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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Nitzavim, Devarim 29:18. Ve’hisbareich bilvavo leimor Shalom yihyeh li.

Parshas Nitzvaim continues the theme of Parshas Ki Savo, that being chosen by Hashem is a high-risk job that comes with tremendous responsibilities. As Hashem’s people and His emissaries, we are held to a very high standard, and just as we are given the potential to achieve stellar greatness, we are warned that our indifference to our obligations can bring the most horrible debasement and tragedy. Having been warned, we blanched; who can live a life balanced on the edge of a razor, where the slightest inattention brings such terrible punishment? So Moshe told us, Attem nitzavim, you stand here today; you know you are not perfect, but even so Hashem has brought you to the borders of Eretz Yisrael, and just as you will soon enter the promised land, so, too, I promise you that ultimately you will experience the ultimate redemption and love of Hashem.

Having said this, it is surprising that in 29:18 Moshe warns that there might be among us those who ignore this warning, saying everything will be fine, I will do what I want and nothing will happen to me. After all, Moshe had already frightened them with one hundred and forty eight curses, each more horrible than the other. What is he adding here? To whom is he speaking, who is it that heard the earlier warnings, and accepted them, but thinks he has a loophole, an angle, that will enable him to coast along, doing what he wants?

Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank answers that Moshe Rabbeinu was addressing a phenomenon that we all have witnessed. As he puts it, a person was found in his store on Shabbas, openly doing business. He was asked, how can you do this? You believe in Hashem, you come to shul, how can you be mechaleil Shabbas so blatantly? The man answered, wait, you will see, I will make it all better. After Shabbas, he came to the Rav and handed him a generous donation, and said, here, this will do a tremendous amount of good, all the projects that need funding, all the poor that need assistance, this donation is the answer to your prayers.

This is the person Moshe Rabbeinu was addressing; the one who decided on his own that he can decide when the ends justify the means. Asei docheh lo sa'aseh! Lo efshar velo komichavein! Vechai bahem!  He is performing a vital role in the community, he is one of the good guys, he builds mikvaos, he supports the needy, he is doing God’s work! This is not mere rationalization. He actually pats himself on the back, he is "misbareich bilvavo! What a fine person I am!

Moshe Rabbeinu says to this person, Lo yoveh Hashem selo’ach lo. Not only will Hashem be angry at him, Hashem will be jealous of him, so to speak. You think you know better than Me? You think that I can’t take care of my people without your aveiros? Who are you to think you can get away with this, that the mitzvos are only for the common man, that you are the prince who can decide what he will or won’t do? For that kind of azus, gaavah, and chutzpah, Hashem reserves a special anger.

Similarly, the Pardes Yosef (the Poilisher one) says that there is a reason for the nexting (my word; I hate the word juxtaposition), the smichus of Parshas Teruma to Parshas Mishpatim. The Torah wants us to know that when there is a Mitzvah to donate one's money to a Beis HaMikdash, the gabbaim need to be sure where that money is coming from.
The Torah wants us to know that in dinei momonus there are Mishpatim: There is a section dealing with theft and there is a section dealing with the prohibition of taking interest on a loan, and on returning collateral and on not pressing the borrower and on not causing injury and on paying for damage that you caused. The Torah wants us to make sure that the money we are donating comes from sources which are Kasher v'Yashar. The Torah is not interested in a person donating money that is not kasher.

This, says Pardes Yosef, is the reason that Parshas Mishpatim comes before Parshas Teruma. We need to know about gzeilah and ribbis and shomrim and nezikin. Only then can we talk about making a pledge to the Beis HaMikdash.

Just as Binyan Beis Hamikdas is not docheh Shabbas, so, too, Binyan Beis Hamikdash is not docheh dinei mamonos.

Along the same lines, the Maharsha (written around 400 years ago) in Kesuvos 67 criticizes those who steal and then give that money to charity: "Many in this generation gather their wealth through measures which are without faith in G-d and which involve Chillul HaShem like by stealing from ovdei kochavim. Afterwards, they donate this money to get annual honors for themselves so that they will be blessed by the community. This is nothing other than a mitzvah ha'ba’ah b'aveirah. Such money will not last."

In real life, this is an unworkable requirement; it’s not true in halachah or in practice. (See Tosfos Avoda Zara 17a DH Mahu, but Tosfos is not really a proof, because that's talking about a psul in the object even if it went through several hands; and anyway, the only mitzvah a mumar is pattur from is Korban Pesach, if that, and he is certainly not pattur from the mitzva of Tzedaka.) A mossad does not have to examine the kashrus of the money it’s taking, other than in exceptional circumstances that involve chillul or kiddush Hashem. But there is one thing we should remember; “One should not assist a person who is buying a clean conscience.” Davar beshem omro: credit to Dr. Jordan Hillman, retired professor of law at Northwestern University, with whom I used to share a weekly lunch and discussion of the differences and commonalities of Orthodox (mine) and Reform (his) philosophy. My beloved cousin is a prince of a man, an ehrliche and warm person. And he gets points in my book for having been a navigator on bombing flights over Germany in WWII. But as far as dogma and faith are concerned, there isn't very much common ground.


Brisker said...

Just to add: This is a repeated messeage in Yermiah. Hashem is constantly telling B'nai Yisrael that they can't make up for bein adam lchaveiro problems by bringing korbanos

Barzilai said...

Thank you. This reminds me of the Gemara in Sotah 21a, that even though ein aveira mechabeh Torah, aveira is mechabeh mitzva. Obviously, then, a mitzva is not mechabeh an aveira.

Barzilai said...

By the way, Brisker, I'm glad you're paying attention to Rabbi Liebtag's shiur.