שבת טעם החיים משפטים תשע”א
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Mishpatim 5771
Heard at Sinai, forever
והגישו אדניו אל האלהים והגישו אל הדלת או אל המזוזה ורצע אדניו את אזנו במרצע ועבדו לעולם, then his master shall bring him to the court and shall bring him to the door or to the doorpost, and his master shall bore through his ear with his awl, and he shall serve him forever. (Shemos 21:6)
In this week’s parasha we learn of the עבד עברי, the Jewish slave who was sold into slavery because he was caught stealing. The Torah details what occurs if after six years of servitude the slave does not wish to leave his master. It is said (Shemos 21:6) והגישו אדניו אל האלהים והגישו אל הדלת או אל המזוזה ורצע אדניו את אזנו במרצע ועבדו לעולם, then his master shall bring him to the court and shall bring him to the door or to the doorpost, and his master shall bore through his ear with his awl, and he shall serve him forever. Rashi cites the Gemara (Kiddushin 22b) that states, why was the ear chosen to be pierced more than other limbs of the body? Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai said, this ear heard at Sinai that one should not steal, and nonetheless he went and stole. His ear should be pierced. Let us understand this Gemara. A Jew, hundreds of years after the Giving of the Torah, steals something and is sold into slavery. When the time arrives for his freedom, he refuses to be released, and he has his ear pierced. Is there really a connection with was said at Sinai and his act of slavery? What is the Gemara teaching us?
In order to understand this concept, let us take a detour to this Shabbos when we bless the new month of Adar. The Mishnah (Megillah 29a) statesבאחד באדר משמיעין על השקלים ועל הכלאים, on the first of the month of Adar they would announce regarding the collection of the Shekalim and regarding the prohibition of seed mixtures. The Sfas Emes cites the Zohar that states קלקלתם נעשה הזהרו בנשמע, you corrupted “we will listen;” be particular regarding “we will listen.” The power of listening, writes the Sfas Emes, is unique to the Jewish People. Proof of this is because it is said שמע ישראל, hear O Israel. For this reason the Jewish people merited hearing the Ten Commandments, and this is what makes us distinct from the other nations. This is the meaning of the statement באחד באדר משמיעין על השקלים ועל הכלאים. This announcement regarding the Shekalim and the forbidden seed mixtures preceded the action of donating the Shekalim and uprooting the forbidden mixtures. The reason for this is because only the Jewish People are capable of preparing for the action only for the sake of the action itself. This pure preparation allows that the mitzvah is performed is an unadulterated fashion.
We see from the words of the Sfas Emes the power of our ability to hear. Although the Jewish People violated the נעשה, the action, they still retained the נשמע, the listening to the mitzvah. This aspect of listening is perpetuated in every Jew throughout history. When a Jew violates a mitzvah, he is choosing to ignore the נשמע. The Sfas Emes writes that every sin is essentially an act of stealing, as one who sins is entering into a domain that does not belong to him. Rav Shamshon Rafael Hirsch writes that this is the meaning of the word עבירה, loosely translated as sin. When one is עובר, he trespasses the borders that he was instructed to stay within. Thus, when someone steals, he has violated the נשמע, and we punish his ear that heard at Sinai do not steal, i.e. do not sin by trespassing the boundaries that Hashem set for you. HaShem should allow us to enter into the month of Adar with joy and we should listen to His commandments and then we will hear the sound of the Shofar of Moshiach, heralding the Final Redemption, speedily, in our days.
Shabbos with the Sfas Emes and the Rebbes of Ger
Regarding Shabbos it is said (Shemos 23:12) ששת ימים תעשה מעשך וביום השביעי תשבת למען ינוח שורך וחמורך וינפש בן אמתך והגר, six days shall you accomplish your activities, and on the seventh day you shall desist, so that your ox and donkey may be content and your maidservant’s son and the sojourner may be refreshed. The Sfas Emes writes that one negates the days of the week to Shabbos by constantly remembering Shabbos. Similarly, when Shabbos arrives and one desists from work, he then draws the holiness of Shabbos to the week of action. In this manner, writes the Sfas Emes, “your ox and donkey may be content,” as the word חמורך alludes to חומריות, materialism. Thus, Shabbos rectifies the materialism and the animal soul of one’s actions. Furthermore, the words “so that your ox and donkey may be content” allude to the future, as despite the fact that one cannot subdue materialism completely, in the future materialism will be completely nullified. This is hinted to in the Gemar that states that one who toils on Erev Shabbos will eat on Shabbos. The Sfas Emes concludes that this concept does not only apply to the future, but every Shabbos, which is a semblance of the World to Come, one’s materialism is somewhat nullified through the holiness of Shabbos.
Mechel the Provider
The creaking of the wheels makes ruin of my sleep every morning. Try as I might to slip back into my twilight gone, the sandpaper rasping of the delivery cart thrusts me into the real world.
As reliable as clockwork, the annoying squeaks never fail to reach me in the stillness of the dawn, for Mechel, the delivery boy, has set out on his appointed rounds with bags of groceries for the sleepy natives of my island paradise, an island of calm and cordiality in a harsh and turbulent city.
Stumbling to the window, I catch sight of the delivery cart, really an oversized tricycle supporting an odd tin-enclosed wooden box. The wagon lifts to one side, while Mechel is supporting the overloaded end with grunts and muscle strain.
Axle squeals, paroxysms, and labored muscle-wheezing are a poor accompaniment to my half-lidded awakening. But all is forgiven, because Mechel the provider is the source of the cacophony.
Mechel guards his covered wagon jealously. Rain or shine, he inspects the silver-hued exterior for hairline fissures, as if it were his orbital capsule; the thoroughness of this daily ceremony shames the countdown procedures of space-program engineers. After completing his inspection, he drops bags of groceries into its interior as if it were a safe-deposit vault needing no further safeguards. He then climbs aboard, his egg-shaped figure perched on the seat of the tricycle. To watch him pedal his overloaded pyramid away is to marvel at the miracle of the wheel.
As the morning continues, Mechel becomes the star in a scene borrowed from the Pied Piper. Children are attracted to the unnatural sounds emanating from his barrel-chest and are transfixed by his balancing act. His gestures and Atlas-like postures seem to provide endless delight to schoolchildren waiting at their bus stops. When he gleefully raises one of the tots, places him astride the mountain of bags and “blasts off” down the block, a spontaneous chorus of song peals forth from the other children, and the crescendo reverberates off the brownstones of my island sanctuary.
Mechel has his own language — a collection of notes of varying pitches — yet everybody seems to understand him. When he distributes candy to the children he knows from grocery visits, the loving glint in his eye needs no words for amplification. When he bends down so that the children may feel his bulging arm muscles (with the tattooed, concentration-camp number prominently showing), and he ughs and ahs to them, they fully understand. And when they ask him pleadingly, “Give me a ride,” and he delivers, the smiles on their faces need no expressive words.
His delivery knock on the door strains the hinges, and echoes fusillade-like throughout the house. Yet, housewives don’t cringe in fear, but rush to open the door to the overladen courier and offer him a fresh biscuit or a piece of homemade bread. The beat on the door is totally his own, and no housewife hesitates to answer.
Mechel is a mute. He has not said a word for the last 43 years — since that day in the concentration camp when the Gauleiter ordered him to speak up and tell who had “stolen” a bit of food to give life to the starving. Mechel chose not to speak, and after the beatings he sustained, he could not had he wanted to.
The adults who knew him from that epoch speak about him in hushed tones of reverence and listen today to his every grunt as if it were wisdom eternal. The new generation, unknowing of the past, intuitively accepts him, admires him, and hails his present feats as if reflecting some past heroism.
And Mechel continues bringing food — food for his people … people who now have new families where he has none … people who now enjoy economic success and security, while he has his delivery cart.
The turning wheels grate away with the dawn, and my initial annoyance never fails to turn into solace: Mechel is still providing for his people, when some others have forgotten too quickly.
The Rabbi and the Queen
Victoria, queen of the British Empire, had good reason to be grateful to Nathan Adler, who was rabbi of a synagogue in Hanover, Germany, where the queen had come to visit. Her husband, Prince Consort Albert, was from the duchy of Saxe Coburg Gotha, and her own ancestors had originated in Hanover. The royal couple had arrived there for a vacation before the expected birth of their first child, when suddenly, labor began two months earlier than expected.
The great Jewish philanthropist, Moshe Montefiore, a financial advisor to the British government, came to the Court at Hanover at that crucial moment. The doctors and members of the Court were at their wit’s end — if the child would be born on German soil, his succession to the throne might be in question, since he would be considered a German citizen and would not be eligible for the crown.
That afternoon, Moshe Montefiore went to pray in the synagogue of Rabbi Nathan Adler, and received a tremendous welcome — not because of his great wealth, but because of his great benevolence to his Jewish brethren all over the world. After prayers, he told Rabbi Adler about the royal dilemma. It was getting late…
Rabbi Adler suggested that the Queen be brought immediately to an English ship, which should then travel out three kilometers from the German shore to international waters. A child born on the British ship would be regarded as having been born on English soil.
Sir Moses quickly relayed this advice to the Court, and Queen Victoria was rushed to the famous British warship, the Arc Royal, which was nearby. That night, she gave birth to a son. He duly became known later (much later, since the Queen ruled until her death at the venerable age of 82) as King Edward VII.
A sticky situation was averted by the ingenious rabbi of Hanover, and the Queen did not forget that.
During her long reign, England’s glory was at its greatest. “The sun never sets on the British Empire” was truly said, since it shone constantly on some part of England and its possessions — Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, the African colonies…
Years later, Queen Victoria’s attention was directed to an announcement issued by the Dukes Place synagogue in London, requesting applications to be submitted for the prestigious position of rabbi there. This was publicized internationally, and many renowned rabbis applied, including Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch and others.
The Queen sent a note to the synagogue, stating, “Since Rabbi Adler saved me when I was in trouble, he will certainly be the right guardian and leader for your congregation.” And so it was.
When the Queen’s advice was accepted and Rabbi Adler was chosen as the rabbi of the Dukes Place synagogue, she further suggested that this position was not enough — he should become Chief Rabbi of England, or better yet, of the British Empire! A bill was raised in Parliament in order to decide whether the Empire required a chief rabbi. When put to a vote, a substantial majority chose Rabbi Adler as Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, a post he filled with honor and distinction for 45 years.
Thus Queen Victoria repaid the good advice of the rabbi of Hanover. Her reign was an era of good feeling toward her Jewish subjects, who prospered and enjoyed more rights and freedom than any of their brethren in the European countries.
The Innkeeper’s Hospitality
A group of Chassidim had braved the winter weather for a trip to Belz. It was worth the discomfort of traveling on such a blustery, cold night, through the snow, to bask in the warmth of Rabbi Yehoshua Rokeach, the Belzer Rebbe. The group pushed on, despite their discomfort, but late Thursday night they realized they would have to break up the trip. Perhaps by morning the cold would have abated somewhat; perhaps the roads would be more easily passable.
They were encouraged by the sight of a light ahead in the distance; coming closer, they were overjoyed to see that it was an inn owned by a Jew. What a relief it would be to spend the night in dry, warm surroundings! When their light tap on the door brought no response, they knocked a bit louder, not wishing to awaken all the inhabitants; but when the door remained closed, they banged louder. Someone finally rattled the shutters, but to no avail. Left with no choice, the weary, chilled travelers continued on their way.
The Chassidim in Belz took in the frozen men graciously and made them welcome and comfortable. They felt their spirits lift over Shabbos, and left on Sunday exhilarated and willing to endure such a trip again soon.
On the way home, one of their number, an elderly, venerated Chassid, asked them to make a detour and stop in the village of that stubbornly locked inn. He found the villa of the local mayor and approached the nobleman. “Could you please tell me, sir. When is the lease of the inn due to expire?”
“It terminates in about six weeks’ time. Why? Are you interested?”
“Yes, I am. As a matter of fact, I’m ready to offer you more than the fellow who holds the lease now.”
“Fine with me!” chuckled the mayor. “We’ll be in touch.”
The innkeeper was notified that at the end of his lease the inn would be rented to someone else — another Jew, who had outbid him! The man was appalled. How could someone else, a fellow Jew, snatch his livelihood, his family’s bread, so ignobly? How selfish! Could he not find some other inn to rent instead? After some investigation he discovered that the culprit was no less than an elder Belzer Chassid. Determined not to give in easily to such wickedness, he decided to travel to speak to the Belzer rebbe about the matter.
When Rabbi Yehoshua heard that it was his revered Chassid about whom the innkeeper was complaining, he realized that there must be some reason for his behavior. He advised the innkeeper to return in a few weeks, when the Chassid would be coming again, and then he would work things out.
That week came soon, and when the two men arrived, Rabbi Yehoshua summoned the two parties and asked each side to present his argument. The innkeeper went first, and sounded properly indignant.
Then it was the elderly Chassid’s turn. He related the difficult journey his group had endured that winter’s day, and how they were not admitted entry to the inn in the village along the way. “I began to wonder: How is a Jew permitted to dwell in a far-flung village devoid of any other Jews, lacking a minyan, a shul… and what of his children’s education? I reflected that there are many such people living under such conditions, and concluded that, true, they are unable to fulfill many of the mitzvot, but this is compensated by the great merit they have of welcoming guests. They are uniquely able to provide hospitality to travelers who are cold, hungry and weary, and in this way emulate our forefather Abraham.
“This innkeeper, however,” continued the chassid, “has established himself in such a village, and earns enough of a living to be choosy about whom he allows inside! He could easily fulfill the mitzvah of hospitality, but instead he turned a deaf ear to our knocks and pleas. And therefore I decided that he had no permission to live in such a village, and that is why I took over his lease.”
The innkeeper was duly chastened by these words, admitting that the man was right, and promised that in the future he would be meticulous to observe this commandment. The Chassid was ready to make a deal with him: “I’ll give you back the inn at your previous rent, and pay the difference to the mayor myself. This way I, too, will have a share in your mitzvah of hospitality!”
Needless to say, the travelers to Belz on future trips were assured of a warm welcome at that inn. (www.innernet.org.il)
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Mishpatim 5771
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler
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