Friday, May 11, 2018

Active Involvement

In memory of 
Mendy Klein OBM
who passed away this week. He was an amazing person and a great Baal Tzedaka. Dina and I will miss you. May his family be consoled. 
Print      Behar       Bechukosai
In parshas Behar, the Torah says, that when giving a loan to a fellow Jew, one shouldn't charge interest, and it concludes, "I Am Hashem your G-d who took you out of the land of Egypt... to be for you as G-d."

The Sifra explains, "From here, (our sages) said, 'Whoever accepts the yoke of (not taking) interest, accepts the yoke of Heaven, and whoever removes the yoke (and takes) interest, removes the yoke of Heaven... for anyone who admits to the mitzvah of (not taking) interest, admits to the Exodus from Egypt, and anyone who denies (and takes) interest, denies the Exodus from Egypt.'"

What is it about the mitzvah of (not taking) interest, that it is specifically connected to accepting the yoke of Heaven, and the Exodus from Egypt?

Rashi explains the connection between taking interest and the Exodus from Egypt. That just as by the Exodus, Hashem differentiated between a firstborn and a non-firstborn, so too, He knows when someone lends his own money with interest, claiming that the money belongs to a non-Jew.

The difficulty we remain with, is that Rashi's explanation is only on a specific circumstance, that he claims that the money belongs to a non-Jew. However, from the Sifra it seems that taking interest, in any situation, is a denial of the Exodus. How is the general idea of charging interest a denial of the Exodus?

It is also strange to equate the taking of interest to throwing off one's yoke of Heaven, instead, it seems to be more of a lack of trust in Hashem. He is afraid that if he doesn't invest all of his money, he won't have enough. On the other hand, one who lends money to another Jew without any gain, displays a great trust in Hashem, because he is showing that he is certain that Hashem will take care of him, even without that money invested. Why does taking interest equate with throwing off one's yoke of Heaven?

Accepting the yoke of Heaven expresses itself mostly in the performance of mitzvahs. Why do you do a mitzvah? Because Hashem said so. That is the simple definition of accepting the yoke of Heaven. When you do a mitzvah this way, Hashem participates in your mitzvah. That is one of the reasons why we say in the blessing before a mitzvah, "He sanctified us with His commandments," and not "the commandments," they are His, because He does them. How does this work?

There are two ways. First, there is when Hashem does the mitzvah before us, as our sages say, "What He does, He tells Yisrael to do." Then there is when Hashem does a mitzvah as a result of a Jew doing a mitzvah, as our sages say, "Whoever reads the Torah, Hashem reads and responds opposite him." The same is true about every mitzvah.

The fact that we effect above, doesn't mean that we are in some way comparable to Hashem, of course we are not, as nothing is. So why do we effect above? It is only that Hashem wanted it to be that way, so it is. But we have to ask: Why does Hashem want our service to Him, to have an effect above?

To understand this, we first have to answer a more general question. Why does Hashem want us to serve Him at all? One of the reasons Hashem created the world, is "In order to do good to his creations," because it is "His nature to do good." If so, why doesn't He just fill our needs without our service to Him, from the top down, according to his nature?

Because of His nature to do good, He would want us to feel good about what we receive from Him, to feel like we earned it, no one feels satisfied with a hand out. When you get something that is not earned, it is called "bread of shame." Hashem has us serve Him, so that we earn what we receive from Him.

Now that we understand why Hashem has us serve Him, we will also understand why our service effects above. When we do work, we only feel good about it, when it is meaningful, when it actually accomplishes something. If someone were to give you meaningless busy work, a boondoggle, in order to give you a paycheck, it doesn't feel good either. It is still bread of shame, because you know that it is a hand out. Hashem made our service make a real difference above, so that it would be truly satisfying and meaningful.

Another reason that Hashem had our service make a real difference, is because work that accomplishes nothing is not satisfying.

There was a landowner that loved the motion of a sickle being swung in the field. So he hired a peasant to swing his sickle in his room for the same pay he would receive in the field. After a short while, the peasant quit, saying, "I don't see any accomplishment."

Therefore, Hashem set things up in a way, that our service effects above. This makes our service more enjoyable and gratifying. It also helps us overcome the yetzer hara, the evil inclination, knowing how much our service to Hashem accomplishes, we are strengthened and are able to win the battle.

Now that we know how we affect the world with each particular mitzvah that we do, there is also the general concept of how we effect above, symbolized by the mitzvah of (not taking) interest.

What is interest? It is making a profit off money that you once had, now it is in the borrowers possession, but you are still making money on it. You are not involved at all, but you are taking the profit. It is different than an investor who risks his capital, and gains and loses with the success of the venture. When one takes interest, he is not involved.

Hashem treats us, as we treat others. If we give loans with interest, meaning, that we are not involved, Hashem in turn, will not participate in our mitzvahs, which is what happens when we accept the yoke of Heaven. Now that one charged interest, he threw off the yoke of Heaven, and Hashem doesn't participate in his mitzvahs.

This will help us understand the connection between taking interest, and the Exodus from Egypt. The Exodus represents becoming free of all restraints. When we accept the yoke of Heaven, Hashem becomes our partner in our service. When you have Hashem as your partner, you are freed of all restraints, you are free from your Egypts.

This is a lesson for us. It is not enough what you have done in the past. Even if you established great ongoing things. You have to be an active participant in the world in your relationships, and in the good things you have established already. You shouldn't think, "I have already done my work, teaching others to run the Torah institutions and the chesed organizations, I will now be involved in my own growth and my own pursuits, and I will enjoy the residual income of my past involvement in spreading Torah and doing kindness." In a small way, this is akin to taking interest. Rather, one should continue to be involved, and the reward for this, is Hashem will be his partner, his life will be filled with blessing and he will be freed of all restraints.

In the merit of our involvement in spreading Torah and doing kindness, we will surely break free from the restraints of this exile, and hasten the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.

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