Torah thought forFriday 13 Elul 5782 September 9 2022

Parashat Ki Tetze - For Man to be Better than a Donkey it is not Enough Just to Avoid Doing Bad, He Must do Good Too

(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)

During these days we find ourselves in the midst of the month of Ellul, the month of mercy and selichot. A month of spiritual reckoning, teshuvah and good deeds.

In this week’s Parashah we shall read, “When you wage war against your enemies, Hashem will give you victory over them, so that you will take captives” (Devarim 21:10). Our chachamim explained, “that the Torah is talking about the yetzer hara (evil inclination)”. Meaning that each person’s individual’s battle, which takes place in their heart, is against the yetzer hara who comes to trip them up with sins and bad behaviour. Therefore the Torah wrote in the singular “when you [singular] go” and not “when you [plural] go” [they are different in the Hebrew].

There are those who think that it is sufficient just not to do bad to others and that there is no need to actively fulfil mitzvot. A wonderful story about such people is related in the work “Avoteinu Sip’ru Lanu” by Gaon HaRav Yosef HaCohen Siso zt”l, who was the deputy Chief Rabbi in Tunisia. A great rav arrived at a city whose inhabitants didn’t observe Torah and mitzvot, so he wanted to find out more about them. He stood in the town square and asked the first Jew that he met, “What is the status of the mitzvah observance and Torah-study in this city?” The Jew answered him, “Rebbi! Praise to the Creator, the townsfolk are G-d-fearing and complete, there is no murderer, kidnapper or any kind of thief, there are no crooks or fraudsters. If all the Jews in the world were like the Jews of this city, Am Yisrael’s Mashiach would already be here!”

“I am so glad to hear this,” responded the rav, “But what is the level of Shabbat observance, prayers, Torah-study, kashrut, taharat hamishpachah and education?” The fellow was embarrassed and stammered, “Why the accusation, kavod harav? Isn’t it enough that we  don’t steal in any way and avoid doing harm, can you ask for more than that?!” The rav understood the severity of the situation and wondered how best to teach them Torah and to open their eyes, for it isn’t enough just to “avoid bad” one must also “do good” [Tehillim 34:15] through observing Torah and mitzvot.

Whilst he was still walking, he saw at the side of the road a dead donkey. He turned to his shamash and asked him to purchase some shrouds for the dead. The rav took the shrouds and wrapped the donkey’s carcass in them. He immediately turned to his shamash and said, “Go out immediately to the streets and announce that a met mitzvah (someone who has died with no relatives to care for them and it is a mitzvah to bury them) and everyone is obligated to come and accompany them to their funeral. A great rav is coming to eulogise the dead person and that burying a met mitzvah precedes all other mitzvot. All are obligated to come and eulogise, men, women and children!”

Within a short time all the townsfolk gathered in droves to the Bet Kenesset’s courtyard to hear the eulogy. All were wondering who is this tzaddik who has died that the rav has come to eulogise? The rav ascended the platform and began with a shaking and crying voice, “Our brothers the House of Yisrael, listen! When a dead person is found and it is unknown who killed them, the townsfolk must bring an eglah arufah (decapitated calf) and declare, ‘Our hands have not spilled this blood’ (Devarim 21:7). All the more so here when the deceased is of the most virtuous people. He never spoke idle words, never talked lashon hara, he didn’t speak lies or tale-bearing, his whole life he fasted from speaking!!!”

Feelings of excitement passed through the people. Who is this tzaddik that had lived amongst them and who they hadn’t recognised all these years? The rav continued his eulogy, “Not only this, but the deceased was of ‘those who are insulted and doesn’t insult back, hears their disgrace and does not respond’ [Shabbat 88b], he allowed others to smite him and suffered everything in silence. Also in material benefits he desisted and was restrained. He never ate meat or drunk alcohol, he never slept in a bed. He managed with little and never sought more than he received. Despite suffering from the cold and wind his clothes were few and torn. He was the most modest of all creatures and his head was always looking down! Who can replace him?!” The rav concluded his eulogy in tears.

All of the people groaned in bitter crying and called out, “Who was this tzaddik that was unknown in his lifetime?” They all drew near to the bier to see who this tzaddik was. Immediately  to their great surprise they saw the carcass of a dead donkey. They began rumbling in anger, “This rav has mocked us!”

The rav answered them, “All of the accolades that I mentioned, were in this donkey and despite this, the donkey remained a donkey! Why? Because he wasn’t obligated in Torah and mitzvot. For whilst he only “avoided bad”, he lacked the important component of “do good”. “Man has no superiority over  beast, for all is futile” (Kohelet 3:19), with the exception of the pure neshamah, which is destined to give a reckoning and an account before Hashem. This neshamah requires spiritual sustenance, which is Torah-study and appropriate mitzvah observance!”

The townsfolk heard his words and slowly began amending their ways.

Shabbat Shalom!

Recent Parasha

"תנא דבי אליהו כל השונה הלכות בכל יום מובטח לו שהוא בן העולם הבא"

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