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Money and Piety
Part I. Awareness of the Laws
Is Every Jew A Lawyer?
Everyone knows that when Parshas Mishpatim comes along, right away people begin to tune out. It’s all laws! Laws and more laws and bylaws – with details! Some people might even think, “Bring back the stories! Yetzias Mitzrayim and Kriyas Yam Suf and Ma’amad Har Sinai and the Mann! Even the stories of the Am Yisroel complaining – it’s interesting at least. But laws?! After all, are we all going to be lawyers or dayanim?
I remember years ago I met a Jewish street cleaner. This was many years ago when there were city workers whose job it was to scrub the streets clean. He was dressed in a white uniform, pushing a barrel on wheels and holding a brush, and when he saw me he stopped to talk to me. He was proud to tell me that his grandchild was learning in a yeshiva. But he was bothered: “I’m surprised,” he said. “He’s spending his mornings studying law!” He was telling me what his grandson was studying — he was explaining to me the beginning of Bava Kama. “My grandson is not a law student – he’s only in the fourth grade!” he said. “Why are they training him to be a lawyer?”
It’s a good question. Here’s this little boy, and his mind is being cluttered up with a shor and a bor and a maaveh and a hev’er; all the avos nezikin and the toldos – all the different scenarios of damages. And it’s not merely that one yeshiva has this system – it’s the system of the Jewish people; actually it’s the system of the Torah.
A Torah System
That’s why you find that agadata and middos tovos is only one seventh of the gemara – the other six-sevenths are taken up by intricacies of law. Someone who learns gemara knows that it boggles the mind how much time and space is devoted to details and sub details – minutiae and technicalities. Bava Kama, Bava Metzia, Bava Basra! Three big mesichtas; pages and pages about dinei mamanos and dinei nezikin are gleaned from parshas Mishpatim! And young people spend their lives studying them. Years and years go by; they could have learned middos tovos in that time. They could have learned Mesillas Yesharim or Chovos Halevavos in that time. It would seem like we lose out on so many great things because of the time spent in the three Bavas.
But that’s how it’s supposed to be. In Bava Kama (30a), the gemara asks the following question – it’s an important question because it applies to all of us sitting here: מַאן דְּבָּעֵי לְמֱהֶוֵי חֲסִידָא – If someone wants to be a chossid, a pious man, so what should he do? Now, suppose someone would ask us that question. So with our little heads, who knows what kind of a program we would think up! We would say maybe, “First on the list is fasting – a lot of fasting! And lots of Tehillim!
The Genuine Chossid
But it doesn’t say a word about that over here. Maybe a chossid fasts and says Tehillim as well, I can’t tell you, but not a word is mentioned in this gemara about that. What does the gemara say? לִיקַיֵּים מִלֵּי דִּנְזִיקִין – Let him fulfill the things of nezikin, damages (Bava Kama 30a). Studying Parshas Mishpatim – learning how to be careful with other people’s money, that’s the ticket to chassidus.
Now, that doesn’t mean that just because you don’t go out with stones and smash your neighbor’s window that you’re considered a chossid already, no. Chassidus means much more than that. But מַאן דְּבָּעֵי, if you want to become a chossid, if you want to reach the summit of perfection, that’s the first step – to be careful with your fellow man’s property.
Now, I understand that for many people chassidus means something else altogether. הַחֲסִידוּת הָאֲמִתִּי הַנִּרְצָה וְהַנֶּחְמָד רָחוֹק מִצִּיּוּר שִׂכְלֵנוּ – The true piety that is accepted and desired by Hashem is far away from any picture we have in our minds (Mesillas Yesharim – Hakdamah). I’ll tell you a true story. There was once a boy who wanted to come into my shul to study Torah. The door was locked, but he was a dedicated boy, full of enthusiasm, so he was trying to make his way through the window. I happened to come just as he was breaking the window. He didn’t intend to break it; he was just trying to force it open, but it broke. Now, a new window costs good money but I didn’t say anything. He was a yeshiva boy, a sixteen year old bochur with no money, so I kept quiet. He should have paid, but I didn’t say anything.
The Bekishe Chossid
A few months later, I met him on Church Avenue on Shabbos. And he’s all dressed up in a chassideshe kapoteh – with silk lapels. Beautiful! It’s a beautiful thing to honor the Shabbos. But I knew this boy – he came from Canarsie and he wasn’t a chossid; he didn’t come from such a family at all! I don’t even know if his parents are shomrei Shabbos. But he wanted to wear a chassideshe kapoteh. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, but it costs a lot of money. Silk lapels! These kapotehs can cost a small fortune. And I was thinking to myself, “That’s his idea of being a chossid?” Because the gemara has other, less fanciful, ideas. מַאן דְּבָּעֵי לְמֱהֶוֵי חֲסִידָא – Someone who wants to be a chossid, so the first thing is לִיקַיֵּים מִלֵּי דִּנְזִיקִין – he should fulfill all of the details of never doing any sort of damage. A chossid thinks before he pushes on somebody’s window so hard. And if he breaks it, he pays for it.
Imagine you’re a man who is going before Pesach to distribute packages, parcels to needy families. So you step into your car and you’re loaded down with various packages – matzos, bottles of wine and other things. You’re a special fellow! You must be, because you’re taking from your own time – and your own money too – to help others. So as you load your car, you’re leaving packages on the sidewalk where people can trip. Or maybe you’re speeding through the streets because you have a lot of good deeds to accomplish. “Ohhhh!” Hakodosh Boruch Hu says. “You’re making a bor b’rshus harabim! And you’re speeding too. You’re an Adam Hamazik! That’s worse than if you hadn’t delivered any packages at all.” There will be a much greater punishment for that, for being a mazik, than for not being a goimel chasodim tovim because the very first thing that’s expected of you is not to transgress any nezikin. What comes after that is certainly a good thing but nezikin is the most basic responsibility you have.
Everyone is Honest
And without the details, without studying Mishpatim, you have no idea what is right and what is wrong. Without studying Bava Kama and Bava Basra, you are a crook – only that you’re a crook who has the best opinion of yourself. Every man thinks he’s honest – he knows that others are not, but he’s honest, that he knows.
Let me tell you a little story. There was a time when I used to take a taxi every day. I had to go from one school to another to talk. And I used the same driver every day; he was an old American Jew, an eighty year old man. To all the institutions that I had to speak, he always took me there. So he became like a close associate of mine. Now this man didn’t know how to learn a thing. He didn’t even know siddur; he knew nothing. But one thing he did know. He knew that the Orthodox Jews are no good.
So while he’s driving, he’s telling me his criticism of Orthodox Jews, all of his complaints. This and that, and also how honest of a man he was – unlike the Orthodox. Finally we crossed the parkway and we came into Flatbush – there was a long way to go yet – and he closed down his meter. I said, “Why are you closing the meter?” So he tells me “Because my boss earned enough today. The rest of the fare will go to me.” This was the man who prided himself on being honest! He didn’t even dream that anything was wrong; he didn’t dream that he was a crook. And that’s how it is – the unorthodox don’t even know that they’re crooks. All they know is that the Orthodox are crooks. By virtue of being Orthodox, you’re already a crook.
The Ganav In The Fur Coat
I walked past a fruit store the other day, and I see a lady, not a poor woman. She’s wearing a fur coat; she’s dressed very proper. So she stops by the apricots in the bin outside, and she takes an apricot and begins to eat it. And then a second apricot. She’s a ganav! I see it all the time – gentiles in the street, walking past the fruit store and picking off a few grapes. And then some peanuts and even a plum. “Oh,” they’ll say, “I’m just tasting to see if I want to make a purchase.” Just tasting?! Ah nechtige tug! I see it all the time and I tell them it’s stealing. “You can’t steal from the owner like that!” And the lady is surprised. “Me, steal?!” She would never steal!
But people who never learn, people who rely on their innate sense of right and wrong, are a thousand times worse than they could even imagine. And even the learners, the talmidei chachomim, have to think about every step they make – if you’re not thinking then it doesn’t even occur to you.
The Ganav In The Black Hat
Once I was in the yeshiva across the street and I was observing a young man studying Perek Merubah. It’s the seventh perek of Bava Kama and it talks there about the laws of a thief, the obligations of someone who steals. And he was learning with a real appetite. It was a pleasure to look at! He was learning out loud: מְרוּבָּה מִדַּת תַּשְׁלוּמֵי כֵּפֶל מִמִּדַּת תַּשְׁלוּמֵי אַרְבָּעָה וַחֲמִשָּׁה – He was saying it with a geshmak! He was clarifying all the details of paying keifel, paying a fine when you’re caught stealing. And I noticed that he was studying from a gemara that he “borrowed” from my synagogue! It didn’t even occur to him that the thief that the gemara was talking about was he! Stealing a gemara is not called stealing?! He’s chayav keifel, he has to pay me two gemaras. Lucky for him, I happened to be around!
And even if you do study, that’s only the beginning – you have to keep the laws in mind always and be vigilant about applying them. All of the general rules are models for the small details of how to live every minute. You have to apply the pesukim and the halachos because they are intended as models for the situations you face all day long.
It’s not only an ox that man is responsible for. The one who studies Hashem’s words as intended is not thinking only about an ox. He understands that Hashem is telling him that he is responsible, not only for his ox or dog, but for other things as well. For leaving a bag for “one minute” on the sidewalk and for a banana peel left on the ground and a dirty tissue on the table. For how he drives and for what he leaves on the steps and for sticking his foot out into the aisle. All harm caused to others by negligence is punishable by dinei Shomayim, by the laws of Heaven. And often, the guilt in the eyes of Hashem is extremely heavy.
Part II. Awareness of Hashem
The Secret of Parshas Mishpatim
And now we come to our subject for tonight. Because everything we said up till now is only an introduction – an important introduction – to the secret of Parshas Mishpatim. Because there’s a big puzzle here: As important as Mishpatim are, and as much as it requires constant study and awareness, why is it so important that it should be the first thing the Am Yisroel heard from Hashem after Matan Torah?
I want you to understand this question: The most remarkable spectacle that the Am Yisroel would ever witness was Matan Torah. We stood at Har Sinai and we saw what nobody before ever saw: הֲנִהְיָה כַּדָּבָר הַגָּדוֹל הַזֶּה אוֹ הֲנִשְׁמַע כָּמֹהוּ הֲשָׁמַע עָם קוֹל אֱלֹקִים מְדַבֵּר מִתּוֹךְ הָאֵשׁ כַּאֲשֶׁר שָׁמַעְתָּ אַתָּה וַיֶּחִי – Has there ever been any such thing like this great event or has anything like it been heard?! Has a people ever heard the Voice of Hashem speaking from the midst of the fire as you have heard, and survived?! (Devarim 4:32).
When they heard that tremendous Voice for the first time, the words אָנֹכִי הַשֵּׁם אֱלֹקֶיךָ – I am Hashem your G-d, it was an experience of the greatest love and yearning for Hashem that our nation would ever experience. There’s no question that the people were on a very high level of enthusiasm and they expected now to hear who knows what kind of instruction in walking the path towards Hashem! The greatest ideals and attitudes, the deepest of Torah secrets and the mysteries of our purpose in life – how to achieve this perfection of closeness to Hashem. That’s what they were expecting and they were ready to accept it all. Naaseh v’nishma! – “We want to do everything! Just let us know the path that we should walk on in order to serve You best and we’ll start running down that road.”
The Big Letdown
And what happened then? A remarkable thing!Hashem came down on Har Sinai and said to His people, “Oh, you’re saying naaseh v’nishma? You’re ready to do?! So let me tell you what I want: וְאֵלֶּה הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים אֲשֶׁר תָּשִׂים לִפְנֵיהֶם – And these are the statutes that you, Moshe, should place before them (Shemos 21:1). Laws of dealing with your fellow man; all forms of damages, and the monetary relationships with those around you. That’s how I want you to get started.”
We sit down to learn Mishpatim with peirush Rashi and we’re reading a law book! The dry details of how to treat your fellow man’s property; his cows and his sheep, his shirt and his land. All the various payments for bodily injury, and the laws of torts and contractual agreements. Parshas Mishpatim is famous as the Torah source of monetary law.
And that’s a big question. Mishpatim?! These aren’t the high ideals that we were waiting for! Is this what we accepted the Torah for?! We had just heard the Voice of Hashem! “I am Hashem your G-d.” The booming thunder, the bolts of lightning and the smoking mountain! We saw the Presence of Hashem with our own eyes! And for this?! Just to hear these mundane monetary laws?!
I Didn’t Sign Up For This!
Let’s say a ba’al teshuva comes into yeshiva for the first time. And so, he’d like to hear about great ideals; he’d like to be taught noble aspirations and life-changing attitudes. That’s why he came in, because he’s an idealist. And instead what does he get? The first book they give him is Seder Nezikin! He wanted ideals, and instead he’s being treated to a course in financial law.
He’s looking for Hashem, and instead he finds laws about what happens if one’s animal trespasses into his fellow man’s field and eats some of the grain. Or, if you leave your wine barrel in the public path, and someone’s camel falls over it. And it’s endless; it goes on and on. Sometimes there’s a little oasis of a few lines of agadata by which he can refresh his neshama. A ba’al teshuva, an idealist, waits for that – he loves it. Sometimes it seems to him that all the rest of it is unnecessary. “If only we could skip over all of this, and just spend our time on the noble ideals.” That’s what he’s thinking.
And that’s what the Am Yisroel was thinking when they stood at Har Sinai. We just heard the first commandment, Anochi Hashem Elokecha, and we said, “We will do and we will listen” – and at that very moment when their hearts were open to everything, ready to hear the most sublime ideas, we get Mishpatim?! Mishpatim is what You tell us?! I think it’s a big question.
Explaining the First Commandment
So listen well to the answer. Because what does Anochi Hashem Elokecha – I am Hashem,” mean anyway? What command is there? He’s not telling us that we have to do anything – it’s just a statement, a fact. But what are we supposed to do about it?
So you’ll tell me what the Rambam says: לֵידַע וּלְהַאֲמִין – It’s a command to know and believe in Hashem. OK, if that’s the case, it’s easy. As soon as you hear it, it’s a done deal. I agree, I accept. Just show me where to sign on the dotted line and it’s all settled.
Oh no, it’s far from being settled! It’s just beginning. Anochi Hashem Elokecha means that your job is to learn to be aware of Hashem more and more and more. It’s not enough for us to just concede the fact – to merely accept Hashem’s Reality as a fact; to rattle off some words, “Ani ma’amin b’emunah sheleimah – I believe; I know,” and then to get back to regular life. Just to repeat these ideas all of our lives, the same way we heard them when we were four years old, means that we are frustrating the purpose of this great command. Nothing doing! Anochi Hashem Elokecha is a mitzvah that you can never stop fulfilling. Those three words come to declare the necessity of continuing always to gain more and more awareness of Hashem – to be thinking of Hashem always!
Mishpatim – The Details of Anochi
And that’s exactly why after Matan Torah, right away came Mishpatim. Because, while Anochi Hashem Elokecha was the klal gadol they heard on that glorious day; all the details of how to be aware constantly of Hashem were given in Parshas Mishpatim. It’s only possible to fulfill these dinim if you keep Hashem in mind always. “Because if you were aware of Me always,” says Hashem; “If you would train yourself to always be aware that I’m watching you, you’d be careful. And if you’re not practicing being aware of Me all the time, then it’s impossible for you to succeed in this world, it doesn’t matter how big of a talmid chochom you are.”
The great subject of nezikin, to always be on guard against causing damage to other people or to their property and their feelings, that’s the first step because it demands constant Awareness that Hashem is watching. That’s the foundation of the service of Hashem – you are aware at all times that He is watching and that He’s demanding something of you always! That’s the greatest fulfillment of Anochi Hashem Elokecha!
Digging a Pit On Your Staircase
Let’s say a man is putting away his Pesach things – he’s carrying down the Pesach dishes, and he sees one thing among the dishes that he wants to put with the chometz things, to keep it for all year round. So as he’s carrying the box of dishes down the stairs, he puts this one thing on the stairs for the time being. Oh no! Stairs are a reshus harabim where people are going up and down, the other tenants use the stairs too. You’re endangering their lives by putting something there. Nothing is allowed to be put on the stairs! If somebody would step on it, you know what could happen chalilah?
Mishpatim means that you can’t just do how you please. Do you have workers? You have to pay wages? “I don’t have the money right now.” “I’ll pay you a little bit now and the rest next week, or next month.” Dinei mamonos puts you on notice: לֹא תָלִין פְּעֻלַּת שָׂכִיר – “Before the sun sets you have to pay the wages” (Vayikra 19:13). The sun is going down and the worker wants to go home! So you had better pay him.
The Chofetz Chaim once hired a man to drive him someplace in a wagon – and soon as he got off the wagon and he saw that the wagon driver didn’t have any change, he ran off to borrow money to pay the fare. He wasn’t going to wait till sundown! Because if you live by the dinim of the Torah so you’re always aware of your responsibilities to Hashem. It’s not that you’re worried about your workers going on strike; you’re not worried about unions and union bosses. You’re strict with yourself, because there’s a big Boss. Hakodosh Boruch Hu is the worst union boss there is. He sees everything and He’s very demanding because everything belongs to Him!
The Real Landlord
לֲהַשֵׁם הָאָרֶץ וּמְלוֹאָהּ – The earth and everything in it all belongs to Hashem. Only that, וְהָאָרֶץ נָתַן לִבְנֵי אָדָם – He gave us permission to walk on it, and to use the things in it. The awareness that you’re just passing through a world that doesn’t belong to you is the foundation for living a life of awareness of the true Owner in this world.
When you realize that you are walking through a world that doesn’t belong to you, and that whatever you do here must be done according to the rules of the Boss, your life becomes a different type of life. Certain places you can’t walk, and certain things you can’t use. You can walk only where He permitted you to go. You can use only what He allows, and only in the way He allows. If something belongs to somebody else, so you have no right to walk into his territory, or use his property, because Hashem didn’t give you permission. Wherever you walk, whatever you use, you must always be careful to follow His guidelines. He gives us permission only with certain conditions, most of which are included in the mili d’nezikin of mishpatim.
Hashem Is Truly Everywhere
Before any step that you make in this world, any dealings you have with somebody else, or somebody else’s property, you must be aware that you’re dealing with Somebody much bigger than you imagined. If you eat what belongs to somebody else, you are robbing Hashem. If you walk on somebody’s property without permission, so it’s also Hashem who didn’t give you permission; you’re trespassing on Hashem’s property. He only permitted that man who made a kinyan, the one who acquired ownership, to use His things; anybody else has to be very careful.
And therefore to be aware all the time about how you are treating this man and that man, and about how you are treating your neighbor’s property and your friend’s objects, means that you are keeping Hashem in mind all the time. Because it’s impossible to be as careful as the Torah expects, it’s impossible to fulfill the details that the Torah demands of you, unless you are aware that Hashem is always watching and that He is making these demands of you. Once you understand that, you will have to be aware of Hashem all day long!
The Little Details Count
The gemara in Chagiga (5a) tells us that when a person is brought to judgment, he will be brought up on everything – he’ll be charged with things he never even imagined could be problematic. אֶת כָּל מַעֲשֶׂה הָאֱלֹקִים יָבִא בְמִשְׁפָּט עַל כָּל נֶעְלָם says Shlomo Hamelech in Koheles (12:14). You will be brought to judgement on all the many things that are hidden away from you.
And the gemara explains, זֶה הַהוֹרֵג כִּנָּה בִּפְנֵי חֲבֵרוֹ וְנִמְאָס – “This refers to someone who kills a louse, and someone standing nearby is disgusted by it.” Or, הֲרָקּ בִּפְנֵי חֲבֵרוֹ וְנִמְאָס – “If you spit out some spit or phlegm, and the person nearby is nauseated by it.” It wasn’t your fault; you had something stuck in your throat. And you covered your mouth too. And yet, even those minor acts of disregard for your fellow – even if done unintentionally – will be brought up against you on that great day of Judgment. And what that means is that you have to be aware that Hashem is always watching.
When you’re talking to a person and you have a cold, make sure to keep far away from him. If you’ll cough in his face, you’re a mazik! You don’t believe in germs? Who cares what you believe in! You’re a mazik of the first degree! There are so many things to be careful about. And don’t say, “It’s min hashamayim, it’s bashert.” No, it’s blood on your head! You are to blame. In every instance it could very well be that you’re to blame, and the only solution is to be aware of Hashem all day long and to thereby be careful with mili d’nezikin.
Don’t Bother People!
Not only germs! Suppose you’re talking to somebody in divrei Torah and as you’re talking to him, you let loose a flow of polluted air from your mouth. Oh, is it difficult for him to bear your halitosis! Now, he’s too polite to run away from you. But you’re a mazik. You’re annoying him.
The one who is always aware of Hashem lives differently. I knew a tzaddik whose head was in the heavens all the time; his mind was always occupied with great thoughts. And yet he never spoke to anybody unless he perfumed his mouth first. I knew him very well. And for years he carried a little packet of listerine pellets in his pocket. He never came to speak to anybody unless first he perfumed his mouth. This was a man who lived with the ideals of mussar. Number one is don’t injure, don’t bother people. That’s the first rung of the ladder that goes up to heaven.
And we do that because this was the system that Hakodosh Boruch Hu first showed us when He gave us the Torah. It was Matan Torah, and right away, Mishpatim! Because although these Mishpatim might benefit the welfare of man, as well as the perfection of character for the one who trains himself to care about his fellow, yet the most important achievement is that it serves as constant reminders that Hashem is always looking always down at our deeds – even the most subtle of deeds – and that we are always obligated to behave as one behaves in the presence of a king. And thereby, even the most mundane activities of a Jew are always saturated with awareness of Hashem. And that awareness is your perfection in this world, and your preparation for eternal happiness when you finally come to bask in the true Presence of Hashem in the World to Come.
Have A Wonderful Shabbos
Small Amounts Add Up
The Big Event
In the ancient days, when the Beis Hamikdash still stood, there was a very big event that took place once a year, an occasion that attracted a lot of attention. Our chachamim tell us that בְּאֶחָד בְּאַדָּר מַשְׁמִיעִין עַל הַשְּׁקָלִים – when the month of Adar came around; big announcements were made in all the towns: “The time has come to collect machatzis hashekel.” And every Jew had to contribute a half shekel for the purpose of purchasing the korbanos tzibbur in the Beis Hamikdash. Everywhere, in all of the places where the Am Yisroel dwelt, there were officials who acted as gabba’im for the purpose of collecting the machatzis hashekel. And even though it was only a half shekel for each person, it became a huge sum – millions of coins were collected.
Now, once it was collected, it wasn’t just sent to Eretz Yisroel. Besides for the great tumult of the collection process, the entire procedure of bringing the money to Eretz Yisroel was made into a big ceremony, it was a tremendous affair. They made treaties with all the kings whose lands they had to pass through in order to get permission to collect money from Jews along the way. And in order to be allowed to pass through unmolested, they were even provided with military transport – they had with them a small army of soldiers that marched along with them.
And because it was an opportunity for safe travel to Eretz Yisroel, thousands of people traveled with the machatzis hashekel caravan to Yerushalayim. The convoy usually consisted of about ten thousand people who gathered from towns and cities in Bavel and other places. First of all, הַנְהוּ דְּעַיְלִי מֵהָכָא לְהָתָם – There were many people who wanted to learn in yeshivos in Eretz Yisroel so they used this opportunity to come along with this caravan. Also, all the meisim who died in Bavel and wanted to be buried in Eretz Yisroel were now exhumed – the bodies were taken out of the ground – and they were carried along with this convoy. The gemara says that. They were waiting all year for this caravan, and the meisim were brought to Eretz Yisroel for burial, along with the machatzis hashekel.
Who Needs You Anyhow?
Now, what was the purpose of this whole ceremony? Such a tumult to collect money from everyone! You know the gemara says that there were wealthy Jews in Eretz Yisroel who offered to pay for the korbanos from their own money. Even if a person wouldn’t contribute, the same thing would have taken place anyhow because there’s plenty of money without his – the korbanos would have been brought just the same. Let’s say you’re a stingy fellow and so every time the gabbai came knocking on your door, you told your wife to tell him you’re not available; that you’re busy, you’re in the bathroom. So do you think they wouldn’t be able to afford to buy korbanos that year? They would have gotten along quite well without collecting from every individual. There was no need for this whole thing!
But we’re learning now that there was a tremendous need for it! The big tumult, the commotion of collecting money from everyone, made a great impression on the minds of the whole nation. Because even though a person was miles away in a different country – could be he thinks, “Me? What do I have to do with the avodas Beis Hamikdash?” – yet, he was expected to join together with the whole Am Yisroel in the service of Hakodosh Boruch Hu.
Put Your Money To Work
When all of the money arrived in Yerushalayim, it was used to buy korbanos and that way every Jew had a share in all the offerings that were brought on the mizbeach. The money was taken into a certain lishka, a room, where it was poured out into a big heap and then the kohanim came with buckets and they scooped up bucketfuls of coins for korbanos. And when they needed more, they scooped up another bucket. And even though you only gave a donation, a small part of the cost of the korban, nevertheless you were a part of it all – your money was in those buckets.
And that way, all day long, whatever was done in the Beis Hamikdash, you were there too. When they brought the korban tamid, it wasn’t merely a kohen who was offering it to Hashem. It was you! The korbanos, the ketores, the hadlakas haneiros – your money was working for you. And so, even though you were miles away, in a different country – could be you were sleeping too; maybe you were taking a nap – yet you still had a part in the avodas Beis Hamikdash.
And that’s why the collection of the monies was such a big affair – there was a great commotion! Everybody, wherever he was, knew that it was his opportunity to be nitpal l’dvar mitzvah, to attach himself to the avodas Beis Hamikdash. When they gave machatzis ha’shekel money, they demonstrated that they were joining in with the Am Yisroel – not just that we don’t mind that korbanos are offered up; we want to be part of those who bring the korbanos. And even though our share is small, nevertheless, by doing that, we show we participate, we identify with the avodas Hashem.
Participating in the Great Endeavors
Now we should listen prayerfully to this lesson – don’t think it’s a small thing. It’s one of the reasons we still read Parshas Shekalim today. We’re reminding ourselves about the necessity to acquire a ratzon, a desire, to participate with the Am Yisroel in all of their great endeavors. It’s a very important subject because we know that most of us cannot achieve great things on our own. Not only do we ourselves not have the zechus, but we don’t have the influence and the money either. And nevertheless Hakodosh Boruch Hu wants us to demonstrate our desire to change the world by means of joining in with the Am Yisroel, in their great projects, even if it’s on the most minimal scale.
If we join in by means of money, we identify with all of the great ideals, all of the great projects, so יְשַׁלֵּם שְׁכַר לְנִטְפָּל לְעוֹשֵׂי מִצְוָה כְּעוֹשֵׂי מִצְוָה – there will be tremendous reward for the one who join in; k’osei mitzvah – like the one who did the mitzvah, it’s as if we did the entire job ourselves, and we get credit for the entire mitzvah (see Toras Avigdor parshas Noach).
Now, we’re learning from the machatzis hashekel an important principle that it pays for us to study, and that is that when you contribute money, you have the zechus as if you yourself are doing what your money is doing – that’s a big chiddush.
The Real Tzedakah
Everyone knows that in the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur machzor when it comes to Nesane Tokef you say the following words: תְּשׁוּבָה וּתְפִלָּה וּצְדָקָה מַעֲבִירִין אֶת רֹעַ הַגְּזֵרָה – Teshuva, tefillah and tzedakah remove the bad decrees. So underneath the word teshuva, the printer puts the word צוֹם – fasting. Why does he say fasting? Because that’s the most obvious form of teshuva – a person fasts in order to show how contrite he feels. Actually it needs more than fasting, but fasting it’s a pretty good indication he means business.
And the second thing on the list is tefillah – that’s davening – that you all know.
Now, the third thing is u’tzedakah. What’s tzedakah? So in the machzor, underneath the word tzedakah, they put the word מָמוֹן. Tzedakah is mamon, money. It’s interesting why they put the word mamon there under tzedakah – it’s the same thing; it seems superfluous.
But actually it’s not superfluous because tzedakah does not mean mamon; tzedakah means righteousness. When it says צְדָקָה תַּצִּיל מִמָּוֶת (Mishlei 10:2), it means righteousness rescues from death. It doesn’t mean money. And even though they bang the pushkes with that passuk, it’s only a drush — it’s not the pshat. The pshat in tzedakah is righteousness.
If a person is a righteous man in everything, that’s the real tzedakah. That’s what Hashem wants. And that’s pshuto shel mikra – we shouldn’t make any mistake about that. Tzedakah means tzedek. It means keeping the Torah, it means learning the Torah. It means guarding your tongue. It means serving Hakodosh Boruch Hu by doing all the mitzvos properly. בֵּין אָדָם לְמָקוֹם וּבֵין אָדָם לַחֲבֵרוֹ. Certainly that’s tzedakah.
Your Money is an Opportunity
But the chachamim came along and told us a chiddush – that tzedakah is mamon. That’s a very big chiddush – your mamon, your money תַּצִּיל מִמָּוֶת. The money that you put in the charity box will save your life because it’s considered as if you are doing the good deeds. It’s very important to understand the great principle that your machatzis hashekel, your tzedakah, represents you.
Of course, if you can actually get involved with your body, if you can make somebody into a shoimer Torah, or if you can teach him to become a better oived Hashem, and as a result of your influence he becomes a better person, certainly there’s no greater tzedakah than that. מִצְוָה בּוֹ יוֹתֵר מִבִּשְׁלוּחוֹ – Better you should do the mitzvah with your own body, then to have your money do it for you. But there’s no question that for most of us, mamon, money is the great opportunity to join in with all the great endeavors of our nation.
Because when you give money to a yeshiva and the boys are sitting and learning gemara by day and by night, it’s your money that’s learning gemara. Your money is studying Mesichta Bava Kama now. If your money is making ovdei Hashem into better ovdei Hashem, that’s you doing it! It’s a special chesed that Hashem gave us when He told us we have this privilege to be involved by means of our money. It’s not just that you gave money, you did a mitzvah of tzedakah and that’s all, now you’re finished. No, you’re not finished – you just started; you just started accomplishing great things!
Learning In Your Sleep
Even when you go to sleep — you’re already wearing pajamas and you’re climbing into your bed — your money is still working for you. The people who are learning Torah in those institutions, whatever they are, it’s your money that’s learning Torah for you. If the bochurim are learning late at night in the beis medrash, so you’re sitting next to those boys and you’re there too. You’re a nitpal l’osei mitzvah!
And even more, when you fall asleep at the end of your days, your money still continues to earn merit for you. You know, we think that when a man leaves over money for a yeshiva so it’s just a ceremony: “We got rid of him and now we have his money already. Now we can take him off our mailing list and we can forget all about him.”
You maybe forgot about him but Hashem doesn’t forget! This man is attached to the yeshiva now! His money continues to earn merit. Absolutely. As they’re sitting in the Mirrer Yeshiva or in Lakewood and learning Torah, it’s your money participating in all the Torah that is being learned. You’re still learning in the Yeshiva Shel Matah, although now you’re in the Yeshiva Shel Maalah. No question about it — your money is earning merit for you.
Do Whatever You Can
Of course, the more money you give, so you’re demonstrating more participation in the great endeavors. But at least something you have to demonstrate. So let’s say you’re not able to support a big yeshiva. It costs tremendous money to support it and they’re coming to you – “Maybe you want to buy the Beis Hamedrash in your name or your father’s name. It only costs 100,000 dollars. Or maybe you’ll buy a room in the yeshiva for 30,000 dollars.” So you look at them like they fell off the moon – “Me?! I can’t even pay the schar limud for my own children! I’m patur! I’m not even interested in thinking about the whole thing!”
Oh no! Don’t say that! Not interested?! That’s a tragedy because נִטְפָּל לְעוֹשֵׂי מִצְוָה כְּעוֹשֵׂי מִצְוָה – there will be tremendous reward for the one who joins in; k’osei mitzvah — like the one who did the mitzvah. The one who gives five dollars to the yeshiva or five hundred dollars to the yeshiva has joined in with the one who gave the hundred thousand dollars! As long as he gave the most he could, he’s also a builder – a plaque on the wall he won’t get maybe, but he gets credit in shamayim because he went all out in participating in the mitzvah; and his machatzis hashekel is remembered by Hashem forever and ever in the Next World.
Have A Wonderful Shabbos