Sunday, July 15, 2012


MASSEI - THE TORAH’S DEFINITION OF CHESED By Yehonasan Gefen Towards the end of the Parsha, the Torah speaks at length about the cities of refuge; areas that are set aside for unintentional murderers. If a person carelessly causes the death of a fellow Jew then he is in severe danger of being killed by relatives of the victim. The Torah therefore instructs him to go to a city of refuge where he is protected from danger and must simultaneously undergo a process of teshuva. He can only go free when the present Kohen Gadol passes away. The Mishna tells us that since the sentence of the murderer is dependent upon the death of the Kohen Gadol, there is the distinct likelihood that he will pray for the Kohen Gadol to die so that he can go free . Consequently it was customary for the mother of the Kohen Gadol to give gifts to the murderer with the hope that he would not daven for her son to die. The Gemara asks why there should be any fear of the prayers being actualized - the Kohen Gadol did not commit any sin and therefore does not deserve to die. The Gemara answers that he was in fact at fault because he should have prayed that no such disaster should occur to the Jewish people. Since he evidently did not do so he is considered guilty ad susceptible to prayers that he die. The Ben Ish Chai zt”l asks, that if he was guilty then what is the significance of prayers that he die, he will surely be punished regardless. He explains that he would indeed be punished with suffering but that the prayers could cause him to actually die . There are many interesting issues and questions that arise from this inyan , one of them is that it would seem that the Kohen Gadol did not commit any terrible aveiro. He did not actively cause damage to anyone, he was merely guilty of neglecting to pray as much as required - a punishment of suffering or death seems to be very severe for such a seemingly mild transgression! In order to answer this, it is instructive to analyze the Torah’s expectations of a Jew in the realm of chesed. There are three general levels of interaction with other people: Harming them; helping them; and doing nothing to them, neither good nor bad. In the secular view, harming someone without a valid reason is looked on negatively, whilst helping someone is viewed positively. Doing nothing is seen as neutral; it is neither good nor bad. The Torah view also holds that helping someone is good and harming someone is bad, but what does the Torah say about doing nothing - neither helping nor harming? The Gemara in Bava Metsia discusses the prohibition of ‘tzaar baalei chaim’, causing pain to animals. It questions the source of this issur, and its conclusion is that it is learnt from the obligation to help unload a donkey that is suffering because of the heavy load on its back. Leaving an animal in this state of discomfort is considered ‘tzaar baalei chaim. This source is somewhat surprising - if one was asked what he thought to be an example of ‘tzaar baalei chaim’ he would answer; hitting an animal or pulling off the legs of a spider. But merely refraining from helping an animal in pain would not seem to be tzaar baalei chaim - that is a neutral act, perhaps cold, but not in the category of actively causing pain. However, the Gemara sees things somewhat differently; it is clear in the Gemara’s eyes that refraining from helping an animal in distress is a clear case of ‘tzaar baalei chaim’ - it is no different from actively causing pain to an animal. Thus, it is apparent that the Torah view of ‘doing nothing’ is decidedly different from the secular attitude. The Torah considers ‘doing nothing’ as an act of cruelty which belongs in the same category as doing active harm. Another example of this is the Gemara that Pharoah consulted three people as how to treat the Jewish people in Egypt. Bilaam advised that he treat the Jews very harshly, Yisro wanted to advise Pharaoh to be kind to the Jews but he knew he would be killed for saying that so he escaped. Iyov, however, remained silent. Bilaam was understandably punished by being killed by the sword for his evil advice. Iyov seemingly did nothing wrong - he merely remained silent. However he was punished by suffering incredible yissurim, worse than anyone else has ever suffered - those that are mentioned in Sefer Iyov. It is thus clear that doing nothing is considered as doing evil in the Torah’s eyes. This concept is not confined to the realm of hashkafa, it also features significantly in halacha. The Torah commands us, “Do not stand by the blood of your fellow“ . If one sees a fellow Jew in danger one is obligated to try to save him. The poskim explain that this mitzva also applies to helping someone in financial need. The Torah further obligates us to care about the lost property of others and strive to return it to its rightful owner through the mitzva of hashavas aveida. It states that, “you cannot hide yourself.” - one cannot simply ignore the suffering of others, to do so is considered negligent and totally contradicts the Torah requirements. Rabbeinu Yonah stresses the seriousness of this mitzva: “’You shall not be able to look away… Should you say, ‘I don’t know about this’ [G-d] recognizes the contents of the heart and knows the hidden thoughts, and He repays each person according to his deeds. If he fails to come to the rescue of another or seek ways to help him, The Holy Blessed One considers him to have caused the damage himself.” If one looks away from a Jew in need, any damage that results is considered his responsibility. We can now understand why the Torah is so strict on the Kohen Gadol for refraining from actively praying that a tragedy not occur to the Jewish people. He did not invest sufficient effort to prevent a disaster from occurring and his failure to actively daven is considered a serious sin. This lesson is not limited to the Kohen Gadol, it applies to everyone on their own level. Life is replete with opportunities to actively help people in need; A common situation is when someone is unwell and the main way to help is to pray for their health to improve. This is an easy way to avoid the takala of standing by idly whilst one’s friend is in need. Another common occurrence is that we see our fellow Jew struggling to carry a number of shopping bags on the way home - it is a great act of chesed to help unload his burden . But in truth the Avoda of being a true Baal Chesed in the Torah’s eyes requires constant attention and effort. If we can internalize the lesson of the Kohen Gadol then our own lives and those of those around us will be greatly enhanced. Below is something I wrote in the past that related to the above topic of the need to actively help others, however it focuses on how this principle applies in the realm of ruchnius. APPLICATIONS OF LOH SAAMOD AND HASHAVAS AVEIDA IN RUCHNIUS Are there any similar requirements with regard to helping our fellow who is suffering in his ruchnius? The Shelah answers this question on his explanation of the mitzva of ‘loh saamod’: “The reason for this mitzva is because all Jews are intrinsically connected to each other and if we are obligated in saving one’s body then all the more so we are obligated to save one’s soul - if we see one committing an aveira and thereby losing his olam haba we must save him.” The Chofetz Chaim agrees to this psak of the Shlah: He writes: “So too, when we see people whom, because of their lack of knowledge… have forgotten Torah and the importance of keeping mitzvas, and because of this, they commit sins that incur the cutting off of their souls, it is certainly forbidden to be lax in encouraging them to keep the word of Hashem.” The Minchas Chinuch and Maharshdam also explain that the mitzva of ’loh saamod’ includes helping someone who is suffering in ruchnius. Similarly many commentators argue that the mitzva of hashava aveida obligates us to help people who are ‘lost’ in the spiritual sense. However this mitzva seems to require an even greater effort than that of ‘loh saamod’. The Chofetz Chaim writes: If the Torah was so concerned about the property of a Jew, even his donkey or sheep that strayed from the path and required great exertion [to return it], all the more so how much should one take pity on the Jewish soul that is straying from the path, even if it will require great exertion to return him to the correct path, indeed it is written ‘hashev tashiveim’ even 100 times. From here we learn that also in this area, one must strive, even 100 times to return them to Hashem’s path. In a similar vein, the Shelah notes, “the Torah expresses the phrase ’you shall surely return them’ as hashev tashiveim rather than the more appropriate hachzor hachzireim, because hashava intimates that we must stand guard and toil and struggle until our friend does teshuva. Our responsibility does not allow us to look away.” It is clear that this lesson is not limited to the Kohen Gadol - everyone on their level cannot refrain from helping those in need. This lesson can be applied in many ways but it seems that actively helping those in spiritual need is of particular importance. It is clear that the obligation to be a baal chesed requires that we overcome the natural inclination to ’hide our heads in the sand’, and force us to face the situation Klal Yisroel finds itself in today. Millions of Jews are lost sheep, living in a world devoid of meaning - experience has proven that they are willing to return to Torah if only given the opportunity. Outreach workers find people thirsty for meaning, they want to come back. Unfortunately, the number of frum Jews that have taken the responsibility for returning these neshamas to Hashem is gravely insufficient to rectify the current situation. Only if every frum Jew opens his eyes to the churban and strives in some way to help, can the tide be turned. And, as the Shelah and Chofetz Chaim stressed, everyone must put great effort into this mitzva - if one has regular contact with a secular Jew or has a relative who is far from Torah he must strive to develop a connection with him and be willing to spend time and money if necessary in trying to save his spiritual life. Moreover, he must keep trying and never give up, just as the Torah requires in the mitzva of hashavas aveida. It is appropriate to end with the thought-provoking words of Rav Mattisyahu Salomom Shlita: “If we truly feel that all Jews are our brothers, if we truly feel connected to all the Jewish people with bonds of love, compassion and brotherhood, then how can we stand by and watch them slip away into spiritual oblivion? How can we stand by without drawing them closed to G-d and His Holy Torah, without inspiring them to teshuva? If they are our brothers, how are we able to look away? These are questions that we all must ask ourselves.

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