“The Best of Parashat HaShavuah” Articles taken from list subscriptions on the internet, edited, reformatted and printed for members of Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu




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HALACHA FROM THE SOURCE Can "Maaser Ani" be Given to the Poor Today?

- by Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Rimon, Rabbi of Southern Alon Shevut and a teacher in Yeshivat Har Etzion

This week's Torah portion includes the laws of "maaser ani" – one-tenth of agricultural produce which is given to the poor every third year. "At the end of three years, take out all the maaser of your produce... [make it available] to the stranger, the orphan, and the widow at your city gates" [Devarim 14:28-29].

Maaser ani has no intrinsic holiness, but it must be given to poor people. They can use it in any way that they see fit. This year in the Shemitta cycle is a year of maaser ani (the year 5768 was a Shemitta year, so that this year is the third of the current cycle).

A private person is required to give maaser ani when he separates out the different types of teruma and maaser from produce which has not yet been treated. (Some people are stringent and give maaser ani even in a case of doubt.) How can this be done? It is not a simple matter to give a poor person half a fruit or even a whole one every now and then!

According to the Mishna, one is permitted to give a loan to a Kohen, a Levite, or a poor person, "and to set aside the maaser from their portion" [Gittin 30a]. That is, a person gives a poor man a loan, and when he designates a portion of maaser he reduces the loan by the value of the produce and keeps it for himself.

However, this is not so simple. After all, the poor person must formally take possession of the partial value of the loan before the owner of the produce can make use of it. And if he does not take advantage of some mechanism to formally give the payment to the poor person, he has not fulfilled the mitzva, which is to give the maaser to the poor person.

The Talmud proposes three ways that a Kohen can take possession of the produce. We will discuss the first of these suggestions in more detail.

The Talmud explains that this solution is relevant for an "acquaintance of the Kohen" – that is, that the owner of the fruit usually gives his gifts to this specific Kohen. Thus, all the other Kohanim assume that they will not receive any teruma from this man, and in this case the Kohen is considered to have taken possession of the produce automatically. The Yalmud Yerushalmi implies that there is no such law as an "acquaintance of a poor man" (Gittin 3:7), but the Babylonian Talmud does apply this approach to a poor man too (Gittin 30a). The Rambam accepts this approach (Hilchot Maaser Sheini 7:6).

In some cases a formal act of taking possession is actually performed. However, it is usually not practical to do this. Therefore, the Institute for Torah and the Land prefers to base their system of maaser ani on the concept of an "acquaintance of a poor man." That is, a specific poor person is chosen to receive the gift, and it is therefore possible to make an arragement with this poor person. When the maaser is separated from the produce it is automatically transferred to the poor person. The owner can then immediately use it himself (since he has already given the poor person money to pay for it). In the book "Melo Haomer" (326:4) it is written that this system was used in Jerusalem according to instructions of Mahril Diskin, based on the rule that three consecutive gifts to the same poor man give him the status of "an acquaintance who is poor," such that afterwards no formal act is needed to convey the ownership.

In Practice

One can give a poor person a sum of money as an advance on a loan (this can be done through the services of an organization such as the Institute for Torah and the Land). Then, every time he sets aside some produce for maaser ani the poor person immediately takes possession of it, and the value of the loan is decreased by the value of the maaser. (In the institute, the poor people are given an annual gift of NIS 25 for this purpose.)

This is a way of fulfilling the obligation of teruma and maaser, including maaser ani. We can thus have the privilege of eating the holy fruits of Eretz Yisrael in the holiest and purest way possible.

A LESSON FOR THE CHILDREN The Torn Sack

- by Rabbi Yikhat Rozen, Director of the Or Etzion Institute – Publishing Torah Books of Quality

Yaacov was a poor man who had nothing. While his friends planted their fields, worked the land, and filled their storehouses with grain, Yaacov wandered around dejectedly, trying to find some food for his family. His house was neglected, with peeling plaster on the walls, the large courtyard was abandoned, and the crooked fence around the house emphasized to those who passed by how poor the people who lived there were.

But with all of this, Yaacov did not allow himself to despair. Every day he would go to the market and try to find some sort of work. Now and then he found some small job, such as arranging boxes or carrying heavy loads. In this way he managed to bring home a meager wage, and he was even able to save a few pennies.

As time went on, his small savings began to add up to a larger sum, and one day Yaacov was able to buy a full sack of wheat. This wheat was enough to provide bread for the family for a long time, and Yaacov was very happy that he had been able to buy it. Now he felt that even if he would not find work one day, his children would not go hungry.

The merchant who sold him the wheat offered to bring the sack to Yaacov's house. He took him on his wagon, and let Yaacov off with the sack near the fence around the house. In his joy, Yaacov couldn't wait. He jumped over the fence, as he often did in order to shorten the path to his house, lifted up the sack onto his back, and walked towards the house. At first the sack was very heavy, but it seemed to Yaacov that he was getting used to the weight very quickly, because the closer he got to the house the lighter it felt.

Only when he reached the door of the house and put the sack down did Yaacov understand why it had felt so light. It was three-quarters empty! A brief glance was enough to explain what had happened. The sack had a small tear, and the precious grains had leaked out, all over the courtyard! Evidently Yaacov had torn the sack when he threw it over the fence, and while he carried it on his back the grains had slipped out one by one!

Yaacov was terribly upset by what had happened. He tried to crawl along the path that he had taken and gather the lost grain, but he quickly found that this was impossible. There was no way that he could find the grain among all the grass and stones strewn around the courtyard. What a pity! He had saved for such a long time in order to buy the sack of wheat, and now so much of it was lost!

Yaacov went into his house and gave his wife the almost-empty sack. He was sure that she would be angry about his negligence, but he was surprised to see that she was not angry at all. She said to him, "Just look at the great opportunity that G-d has given us!" Yaacov did not understand, and she went on: "We never had any regular income. We never had the means to invest in a field, and now G-d has given us our own field, planted and ready. And what's more, it is very close to our house. Please, my dearest Yaacov, do not be upset. Go and take care of our courtyard, remove the weeds, plow the land, give it water – do everything that is necessary to turn our courtyard into a productive field. The seeds have already been planted..."

And Yaacov finally understood what she was saying. Grains of wheat can be used as food, but they are also seeds. If they are planted, each seed will grow into an entire plant. And instead of just one sack of wheat he would be able to harvest many more...

Yaacov worked hard to develop his small field, and it was indeed blessed. When the time for harvest came, Yaacov managed to gather a large amount of wheat, filling many sacks. It was enough for his family to eat, and he was able to sell the excess for other expenses.

In the end Yaacov learned that sometimes what appears at first to be damage that the Almighty brought about can be seen as an opportunity, and that what first appears to be a tragedy can sometimes be the source of future hopes and success.

(Source: "Yaacov's Parables," by the Maggid of Dubna) Reactions and suggestions for stories: yikhat1@smile.net.il

A WOMAN'S ANGLE The Way of Life

- by Orah Weingart, author of "The Light of the Moon" and "The Light of the Seven Species"

The following is a discussion of two more mitzvot, in continuation of my previous articles.

To Want to be Like Him – To be Similar to the Holy One, Blessed be He

One of the criteria for a good book or a good movie is how closely the readers or the audience can identify with it. We enjoy laughing or crying together with the figures in the story if they manage to touch us and awaken an echo of our innermost hidden feelings.

With respect to creatures who surround us, we can find points of similarity with ourselves, but with respect to the image of the Holy One, Blessed be He, we can only see a reflection of what we are capable of becoming in the future. The non-divine part of our being is constantly striving to get into the light, and we try to do this by becoming as similar as possible to our original source.

We cannot understand the essence of the Holy One, Blessed be He, but we can observe what He does and describe the way He is perceived in the world. When we identify such a Divine trait or behavior we are commanded to go in the same path – to behave or live in a similar way. For us, this is not an external mimicry but rather a way to fulfill a potential that lies within our own being.

Following the path of G-d and acting in a way similar to Him brings us to mending our relationships with other people in a way that is moral and does good. Thus, for example, since G-d is the source of all good in the world, we are commanded to be a source of good for all those who are near us. This can be expressed in practical actions such as giving and performing acts of kindness, and it can appear as a heartfelt attitude of caring, empathy, and compassion. There are even specific actions that are described in the Torah as Divine activity, such as visiting the sick or consoling mourners.

We can try to emulate other types of traits and titles of G-d, such as being courageous, performing justice, being patient, striving for perfection, and being holy. Repeatedly looking at the ways of G-d as they are expressed in our lives and in the stories of the Torah gives us a broad base for our constant internal labor, which consists of mending our traits and actions in a way that will provide a benefit for all the creatures.

"We have been commanded to be as similar to Him, as much as possible. As is written, 'And you shall go along His ways' [Devarim 28:9]... This means to be similar to Him in performing good deeds and in maintaining the respected traits which are used in analogies to describe Him."

Unbounded Love! – Sanctifying the Holy Name

In general, we love life and we sanctify it. Nothing is as precious as life, this gift of our sojourn in this world. However, there are things which destroy the basis on which life rests. Living in such a situation is to not really live at all. In such cases we have been commanded to allow ourselves to die – to sacrifice our own life and choose eternal life instead.

The point at which we must choose death is not arbitrary. It includes three broad ranges.

The first is the belief in the existence of G-d. If we are given two choices – to deny the existence of G-d and pray to an idol or to die – we must allow ourselves to be killed. The reason for this is simple. Denying the existence of G-d severs us from the umbilical cord which gives us life. Anybody who decides to cut the cord that links him to the source of life can no longer continue to live.

The two other areas are illicit sex and murder. Violating one of these two prohibitions is such a decisive blow to humanity that life is no longer worthy of the title life. (Again it should be stressed that this refers to a conscious choice between sin and death. If the sin has already taken place, it is possible to repent, and in this way to once again choose the path of live.)

Aside from these three categories there is nothing that is more important than life. For example, if a choice must be made between observing Shabbat and saving a life, it is clear that the life must be saved.

On the other hand, there are situations when the general rules change. This can happen when an evil dictator wants to force a person to violate a Torah prohibition. In such cases it is necessary to sacrifice a life. During our long and painful history there have been many examples of this. And our nation proved itself over and over, choosing loyalty to G-d and quite literally following Him in fire and water. The amazing thing is that in many cases the people involved were often not religious in their lives. But in the moment of truth, when the swords were hanging over them and threatened them, their Jewish emotions took over and they were willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice.

In our everyday life we are usually not involved in such high drama, and we do not have very many opportunities to become sudden heroes in a single fateful moment. But as long as we have this strength buried within us and ready to burst forth at a time of need, why can't we also utilize it in more mundane circumstances, which demand only that we rise up above our usual level?

The answer is that we have an infinite number of opportunities to stifle momentary and selfish gratification in favor of eternal life, by overcoming our urges and dedicating ourselves beyond what is most convenient for us and what comes most naturally. In all such cases we can be real heroes.

"We have been commanded to sanctify the holy name, as is written, 'And I will be made holy within Bnei Yisrael' [Vayikra 22:32]. The point of this mitzva is that we have been commanded to publicize this true religion in public, and that we should not fear any harm to us. Thus, even if a powerful ruler will call out to us to deny the Holy One, Blessed be He, we will not listen, and we will definitely sacrifice our own lives."

SOMETHING ABOUT BOOKS "Mishneh Sachir"

- by Avishai Elboim, Director of the Rambam Library (Beit Ariela), Tel Aviv

Rabbi Yissachar Shlomo Teichtal is most famous for his book "Eim Habanim Semeichah" ("The Mother of the Sons is Happy" [Tehillim 113:9]. He wrote this book in the frightful atmosphere of the ghetto in Budapest, and in the book he says some very harsh things about his former anti-Zionist outlook. The book provides broad support for the importance of building up Eretz Yisrael in today's generation, based on the writings of the sages. It is unique in the courage shown by the author and in the sense of truth that can be felt in the text. Rabbi Teichtal was murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

There is testimony about the great impression that Rabbi Teichtal left on his congregation in Budapest after the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the German army (from a letter written by Rabbi Natan Tzvi Friedman, who was present at the time). He stood before the congregation and raised his voice to say, "But we are guilty!" [Bereishit 42:21] (this was the cry of Yosef's brothers). He applied this to the mistake of the rabbis in Europe for not hearing the Divine call to move to Eretz Yisrael.

Rabbi Yissachar Shlomo Teichtal also published "Mishneh Sachir" – two volumes of responsa that he wrote as a rabbi in various towns in Slovakia between the two world wars.

He writes the following in the introduction to the book about why he chose this name:

"This is based on the verse, 'For he worked double for pay' [Devarim 15:18], which Rashi explains to mean that the Jewish slave worked double, both during the day and at night, and he therefore deserves double pay. Let G-d grant me that I will serve Him both during the day and at night, and that I will be able to spend day and night on Torah and Divine service."

The first volume of this book was published in 5684 (1924), and the second volume was published in 5700 (1940). All the copies of the second volume were destroyed by the oppressors, except for one single copy that was in Rabbi Teichtal's possession. Additional sections were published by his sons later from manuscripts that were kept in hiding and guarded by a trustworthy Gentile during the war.

Rabbi Teichtal was a unique figure who combined great skills in both halacha and the agada. His halachic works, as seen in the volumes of Mishneh Sachir, put him at the top of halachic decision makers in Hungary, and his book Eim Habanim Semachah shows the breadth of his knowledge in matters of faith and Jewish philosophy.

It sometimes seems as if being occupied with halacha leads to decreased involvement with agadda. The usual opinion is that a Torah scholar spends most of his productive time on the "fine print" of detailed halacha. It can be assumed that if Rabbi Teichtal's greatness in halacha would not have been known from his books Mishneh Sachir his philosophical book Eim Habanim Semeicha would not have been considered so important. That is, the public image of a Torah scholar is of a person who is deeply involved in the Talmud and the halachic decisions of the rabbis and much less in matters of faith and philosophy. This viewpoint has also influenced the sequence in which books written by Torah scholars were published in our own generation. Here are two examples:

(1) Rabbi Meir Simcha from Dvinsk: Rabbi Meir Simcha was one of the most prominent rabbis in the generation before the Holocaust. He too wrote two books: Or Samayach is a collection of novel commentaries on the Mishneh Torah of the Rambam, in depth and with logical analysis. Meshech Chochma is a collection of remarkable commentaries on the Torah. Rabbi Meir Simcha wrote Meshech Chochma first, and he wanted to publish it immediately. But his grandfather, the famous Rabbi Chanania, advised him to wait and warned Rabbi Meir not to do so. He said: If Meshech Chochma appears first you will be known as one who gives sermons, and this will ruin your reputation in the future. Even if you publish Or Samayach later, nothing will change. (Source: Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk).

(2) Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook: After Rav Kook passed away, his son Rav Tzvi Yehuda decided to dedicate his life to publishing his father's works. He decided to first print the books on halacha. He feared that his illustrious father might be remembered only as a philosopher and a public leader but not as a Torah giant. In order to make sure that his father's image would be accepted by the public as a great Torah scholar, Rav Tzvi Yehuda wanted to first show his father's expertise in halacha. According to Rav Tzvi Yehuda, he had a strong disagreement about this issue with Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan, the editor of the Talmudic Encyclopedia and the chairman of the committee for publishing Rav Kook's works. Rav Tzvi Yehuda insisted on publishing the halachic books first, while Rabbi Bar-Ilan wanted to emphasize the philosophical aspects of the work, since he felt that this is what the generation needed most and what was truly unique about Rav Kook. ("Mashmia Yeshua," page 61).

(To request Torah literature from the Rambam Library: elboim_a@mail.tel-aviv.gov.il)

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