Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Gerim - The Best Yichus - Rav Moshe Weinberger - Parshas Nasso 5778

Below, please find this adaptation of Rav Weinberger's drasha from this last Shabbos, parshas Nasso 5778. Rav Weinberger has reviewed this write-up and any corrections are incorporated herein. Enjoy!

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Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Nasso 5778
The Best Yichus

The parshah begins with the conclusion of the census process which occupied the majority of the previous parshah, Bamidbar (Bamidbar 4:1-49). At this point in the Torah, all of our prestigious famlies and tribes have been defined and counted. The Torah describes the encampments and flags of Kohein, Levi, Yisroel, and all of the tribes. It counts the members of the subgroups within the tribe of Levi, Gershon, Kehos, and Merari. The parshah then continues (ibid. 5:1-4) with the purification of the Jewish encampments accomplished through the temporary expulsion of those suffering from certain types of impurity.

And then, seemingly out of left field, the Torah swivels from the establishment of holy Jewish tribes, families, and encampments to the law of gezel hager. Normally, if one steals, he returns the stolen funds plus a 20% fine to the one from whom he stole. And if that person has passed away, he returns the money to the victim’s inheritors. But if someone has no family, like a ger who died without having children after his conversion, the halachah is that the funds must be paid to a kohein (ibid. 5-8). How does this obscure law fit into the flow of the Torah’s recounting of the borders, definitions, and boundaries defining the various parts of the Jewish people?

Why Did Boaz take note of Rus?

Before returning to answer this question, let us first learn more about what makes a ger unique. When Rus began gleaning grain in Boaz’s field, he asked someone, “To whom does this young woman belong?” (Rus 2:5). When he learned more about her background and gave her priority access to gather grain more easily, Rus could not believe it. She asked Boaz, “Why have I found favor in your eyes that you should take note of me, and I am a stranger?” (ibid. 10).

Boaz answered, “It has been told to me all that you did for your mother-in-law after your husband died – how you abandoned your father’s and your mother’s house and the land of your birth and went to a nation that you did not know before. May Hashem reward your deeds and may your repayment be in full from Hashem, the G-d of Israel, because you came to take shelter under His wings” (ibid. 11-12).

What does “may your repayment be in full” mean? The commentaries explain that “in full – שלמה” is a hint to Shlomo (שלמה) HaMelech, who was a descendant of Rus. In fact, we understand that Moshiach will be a descendant of Dovid HaMelech through his son Shlomo (Rambam, Perush HaMishnayos, Hakdama to Ch. 10). So the reward to the woman who said about herself, “and I am a stranger” is that she would be the mother of the greatest source of yichus, pedigree, in the Jewish people, Dovid, Shlomo, and, eventually, the redeemer of the Jewish people and all worlds, Moshiach.

Chazal even teach us that in her old age, Rus merited to sit beside Shlomo HaMelech as he sat on the throne, and that she was called “Mother of Royalty” (Bava Basra 91b). We can only imagine the memories of Moav, Neomi, Boaz, and gleaning fields as a poor stranger which passed through her mind as she sat with her great-grandson in that palace.

There are many levels when it comes to yichus in the Jewish people. When one reads the invitation to a chassidish rebbe’s child’s wedding, it usually recounts the chosson’s yichus, generation after generation, all the way back to the Baal Shem Tov, and the kallah’s family all the way back to, perhaps, another tzaddik like the Noam Elimelech.

And if a descendant of a great tzaddik is highest on the totem pole of great pedigrees, then surely the lowest is a ger or giores. And among gerim, the worst of the worst is to be a giores from Moav, who is barely and only controversially even allowed to marry into the Jewish people (Yevamos 77a). Because of what Rus did, she ascended from the weakest possible yichus to become the source of the greatest yichus on earth, Dovid HaMelech, Shlomo HaMelech, and Moshiach.

How did she accomplish this? How did she break every boundary, limitation, and glass ceiling? Quoting Boaz’s explanation to Rus, Rabbi Chasa says that she merited everything she did “because you came to take shelter under His wings” (Rus Raba 5:4). This is incredible. How do we break through the boundaries of what is natural and normal? By showing up. By showing up to learn in the morning. By showing up for minyan. By overcoming the overpowering inertia of being passive spectator to Yiddishkeit. That is how Dovid HaMelech went from “The stone which they builders have despised” to become “the cornerstone.”

Full Circle

How do we understand the placement of the law of gezel hager? After the establishment and the census of all of our tribes, after every part of the Jewish people was assigned a flag, and after even the impure people were separated from the camp, there was one person standing in solitude – the ger or giores. He or she has no tribe, no special status or encampment, and no flag.  At this moment, Hashem suddenly swoops in with the law of gezel hager. What is the underlying concept of this law?

First, the Torah expresses the fact that the ger has no inheritor by saying, “and if the man has no redeemer” (Bamidbar 5:8), a phrase highly reminiscent of the role of redeemer Boaz took on for Rus (Rus 3:9, et sec.). It then states that if the ger has no inheritors, the money should be returned “to G‑d, to the kohein” (Bamidbar 5:8). In other words, the money must be returned to G-d directly, but since G-d does not have a physical presence, the thief must return the money to the kohein as G‑d’s agent. Why must the money due to the ger go to Hashem? The Chizkuni explains that the money is paid “to Hashem, the father of converts.” G-d Himself is the closest living relative of the ger, so the money must be returned to Him.

Through the law of gezel hager, in the context of these parshios, Hashem is telling us that “because you came,” showing up, and sacrificing one’s own comfort and an easy lifestyle, breaks through all boundaries and limitations. The same applies to baalei teshuva, whether born into non-observant or from frum homes. Hashem wants us to understand that by sacrificing and going beyond what is comfortable, all boundaries and borders are nullified.

Ami Magazine recently (Mar. 28, ‘18/ 12 Nissan 5778) published several poems by Ruth Lewis a’h, a Breslover baalas teshuvah and author of the beautiful book of poetry, “Memo to Self,”. One of those expresses this point powerfully:


When they play Jewish
Geography, it’s got nothing to do with me
“Oh, you’re from Detroit? You must know my Tante Perel!”
“You’re from Netanya? I knew your Zeide Berel!”
“I know who you are! I know your mother!
Her second cousin married my uncle’s brother!”
Your sister taught me in Sem!”
Such a great game for them!
Poor them!
They have frum parents, relatives,
Teachers, friends tried and true,
while I have no one
but You!

The ger, giores, and anyone who “shows up” in Yiddishkeit with self-sacrifice, has the greatest yichus in the world. Hashem is telling them that whether or not they have brothers and sisters, uncles, aunts, or grandparents in their communities, He is their Father, and that is the greatest yichus of all. With connections like that, they can accomplish anything.

May Hashem reveal His closeness to everyone who feels alone, and may we all see how everyone fits into His plan to bring the world to the point when it is ready for the rule of Rus’s great, great-grandson, Moshiach, may he come soon in our days.

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