the Vilna Gaon that exemplifies this quality. One time there was a very rich man, and he was the only person in the town of the Vilna Gaon that had an esrog. It was Sukkos, and Vilna Gaon wanted to do the mitzvah of lulav and esrog. He asked the man if he could buy the esrog from him. The man said, “No problem, you can buy it from me. But you should know, I want all the credit, the spiritual credit that you are going to get from doing the mitzvah of the esrog, I want to receive it.” When the Vilna Gaon heard this he jumped up and down. He said, “All my life I’ve looked forward to being able to fulfill the mitzvah, be a servant serving their master without the expectation of a reward.” Now, the Vilna Gaon had a chance to do the mitzvah of lulav and esrog 100% leshem shamayim. Why? Because he wasn’t going to be getting any reward from it. The other guy was getting the reward, so he was doing it 100% pure, and he was so excited and happy about it because he was able to do this mitzvah, and not receive any personal pleasure.
Now, this principle doesn’t only apply to mitzvos in private, but it also applies to mitzvos in public. For example, sameach chosson v’kallah, making the bride and groom happy at their wedding. This mitzvah also has to be done leshem shamayim. Everybody’s looking at you when you’re dancing, and you’re in front of them and you’re making fun. But it has to be 100% leshem shamayim. The verse in Micha says, “He has told you, what is good and what Hashem demands of you. But doing justice, lovingkindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” The Gemara in Sukkos explains that walking humbly with God means, doing the mitzvos of sameach chosson v’kallah, making happy the bride and the groom, and properly attending the dead. Also at a funeral, you have to do the mitzvah leshem shamayim. You can’t show how holy you are, how great you are. Wow, how you’re crying in front of everybody. It has to be 100% for the right reason. I’m not saying these things are easy but we have to know what God is demanding from us. Again, it’s not a question of just doing the acts. It’s the intention behind the acts, that’s what counts.
There’s another famous example that the Mesillas Yesharim brings down. The daughter of Rav Chanina ben Tradyon. This was the daughter of one of the Gedolim, of the greats. She was condemned to live among the harlots, the zonot of Rome. What did she do to deserve this punishment? It says, “One time she was walking before the nobility of Rome, and they remarked, ‘How lovely this young woman walks.’ Then she was even more careful how she walked.” Most people read the Chazal the opposite. They were saying, “Wow, how sexy she looks,” and it was really just the opposite. They were looking how modestly she walked. She walked with such modesty, you could hardly notice her. When she heard that, she even walked with more modesty. She was showing off. So, for the enjoyment that she received that they were praising her for being modest, for this she was punished. I wouldn’t be able to say these things myself, it’s only because we have Chazal to tell us these things that we know they exist.
A lot of this comes from showing off in front of your friends. You want to show off. You want to be better than other people. The possuk in Koheles says, “I saw that all labor and all skillful enterprise springs from man’s rivalry with his neighbor. This too is futility, and vexation of the spirit.” This rivalry doesn’t mean specifically in having a better car, and having a better house. It also means in terms of mitzvos. We shouldn’t show off our mitzvos, we shouldn’t use our mitzvos to uplift ourselves in front of other people. It’s a private relationship between us and God.
Rav Wolbe now takes this to even a deeper level. We know that if a Jew gets caught stealing, and he doesn’t have enough money to pay back, we sell him as a Jewish slave. That’s the way he’s going to pay back the owner. Chazal tells us that you have to treat this slave with a tremendous respect. It’s not really a punishment that he’s sold as a slave. It’s a way for him to pay back, but you have to treat him with a tremendous respect. Even though he’s sinned, you still have to respect a person. He also brings another case in this week’s Parsha. The verse says, “If you should see the donkey of your enemy collapsing under its load, so you have to help this person lift up the donkey and the load.” The Gemara in Bava Metzia explains, “What does it mean your enemy? This a person who has his donkey, the things fell down. This person is a baal averah, he’s a sinner. Really al pi Torah, you’re allowed to hate him. This same person that you’re allowed to hate, you’re supposed to give him a din kedima, priority, he comes first if there is two donkeys – one your friend’s, and one him, and they both fell down, you have to help your enemy first, and he’s a sinner. So, why? If the Torah permits you to hate this sinner, why does the Torah also demand you to help him first? It’s the same answer. The answer has to do with the purity of the mitzvah, because the Torah wants you to overcome your hatred for this person. Ah, he’s a sinner. But if you hate him, you know what’s going to happen? He’s going to hate you back. And then it’s going to be pure hatred, and then the thing is going to turn into not leshem shamayim. It’s not like you’re hating him because he did against God. You were going to hate him because he hates you, and you hate him, it’s going to become a personal thing. It’s going to drop to the level of your personality being involved. The mitzvah of hating the guy will no longer be a mitzvah anymore. You’re doing it for the wrong reasons. You don’t hate him because he did an averah. You don’t hate him because he’s against God. You hate him because you hate him.
So, the Torah came along and made a mitzvah – this is beautiful – the Torah came along and made a mitzvah to take away that hatred, to make sure that what you’re doing is leshem shamayim, for the sake of God. What does it mean that the Torah gave permission to hate him? To hate his maasim, to hate his actions, not him, not him personally. You hate what he did. You have to separate the actions from the person. Rav Yerucham explains that this is a very high level, to separate the actions from the person. Most people can’t do it. But that’s what the Torah requires from us; purity. If you see a fellow Jew who is a baal averah, he’s a sinner, he doesn’t keep Shabbos. He doesn’t go according to the Torah. You still have to love him, because for him you have to love him. His sins, you have to hate.
I just want to end off with the Mesillas Yesharim who asks, “Who can live up to this level? It is so difficult.” He has a whole paragraph on it, I’m going to read it to you. “This is the chosen way of those who serve the Eternal with a whole heart; for he who does not cleave to the Eternal with absolute love, the adoption of this type of service will become very, very difficult to bear. He will say, “Who can sustain such a thing.” We are ordinary men and women. We cannot possibly attain such refinement and purification. But the hearts of those who love the Eternal, who aspire to serve Him and rejoice with Him, expressing the commitment of the love for Him, and strengthening themselves, the refinement and purification and His service. This is what Dovid Hamelech said, ‘And Your servant loves it.’” That paragraph ends off with this verse, “My son, give your heart to Me.” This level that we’re talking about, this purity of doing the mitzvos is only for someone who really loves God. Only someone who really loves God could keep up with this type of refinement, to reach these levels where they do the mitzvos with purity, without taking for themselves.
In conclusion, we have to know that these levels exist. And the way to get there is through love, through the love of God. And I would venture to say, that’s why at Sinai at first, the Jews had the experience of God, which opened up their hearts; which made them realize that they’re dependent 100% on God, and everything He’s doing is a chessed for us. The whole world was created for us, only for our good. Everything is a blessing. We can’t even count our blessings. Then, after we experienced that love relationship, then we move on to the mitzvos bein adam lechavero, between man and man, where it’s so difficult to have purity, to be pure – to love the man and hate his sins, to make that separation. So, in order to get to these levels, we have to increase our love of God.
A Powerful Parable
The Chofetz Chaim has a parable. One time there was a weary traveler, and he stopped at a crossroads. He didn’t know which way to go. He was lost, so he asked these two farmers who he saw in a field, “Which way should I go? How do I get to town?” They said to him, “Listen, if you go right it’s going to take you a couple of extra hours, but it’s a much better trip. On the other hand, you go left, it’s shorter it’s true, but you’re going to have to go through a forest that’s filled with all these thorns and wild animals.” The guy said, “Listen, I’m too tired. I want to go the shorter way. These thorns and wild animals are not going to bother me. I won’t even know they exist.” So, the farmers said to each in amazement, “What’s with this guy? Let’s follow him. What, he thinks he has super powers? Let’s follow him to see what he does.” They followed him. As the guy gets closer to the forest, he takes something out of his pocket. What is it? A handkerchief. They say, “Oh, this is his secret weapon.” What does he do? He takes the handkerchief, and he puts it on his eyes. He starts to walk in the forest, confident that he is not going to see any danger. What happened? The farmers shouted at him, “Stop, stop!” No, too late. He bumped into a tree, and he was laying there unconscious. That was the moshul, parable.
What’s the nimshal, conclusion? People think if they don’t know about the danger, they don’t know about the spiritual danger and the physical danger, therefore it’s not dangerous. It’s not true. They think that when the Rabbi gives tochacha, he starts to rebuke the people in shul, synagogue, they will just walk out of shul. It’s not going to help. The fact is the fact. Blindfolding yourself, closing yourself off to the spiritual reality, does not help. In Tehillim, the mitzvos are described as “meirot ainayim,” brighteners of the eyes. They open up the eyes. So, we can’t close our eyes to the spiritual dangers. And when we learn, we will understand the responsibilities that we really have.
Great Stories – Chofetz Chaim
One time, the Chofetz Chaim was going to a certain town. He was going to stay at this Rabbi’s house. At the house there was a lot of excitement, and getting ready for the Chofetz Chaim to come. They’re preparing the food. What happened? The Rebbetzen forgot to tell the maid that she salted the soup. The maid salted it again, but when they served the soup to the Chofetz Chaim he ate it without even batting an eyelash, and he finished his soup. Then the host tasted the soup, and he had a bad look on his face, so the Chofetz Chaim said, “Listen. Please be quiet. Just eat the soup, don’t say a word that it was over-salted. It must be because of the excitement of doing the mitzvah of having guests in your house, that the maid salted the soup a little bit too much. And if your wife discovers what happened, she’s going to get mad at her, and they’ll start to fight. Let’s just keep the whole thing quiet. When your wife comes in, we’ll give her a compliment, how great the soup was.”
Peace in Your Home
Rav Nachman Diament speaks about shidduchim. This is about setting up marriages between young men and women. He says, “What happens usually? All of a sudden when this bochur, this Yeshiva kid is about to get married, everybody says he’s the best kid in the Yeshiva. This girl all of a sudden is the best girl in the Seminar. It’s really impossible to get reliable information, because as soon as you make a telephone call, everybody says they’re the best. What happens? Let’s say you have a good girl, and she wants to marry a good guy. Since everybody says, ‘This is the best guy,’ she winds up marrying this guy. All of a sudden she sees this guy is sleeping till 10:00 o’clock every day. He jokes around when it comes to spiritual matters. This is going to wind up to be a very unhappy marriage.
Why do people do this? Because they think it’s being kind to whitewash the truth. But it’s not true. Nobody likes being lied to. What is hateful for you, you shouldn’t do to your friend. These bochurim in the Yeshiva instead of helping their friend, they’re hurting him. Because the parents of the girl call this guy up, they called up the friend and what happens is, he says he’s the best boy, and they wind up getting married and the marriage is horrible. They’ll ruin the kid’s life. You have stories also where the girl lies about her age, and after they get married they find out that she’s four years older than him. It destroys the marriage.
This is a true story. One time, a young man came to him and said, “Rav Shteinman wants me to divorce my wife.” He was married to an orphan. People set up this orphan with this boy. He met the boy and thought, “Wow, what a great boy. This boy is even good enough for my daughter. What’s the problem? Why did Rav Shteinman say that he has to divorce his wife?” He couldn’t understand.
He went to Rav Shteinman and he asked about the boy. Rav Shteinman says, “Yes, it’s true. I told him he has to get divorced.” He said to him, “Yeah, but the boy told me for sure you have to hear his side of the story.” He says, “Listen, this boy is not well. He forgot that he had an attack inside my house. He had some kind of sickness, obviously. Maybe he was an epileptic, I don’t know what, but they didn’t tell the girl. The boy looked good, and seems like a nice boy. But he was really physically or mentally sick. So, the people who set it up they figured, they’d get this orphan girl and they’ll marry this girl to this boy. But they destroyed the girl’s life. Did they do a mitzvah for this orphan? They made the girl miserable. And now it comes out even worse, because everybody’s going to know why he got a divorce, so he’ll never be able to get married.”
He said that his Rosh Yeshiva was just the opposite. He would tell the parents exactly what the boy was. The Yeshiva bochurim were getting upset. Comes along this father looking for a guy to marry their daughter, and they go to speak to the Rosh Yeshiva about the boy. The Rosh Yeshiva tells them everything. The boys are like, “Rebbe, what are you doing? You’re ruining our shidduchim” He says, “Listen. Today, you’re angry at me. But in the future you’re going to be happy. Why? Because you’ll get a girl who’s fitting for you. You don’t want a girl who’s not fitting for you, and she doesn’t want a guy that’s not fitting for her.”
So, now we have to find the balance of how much you say and what you say, and what you don’t say. For example, if they ask you, “How does the boy look?” and he doesn’t really look so good, you don’t have to say, “He’s ugly.” You could say, “Listen, looks are a matter of taste. Let them meet and let her decide.” But when it comes to personality for example, if she’s looking for an extrovert and he’s really an introvert, don’t say that he’s an extrovert. It’s not true. He says, “You could subtract 80% of what you hear and 20% you can keep. If three people all said the same thing, you can assume it to be true. Also, you have to read between the lines. What was not said? It’s very important, what was not said. If they said, ‘he’s extremely sociable,’ but they didn’t mention a word about his yirat shemayim, nobody talked about whether he had fear of Heaven; whether he was exacting in mitvos or not, you can assume there’s a problem in that area.”
Also, once the couple meets, forget about everything that was said. They should forget about everything that was said. They have to see each other for who they are, because if everybody said he was an extrovert and she meets him and he’s an introvert, so that means he’s an introvert. So, just forget about it. At that point, they have to make their own decisions.
And another rule is, never speak about money matters with the chosson and the kallah, with the young boy and the girl. Do not bring money into it. Don’t let them deal with the money at all. That’s between the two parents. Even if the father-in-law wants to support this boy to learn, that’s between him and the boy’s father, because these fights that you have at the very early stages can last an entire marriage. 25 years later, the girl’s saying, “Why did your father do this thing?” Or, “Why did your mother do this?” Keep them out of that.
I just want to end off with a story that he brings at the end of the chapter. I don’t know why he brought it here in shidduchim, but it’s a big foundation in marriage. There was a woman that came to him, who was 44 years old. She says, “I’m now interested in getting married.” He says, “Why do you want to get married? At this point, you probably can’t have children anymore.” She says, “I know, I just have a feeling I want to get married now.” He says to her, “Let’s talk about what happened until now. Why didn’t you get married until now?” This is very charif, it’s very sharp, but this is how the story goes. He said, “It’s probably because you were too egotistical, and you wanted an easy life. You didn’t want anybody to tell you what to do. You wanted to travel when you could travel. You wanted to do whatever you wanted. You didn’t want responsibility of children and a husband, and having to take care of things.” She admitted to that, “It’s true. You’re right.” He said to her, “Listen, there’s two parts of life. There’s before 44 and after 44. Before 44, while you’re young, a person can do whatever they want; whatever they’re in the mood for. They could eat whatever they want. They could travel wherever they want, no problem. But after 44, signs of age start to show up, and you start to realize, ‘I can’t eat whatever I want. I can’t do whatever I want. I can’t travel wherever I want.’ A person is tired, maybe he doesn’t feel well. And they start to realize that they’re not in control of their life, but life is in control of me.’” He said, “What happened with you is you realized, ‘Oy, vey.’ Who’s going to help me through this? I have limitations. Who’s going to help me out?’ and your confidence started to shake.” This is very sharp, but this is what he says. “The reason why you want to get married now is the same reason why you didn’t want to get married before. It all has to do with your ego. You’re not interested in giving you’re only interested in getting. You didn’t want to get married before, because you didn’t want to give. And you want to get married now because you want to get.” He says, “Each one of us, we destroy the plan of creation. The plan for marriage is that the husband should give to the wife, and the wife should give to the husband. They shouldn’t be concerned about what they’re going to get. They have to be concerned about what they’re going to give. So, the husband quotes the Chazal that says, ‘A proper wife does the will of her husband,’ and then the woman quotes the Chazal that says, ‘Honor her and love her more than yourself,’ and each one’s complaining, ‘Why are you not giving to me?’ That type of marriage is not going to work out. The only type of marriage that’s going to work out is when each individual wants to give to the other side. Then the couple will find true love.”
Okay, that’s it for this week’s podcast. I hope you enjoyed it. Please leave comments on iTunes. Please rate me on iTunes and share it with your friends.
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