Parashas Reeh 5780 – Your life in in your “Hands”

This Parasha is full of insights and codes, we will focus on a striking Mitzva. “If, there is a needy person among you, one of your kinsmen in any of your settlements in the land that the Hashem your God is giving you, do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsman. Rather, you must open your hand and lend him sufficient for whatever he needs.” (Devarim 15:7-8). Why is the Verse using allegories to instruct us the Mitzva of Tzedakah? The hand will not give anything unless the head decides to. So, why is the Mitzva not directed to the person and is instead instructed to a part of the body that is mindless? The Verse further states: “Give to him readily and have no regrets when you do so, for in return the Hashem your God will bless you in all your efforts and in all your undertakings.” (Devarim 15:10). What is so particular about this Mitzva to carry such important rewards. Hashem could have asked to help the needy in return of the daily favors He does to each individual. Besides, the Talmud [bava Basra 10a] expounds in praises for the Giver, here is one example: “Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba says: Rabbi Yocḥanan raises a contradiction between two Verses. In one it is written: “Riches profit not on the day of wrath, but Tzedakah saves from death” (Proverbs 11:4), and it is also written: “Treasures of wickedness profit nothing, but Tzedakah delivers from death” (Proverbs 10:2). Why is it necessary to have these two verses about charity, that it delivers from death? Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba continues: One verse serves to teach that charity delivers from an unnatural death in this world, and one verse serves to teach that charity delivers from the judgment of Gehenna in the World-to-Come”. As if the blessings attached to this Mitzva, to provide success in all one’s endeavor were not enough, King Salomon reveals that this Mitzva provides even the power to overcome the Angel of death in this world and in the next. What is so special about having some compassion? The Talmud [Berachos 5b] relates a story: “Rabbi Yocḥanan’s student, Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba, fell ill. Rabbi Yocḥanan visited him and asked him: Is your suffering dear to you? [as it is an expiation for sins], Rabbi Ḥiyya said to him: I welcome neither the suffering nor its reward. Rabbi Yocḥanan said to him: Give me your hand. Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba gave him his hand, and Rabbi Yocḥanan healed him. Similarly, Rabbi Yocḥanan fell ill. Rabbi Ḥanina visited him and asked him: Is your suffering dear to you? Rabbi Yoḥanan said to him: I welcome neither this suffering nor its reward. Rabbi Ḥanina said to him: Give me your hand. He gave him his hand, and Rabbi Ḥanina healed him.” These stories force us to wonder about the mystical powers of the hands, through them we gain success in all our endeavors, healing, and strength to overpower angels, what is the secret. The Zohar [Parashas Eikev] reveals that the hands are formed according to the Celestial Chariot of Hashem’s Spirit [Shechinah], and they are composed each by 14 phalanges, so a total of 28 between both hands. The number 28 is the numerical value of the word “strength”, “ֹ ח ֹכ ,“as acting with the hands puts in motion the Shechinah and blessings pour to the entire world. When a person gives full heartedly, he uses both hands and activates the Celestial powers. Hence, he is therefore rewarded grandly as he deemed providing life to the entire world. This is one of the secrets of “Amen Yehei shemeh Rabba…” which contains 28 letters and activates the Shechinah. It is also the secret of washing the hands before eating to sanctify them. With this in mind, we can explain the first verse of the Parasha which says: “See I give before you today blessing and curse.” The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh asks, why is the Pasuk starting by using the singular tense but concludes in plural tense? However, according to our above explanation we can suggest a different reading, “Reeh Anochi”, “See Me”, meaning when a person see everything through Hashem only, as nothing occurs without Hashem deciding so. Only then the Mitzva of Tzedakah can be accomplished correctly and unleash all it rewards. Rabbi Elazar of Kozhnitz [a Chassidic master who passed away in 1861] would tell the following tale, which illustrates the immense value and spiritual power of even a single mitzvah There once lived a Jewish doctor, a brazen sinner who scorned the Torah. While he encouraged his son to follow his ways, his wife gently nudged the boy to commit to one Mitzvah—the washing of hands before any meal that included bread. The boy grew up to be a doctor as irreligious as his father, though keeping mother’s words to wash before eating bread, sometimes causing him not to eat as no water was available. One day he became embroiled in a dispute and was summoned to Beth Din. When the judge issued his decision in favor of the other litigant, the young doctor felt the decision was unjust and ridiculed and ignored the judge’s ruling. Left with no recourse, the judge reluctantly wrote a notice of excommunication, forbidding anyone to have any dealing with the doctor. It had no effect on the young doctor he completely disregarded the Torah. Around the same time, the young doctor prepared to set out on a journey. Part of the way was treacherous and blood-soaked, a long stretch of road through a forest terrorized by roaming packs of bandits who would materialize from behind trees and promptly fall upon easy victims. In hopes of deterring attacks, travelers would band together to cross these woods. The young doctor, however, had trouble finding fellow travelers. He asked many merchants if he could join their caravans, but they all ignored him; the young doctor was, after all, under excommunication. Desperate to finally leave, he decided to purchase a fast horse and set out on his own. As the young doctor hung onto the reins, hurtling through the trees, he grimly realized he had forgotten to bring water. Finding a river was too dangerous now, but it also meant the young doctor would not be able to eat bread, which in those time was the main food. Very quickly, his days on the road descended into a desperate flight. Ignoring his stomach’s increasingly painful objections, the young doctor urged his horse forward whenever possible and lapsed into sleep only when exhaustion finally crushed him. He forgot the number of times he thought of reaching into his bag and devouring the bread, though he never brought himself to do so. And even when his hunger tormented him most, the young doctor was too frightened to gamble with his life to attempt to locate some water. On the fourth day of his journey, a gurgling sound reached the young doctor’s ears, and he found himself staring at a swiftly moving river. The young doctor began to swing off his horse, and then felt his heart stop: just a stone’s throw away, bandits on horseback were assembling on the other side of the riverbank. Two thoughts streaked through the young doctor’s mind—he could either wash his hands now and risk being killed or swing his foot back onto the horse and escape. But the young doctor’s hunger made him delirious, and so it won. With the bandits’ jeers of glee whooping in the background and the clopping of their horses shaking the ground, the young doctor scurried down to the river to wash his hands in the freezing waters. The bandits were growing louder, and the young doctor began racing back to the horse. He had just opened his bag with trembling hands when the first bandit struck. The young doctor fell, blood gushing from a wound in his head. The other bandits closely followed suit, beating, and robbing him. After the bandits were finally done with stripping everything he carried, they left him to die. His soul ascended on high and appeared before the Heavenly Court. Before anything was said, the Mitzvah that the young doctor held so dear—the washing of hands—appeared before the judges and related the young doctor’s dedication to it, insisting that he should be admitted immediately into paradise. The demand was accepted, and the young doctor’s soul was taken to the gates. The supernal gatekeeper, however, was blocking his way. “You were excommunicated on earth,” he explained, “and I cannot let you in. Go back to the rabbi who effected the ban so he can reverse it.” That night, the young doctor’s soul presented itself in the rabbi’s dream and informed him of his predicament. Not wanting to delay a soul’s passage into paradise, the rabbi renounced his edict at once. But upon the young doctor’s soul’s return, the gatekeeper still denied him entry. “Just as the excommunication was in writing, so must be its exemption. And” added the gatekeeper, “request that the rabbi arrange a Jewish burial for your body.” The rabbi dreamed of the young doctor’s soul again and agreed to publicly annul the excommunication at morning’s first light. He also reassured the soul that its body was to be collected and buried by the next group of merchants leaving the city. But a curious thing caught the rabbi’s attention: The more the two continued to converse, the more the soul imparted a marked command of the Torah and its teachings. The rabbi asked how the young doctor’s soul gained such knowledge, since during his corporeal life, he was a man furthest from anything Jewish. “Before I visited paradise,” replied the soul, “an Angel, created from my sacrifice to fulfill the Mitzvah of washing before eating, taught me the entire Torah.”

By Rabbi Fridmann * [email protected] * 305.985.3461

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