Halacha for Friday 8 Sivan 5784 June 14 2024

Parashat Naso

From the teachings of Maran Rebbeinu Ovadia Yosef ztvk”l
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)

Trading Places!

The Parashah states, “The sacred offerings of each individual remain his own property. When they are given to the cohen, they become the [cohen’s] property” (Bamidbar 5:10).

What does the passuk mean? Tosafot (Ta’anit 9a) quote the chachamim from the Sifrei who explained the passuk, “Take a tithe (indeed you shall tithe) of all the seed crops” (Devarim 14:22), tithe in order to generate further wealth. Meaning one who tithes will eventually become wealthy. This doesn’t only refer to produce but even to money, “all the produce of your seed”, even other forms of commerce which aren’t produce. Whatever a person profits from it is a mitzvah to tithe from it to the poor and to Torah institutions, such as yeshivot and similar.

The chachamim explain in the Gemara that it once happened to a G-d-fearing man that every year his field produced 100 tonnes of grain, a blessing rested on this field, and this person would thank his Creator.

In those days until the period of the Amoraim, they had the ash of the red heifer through which they could purify themselves from the impurity of death, and as such, the people became pure from the impurity of death. Our Rebbe the Arizal explains that in those days the chachamim were able to utilise Holy Names of Hashem, for example, at times of danger. But today it is forbidden to use the Holy Names, for we are impure from contact with the dead. As they said in Avot (4:5) “And one who makes personal use of the crown of Torah shall perish”.

Since they were pure, what did they do with the produce? They gave terumah to the cohen, meaning 2% was given to the cohen as terumah gedola, (today the halachah is somewhat different regarding these amounts). Apart from this there is ma’aser rishon (a tenth) to the levi and also ma’aser sheni (a further tenth is separated). In the 3rd and 6th years of the cycle of shemitta they gave ma’aser ani instead of ma’aser sheni.

This man, who owned the field, was G-d-fearing and gave in earnest terumah gedola, ma’aser rishon and ma’aser sheni. Some 20% he would give each year as the Torah requires.

This man had on son. Close to his death, he called his son and said to him, I am leaving you a fertile field, a blessed field. Every year it produces 100 tonnes of produce, be careful to separate from it terumot and ma’asrot and Hashem will bless you. With this message he passed away. The following year the field produced 100 tonnes. His son saw this and fulfilled his father’s wishes. He separated from the produce terumot and ma’asrot according to the halachah. He saw some 20 tonnes going to terumot and ma’asrot. He said to his household, next year I am not doing this! I will of course separate terumah to the cohen, 2%, but ma’aser rishon and ma’aser ani, I won’t separate!

However, Heaven heard what he said. And as it states, “He Who implants the ear, will He not hear? Will He Who fashions the eye not see?” (Tehillim 94:9). And the following year the field only produced 10 tonnes of produce! The son saw this and was very distressed how could his field be cursed and only produce one tenth of what it had produced in previous years!

His family, saw what happened to him. What did they do? They donned white garments, festival clothing and came before him. They said, “Mazal tov! Mazal tov!” He asked them, “Are you mocking me? What mazal tov?” They replied to him, “Your father ensured that every year that he gave the cohen his portion, to the levi and poor man their portions but now you made yourself a cohen! You receive the ma’aser! And Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu, kept the rest of the field for Himself! In which case, you have been elevated, so mazal tov!”

This is what the passuk means, “The sacred offerings of each individual remain his own property. When they are given to the cohen, they become the [cohen’s] property.” If he gives the terumot and ma’asrot according to halachah, the rest of the field will remain for him. But if he will not give, then “that which he gives the cohen, shall be for him,” only that which he gives the cohen will remain from himself. Such is the punishment of a tight-fisted person!

A person who gives tzedakah generously, then all their business dealings will be blessed, blessing will rest on all their work. The Gemara (Temura 16a) quotes the passuk, “The rich man and the poor man meet; Hashem is the Maker of them all” (Mishlei 22:2). The Gemara explains that the rich man and the poor man met. The poor man extended his hand, give me tzedakah! If he gives him, all is dandy, but should he not give and replies to him, “May Hashem have pity, may Hashem have pity,” then Ha'Kadosh Baruch Hu says to him, I made him poor and I made you rich, you aren’t giving him? The one who made this man poor will make him rich and the one who made you rich will impoverish you!

Rabbenu David Ha’Nagid (1222-1300), Rambam’s grandson, writes in his work Midrash David, “I saw with my own eyes how this statement of chazal was fulfilled”. It was happened to a merchant, who was married to an eishet chayil, who was very wise and an amazing cook. Each day the merchant returned home and his wife would serve him cooked chicken and each day it had a totally different flavour, one time with turmeric, one time with pepper, and he would sit and eat licking his fingers, it was so tasty!

One day he came to eat, he washed his hands and sat at the table, and he heard knocking at the door. He said to his wife, “Go and see please who is knocking on the door.” The wife approached the door and standing there was an impoverished man, pleading, “I haven’t eaten anything for two days, please give me something to eat.” The ba’al habayit angrily shouted to remove the poor man, “Go! Don’t disturb us! Go from here!” The poor man began to plead for his life, “Please, do me a favour, for many days I haven’t eaten.” The ba’al habayit got up in anger slapping the face of the poor man twice, “Go! Go from here!” The poor man left, his eyes streaming with tears.

But Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu teaches us through the chachamim in Avot (2:1), “Know what is above you, a watchful eye, a listening ear and all your actions are written in records.” From that day onwards the man’s “luck” changed. He had a bustling store, as one customer left another arrived, he earned a lot of money. But from that day onwards no one entered the store! All day he sat brushing the flies away. He had a broom which he used whilst sitting shoowing the flies.

The next day the situation deteriorated, that man left a bundle of merchandise on the step near his store. Suddenly a policeman issued him with a warning, “This is a public thoroughfare! Why are you placing your merchandise here?” He fined the owner 1000 shekalim.

And so his “luck” worsened, like black charcoal. He could no longer afford his rent, so he left the store and in order to eke out a living to survive he sold the soft furnishings of his home until he had nothing left! He said to his wife, “See my wife, I know that the situation is no good, I have nothing to eat and I certainly I have nothing to give you to eat, why should you suffer?” Let’s go to the Bet Din and I will divorce you with a get and you may return to your father’s home! The woman agreed. They went to the Bet Din and he gave her a get and divorced her. The woman returned to her father’s home. He was a well-respected man and welcomed her with open arms. Since he knew that she had golden hands, he entrusted her with all the cooking facilities and she would cook for her father. Wow! What amazing food she made! Every day, what amazing food! He really enjoyed it.

After about a year, a shadchan suddenly appeared and said to the lady’s father. “My master, there is a G-d-fearing trader, a good man and your home has a good name. Please if possible let the two meet.” Her father responded, “Invite the trader to my home and we’ll meet him.” That night, they invited the trader to the father’s home. They sat together and then the father said to his daughter. “My daughter, please serve us some coffee.” She served coffee, he saw her and she saw him, and they liked each other.

The next day, her father asked her, “Does this man appeal to you?” The lady replied, “Yes father. If you agree then I am agreeable!” The father sent word to the shadchan, that from his perspective all is good and that night they had a “vort” (commitment to marry) and the couple got engaged. After three months they made a wonderful wedding, what a joy it was! Immediately after the wedding, the lady began her good custom of cooking. As she had pleasantly done with her former husband, so she did with the second. Every day she would serve a large Iraqi pitta bread and on it cooked chicken. Each day the husband would marvel as to how tasty it was! Worthy of great praise!

One day he sat to eat and someone knocked on the door. He asked his wife to see who it was. The lady opened the door and there was a poor man pleading, “Have mercy on me, for two days I haven’t eaten anything!” The woman said to her husband, “Come and see there is a poor man at the door.” The man got up and took a large pitta wrapping it around chicken and said to his wife, “Give him this!” She gave it to him and his eyes lit up. He began to bless them for their kindness.

The lady returned to the table and her husband saw that she was crying. “What happened?” He asked her. “Why are you crying?” She replied to him, “I will tell you the truth, I recognised him, he is my former husband and I felt sorry how he has deteriorated to such a situation!”

Her husband got up and said to her, “I swear to you, the poor man that your husband slapped, was me! And after he slapped me I went away and cried. I prayed to Hashem that he should give me the knowledge how may I emerge from my situation. The next day I went and thought why should I continue to collect handouts? I had a few coins and bought a ‘trading chest’. I put in it all types of things, sunglasses, fountain pens and similar items. I stood in the market and shouted, ‘everything for a dollar!’ Within a few minutes I sold everything! I went and bought more like this until that day I turned over my capital seven times! I made a good profit. After a few days of doing this, I thought that a policeman will come and see that I am selling without permission and he will fine me, which won’t be good. So what did I do, I took all the money that I had made and I rented a small shop and took out a trader’s licence. And so I went from strength to strength until I was a successful trader.”

And so we have seen, the One who made this one rich, made this one poor. And the One who made this one poor, made this one rich! And also merited him this wife who was an eishet chayil and very precious. Therefore, “Praiseworthy is he who contemplates the needy” (Tehillim 41:2), one who gives tzedakah merits to see the fruit of his deeds in this world and even if a decree was decreed upon him, “on the day of evil Hashem will deliver him” (ibid.) we see that he gave tzedakah, he is given further life to give more tzedakah. As our chachamim say, “One who pursues righteousness and kindness will find life, righteousness and honour” (Mishlei 21:21), that he will find fitting people to give tzedakah to [see Gemara Bava Batra 9b), he will also generate much wealth that he will be able to give as tzedakah. “All the day he is gracious and lends, and his children are a blessing” (Tehillim 37:26).

Shabbat Shalom!

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