Past Weekly Shabbat Message
Jewish Heritage
Rabbi Dovid Saks
(Torah Portion Behar) What Are We

At the beginning of this week’s portion G-d spells out the laws of Shemitta – the seventh year which is the Sabbatical year. All fields in the Land of Israel must remain fallow, with all productive work in the fields and all commerce with the Sabbatical produce forbidden for the entire year!

Obviously, Shemitta is very challenging. However, the Torah guarantees that one who abides by its rules will see bountiful blessings in the year prior to the seventh year and it will tide them over for the seventh year.

The Torah links the Sabbatical year to Mount Sinai. Why?

The Ben Yehoyadah explains as follows: Mount Sinai, the mountain chosen for G-d’s Revelation, was smaller than the surrounding mountains, however, because it was small and humble it was chosen to be honored with this prestigious event. Shemitta is the same; minimizing one’s bounty and wealth by not planting and selling its produce, is actually the power and energy behind receiving G-d’s blessing!

This same idea applies to giving charity. Even though one expends and diminishes his wealth, G-d guarantees that through giving one receives His blessings!

The Talmud relates an interesting conversation between the great Sage, Rebbi Akiva, the head of a Talmudic academy which had 24,000 students, and the wicked Roman Governor Tunisrufus, who plowed under the ruins of the Temple building after the destruction of the Second Temple.

Tunisrufis asked, “If your G-d loves the poor, why doesn’t he sustain them?”

Rebbi Akiva answered, “G-d is giving others the opportunity to give them charity, thereby accumulating merits so they be saved from the judgment of Gehinnom - hell.”

Tunisrufis countered, “On the contrary, the people who are assisting the poor should be condemned, as in the following illustration. ‘A king, angry at his servant, imprisoned him and ordered that no one feed him. In defiance of the king’s orders, someone fed the prisoner. Surely when the king hears about this, he is going to get angry at the person’

“Now, you Jews are referred to by G-d in the Torah as His servants. Hence, by giving charity to the poor, who are being punished by G-d, you are actually violating an edict of G-d and will be punished!”

Rebbi Akiva countered Tunisrufus’ argument with the following parable. “A king, angry at his son imprisoned him and ordered that no one give him food or drink. A person defied the king’s wishes and fed the prince, thereby saving his life. When the king hears about this, don’t you think he will send a gift to the one who sustained his son? Rebbe Akiva continued, “G-d in His Torah calls us, Banim – sons of G-d, and one who sustains the poor earns G-d’s gratitude and becomes absolved from the judgment of Gehinnom.”

Tunisrufus wasn’t finished. He asked, “Okay, you are called both sons and servants. However, you are only considered sons when you are fulfilling the will of the Almighty. But now that you have been exiled due to your sins, you are considered servants and it is therefore improper to feed and give charity to the poor!”

Rebbe Akiva then quoted a verse from the Book of Isaiah that teaches us that G-d desires us to give charity even when we have earned his condemnation because of our transgressions.

The verse calling Israel servants of the Almighty, that Tunisrufis quoted, is taken from this week’s portion. He interpreted servants literally. However, when G-d speaks of us as servants it means that every Jew is obligated to follow G-d’s commands like a servant – without complaints or questions.

The Apter Rav, who is known as the Ohaiv Yisroel – the lover of Israel, explains the special and exalted title of, “Servants of G-d” and how it impacts on the importance of giving charity.

The basic function of a servant is to fulfill his master’s wishes. A servant in a sense is an extension of the master. When the servant does his masters will, he relieves his master from having to do it himself.

So too, in regard to giving charity to the poor, surely G-d wishes the poor to be fed, however, he endowed us with a mission of being His servants, which essentially means that our mission is to fulfill G-d’s will. When we help the poor and needy we so to speak relieve the Almighty from having to personally feed them. By becoming emissaries of the Almighty we merit being the recipients of His awesome reward for ‘doing His job!’

Wishing you a restful, peaceful
and enjoyable Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid and Malki Saks and family