By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Here we are enjoying the warmth and calm of summer. Though the solar calendar says August, for us it’s Elul, the month of spiritual revival and connection.
Moshe Rabbeinu speaks to us through the pesukim of the Torah. This week he calls out to us, wherever we are, no matter where we want to be, and says to us: Take a look at the world. See everything that is there and know there is a choice before you at all times.
You are free to choose between brocha and klolah, a good life or chas veshalom one that is cursed.
Which way to go is up to you. It’s always up to you. Nobody can force you in going or choosing. If you made the wrong choice yesterday, today you can change course and get back on the blessed path. Even if you were off the track for an extended period of time, you can catch yourself, straighten out, and hop back on the proper path.
It works the other way, as well. Just because you have been living the good life for many years doesn’t guarantee that you will continue. It takes effort. Every day you need to strive to stay on course and beat back the yeitzer hora, ever present in seeking to entice us.
Life was not intended to be easy, simple or superficial. Life is a constant challenge. As the posuk (Devorim 11:26) says, “Re’ei anochi nosein lifneichem hayom.” Every day presents new struggles and challenges to overcome, and new opportunities to capitalize on and succeed.
The pesukim detail how we are to deal with the weak, what our obligations are to the poor, and how we are to lead our lives on a higher, more thoughtful plane.
“Re’ei” is a call for depth. Look, observe and contemplate, and you will see that blessing is arrived at by learning Torah and observing its mitzvos. Through acting honestly and faithfully, you can achieve happiness. For those who choose the opposite; a life of deceit and superficiality, caught up with chasing fleeting sensations, the day will arrive when they will look back at their years with feelings of emptiness and dejection.
A life of joy is arrived at not by taking, but by giving. That is why, in the parsha of Re’ei, we find the commandment of helping the less fortunate. A life of brocha is arrived at by helping those who seem to be lacking.
The posuk in this week’s parsha (14:22) says, “Aser ti’aser,” and the Gemara (Taanis 9a) promises that if you tithe and give ten percent of your income to the poor, you will become wealthy.
The posuk in Malachi (3:10) states, “Uvechonuni na bazos omar Hashem – Test me with ma’aser, says Hashem. Im lo eftach lochem eis arubos hashomayim vaharikosi lochem brocha ad bli dai. If you donate ma’aser, I will open the floodgates of heaven and provide you with endless blessing.”
Citing this posuk in Malachi, the Tur (Hilchos Tzedakah 247) writes that “it is tried and proven that a person will not lose by giving charity. Rather, it will cause him to be blessed with riches and honor.”
The rewards noted for the observance of the mitzvah of tzedakah are an indication of what we are earning for ourselves every time we perform a mitzvah. Even when it appears as if the mitzvah depletes our finances, it actually increases our worth. Not only do we gain psychologically with the feelings that accompany being a giver, but we also gain financially.
Many are the people who were able to rise to riches by observing this mitzvah. People seek segulos for everything, and who doesn’t want to be rich? This week’s parsha provides the best segulah for a life of happiness and brocha: Follow the mitzvos of Hashem and you will be blessed.
The Chofetz Chaim explained this with a moshol. A farmer would bring his produce to a wholesaler. They would weigh the sacks of wheat and the wholesaler would make a mark on the wall for each fifty pounds. They would add up the lines the wholesaler had made, and that was how they determined how much the farmer would be paid for his wheat.
One day, the farmer was suspicious that the wholesaler was erasing some of the marks on the wall, scamming him out of his hard-earned income. He decided that for every fifty pounds of wheat, the wholesaler would put a coin in a plate. When they were done, they would add up the coins and, based upon that number, the wholesaler would pay the farmer.
The farmer’s greed matched his foolishness and he began sneaking coins into his pocket when the wholesaler wasn’t looking. He was thus cheating himself by taking the coins which were of lesser value than what the wholesaler would have paid.
People who keep their coins in their pockets instead of helping the poor, said the Chofetz Chaim, are like that silly farmer. Hashem promises to bless those who properly observe mitzvos. The person who keeps his pennies in his pocket rather than sharing them with a poor person cheats himself of golden coins, for he misses out on the opportunity for Divine blessing.
Hashem promises that the remaining six days of the week will be productive if Shabbos is observed. A person who works on Shabbos because he is worried that he won’t have enough income if he doesn’t, loses out on the guarantee for the rest of the week.
Rav Shimon Shkop explained it a bit differently. If a guard starts out watching a small sum of money and proves that he is reliable, he will be entrusted with increasingly larger amounts of money to watch over. People who show that they are capable of properly utilizing the financial gifts Hashem gives them by dispensing appropriate amounts of charity will be given more money.
If a person demonstrates that he properly uses the spiritual gifts and strengths Hashem has bestowed upon him, he will be blessed with spiritual growth. If someone uses his talents in Torah to teach and guide others, he will be blessed just the same as a person who uses his money to help others.
Rav Shkop cited the example of a rosh yeshiva who requires a certain amount of time to study and prepare his shiur. If he were to give ma’aser of his time to his talmidim, he will, in reward for that, be able to prepare his shiur in less time.
So even when we give from our own to others, we are essentially gifting ourselves as well.
Thus, Parshas Re’ei provides a window for us to examine the depth of our actions and see past the surface. In our world since man sinned, there is some bad mixed in with everything that is good. For example, when Hashem provides us daily with blessing, as the posuk states, “hineni nosein lifneichem hayom brocha – I am giving you today – or daily – blessings,” there is also some bad mixed in, “uklolah.” It is for us to choose the brocha and separate the klolah.
We are challenged daily by the choice of tov and ra, good and evil. The yeitzer hora rationalizes to us the ra and presents it as tov. Nobody sets out to conduct a Ponzi scheme. Rather, they attempt to get rich quickly and thus engage in risky and increasingly fraudulent behavior to satisfy their unrealistic expectations of wealth. They begin skimming the money entrusted to them and wasting it on themselves. Before they know it, they are taking money from new investors to pay the older ones. They reason that they will be able to repay all their investors and continue the folly and luxurious lifestyle they have become accustomed to. Of course, it catches up with them and they end up losing all the money people entrusted to them.
The yeitzer hora is the original Ponzi, enticing man almost since the beginning of time to sin, to cheat, to look the other way, to choose the path of evil over that of goodness and kindness. Sometimes we are fooled and don’t recognize that we have chosen the wrong road. There are warning signs along the way, but we ignore them and rationalize them away, because the going is good, we are enjoying the trip, we are feeling great, and we are sure that it will never end.
Elul is the time of year when we are charged to examine our actions so that we may reconnect with Hashem and be worthy of a positive judgment on Rosh Hashanah. One of the most terrifying things a person can experience is a court case. Facing one, forces people to honestly examine their actions so they can attempt a defense.
Elul affords us that ability as we scrutinize what we have done throughout the year and examine the choices we have made. We do what we can to ensure that we are on the correct path and have not been misled along the way. As we get closer to the Yomim Noraim, we are more careful when making our daily choices. We try to make sure we are not being misled by latent urges for pleasure, money or honor.
Re’ei admonishes us to see past the surface, to be intelligent and objective in our choices. Re’ei means to choose well. If we find ourselves to be lacking or incorrect, or we see indications that we have chosen incorrectly, we must be courageous enough to admit that we are mistaken and hop off the car that is headed in the wrong direction.
Doing the right thing is not always easy.
But it’s right.
Let’s do what’s right.