Rabbi Elimelech Biderman - Torah Wellsprings - Behar - Bechukotai - Part 2
The Aruch HaShulchan (489:3) states that the korban omer brought on Pesach was made from barley, which is animal food, and the shtei halechem, the two breads, brought on Shavuos were made of wheat, food meant for humans. This hints that our service on these days between Pesach and Shavuos is to elevate ourselves from the level of being like an animal to becoming a human.
Animals act by instincts – they can't control their thoughts and desires. But man's greatness over animals is that he can say "no" to what isn't Hashem's will.
The Rebbe of Ishbitza zt'l taught that the difference between man and animal is seen by the way they stand. A person's head is above the body, which shows that his mind rules over his actions, but the head and the body of an animal are on the same level, demonstrating that its mind doesn’t rule over its body. Still, if a person has intelligence, but he doesn’t follow his conscious, he is essentially the same as an animal.
The truth is that an animal remains an animal. But a person can change. He can control his thoughts, speech, and deeds. He can say "no," when it isn't Hashem's will, because a person's quality over an animal is his ability to say "no" to sins.
Chazal say, a person's nature is identified and becomes known (1) when he drinks, (2) by how he behaves with money, and (3) by his actions and speech when he’s angry. We can also explain that by these three matters, a person is recognized that he is indeed an אדם ,a human being and he isn't an animal. If he can act properly after drinking, be honest with money, and control himself when angry, then he is a human. If he can't, he’s like an animal.
The Gemara adds, "This is as people say, a hadas, even when it grows among thorns, it’s still a hadas. ” The hadas growing amid thorns hints that even if a person has many sins, he remains a Jew.
When Hashem said a Yisrael sinned ,Yehoshua asked who it was. Hashem replied that he doesn’t want to slander anyone. Yehoshua drew lots, and it fell on Achan, who admitted that he took from the booty. Notice, however, that Hashem didn’t want to speak lashon hara on Achan. Hashem wouldn’t reveal who sinned, because a Jew remains a Jew, no matter what, and Hashem still has compassion on him.
The Benefits of Poverty
The Chofetz Chaim zt'l asked the chevrah kadisha to bury his deceased wife next to a poverty-stricken woman, who passed away shortly before her. The Chofetz Chaim explained, “It states (Tehillim 109:31), 'Hashem stands at the right-side of a pauper.' It doesn’t state that Hashem stands at the right side of a tzaddik or of a gaon, only of a pauper. Since Hashem is near the pauper, I want my wife to be buried there, too.”
In his ethical will, Reb Shlomo Kluger zt’l requested to be buried near a poor person, provided that he was a G-d fearing. This is because many qualities come along with being poor. They are constantly turning to Hashem for help; they are aware that they can’t do anything without Hashem’s assistance. They are humble. Poverty isn't as negative a state as people tend to consider it.
The Mesilas Yesharim (1) writes, "A person is in the midst of a very difficult war, since everything in the world, the good and the bad, are tests for mankind. Poverty on one side, wealth on the other. As Shlomo said, "Lest I become wealthy and I deny Hakdosh Baruch Hu and say 'Who is Hashem…' and lest I become poor and I will steal and I will swear in Hashem’s name falsely …' (Mishlei 30:9)." Poverty can bring a person to theft, to being angry at Hashem, to being jealous of others, and many other sins and bad middos. However being wealthy is also a test, as the wealthy may forget Hashem, feel haughty, and so on. The Chofetz Chaim, Reb Shlomo Kluger, and virtually all tzaddikim, recognized the benefits of poverty, how it leads to humility and awareness of Hashem, and therefore didn’t consider it a fault. That isn't how people generally look at poverty.
The Chofetz Chaim himself married a poor girl – his step-father’s daughter. Being astute, the Chofetz Chaim realized that if he wouldn’t marry her, it would create shalom bayis problems for his mother, so he agreed to the shidduch. The Chofetz Chaim's older brother felt the Chofetz Chaim was losing out, since he could have easily married a wealthy girl. But the Chofetz Chaim wouldn’t do that to his mother. In retrospect the Chofetz Chaim realized that the poor books was better for him. The Chofetz Chaim had a friend who did a wealthy shidduch and soon after the wedding, he went into business and lost all the money. The Chofetz Chaim said that if he would have also done a wealthy books, he would certainly also been drawn into the business world, which would take him away from learning Torah. And it was likely that he would lose his money too. But he married a poor girl, his wife worked and supported him, and he was able to study Torah and print his many books. He probably wouldn’t accomplish all that he did had he married a wealthy girl.
In heaven, goodness is measured differently than it is measured in this world. The Gemara (Pesachim 50.) states that Rav Yosef the son of Reb Yehoshua ben Levi was niftar [apparently, what people call today clinical death]. When he was resurrected, his father asked him, 'What did you see?' Reb Yosef replied, 'I saw an upside-down world." Rashi explains, "Those who are important here in this world [because they are wealthy], I saw that they aren't respected in that world…" And those who aren't respected here, because they are poor, are precious in heaven. In heaven, a different and truer yardstick is used to measure people. One's devotion and zeal to keep Torah and mitzvos give a person value, not wealth or power. When considered in such terms, being poor isn't necessarily a bad thing anymore.
There was a poor man who was perpetually jealous of the wealthy. One day he said, "If only whatever I touch would turn to gold." His prayers were answered. He picked up an object, examined it from all sides, and saw that it was pure gold. He touched the table and it became pure gold, through and through. He went around his home, touching things, becoming wealthier each moment, and calculating his potential wealth, and what he would do with all his money. He was hungry, so he took a piece of bread. It turned to gold. He tried to drink a cup of water. It turned to gold. Fearing that he would die from hunger, he shouted, "Hashem! Take this curse away from me!" That is when he finally realized that there’s more to life than gold and money, and he should be thankful for the blessings Hashem gives him.
The Nesivos Shalom zt'l writes that when they were building the Slonimer Yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael, they were confronted with many hardships. The founders of the yeshiva and the roshei yeshiva would periodically meet to seek solutions to all their obstacles. They would conclude these meetings with the following words: “We are umbeholfeners, and the der Aibershter helft umbeholfeners.” Translation: We are helpless. And Hashem helps those who feel helpless.
One of the benefits of poverty is that Hashem stands by their side, to help them in the judgment in heaven. As it states, “Hashem stands at the right side of the poor, to save him from the judgment..." (Tehillim 109:31).
To a poor person, who was bitter with his fate, the Chofetz Chaim encouraged him with the awareness that when he will go to heaven and stand before the heavenly court, he will have Hashem serving as his lawyer, helping him to get a good place in Gan Eden, as it states, "What could be better than Hashem being your lawyer, speaking up for your benefit?” The Chofetz Chaim elaborated: "Who will speak on your behalf in heaven? Let's say you want the Rambam to be your lawyer. But what connection do you have with the Rambam, that he should be your lawyer? And even if you have a strong connection – perhaps you learned a lot of Rambam and/or you printed a new, beautiful edition of the Rambam – and the Rambam agrees to speak on your behalf in the celestial tribune – that still doesn’t guarantee that you will be found virtuous in the judgment. Because even if the Rambam is your advocate in heaven, and tells the court your virtues, and explains that your sins aren't entirely your fault (when taking into account the lowliness of the generation, and the strong yetzer hara that you had to deal with, and so on) but what will happen if another rishon comes to court and disagrees with the Rambam? The Raavad often disagreed with the Rambam. What will be if the Raavad comes to court and disagrees, and claims that you’re guilty? You now have a 'machlokes rishonim' and your fate isn't certain anymore. "And even if you merit that an amorah testifies for you, but what will be if a tana disagrees with him? A tana is greater than an amora, and has stronger influence in heaven. "Even if a prophet testifies in court and sings your virtues, this still doesn’t guarantee you acquittal, because Hashem can veto the navi's opinion. This is what happened when Shmuel HaNavi came to Yishai's family in Beis Lechem to anoint one of Yishai's children to be king. Shmuel saw Eliyav, and thought that this was the one Hashem had in mind. Hashem told him, "Don’t look at his appearance, and at his tall height, because I am disgusted with him. It isn't as people see. Man sees with his eyes but Hashem sees the heart" (I Shmuel 16:7) and Hashem told him to anoint Dovid. So we see that at times, Hashem will disagree with a prophet, therefore having a prophet as your advocate doesn’t necessarily mean success. "But if you're poor, Hashem, Himself, will be your advocate. As it states, He will testify for you in court! And when Hashem is your advocate, you have nothing to fear."
The poor should remember these ideas. They should be aware that (1) poverty fosters humility, (2) spurs you to constantly turn to Hashem, (3) Hashem will be your lawyer and judge, granting you a good judgment. With these thoughts in mind, you will be happy with your fate. The wealthy should also remember the qualities of the poor and treat them with respect – because it might just be that the fate of the poor is better than theirs.
Tzaddikim foresaw that it will be very difficult to have emunah in the generation before Moshiach comes, and they said that the solution is to tell stories of tzaddikim. Stories of tzaddikim project emunah into the hearts of the Jewish nation. Also, obviously, one of the benefits of telling stories of tzaddikim is so we can get a glimpse of their ways — how they believed in Hashem, how they served Hashem — so we can emulate them. A third benefit of sipurei tzaddikim is that telling them brings salvations. With their prayers and with their blessings, tzaddikim performed many miracles. By retelling those events we draw down those salvation once again. This is hinted at in the verse, (Tehillim 60:6) which can be translated, "You gave miracles for the tzaddikim who fear You, so more miracles can sprout from it." Since the miracles already happened once, by speaking about them and by believing in them, we draw the miracles down, so they happen again for us.
The grass often appears greener on the other side. If you would know what other people are going through, you would be happy with your fate. As it states in parashas Korach (17:24) "each person took his own staff." Rebbe Bunim of Peshischa zt'l explained that each one took his own staff– his own portion – and was happy with it, because they all realized that their portion was best for them.
After Rebbe Shlomke of Zvhil's chasunah, his father, Rebbe Mordechai of Zvhil zt'l would support the couple with a coin each day. Every day, the young wife would go to her in-law's house, and receive a coin, so she could buy whatever she needed. One day, Rebbe Shlomke told his wife, "We believe in Hashem, and we believe that parnassah comes from Hashem, not from my father. Therefore, I don’t want you to go to my parent's home to get the daily allowance, anymore." A week passed, and they didn’t have money. Rebbe Shlomke said to his rebbetzin, "I think I made a mistake. Hashem chose to give us parnassah through my father, so who am I to say that I want Hashem to send me parnassah in a different way?" So she went to her in-laws, and the father-in-law said, "You weren't here for an entire week, therefore take a whole ruble this time." That day, two businessmen, chassidim of Rebbe Shlomke's father, came to Zvhil. After speaking with Rebbe Mordechai of Zvhil, they went to speak with Rebbe Shlomke, too, and to wish him mazal tov for his recent marriage. As they spoke one of the businessmen took out a ruble and was playing with it. Rebbe Shlomke understood that he was planning on giving him the coin as a wedding gift. They spoke some more, and the whole time the businessman was playing with the coin, but when they finished the conversation, the businessman forgot that he wanted to give it to Rebbe Shlomke and placed the coin back into his pocket, and left the house. Just then, Rebbe Shlomke's rebbetzin returned, and showed Rebbe Shlomke the ruble she received from his father. Rebbe Shlomke told her that Hashem just showed him that if they would have passed the test and remained with their bitachon they would have received the ruble a different way. But since they took a ruble from their father, they didn’t get it the other way.
When people would come to Rebbe Shlomke with their troubles and worries, he would often go to the mikveh. In the mikveh he perceived what to answer the petitioners. If it was about an ill person, it was there in the mikveh, that he perceived whether or not the person would survive. By the way he responded after immersing in the mikvah, one could discern what the outcome would be. Each time, Rebbe Shlomke was correct. Reb Elyah Roth zt’l (the gabai) asked him, "How do you know what the future will be? Are you the urim vetumim?" Rebbe Shlomke replied, "We are living in a generation of hester panim, when Hashem's hashgachah pratis isn't always revealed. This leads people to have questions in emunah, chalilah. Therefore, in every tzaddik that for him the concept of hester panim shouldn't apply. Through him, awareness of Hashem is revealed to the world." Reb Elyah Roth understood that Rebbe Shlomke was implying that he was that tzaddik. Through him, Hashem would be revealed to the world. He was a fountain of light in the midst of a world filled with darkness. By the miracles he performed, and with his lucid ruach hakadosh, belief in Hashem was affirmed.
The Ben Ish Chai (Ben Yohayada) expounds on the word נוגע ,touch, and explains that not only will Hashem prevent others from taking away your parnassah; they won't even be able to touch it. That is how distant they will be held away from taking away your parnassah. The Ben Ish Chai writes, "There was a story with a jug that was filled with precious stones and was buried in the ground. The field it was buried in was used every year by many people who came there in the summertime to encamp and catch air. They would insert the tent pegs deeply into the ground, but they never actually hit the jug. Sometimes, the pegs were only a tefach away, but never actually hitting the jug. “One year, someone new came to that field. As he was setting up his tent, the peg hit something hard in the ground. He dug, and found the treasure. This is the meaning of ’a person doesn’t touch…’ All those before him didn’t touch the place where the jug was buried, since it was destined for this last one."
Rebbe Shlomke of Zvhil would say in the name of the Magid of Mezritch zy’a that fame spells in Hebrew, "the fruits of the Satan," because fame can lead people to pride and haughtiness. Rebbe Shlomke said, "I know that the fame I receive hurts me [spiritually and physically] yet I accept it so I can impart emunah to Jews.”
A father asked someone to tutor his son. The tutor agreed, but he wasn't certain that he should take money for it, since he already had parnassah. He asked Rebbe Shlomke for his opinion. The Rebbe replied that if he was given the opportunity to earn money, this means that Hashem was offering him the money, so why shouldn’t he accept it? The Rebbe elaborated, "If Rebbe Ahron of Belz would give you an expensive coin [as a segulah] would you accept it? Of course you would. Well, now Hashem is offering you money, why shouldn’t you take it?"
The Beis Yisrael of Gur zy’a heard about this, and said, "According to halachah, the procedure is certainly permitted. However, Rebbe Shlomke went by the Gemara that says, (Nida 13) 'If one has a thorn below his belly, it would be better for his belly to burst than to [touch where he shouldn’t and] go to hell.'"
Rebbe Shlomke was niftar the 26th of Iyar, the day World War II ended. Throughout the war years, Rebbe Shlomke was active with his prayers to help the Jews in Europe. Tzaddikim said that his leaving the world on the day the war ended demonstrates that he was a primary warrior – in a spiritual sense – against the Germans. When the war was over, he could also leave the world.