שבת טעם החיים עקב תשע”א
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Eikev 5771
Listen and Listen Well
והיה אם שמע תשמעו אל מצותי אשר אנכי מצוה אתכם היום לאהבה את ה’ אלקיכם ולעבדו בכל לבבכם ובכל נפשכם, it will be that if you hearken to My commandments that I command you today, to love HaShem, your G-d, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Devarim 11:13)
What does it mean to listen? In this week’s parasha the Torah states (Devarim 7:12) והיה עקב תשמעון את המשפטים האלה ושמרתם ועשיתם אתם ושמר ה’ אלקיך לך את הברית ואת החסד אשר נשבע לאבתיך, this shall be the reward when you hearken to these ordinances, and you observe and perform them; HaShem, your G-d, will safeguard for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your forefathers. Why does the Torah state that if you listen to the commandments you will receive great rewards? Is mitzvah observance all about listening? One would think that HaShem desires that we observe the commandments. Further on in the parsha, the Torah states (Ibid 11:13) והיה אם שמע תשמעו אל מצותי אשר אנכי מצוה אתכם היום לאהבה את ה’ אלקיכם ולעבדו בכל לבבכם ובכל נפשכם, it will be that if you hearken to My commandments that I command you today, to love HaShem, your G-d, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul. Rashi cites the Sifri that explains the double term of שמע תשמעו to mean that if you listen to the old, you will merit listening to the new. What does this mean? What is significant about listening to the old?
It is said (Ibid 6:4) שמע ישראל ה’ אלקינו ה’ אחד, Hear O Israel: HaShem is our G-d, HaShem is the One and Only. The Rishonim write that the meaning of the word שמע is listen, understand and accept. Thus, the word שמע means to absorb the commandments. In truth, however, there is another meaning to the word שמע. It is said (Shmuel I 15:4) וישמע שאול את העם, Shaul had all the people summoned. This translation teaches us that it is insufficient to merely listen with one’s ears. Rather, one must focus all his faculties on what is being said. The essence of Torah study and mitzvah observance is not about hearing a lecture and rote performance of a mitzvah. Proper Torah study is referred to as עמלות בתורה, toiling in Torah. Mitzvah performance requires preparation and כוונה, focus on the mitzvah that one performs. The Torah informs us that we will be punished if we do not listen to the mitzvos. It is said (Vayikra 26:17) ואם לא תשמעו לי ולא תעשו את כל המצות האלה, but if you will not listen to me and will not perform all of these commandments. Rashi writes that not listening to me cannot refer to not performing the commandments, as this is stated afterwards. Rather, not listening to HaShem means not toiling in Torah. When one listens, he absorbs the message and performs with enthusiasm and zeal. One who does not listen means he rejects the message and acts in manner that is antithetical to what HaShem desires from us, which is toiling in Torah and focusing on our mitzvah performance.
A similar idea regarding listening si reflected in the arrival of Yisro to the Jewish camp. It is said (Shemos 18:1)וישמע יתרו כהן מדין חתן משה את כל אשר עשה אלקים למשה ולישראל עמו כי הוציא ה’ את ישראל ממצרים, Yisro, the minister of Midian, the father-in-law of Moshe, heard everything that HaShem did to Moshe and to Israel, His people – that HaShem had taken Israel out of Egypt. The Gemara (Zevachim 116a) asks, מה שמועה שמע ובא, what did Yisro hear that prompted him to come and convert to Judaism? The Gemara answers that he heard of the various miracles that HaShem had performed for the Jewish People. The commentators point out that the entire world had heard of the Splitting of the Sea and the Giving of the Torah. What made Yisro unique was that he absorbed what he heard and acted on it. We can suggest that this is the reason why the Gemara uses the terminology מה שמועה שמע ובא instead of merely stating מה שמע ובא? The Gemara is teaching us that it is not enough to just hear something. Rather, one must absorb the message and act upon it. This is what the Sifri means when it states אם שמעת בישן תשמע בחדש, if you heard the old you will hear the new. Hearing the old means constantly reviewing what one has learned, a clear sign that one has absorbed the Torah’s teachings. Such a person will certainly continue to hear the Torah’s instructions for a fulfilling life.
We can now better understand why in the beginning of the parasha the Torah states that if you listen to the commandments you will earn great rewards. When one listens and absorbs the messages that HaShem is sending us through His Torah, he can be sure that he will merit great rewards as he is fulfilling HaShem’s desire that he toil in Torah and focus properly on mitzvah observance. HaShem should grant us the ability to put forth our best efforts in Torah study and mitzvah observance and merit all the blessing that He has promised us.
Shabbos in Action through the Prism of the Parshah
In this week’s parasha it is said (Devarim 5:12) ויענך וירעבך ויאכילך את המן אשר לא ידעת ולא ידעון אבתיך למען הודיעך כי לא על הלחם לבדו יחיה האדם כי על כל מוצא פי ה’ יחיה האדם, He afflicted you and let you hunger, then He fed you manna that you did not know, nor did your forefathers know, in order to make you know that not by bread alone does man live, rather by everything that emanates from the mouth of HaShem does man live. The Torah states that Hashem fed us manna in the Wilderness that neither we nor our fathers knew. However, the purpose of the manna was so that we should know. It is noteworthy that the Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 11:2) states that Hashem blessed the Shabbos and sanctified the Shabbos with the manna. Regarding Shabbos it is said (Shemos 31:13) לדעת כי אני ה’ מקדשכם, to know that I am HaShem, Who makes you holy. It follows, then, that when it is said regarding the manna “in order to make you know” alludes to the blessing of Shabbos that is contained within the manna.
The Satmar Rebbe and Tzedakah
Rav Yoel Teitelbaum – the Satmar Rebbe – was recognized as one of the leading Torah sages of his era, and as we shall discuss in the letter that follows, he was a great tzaddik who was a great tzedakah activist. The Satmar Rebbe was also known for his strong opposition to the secular Zionist movement; moreover, he felt that Zionist leaders were leading the Jewish people astray by encouraging them to view “nationalism” as the basis of their Jewish identity, instead of the Torah. There are other related reasons for his opposition to the modern Zionist movement which are the topic for a different discussion. The followers of the Satmar Rebbe, however, are not to be confused with a very tiny fringe group whose members wear Chassidic garb and who publicly demonstrate with the P.L.O., along with other anti-Israel groups. These demonstrations in support of Israel’s enemies have been condemned by the leadership of all major Jewish communities, including the Satmar community. In fact, when a group of young Satmar zealots participated in such a demonstration when the Rebbe was still alive, the Satmar Rebbe expelled them from the Satmar community.
The Satmar Rebbe’s opposition to the modern Zionist movement is well-known, but his great love and concern for the needy is not as well-known. One reason is because “Tzadikim” – righteous individuals – do not seek publicity about their good deeds; on the contrary, they prefer to perform these good deeds in a hidden and modest manner. Nevertheless, it is helpful for us to know about their good deeds, so that we can be inspired to do good deeds of our own. The following letter will therefore contain information and stories about the Rebbe’s loving devotion to the mitzvah of tzedakah:
My upstairs neighbor, Reb Kalman Schlesinger, is a Satmar Chassid who studied under the previous Satmar Rebbe. Reb Kalman is a tzedakah activist, and this is not surprising, as the book, “The Tzedakah Treasury,” describes how the Satmar Rebbe demanded from all his followers that they should get personally involved in collecting tzedakah. It is not enough, said the Rebbe, merely to put your hand in your pocket and give away a few coins or dollars; one must also go around from door to door and collect money for the needy. He urged his followers to exert themselves on behalf of others, for that is how the mitzvah is best done. He insisted that even the wealthiest people should go around from door to door collecting for the needy. When a wealthy individual would offer to give the Rebbe the full amount in order to avoid the indignity of having to go collecting, the Rebbe would refuse the offer. He wanted the wealthy to get personally involved in this mitzvah; moreover, the experience of going from door to door would give the wealthy givers a taste of what it is like to have to beg. In this way, they would learn to have more empathy with the desperate plight of the destitute. The Satmar Rebbe also established a rule in his yeshiva that every student was expected to go out periodically to collect tzedakah contributions.
The highest form of tzedakah is to help people support themselves, and the Rebbe excelled in this aspect of tzedakah. The Rebbe himself was a Holocaust survivor who arrived in the United States as a poor refugee, and he settled in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. When other Chassidic Holocaust survivors from Hungary, Romania, and nearby countries heard that the noted Satmar Rebbe had survived and was living in Brooklyn, they gathered around him and asked him to serve as their Rebbe. The Rebbe not only guided them spiritually and comforted them, he also helped them to establish businesses or to learn new trades which would be useful in America. Within a few years, under the Rebbe’s dynamic leadership, a network of impoverished Holocaust survivors was transformed into a thriving community where people were able to support themselves and help others!
The Satmar Chassidim are known for their tzedakah activism, as well as for their devotion to the sick. Most large hospitals have a Jewish chaplain who visits Jewish patients, and the chaplain’s work is supplemented by volunteers from the Satmar community. These volunteers are members of the Satmar “Bikur Cholim” Society – the “Visiting the Sick” Society – which was founded and led for many years by the Satmar Rebbe’s wife, Rebbitzen Alte Faiga Teitelbaum. The Satmar volunteers also cook and provide kosher food to Jewish patients and their visitors without charge; moreover, meals are prepared for those with special dietary restrictions. The Satmar volunteers strive to meet the needs of all Jewish patients, regardless of affiliation or level of observance. It is therefore not surprising that Jewish patients of diverse beliefs and backgrounds praise the warmth and concern of the Satmar Chassidim.
“The Tzedakah Treasury” has a story which describes how the Rebbe began his career of tzedakah activism as a young boy when he first started school. Although young Yoel came from a comfortable home, he noticed that many of his classmates did not have enough to eat. He therefore began giving away his lunch and snacks on a daily basis. He observed that many poor boys came to school in the rain, snow, and freezing cold with ragged clothes and torn shoes. Their plight gave his warm heart no rest. Secretly, he called together all the boys who came from wealthy homes and made the first tzedakah appeal of his life: “My friends!” he cried, “My parents give me spending money and your parents give you spending money. But money is worthless! It has absolutely no value unless it is used for tzedakah to help the poor. Let us put together our pennies and collect a respectable sum for our ragged classmates.” Young Yoel’s plea made a tremendous impact on the boys. They pooled their resources, and together they went to the local tailors and shoe makers, ordered new clothes and shoes for the underprivileged boys, and distributed the goods to their needy classmates.
When I asked my neighbor, Reb Kalman, to tell me some stories about the Satmar Rebbe, he told me the following story which he recently heard from a Chassidic friend in Williamsburg, who is involved in real estate. His friend was examining a building at the edge of Williamsburg, and an elderly African American man approached him and asked in Yiddish: “Did you know Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, the Satmar Rebbe?” When his friend said that he indeed had the privilege of knowing the Rebbe, the man replied: “You didn’t really know him; no one really knew him.” And he proceeded to tell the Chassid the following story which took place during the early years of the Satmar community in Williamsburg:
As a young man, he had lost his job and couldn’t find work. Things got so bad that he didn’t even have a place to live. One day, he just sat on the staircase of a house in Williamsburg and began to cry, as he had no place to go. Although he didn’t know it, this was the home of the Satmar Rebbe. The Rebbe was returning home with a group of his followers, and he noticed the young man who was crying on the staircase of his home. The Rebbe didn’t speak English well, so he sent his assistant to ask him what he wanted. The assistant spoke to him, and when the assistant relayed to the Rebbe the sad story, the Rebbe invited him into the house. The Rebbe told his assistant to tell him that he will have a room in the house, and that the Rebbe will give him a job helping the Rebbitzen (the Rebbe’s wife) with all the various communal functions. He accepted the offer of the Satmar Rebbe, and he eventually learned how to speak fluent Yiddish!
After telling the Chasid his story, the elderly African American added: “I worked for him many years, and throughout that period the Rebbe and his family always treated me with great respect.”
My neighbor, Reb Kalman Schlesinger, has a tzedakah project of his own, called “Ergun Baruch U’Marpe” in memory of his father, Reb Baruch Schlesinger. In Israel, ambulance service is not free, so my neighbor contributed funds and raised funds to acquire a couple of ambulances. The drivers of these ambulances are also trained in first aid. These ambulances serve the needs of those who cannot afford the fee of regular Israeli ambulances. And when there is a terrorist attack in Jerusalem, his ambulances rush to help bring the wounded to hospitals. In addition, Ergun Baruch U’Marpe organizes gatherings for children in hospitals, especially around the holidays. My neighbor’s project services all segments of the population, and social workers at the local hospitals will sometimes refer people to his service. Ergun Baruch U’Marpe also helps terrorist victims and their families. In his own way, my neighbor is continuing the tzedakah activism of the Satmar Rebbe. (http://www.shemayisrael.com/publicat/hazon/tzedaka/Tales_of_Tzedakah-6.html)
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Eikev 5771
Is sponsored in loving memory of Mazal bas Simcha and lezchus Refuah Sheleimah Orin ben Shimi Isaac Yaakov
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler
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