Friday, May 29, 2015

How to Give

וְכָל תְּרוּמָה לְכָל קָדְשֵׁי בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר יַקְרִיבוּ לַכֹּהֵן לוֹ יִהְיֶה (במדבר ה, ט)

Rashi explains that this verse comes to teach us that bikkurim are given to thekohen. Elsewhere (Shemos 23:19), the Torah instructs us to bring bikkurim, the first fruits of the season, to the Temple, but does not state what shall be done with the fruits afterward. The Torah therefore tells us now, “to the kohen, it shall be his”—the bikkurim are divided among the kohanim.
The Torah’s portrayal of bikkurim as a two-step process, first requiring us to bring the new fruits to the Mishkan or Beis Hamikdash, and then instructing us to leave them for the kohanim, teaches us the correct approach that we must have toward giving tzedakah.
Bikkurim must be brought from fruits of the highest quality (see Rambam, Hilchos Bikkurim 2:3), whose cultivation and growing requires great effort and patience. The mitzvah to bring the very first of these fruits to the Temple demonstrates that when we chance upon an opportunity to give to charity, we must not consider how difficult it was for us to earn our money and thus hesitate to part with it. Rather, we should readily give the first and finest of our earnings toward a G-dly purpose, tzedakah.
The ultimate challenge, however, is not in contributing toward a holy or communal cause, but in giving the first of our earnings to the poor, for the personal benefit of another individual. Here one can rightfully argue, why is the next person more entitled to the first fruits of my labors than I am? I too am needy and deserving!
The mitzvah of bikkurim teaches us how to surmount this inner struggle: by bringing the new fruits to the Temple before giving them to the kohen. Figuratively, this means to regard the first of our earnings as funds that already belong to charity. The process must begin with “bringing the fruits to the Temple,” because the struggle of parting with our hard-earned money in favor of giving it to someone else exists only so long as we are parting with our possessions. Once we regard the funds as belonging to charity, keeping them for ourselves becomes much less of a consideration.
—Likutei Sichos, vol. 8, pp. 39-40

Weekly Newsletter

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Going Fishing?

"את זה תאכלו מכל אשר במים כל אשר לו סנפיר וקשקשת... תאכלו"
“This you may eat from everything that is in the water, everything that has fins and scales...those you may eat” (11:9).

QUESTION: TheGemara (Niddah 51b) says that a fish that has scales also has fins and there is no need to examine for them. However, there are fish that only have fins and they are tamei — unclean.
What lesson can we derive from the signs of the kosher and non-kosher fish?
ANSWER: Fish in their habitat — water — are analogous to scholars studying Torah. This is obvious from that which is related in Gemara (Berachot 61b) in connection to the Roman government’s decree against Torah study. When Pappas ben Yehudah saw Rabbi Akiva convening public assemblies to study Torah he asked him, “Akiva are you not afraid of the regime?” Rabbi Akiva replied, with a parable: “Once a fox was walking alongside the river bank and saw fish gathering from place to place, as they were fleeing something. When the fox inquired, ‘From what are you running away?’ They told him, ‘From the nets people set up to catch us.’ The fox said to them, ‘Come up to dry land and we will dwell together just as our ancestors dwelled together.’ The fish responded, ‘You are a fool, for if in our habitat where our life is sustained we are afraid, all the more so we should be afraid for our existence if we leave our habitat.’ Likewise, Rabbi Akiva said, “If now when we study Torah which is our lifesaver, our existence is threatened, how much are we in danger if we would absent ourselves from Torah.”
Scales serve as a protective garment to the fish and through the fins it flies (swims) from place to place (see Rashi). When one studies Torah it is expected of him to create chidushim — innovative thoughts and explanations. It is also imperative that one who studies Torah have yirat shamayim — fear of Heaven. The Gemara (Shabbat 31a) compares Torah study with yirat shamayim to wheat which is stored with chumton — a preservative consisting of earth with a high salt content. Just as the grain will spoil quickly without the preservative, likewise, one studying Torah without fear of Hashem, will easily forget, and his Torah study will be like a poisonous medicine for him.
Thus, the fins represent the power to accomplish and reach new heights through innovative contributions to Torah, and the scales represent the essential ingredient of yirat shamayim, through which one’s Torah study is preserved and becomes a source of sam chaim — medicine that adds life.
Consequently, if one possesses the quality of “scales,” he is on the right track with his Torah study and will eventually enhance himself and the Torah with his “fins” — innovative thoughts which will be compatible to Torah truth — אמיתתה של תורה. Such an individual is considered tahor — pure and clean. But one who studies Torah and does not have “scales” — fear of Heaven — is tameih — unclean and unfit. His Torah study and fins — innovations — are contrary to Hashem’s desire and it does not merit him the spiritual source of life which Torah gives to those who study it.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Weekly Newsletter

Cynical is Criminal

אֵשׁ תָּמִיד תּוּקַד עַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ לֹא תִכְבֶּה (ויקרא ו, ו)

The Torah commands us to constantly burn a fire on the Outer Mizbei’ach, the altar that stood in the courtyard of the Temple, and to never extinguish it. Moreover, as taught in the Talmud Yerushalmi (Yoma 4:6), the Torah’s emphasis on this fire’s constancy comes to teach us that this fire must be continuously maintained, even if the kohanim responsible for it are in a state of ritual impurity.
This detail in the service in the Mishkan and Beis Hamikdash is equally vital in the spiritual Mishkan that we each must create within ourselves.
The altar represents the heart of man, and the fire on the Outer Mizbei’achrepresents a conscious and heated passion for G-dliness. The Torah’s demand that even when the kohanim are in a state of impurity they must still maintain the fire on the altar addresses the person who feels impure and defiled—distant from anything holy. Notwithstanding his undesirable spiritual state, he must never allow the G-dly fire that burns in his soul to be extinguished. He, too, is commanded to continuously fan the natural flames of excitement toward anything G-dly that burn in his heart - as they do in the heart of every Jew.
By keeping that fire alive, he will ultimately purge himself of impurity as well. As the Maggid of Mezeritch interpreted this verse homiletically: “When the fire on the Altar is constant, everything “not” (i.e., negative) shall be extinguished.”
—Likkutei Sichos vol. 1, p. 217