Weekly Parsha Review Laced with Humor and Sarcasm from The Oisvorfer Ruv

Behar 2019: Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free Card

Raboyseyee and Ladies

Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free Card:

Long before President Trump –an expert in stimulation, if you chap, got the economy roaring -hot mamish- by using various stimuli –specifically tax reform and a few other moves- which have resulted in record low unemployment, the RBSO in His heylige Toirah, in this week’s short parsha (57 pisukim) of Behar, read this year as a singleton, gave us a lesson in job creation and employment. We shall explore that below, ober ershtens….

Nu, Boruch Hashem, Lag Bo’oimer, the 33rd day of the Oimer was counted last night –by now without a brocho for most of the Oisvorfer’s chaverim –himself sadly included,  and Yiddin all over the world are busy celebrating today by taking haircuts, shaving their beards, attending weddings, listening to music, and for many, also marking the official end to the observance of sefira restrictions, though we have over two and one half weeks before we complete counting the full 49 days as commanded in the heylige Toirah in last week’s parsha. Some say that on this day, Rebbe Akiva’s students –24,000 of them, other say with 24,000 pairs for a total of 48,000- all died between Pesach and Shovuis. Ober on Lag Bo’oimer none died. Why we celebrate the death of -who knows exactly how many- that may have passed from day one of the Oimer until today, ver veyst? Logic might dictate that the Yiddin would busy themselves on this day mourning their passing, ober, since when does logic rule? In any event, according to kabolo (mysticism) there are indeed good reasons to mark this day with joy. We have previously covered the topic of Rashbi’s birth and passing –both, according to legend- on this day: avada we don’t argue with mystics, perhaps they have special powers, ver veyst. If you want to read more about Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai’s life, visit the archives at www.oisvorfer.com.

Ober this year, let’s instead begin here.  Nu, imagine someone ringing your bell and telling you that he/she needs money. Not much to imagine because such occurrences take place –in certain neighborhoods- almost daily, and certainly on weekends. And taka for the most part, those appearing at our doors are in need, or so they appear. We have to assume that most – ober zicher not all- are somewhat real. We are taught to help these people and we do. Now, imagine this scenario: a person rings your doorbell seeking money. Naturally you ask a few questions and in response you hear that the person asking is not at all destitute. He has assets, and even money. He just doesn’t have what he used to; he’s recently experienced losses, and is on the decline. His lifestyle has been affected. He cannot -at the moment- afford to take a vacation, perhaps a planned safari trip to Africa. Efsher he wants to lease a new expensive car. What to do? Is this person worthy of your charity? Or, should you politely just tell him to pare down his lifestyle? And we ask these questions why?

Because this week’s parsha of Behar which is mostly, in fact almost wholly, dedicated to shmita (think shabbis for the land), yoivel (jubilee), the charging of interest on loans extended, owning Jewish slaves, and a few other mitzvis (24 in total), so says the RambaM, does contain one posik which davka address this very issue, and a few others which teach life lessons in how to properly help people. In fact, just after a description of shmita, yoivel, selling one’s home to pay off his debt and Jewish slavery, does the heylige Toirah introduce a series of laws which deal with day-to-day life; reality. We are given a few –some might even say- restrictive laws governing commerce, which include prohibition against  fraud, charging interest, laws governing the sale of houses, land, and more. And the heylige Toirah then provides specific examples of how we are to act when one’s luck turns bad. Is the heylige Toirah kidding or what? Not charging interest on loans?! Isn’t that what Yiddin did for centuries? Do Are Yiddin not involved in hard-money loans? In cash advances? Indeed they are. Was the heylige Toirah but kidding -specifically on waiving interest- and what did one very enterprising rabbi and mistama a shtikel loan shark himself, ver veyst, do to correct or modify this harsh ruling? Did he nullify the RBSO’s commandments? Say it’s not so please.

Seasoned Oisvorfer readers know that we have previously reviewed this parsha; this is our ninth time around parshas Behar. We’ve covered shmita and yoivel in depth and also discussed how some of the mitzvis found in Behar gave birth to a few of the greatest sanctioned loopholes and how a very wise man of that time figured out that loopholes are an integral part of our Toirah observance. Boruch Hashem he created two very critical documents which mistama stimulated the economy of his generation and forever changed the landscape: where would we be without Hillel and his Toirah sanctioned loopholes? Mistama in gihenim (hell), of course! As an aside, the Heter Iska (the name of the document which when executed by both parties to a money transactions) is a device developed in the 12th to 14th centuries to overcome the Biblical prohibition against charging interest by one Jew to another. It has been described as a loan structured in a certain way -think loophole- under Jewish law that allows interest. Let’s get real: loopholes allow many Yiddin to remain observant. The truth is that legal loopholes are part of the Divine system; the RBSO wants His Yiddin to live by His rules and not to die while observing them.  Without a return on their funds, Yiddin would plotz, mamish. The system while rigid in certain areas was designed with leeway in the form of loopholes. Stretchy pants which give an extra inch or more and allow one to maintain -for psychological reasons- one’s waist size while shopping, come to mind. They are still pants and the loan/partnership is still basically a loan. You can of course find many givaldige insights on these parshas over at www.oisvorfer.com.


Shoin, let’s read posik 35.  Says the heylige Toirah (Vayikro 25: 35), azoy:


35If your brother becomes destitute and his hand falters beside you, you shall support him [whether] a convert or a resident, so that he can live with you.   להוְכִֽי־יָמ֣וּךְ אָחִ֔יךָ וּמָ֥טָה יָד֖וֹ עִמָּ֑ךְ וְהֶֽחֱזַ֣קְתָּ בּ֔וֹ גֵּ֧ר וְתוֹשָׁ֛ב וָחַ֖י עִמָּֽךְ:

Live with us? Maybe you but not me! Not just must we give him money, he must also live with us? And what’s pshat a convert or a resident?  Is the convert Jewish? Are we indeed obligated to help the goy? Says the medrish (Sifra), azoy: the posik above does not talk about a person who loses everything and is defined as mamish “poor.” Who else would come knocking or ringing incessantly? Was the heylige Toirah referring to a van full of Russians donning black hats? And a few other questions come to mind: Ershtens: do we -in our times- really practice and perform this mitzvah? Is it still active? Do we -in real life- mamish extend help to those who are but experiencing a downfall? Is this real? Nuch a shaylo: the words of the posik seem a shtikel contradictory. They begin with the terminology of “your brother,” (i.e., a fellow Yid, efsher someone from your tribe or clan, at least your shul or neighborhood) but the wording at the very end of that posik seems to imply that we must help any person in trouble, Jew or non-Jew!? Do we –in our times- actually do that? And while many exegetes provide slightly different interpretations and understandings of the words in this commandment, and who has to be helped, the idea of strengthening those who are falling down, but have not yet hit bottom, all agree on its importance.


Seemingly, the chidush (surprise) is that the medirsh is davka (very specifically) talking about a person who is in financial decline, maybe a bind, he’s davka not yet poor. He is in a state of decline –in Yiddish we refer to this person as a yoired (he’s is in the midst of suffering a decline in his wealth and mistama also status), ober he has not lost everything. Not yet. Those familiar with economics knows how hard it is to stem such a decline. At times, a person needs to hit rock bottom before things begin to look up.

The medrish continues and says: to what is this similar? To a person falling off a mule. He is still seated –someone catches him and sets him straight; (ober), if he falls – five people cannot lift him.” In other words: the meaning of “his hand falters” expresses that his hold is weakening. This person, who was a successful businessman or whatever, suddenly lost his grip. Having a good grip is mistama better, but not always good, if you chap. His income is in danger, he is worried about his future. The RBSO instructs the  Yiddin to help in such a situation – we are to hold this fellow Yid up. We are to lend a hand, thereby preventing a total collapse.


Ober, the Toirah’s answer seems puzzling, at least semantically: it begins with “your brother” and ends with “a convert or a resident”. The words “and you shall strengthen him”, are not entirely clear. Would it not have been more accurate to simply state, “and you shall help him”, instead of “strengthen him?” What’s taka pshat? Nu, these words also puzzled others and many have written on them. From this phrase, “you shall strengthen him”, our Sages inferred azoy: it’s our tafkid (mission) to support the weaker elements of society. Says Rashi: “do not allow him to fall down and collapse altogether, in which case it would be difficult to pick him up again. Rather, ‘hold him’ while his hand is still faltering. To what can this be compared? To a load on a donkey: while it is still on the donkey, one person can grasp it and hold it in place. Once it falls to the ground, however, five people cannot pick it up.”


The bottom line: when you see someone beginning to fall, hold him, don’t let him fall, and only then offer a helping hand. It may well be too late. We are exhorted to do all we can to ensure that our ‘friend’ never reaches the state of becoming needy. We must therefore help him earn a dignified living, and if he does, he won’t need anyone else’s help later on. Our sages, based on the unusual wording in the Toirah, set forth policy. Seemingly, it is our responsibility, our charge, to ensure that our friends, and even strangers never hit bottom. It is seemingly on us to make sure that our friends remain employed and make a decent living. We must stimulate them. If they lose their jobs, it’s efsher our charge to find them another one, or to create one for them. The RBSO does not necessarily want us doling out money in the form of charity; instead, we are to make sure they don’t need charity. The Gemora teaches that a person, who devises a method of giving charity while avoiding humiliation to the recipient, is a “tzadik gomur” (an exceptionally pious individual). The lesson: the beneficiary of your kindness should feel the minimum amount of embarrassment when being helped. An even higher level: to ensure that the recipient does not feel that he is being helped at all, rather he is in some way helping the giver!


Says the RambaM: “there are eight degrees of Tzedoko, one higher than the other. The highest degree of all is where one strengthens the hands of a Jew who faces poverty, giving him a gift or a loan, entering into a business partnership with him, or giving him a job in order to strengthen his hand and to prevent him from becoming an object of Tzedoko. It is with regard to this that Scripture says:  ‘you shall strengthen him… so that he can live with you’. The meaning is: “Strengthen him before he falls and needs to be supported by others.” Says the Beis Yoisef: giving to someone in such a way that enables him to be independent is of such great value because the recipient is not embarrassed by the help he is receiving. This is mainly because he does not see himself as taking a handout. People want to earn their own livelihood. For those reason, giving in a way that the recipient does not feel this lack of dignity is considered to be a great feat, over and above the actual giving in and of itself. Ober, what about the wording of the instructions? What about the instruction to help “a stranger and a resident?” The posik began with “brother”, and ended with a “resident”, to teach us that even if the person in need is “merely” a resident, or even a stranger, it’s still the right thing to do. Preparing the necessary social infrastructure to support individuals and groups before they collapse is always better than providing emergency relief after someone has already reached rock-bottom. Says the Chofetz Chaim: every yid should grant another Jew an interest-free loan, and recommends that each person apportion some tzedoko money earmark such funds for the granting of such loans. On the other hand, it is perfectly permissible for a person to invest money in a Jewish business, and to share proportionally in whatever profits or losses there may be. Veyter.


Let’s look at another concept as delineated in posik 47. Says the heylige Toirah (Vayikro 25:47), azoy: “…and your brother becomes destitute with him and is sold to a resident non-Jew among you, or to an idol of the family of a non-Jew…”  Says the heylige Gemora (Kiddushin 20a-b), azoy: the mitzvis pertaining to how, and to whom we must help, depict a downward spiral—both spiritual and financial—of a person who is not careful in his observance of the heylige Toirah’s laws. And these are connected to what to the naked eye seems like other disparate topics in the parsha to include shmita, Yoivel, Jewish slavery and more. Ober how? The parsha begins with the proper observance of shmita during which farmers get a rest every seven years, the land is to remain fallow mamish, and then talks about yoivel. From there, the parsha discusses the laws of selling property, loans, and then about selling oneself as a slave. Says the Gemora so gishmak, azoy: all these topics are related: first the warning and then the consequences. If we plow when and where we are not supposed to, sadly many can relate, if you chap, if we don’t refrain from agricultural pursuits during the shmita year, we will –as punishment from the RBSO- eventually be forced to sell our personal belongings, then our inherited land, and even our homes. And then? We will be forced to borrow monies from those who charge exorbitant interest. It gets worse: If one still does not repent, he will eventually be forced to sell himself as a slave -first to a fellow Jew, then to a gentile, and then even worse, “to an idol of the family of a non-Jew. Exactly what that means, ver veyst, ober says Rashi: “the lowest link in this chain of descent, to mean selling oneself to be an attendant for avoido zoro (idolatry); “not [to serve the idol] as a deity, but to chop wood and draw water [for its service].” Yikes!


And the takeaway from all this tzedoko talk? The answer may be found in a posik (verse) authored by Dovid Hamelech (King David) found in Tehillim (41:2) which states: “Fortunate is he who acts intelligently toward the destitute person, on a day of trouble, Hashem shall rescue him.” You hear this raboyseyee? Who among us would not benefit from having the RBSO’s guaranteed help card – think of it as the ‘get-out –of- jail free’ card in the great game of Monopoly? As written, the words, literally translated, tell us that the RBSO will rescue the charitable person on the day when trouble befalls him. However, this verse may also be read as referring to a person who “acts intelligently toward the destitute person,” recognizing the need to give charity, even “on a day of trouble,” when he – the donor – experiences hard times. Dovid Hamelch, a man who had his share of troubles -perhaps more than his share, (let’s recall that Dovid was an overachiever, having chapped, if you chap, more than his share of whatever), extols those who are “intelligent” enough to realize that as much as they are suffering, the poor are suffering to a far greater extent. In any event, helping others when you can, may not guarantee that one will lead a utopian life, as intervening circumstances –primarily one’s own misdeeds –typically not related- may have over-ridden the many benefits of the charity one has given. Ober, it cannot hurt.


A gitten Shabbis-

The Heylige Oisvorfer Ruv

Yitz Grossman

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