June 21, 2024
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Ruchniyut: The Real Riches

Our parsha contains the Birkat Kohanim. Rav Binyamin Luban notes that the first stanza which states, “May Hashem bless you and safeguard you,” refers to being blessed in a material sense—gashmiyut, and that our gashmiyut should be guarded from theft; and the second stanza which states, “May Hashem illuminate His countenance for you and be gracious to you,” refers to being blessed spiritually (ruchniyut) in regards to Torah and mitzvot.

Rav Luban asks, Why is it that when it comes to our gashmiyut we are blessed that they be protected from getting stolen, whereas for our ruchniyut we don’t receive such a blessing?

He explains by way of a parable that is brought in the Midrash: There was a Rabbi traveling on a ship along with many merchants with their merchandise. The merchants asked the Rabbi: “Where is your merchandise”? To which the Rabbi responded, “My merchandise is greater than yours.” The merchants searched the ship, but did not find anything of his, and they began laughing at him. Later on, pirates came and robbed everything that was on the ship.

Eventually the ship reached dry land and the passengers on the ship entered the local town, but they were lacking both food and clothing. Meanwhile, the Rabbi went to the Beit Midrash and began lecturing, and upon realizing the lecturer is a great Rabbi filled with Torah knowledge, the people of the town accorded him tremendous honor and attended to all his needs in a fitting and distinguished fashion, with the community leaders escorting him, standing both to his right and his left. When those merchants on the ship then saw this Rabbi in this current state, they approached him and began appeasing him and beseeching him to help them obtain food from the townspeople. The Rabbi told them, “I told you that my merchandise is greater than yours. Yours is lost, while mine exists” (Tanchuma, Teruma 2).

Says Rav Luban, this teaches us that our gashmiyut acquisitions are subject to being taken from us, whereas our spiritual acquisitions are not. Therefore, in the first stanza of Birkat Kohanim which contains blessings related to gashmiyut, it’s necessary to also have the blessing of protection with it. However, in the second stanza related to wealth in ruchniyut, there isn’t a blessing of protection since it’s impossible to take from someone his spiritual achievements (“Yesod Yisrael,” Naso).

We perhaps learn from here that while gamshiyut holdings may be subject to loss due to others, our “holdings” in ruchniyut can’t be taken by others, and thus our spiritual “assets” are more lasting and beneficial, showing that the real riches are our achievements in ruchniyut.

While from the aforementioned parable we perhaps see that this concept applies in this world, i.e. from a practical standpoint, additionally, from a pasuk in our parsha we may see how this concept applies regarding the next world as well—that spiritual riches are what we truly hold on to, maintain and benefit from for eternity, as opposed to gashmiyut.

The pasuk in our parsha (5:10) states, “A man’s holies shall be his.” The Chafetz Chaim seems to explain that this teaches us that one’s true possessions are only the holy matters—the acts of ruchniyut—he accomplished in his lifetime; only those remain with him as eternal and everlasting acquisitions. Hence, “A man’s holies,” his achievements in ruchniyut, “shall be his”—are the only things that remain with him and are truly “his” forever.

Indeed, Pirkei Avot (ch.. 6) states, “At the time of the departure of a person [from this world], they do not accompany that person neither silver nor gold nor precious stones and pearls, but rather Torah and good deeds only.” We can perhaps learn from here that the gashmiyut we have has a limited time frame—at one point or another they leave us; whereas, matters of ruchniyut, Torah study and mitzvot, stay with us, they accompany us to the next world, and they benefit us for eternity. They are thus, indeed, the real riches in life.


Binyamin is a graduate of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan, and Wurzweiler School of Social Work.

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