Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Rav Moshe Weinberger - Elul: What We Left Behind - Parshas Ki Seitzei 5777

Below, please find this adaptation of Rav Weinberger's drasha from parshas parshas Ki Seitzei, by a long-time talmid of Rav Weinberger, Dov Elias.  Enjoy!

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Elul: What We Left Behind
Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Ki Seitzei 5777

We recently experienced terrifying events.  Hurricane Harvey caused tremendous suffering for so many.  Thousands of people suffered the loss of their homes.  As always, when any kind of misfortune strikes anywhere in the world, Hashem wants us to contemplate.

Every word of the parsha leading to Rosh Hashanah, the Days of Awe and Yom Kippur is filled with “The King” and filled with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

There are many well-known references in the word “Elul.” The Elya Raba (Orach Chaim 581) offers an astounding hint in the word “Elul” – איש לרעהו ומתנות לאביונים, “man to his friend and gifts to the poor” (Esther 9:22) - an allusion to the mitzvah on Purim to give tzedakah to the poor.  Purim has a way of insinuating itself into every part of the year.  But how is Purim, and specifically the mitzvah of gifts to the poor, connected to Elul?  On a simple level, we understand that this is a auspicious time to give tzedakah, show compassion and increase camaraderie.  Parents experience the greatest nachas when their children get along and treat each other kindly.  This explanation is certainly correct – but there is greater depth in this hint.

With respect to tzedakah and the gifts to the poor, there is an incredible mitzvah.  The pasuk in this week’s parsha commands, “When you reap your harvest in your field, and you forget a bundle in the field, you shall not turn back to take it; it shall be for the proselyte, the orphan, and the widow, so that Hashem, your G-d, will bless you in all your handiwork” (Devarim 24:19).  The previous pasuk (ibid. 18) explains, “You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and Hashem, your G-d, redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this thing.”

The mitzvah of the forgotten bundle is very perplexing.  In general, the Creator wants us to be thoughtful, focused, contemplative, and introspective.  Distraction and absent-mindedness are usually unappealing to Hashem.  Yet, this mitzvah depends on the affluent landowner being distracted.  The impoverished were not invited into the field to partake of his benevolence.  In a moment of weakness, the proprietor drops something and turns around to see a group of less fortunate people picking up what was overlooked.  The mitzvah is based on a series of uncertainties.  Maybe the farmer will forget a bundle behind, maybe not.  Maybe the indigent will notice the famer’s mistake, maybe not.  Is it reasonable to expect broken, sad, and weak Jews to profit from the absentmindedness and mistakes of wealthy and stable landowners?

What is the idea behind this mitzvah? Perhaps the goal is that when the wealthy person looks back and sees poor people scrounging for food in his field, he will unexpectedly recall that all Jews were all once “forgotten,” when we were slaves in Egypt.  Suddenly, he may recall that all Jews were once in the same boat.  For that moment, the wealthy landowner is transported to a different time and a different place. He feels a fellowship with people who do not have what he does.
What is really happening?  The landowner ponders the plight of the wretched - realizing that an entire sheaf was left behind (see Peah 6:8).  The Midrash (Vayikra Raba 34:8) says, “R’ Yehoshua taught: more than the homeowner does for the poor man, the poor man does for the homeowner. Rus said to Naomi, ‘the name of the man whom I did for today is Boaz’ (Rus 2:19).  It does not say ‘who did for me.’ It says, ‘who I did for’ – as if to say, ‘I did many deeds and favors for him today in exchange for the morsel that he gave me.’”  Rus, the widow, the convert, the impoverished, did chesed for the wealthiest and greatest man of the generation.  In fact, Boaz himself later acknowledges this, “Be blessed of Hashem, my daughter; you have made your latest act of kindness greater than the first” (3:10).  Rus, the widow, the convert, the pauper, bestowed kindness upon the wealthy Boaz.

What is the great chesed that the poor do for the wealthy?  The secure and successful rich person looks back to see the desolate one scrambling to pick up his overlooked crops.  If he is a sensitive person, he hears the Master of the World whisper in his ear, “Do you think that the only thing that has fallen out of your basket is a couple of stalks of grain?  Look at yourself and then look at the poor person.”  One begins to consider and recollect that there are holes, gaps and neglected moments in his or her “successful” life as well.  If one takes genuine stock of his own life and remembers, “Thank G-d I am Jewish, and, thank G-d, I have a family, and even parents.  I am not an orphan or a widower.”  However, Dovid Hamelech, who was the richest man in the world, saw himself as a convert and an orphan, “I am a sojourner in the world” (Tehillim 119:19), “Though my father and mother have forsaken me” (27: 10).  He was not an orphan and he certainly was not poor.  However, when Dovid Hamelech looked back at the last year or at his life, he would describe himself as, “And if I be demeaned more than this, and be abashed in mine own eyes” (Shmuel II 6:22).

The mitzvah of the forgotten sheaf reminds a person: “We are only superficially any different from these pitiful people.  Ultimately, what is all of our security and stability worth?”  The Master of the World, in middle of the field, says to us, “R’ Yid!  Tell the truth!  You forgot!  You have forgotten so much - not only the sheaves.”  Not everything is perfect and beautiful.  Hashem says, “Think and tell the truth: Did you not forget Me?  Did you not forget your wife, your sons, your daughters, etc. along the way, while you were busy with all of your acquisitions?  Are they not the casualties and ignored of your life?  Are you not a convert; are you not an orphan; are you not a widow?  Are you not a pauper?”  This is the amazing kindness that the poor person does for the affluent one.  When we see people wading around in the waters in Houston or South Florida trying to pick up some of the pieces that Harvey or Irma left behind – it reminds us that we also are converts, paupers, orphans, and widows in this world.

Fathers have plans to learn masechta after masechta with their sons and they have policies to make sure that their girls are always dressed properly – but they often end up leaving their children behind.  In many ways, the ones we love most are the ones who fall out of our basket.  The One we forget more than anyone is the One Who never stops thinking about us, Hashem.

This brings us to the light of Purim and of Queen Esther, “man to his friend and gifts to the poor.”  This time of the year, Elul, even people who do not normally attend shiurim, attend many shiurim - even Jews who are not usually careful about davening with a minyan, try very hard to do so.  On a simple level, people are scared.  But on a deeper level, everyone desperately wants to be beautiful in the eyes of the King.  The rest of the year, we are not so particular about how we look.  The time has come and behold the King is arriving to judge. 

Megillas Esther (2:12-13) tells us, “When each girl’s turn arrived to come to the King… six months with oil of myrrh and six months with perfumes and cosmetics. Thus the girl came to the King…”  The Zohar [source?] teaches that “each girl” refers to each Jewish soul.  All of the makeup, cosmetics and perfume were to cover up and conceal.  The other women, not Esther, were preoccupied with superficially beautifying themselves – making themselves smell better than they smelled and look better than they looked.  When one comes before the King to be judged, one wants to look one’s best and be on one’s best behavior because everyone wants to be inscribed and sealed in the book of life and the book of righteous. 

“Now when the turn came for Esther,” (2:15) – Esther came, as we recite in Selichos, “like the poor and the downtrodden we have knocked on Your door.”  Esther came without making herself up.  She comes as she was. “And so (ובכן) I will approach the King, against the law” (Megillas Esther 4:16).  The Tur (582) explains that this is why, throughout the tefillos of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we repeat the word “ובכן” – “And so, too may Your Name be sanctified…  And so, too, O Hashem, our G-d, instill Your awe…  And so, too, O Hashem, grant honor to Your people…  And so, too, the righteous will see and be glad…”

Like Esther, we say, “Master of the World, You know the truth. You know how much I have forgotten everything this year.  You know, more than anyone else does, how I have forgotten my wife, my kids.  I have forgotten You.  I have forgotten how to learn and how to daven like a Jew.  There is so much forgetfulness in my life.  I am so grateful that I am reminded by the poor that I myself am so poor, so alone without You – such an orphan, widow, convert.”
Just like in the Megilla, when the King looks up, He sees a Jew who is honest and just comes knocking on his door…

The words of an old Paul Simon song capture this sentiment.  “And here I am, Lord, I'm knocking at your place of business.  I know I ain't got no business here.  But you said if I ever got so low I was busted, You could be trusted.”

When the King looks at Queen Esther, who comes without any perfumes and cosmetics, who comes herself, as she is – the King looks up with chesed and grace and says, “I never saw such a beautiful Jew.”  He then extends the golden scepter and brings that Jew into the palace.  That is how a Jew comes to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  The Master of the World loves Jews like that.

Rosh Hashanah is the Day of Remembrance.  In Mussaf on Rosh Hashanah, we say, “For it is You Who eternally remembers all who are forgotten, and there is no forgetfulness before Your Throne of Glory.”  Initially, the rich landowner felt very bad when realizing that something was neglected.  Then, upon seeing the poor people, something is remembered, one remembers him or herself, one remembers that he or she is also poor.  We remember that, with all that we have gathered in life, we are empty - just like them. 

The Master of the World remembers everything.  There is no forgetfulness.  He loves every Jew.  However, who does He remember most?  Whom does He love, cherish and draw closest?  “He remembers all who are forgotten” – all those Jews who are forgotten, who feel forgotten and all those Jews who remember how much they forget, who are honest, humble and real – all those Jews who see other Jews who others have forgotten.  The Master of the World’s “forgotten stalks” includes the new boy in yeshiva who does not fit in.  The Master of the World never forgets.  He remembers when we remember and present ourselves sincerely, without any makeup.  “This is us.  We messed up.”  Then, we feel the King smile and pulling us in with the golden scepter.

On the first night of Sukkos, Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi of Porisov zy’a, a grandson of the Yid Hakadosh zy’a, was entering the sukkah with his family and his chassidim to greet the ushpizin.  He stopped at the entrance and could not enter the sukkah.  He leaned his head against the doorway and the chassidim heard him crying, “A man’s origin is from dust and his destiny is back to dust… he is likened to a broken shard… a passing shade, a fleeting dream” (Unesaneh Tokef, Mussaf of Rosh Hashanah).  The Rebbe exclaimed that an earthenware vessel is not allowed in the sukkah because it retains impurity.  If man is dust, how I dare walk into the sukkah?  He sat there crying.  Suddenly, he stood up and screamed that breaking a clay vessel is how one purifies it.  With that, they all proceeded to go into the sukkah.

Hashem should help that in the merit of our being able to feel brokenhearted and impoverished, that He fil all of our baskets with all of the things that we, and the entire Jewish people, need “until there be no room to suffice for it” (Malachi 3:10).

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