Wednesday, February 6, 2019

To Serve G-d - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Drasha on Mishpatim

Below, please find this adaptation of Rav Weinberger's drasha from this Shabbos, parshas Mishpatim 5779. Rav Weinberger has reviewed this write-up and any corrections are incorporated herein. Enjoy!

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Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Mishpatim 5779
To Serve G-d

It is impossible not to notice how we went from the drama and intensity of Hashem’s revelation at Har Sinai and the giving of the Aseres HaDibros amidst Divine revelation, thunder, and lightning at the end of last week’s parsha, to the minutiae of civil laws that fill the majority of this week’s parsha. The Torah then returns to the drama of the events leading up to the revelation at Sinai and our acceptance of the Torah at the end of the parshah. One could get whiplash from the quick transition between Har Sinai, the litany of laws governing interpersonal relationships, and back to Sinai. Why does the Torah interrupt the revelation narrative with this legalistic intermission?

I once heard an answer to the well-known question on the Pesach Haggadah from my Rebbe, Reb Dovid Lifshitz zt’l, in the name of Rav Meir Shapiro zt’l. Why do we sing, in Dayeinu, “If He had drawn us close to Har Sinai but not given us the Torah, it would have been enough for us.” The whole point of bringing us to Sinai was to receive the Torah. How could coming to that place without receiving the Torah possibly have been enough?

Rav Shapiro answered by quoting Rashi (dibur hamaschillakol” on Zevachim 116a), who says that something new happened when the Jewish people arrived at Sinai. Before that, Jews and Bnei Noach both only brought olos(elevation) offerings. But after arriving at Sinai, Jewish people then began bringing shlamim (peace) offerings. What is the difference between olos and shlamim? An olah offering is completely consumed by fire on the altar. And a shalmim is consumed by the altar, as well as the kohanim and the one who brought the sacrifice. This explains why we were thankful for arriving at Sinai even if we would not have received the Torah. We were then able to bring shlamim offerings.

But what is the deeper meaning of this? What is the deeper benefit for being able to offer one additional type of sacrifice? Are we really singing out praises to G-d for being able to eat more meat? What was the reason for this change and what underlying transformation was it expressing?

The Volozhiner yeshiva was in dire financial straits. Rav Chaim Volozhiner zt’l therefore sent out messengers (meshulachim) to different cities and towns throughout Europe to raise desperately needed funds for the yeshiva. One particular meshulach arrived in a certain very poor village. No one was able to give more than a few pennies. But the people there told him that there was one rich man in town. However, he was very stingy and never gave to anyone for any reason. The meshulach asked where the man davened. The people told him, so the man planned to speak to the wealthy person every day after davening.

The meshulach went over to the man immediately after Shacharis the next morning. As he approached, the man immediately sensed where this was going and told him, “Don’t even bother. I’m not giving you any money.” But the meshulach persisted, “No, let me just tell you about the great Reb Chaim Volozhiner!” He proceeded to tell him about the quality of the Torah learning, how this was the only yeshivah in Lithuania, and the great merit of Torah learning created by the boys in the yeshivah. But the man still refused to give.

The meshulach then carried out his plan by approaching the man after Shacharis, Mincha, and Maariv every day. Finally, after a few days, as he approached the man to extol the virtues of the yeshiva, the man said that the meshulach should come to his home at a certain time that night to meet with him there. Everyone around was extremely impressed because no one had ever even gotten that far.

That night, at the appointed time, the meshulach arrived. When he got there, the man said that he would give an extraordinarily large amount – an amount which would have supported the yeshivah for months. The meshulach was elated. But, knowing that meshulachim were entitled to take a percentage of the amount donated to support themselves and enable them to continue collecting, the man said, “I am giving this donation on one condition: that you do not receive any portion of the gift. It must all go to the yeshiva.” He would not consider any arguments or any alternatives. Having no choice, the meshulach agreed to the condition.

The wealthy man, however, decided that he did not fully trust the meshulach to carry out his instructions, so he told him, “I am not going to send this money to the yeshivah with you. Rather, I am going to give it to the great Rav Chaim Volozhiner personally.” The man then arranged to travel with the meshulach to Volozhin. When he arrived, he greeted Rav Chaim and happily handed him the entire donation. Pleased with himself, he told Rav Chaim the amount of the donation and the rosh yeshiva was both happy and quite relieved. But the man could not help himself. He clarified, “I must tell the Rav that I have placed a condition on this gift. It is only to be used to support the talmidei chachamim in the yeshiva. None of it may be used for ancillary purposes such as payment to the meshulach. It is completely sanctified to the yeshiva.”

Rav Chaim then made a face and immediately handed the gift back to the donor, commenting, “Ah korban fun a goy – a gentile offering.” Shocked that his gift was refused, he asked the rosh yeshiva, “What do you mean a gentile offering! This is the first time I am making a donation. Why would the Rav say that to me?” Rav Chaim answered, “Non-Jews also bring sacrifices, but only olos, which are completely burned on the altar. They want their sacrifices only to go to Heaven – to G-d. They do not want them to benefit human beings here on earth. But Jewish people also bring shlamim offerings, which benefit not only the altar, but also the kohanim, himself, his friends, and his family.” Jewish people understand that that their service of G-d is not exclusively for Heaven. We serve Hashem by giving other Jews whatever they need, some food to eat or a place to live. We want our gifts to G-d to also benefit His children, our brothers and sisters.

Based on what Rav Chaim taught that man, perhaps we can understand why we would have felt satisfied if Hashem had brought us to Har Sinai without giving us the Torah. Only then were we able to start bringing shlamim offerings. The word shlamim comes a root word meaning not only “peace,” but also “whole.” We were able to bring shalmim offerings because we recognized that none of us can do everything by him or herself. We must make each other whole and allow others to make us whole. We became a nation who finally understood that serving G-d does not only mean doing things for G-d alone. It also means doing good things to benefit Hashem’s children, our Jewish brothers and sisters. This revelation alone, even before we received the Torah, was cause for gratitude and celebration because only then were we truly “like one man with one heart” (Rashi on Shmos 19:2).

We can now also understand why the Torah places the civil laws of parshas Mishpatim between the beginning and end of the story of the revelation at Sinai. Hashem is telling us that the way we treat other people is not an interruption getting in the way of our Divine service. It is an integral part of it. “Just as these [the Aseres HaDibros] are from Sinai, so too these [the civil laws in parshas Mishpatim] are from Sinai” (Rashi on Shmos 21:1). We must make helping and doing good for other Jews an integral part of the aspects of our Divine service we work on continually improving because it is an inseparable aspect of it.

Rav Yochanan Twersky zy’a, the Tolna Rebbe of Yerushalyim, lived a very simple life, but always helped some of the lost Jews of Yerushalayim by allowing them to live in his small apartment and sharing what he and his family had with them. One year, at the Pesach Seder, the Rebbe noticed that this man had been seated between the children at the table. To his horror, he noticed the boys sitting on either side of him inching their chairs as far away from him as they could. To ensure that the man did not notice and get embarrassed, he called out, “How did this happen that my esteemed guest was seated with the children. He should sit by my side!” He proceeded to ensure that the man was seated to his right, in the most honored seat at the Seder. The man felt amazing.

When Chol HaMoed began, the Rebbe summoned the children to his study and rebuked them, which was generally quite out of character for him: “When you moved away from that man at the Seder, it could have embarrassed him, One cannot do such things!” One of the boys protested, “But Rebbe, the man smelled so bad. We couldn’t stay beside him.” The Rebbe was taken aback, “No! A Jew smells good! A Jew smells very good! I am a connoisseur of scents and this Jew smelled very good.”

We must see the grace and beauty in other Jews to recognize that caring for them is part and parcel of how we serve Hashem. May we merit to serve Hashem not only with service directed Heavenward, but also by taking care of all of His children, our brothers and sisters. May we then merit to see, soon in our days, the time when Moshiach will teach and judge us by smelling so much deeper that one can see externally (Yeshayahu 11:3; Sanhedrin 93b). 

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