שבת טעם החיים מטות תשע”א
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Matos 5771
Taking Our Words Seriously
איש כי ידר נדר לה’ או השבע שבעה לאסר אסר על נפשו לא יחל דברו ככל היצא מפיו יעשה, if a man takes a vow to hashem or swears an oath to establish a prohibition upon himself, he shall not desecrate his word; according to whatever comes from his mouth shall he do. (Bamidbar 30:3)
The word נדרים, vows, is gematria רוצח, a murderer. So if someone takes a vow he is akin to a murderer! How are we supposed to understand this? The Baal HaTurim writes that if one makes a vow and doesn’t pay up, then he’s like a murderer. Who did he murder? The Baal HaTurim tells us that the Gemara (Shabbos 32b) states that on account of the sins of vows small children pass away. This needs an explanation. A man makes a vow to give charity, and he does not fulfill his pledge. His punishment is that his children die. Isn’t it more logical that those children should be allowed to live so they can fulfill the pledge? What is the association between unfulfilled vows and the untimely death of children?
In order to answer this question, let us understand the function of a vow. When one takes a vow, he is using his power of speech to effect a change in his behavior. A common example is if one vows to donate to charity. In addition to the act of giving charity, he has now used his power of speech towards a matter of sanctity. The Gemara (Rosh HaShanah 4a; see Rashi Ibid who interprets this to be referring to one who is accustomed to doing this) states that one who declares “this coin should go to charity on condition that my son will live and that I should merit a share in the World to Come” is considered a righteous person. Furthermore, the Gemara (Taanis 8b) states that the rains are held back on account of those who pledge charity in public and do not fulfill their pledge. We see that the pledge alone can make one meritorious, and conversely, by not fulfilling a pledge to charity, one is held accountable and the rains are withheld. The virtue of a human is his power of speech, as it is said (Bereishis 2:7) ויהי האדם לנפש חיה, and man became a living being, and the Targum renders the following translation: והות באדם לרוח ממללא, and man became a talking spirit. When one speaks, he is using his life source to affect the cosmos. A sincere pledge to charity can transform the person to being righteous, and a deceitful pledge can cause that the rains are prevented. Even worse, ones unfulfilled vow can cause ones children to die. Ones speech is the essence of his life, and his children are his continuity. When one is not careful with his power of speech, he can be the unfortunate cause of his children’s death.
So now you may be wondering, how is this idea inspiring? At best it sounds very frightening, as one has to be very careful with what he speaks. As Shlomo HaMelech declared (Mishlei 18:21) מות וחיים ביד לשון, death and life are in the power of the tongue. The good news, however, is that one can reach great spiritual heights by pledging to charity, fulfilling his pledge and being honest with his words.
Shabbos in Action through the Prism of the Parshah
This week’s parasha records the request of the tribes of Gad and Reuven to remain on the other side of the Jordan River. Their justification for this request was because they had a lot of cattle and in Trans-Jordan there was a large grazing area. Certainly these tribes intended to use the land for spiritual pursuits, despite the fact that these lands did not have the sanctity of Eretz Yisroel. On Shabbos one is granted a נשמה יתירה, an extra soul, and Rashi (Beitzah 16a) explains that the function of this extra soul is that so one can eat and drink more on Shabbos. While we normally understand the function of a soul to be entirely spiritual, we see from this that one can take physicality and transform it into spiritual matter.
From: A. M. in Houston. TX
I hope you had a lovely Rosh Hashana.
I was inspired by the services at my friend’s synagogue during the holiday. My request now might be a bit unusual, but would you mind sharing a nice teshuva story to send me.
Thanks and have a great year!
Dear A. M.,
I hope you like the following story told by a colleague of mine:
A few weeks ago I was approached by a friend of mine who is a teacher in Yeshivat Ohr Somayach’s advanced Center program, and his was a pretty straightforward request.
“Eli, would you mind having two guys from the Center over for a meal on Shabbat?”
I cleared the request with my wife, and we settled on Shabbat lunch. Like many local English-speaking families, we have Shabbat guests on a pretty regular basis. On Shabbat morning, when the boys showed up before I arrived home from shul, my wife greeted them and went into the kitchen to prepare the meal, leaving the guests to entertain themselves until I returned.
Perhaps ten minutes after the guests arrived I came home from shul, and we made introductions all around. It turned out they were both named Daniel, which gave us an opening topic for conversation, and then we settled down to eat.
In the course of the conversation, one of the young men, a pleasant twenty-four-year-old named Daniel Lubin, told me his story. He had visited Israel once as a teenager, and though he had a nice time touring the country, he did not look for, nor find, any kind of religious experience. When he was twenty-one, he returned to Israel for another visit, again looking for nothing more than a good time.
After several weeks of picking bananas on a kibbutz and some time touring up north, Daniel decided to spend his last weekend in Jerusalem. He would go to the Western Wall on Friday night and drive down to the Dead Sea on Saturday morning.
He spent his time at the Wall observing the black-hatted Jews praying and un-hatted tourists snapping pictures. After a short time, having nothing more to see, he turned to leave.
He never made it.
Meir Schuster intercepted him. “Do you have anywhere to eat tonight? Would you like to experience a real Shabbat meal?”
Daniel was slightly taken aback, but with nothing more exciting than a slice of pizza on the agenda, he decided to go along with the offer.
At worst, it would be an interesting story to tell his friends when he got back to the States. And if the food was really terrible, he could always get that slice of pizza later.
Schuster hooked him up with another young man, a hulking Australian bartender traveling around the world, and off they went to experience their first taste of gefilte fish.
“Well,” Daniel said to me, “that meal changed my life. I had the most incredible time, the food was great, the conversation was really stimulating, and the singing was beautiful. It lasted until one in the morning, and I knew right then that I had to check out this religion business. I had never felt anything was missing, but now I saw how much more there could be to life.”
The next morning Daniel went on his trip to the Dead Sea, and with only twenty-four hours remaining in his visit to Israel, he crammed in a few lectures on Torah and Judaism before flying home Sunday evening.
But something had changed.
Although Daniel had returned to America and his college life, now he felt something was missing. He couldn’t forget his incredible experience at that Shabbat table in Jerusalem. As soon as he was able, he sought the local Orthodox community for resources that could help him learn more about his heritage. He was thrilled when he found several knowledgeable and dedicated rabbis who could help him explore his roots.
Under their expert tutelage, Daniel found new vistas opening before him, and he took to it like a fish to water. It wasn’t long before he became fully observant and was experiencing for himself the thrill of studying in-depth Torah and living as a Torah-true Jew. Daniel longed to attend a yeshivah and study Torah full-time, but he felt it would be prudent to finish college first.
Finally, having obtained his diploma, Daniel was back in Israel, the place where his adventure had begun three years before, and the circle was now complete.
I had listened to the tale with interest and admiration, and now that he had finished, I had only one comment.
I said, “I didn’t know Meir Schuster had people over to his own house for meals. I thought he usually sent them to other families. It’s interesting that you had the good luck to eat in Schuster’s own home.”
Daniel said, “No, you misunderstood. I didn’t eat with Schuster. He sent me to an American family for the meal.”
“Oh, I see. Do you happen to remember who it was?”
“Yes, I do,” said Daniel.
“Really? What is their name? I wonder if I know them.”
Instead of answering, Daniel pointed at the table.
I looked at him in puzzlement. “What do you mean? Was it someone in this building?” He nodded.
I started to list the names of my American neighbors.
He shook his head and said, “No, it was in this apartment.”
I said, “Really? What a coincidence. Who lived in this apartment three years ago?”
Daniel just smiled.
Well, slow I may be, but finally I caught on. We had been living in this apartment for almost seven years.
“You mean you ate here?”
“Here, with us?”
“You mean you knew all along? You set up this meal?”
“That’s right. I’ve been wanting to return here for the past three years. And that’s why I bought you this little gift. I remembered that we made a l’chaim, and you didn’t have shot glasses, so I bought you this decanter set to say thank you-for the meal and, well, for everything!”
Now the circle really was complete.
For the first time in a very long while, I was truly speechless. But, to be honest, there was no need for speeches. I just sat there and soaked it in, stunned and happy that I, and my family, had made such a difference in another Jew’s life. And with such a small effort.
And that is the real reason I am telling you this story. Not to boast about our wonderful Shabbat meals; if there’s anything wonderful about them, the credit goes to my wife, not me. And not just to share an entertaining story either.
I tell you this story because it shows how each and every one of us, professional Kiruv worker or not, has the ability to utterly change the world. And it does not require tremendous exertion either, but a minimum of effort. How difficult is it to have a guest over on Shabbat and drink a l’chaim together?
And if we have the ability to change another Jew’s life, then we have the obligation to do so.
That is the point of the story and the primary purpose of this book to show the “average” frum Jew that what he is, and the way he lives, are all he needs to spread the word of Hashem. It needn’t be through a brilliant Torah lecture or a subtle deconstruction of Darwin’s theory of evolution.
It could be a Shabbat meal or a kind word. It could be an act of integrity or a helping hand. That is all we really need to make a Kiddush Hashem.
The most amazing thing about this is that we may never know the results of a seemingly insignificant action. Had Daniel Lubin not made a point of returning to our house, we would probably never have known what we had helped achieve, and we would never have gotten the chizuk and the boost that we did.
I had always claimed that one does not need to be a great scholar nor a trained Kiruv expert to make someone frum. Thanks to Daniel Lubin and a “chance” encounter, now I have the proof that this is true.
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Matos 5771
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler
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