Monday, March 01, 2021

I once heard a story from R’ Zecharia Wallerstein, about two friends who were once on an expedition to climb a tall mountain. Into their climb, however, as is the way up snowy mountains, an avalanche came plundering down, knocking out one of the climbers and leaving the other one only minutely stable. As the barely stable climber called and waited for the help to arrive, he noticed his friend starting to pass out. Recognizing that his friend needed blood circulation to stay alive—despite feeling dizzy and frostbitten himself—he nevertheless tried to continue rubbing his friend’s hands and feet until finally help arrived. In the hospital the doctor told him that massaging his friend saved the day. He thought he really helped his friend, as he indeed did, but the doctor pointed out: “It may be that you saved your friend, but in the conditions that you were also in, by you staying active and massaging your friend, you also kept yourself alive”.

Sometimes we think we are the ones helping, and while that’s true, there’s half the other picture that is left out; that is, by helping others we are really helping ourselves. In this week’s parsha, Hashem says, “If you will lend money to the ani [needy] amongst My people, who is with you...” (22:24). [This form of help is such a kindness, that the Rambam (הלכות מלוה ולוה א:א) considers it to be a greater mitzvah than giving tzedakah to an ani]. What are the words “who is with you” coming to teach?

The story of Rut is a story of a princess who joined the Jewish people. Going from riches to rags, she chanced upon the door of Boaz, who took her in, gave her food and drink, and permission to partake of his field. When Rut went back to Noami, and was asked where she got the produce from, Rut responded, “the man who I did for him, his name is Boaz.” The Midrash (Ruth Rabbah, 5:9; Vayikrah Rabba, 34:8) picks up on the unusual wording of Rut, which seems to imply that Rut helped out Boaz, and why for example she didn’t say something more along the lines of “the man who did for me,” which would imply that Boaz did her a kindness, which seems to be the reality. The Midrash explains that “more than the giver does for the ani, the ani does for the giver.” In other words, the Midrash is saying that we learn from Rut that although it seems that the one who gives is helping the ani (which is certainly true), however, in reality the ani is actually helping the giver more than the giver is helping the ani.

The Kli Yakar says this is the idea of the words “who is with you.” We might think we are the ultimate benefactor for the one in need, but in truth, the one in need is benefitting us more. Hence, when the pasuk says “who is with you,” it means to teach that the ani is “for you”—for your sake, meaning, he was put in a situation of need in order to benefit you the giver.

This can explain why in next week’s parsha, in reference to donating to the building of the Mishkan, Hashem says, “Take for Me a donation.” Why doesn’t it say, “Give to Me a donation”? Based on the above we can explain that when one gives, he is really taking for himself, for in fact he is helping himself. As the Bet Halevi (Teruma) famously writes, “The only money that’s yours is the money you gave.”

This perhaps can be an understanding into Rashi who writes that the words “who is with you” teach that we are to “perceive ourselves as if we are the ani.” For in truth, the giver is really the one being helped.

One may not have the means to help financially, yet the Gemara notes that while one who helps an ani financially is blessed with six blessings, one who appeases him with words is blessed with 11 blessings (Bava Batra, 9b). There’s no doubt that money helps, but uplifting a person’s spirits gives life to another person. [Similarly, the Gemara (Ketubot 111b) says that the Jewish people say to Hashem, “Showing with your eyes (warmth, and interest in us) is sweeter than wine, and showing your teeth (produced by good-natured laughter) is sweeter than milk.”.As R’ Yochanan said, one who shows another “the white of his teeth” (by giving him a smile) is greater than giving him milk to drink].

R’ Yaakov Glainsky (Vehigadta, Mishpatim) asks that typically the word “appease” is used when someone feels we wronged them and now we want to appease them. Why is this word used here?

The Ohr Hachaim gives a different explanation for the words “who is with you”: If you see that you have wealth that exceeds your needs, know that this surplus is not really yours, but rather its other people’s—it’s meant to go to the ani. Indeed, the ani “who is with you” means your surplus —which is really meant to go to the ani—“is with you.” That of the ani’s which is “with you,” lend to him. Similarly the pasuk (Vayikra 25:35) speaks in reference to giving tzedakah to a fellow Jew in order that “he (the ani) should live with you.” Here too, the Alshich explains that the ani’s portion and that which will give him life, is “with you.”

Thus, R’ Galinsky explains, if what we have that can be offered to others is really destined and meant to go to others in need, then essentially we are withholding “that which is with us” from them. To some degree, then, we are wronging them by not giving to them! Therefore, we need to appease them.

Pirkei Avot (3:7) says, “Give to Him, that which is His; for you and what you have are His.” The typical understanding is that we should give to holy causes, for after all, that which we have came from Hashem Himself. Based on the aforementioned, however, the Alshich says we can understand the Mishna to be saying to give to the ani that which is his—that which is the ani’s (see Mishneh Avot, ibid). Based on this, perhaps we can explain that the words “for you and what you have, is his”—to be saying that beyond just financials, “you”—meaning that which you excel in, your skills, talents, personality, good character, wisdom, etc., is also meant to benefit others. It’s “his.”

Our good fortunes and that which we have are not just ways to help others, but when given, they help ourselves more. Moreover, they are assets that are not really ours but simply a deposit that Hashem entrusted with us to give to others (see Rabbeinu Yona and Tiferet Yisrael ibid, and Mishneh Avot ibid). Hashem may give us many blessings, yet how we view them and what we do with them is what defines those entities as simply a possession or that which can transcend and accompany us for eternity.