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September 1, 2014 / 6 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘tzedakah’

Making Sense Of The Sin Offering

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

Parshat Vayikra, which deals with a variety of sacrifices, devotes an extended section to the chatat, the sin offering, as brought by different individuals: first the high priest (Leviticus 4:3-12), then the community as a whole (4:13-21), then a leader (4:22-26), and finally an ordinary individual (4:27-35).

The whole passage sounds strange to modern ears, not only because sacrifices have not been offered for almost two millennia since the destruction of the Second Temple, but also because it is hard for us to understand the very concepts of sin and atonement as they are dealt with in the Torah.

The puzzle is that the sins for which an offering had to be brought were those committed inadvertently, be’shogeg. Either the sinner had forgotten the law, or some relevant fact. Here’s a contemporary example: suppose the phone rings on Shabbat and you answer it. You would only be liable for a sin offering if either you forgot the law that you may not answer a phone on Shabbat, or you forgot the fact that the day was Shabbat. For a moment you thought it was Friday or Sunday.

It’s just this kind of act that we don’t see as a sin at all. It was a mistake. You forgot. You did not mean to do anything wrong. And when you realize that inadvertently you have broken Shabbat, you are more likely to feel regret than remorse. You feel sorry but not guilty.

We think of a sin as something we did intentionally, yielding to temptation perhaps, or in a moment of rebellion. That is what Jewish law calls b’zadon in biblical Hebrew or b’mezid in rabbinic Hebrew. That is the kind of act we would have thought calls for a sin offering. But actually such an act cannot be atoned for by an offering at all. So how do we make sense of the sin offering?

The answer is that there are three dimensions of wrongdoing between us and God. The first is guilt and shame. When we sin deliberately and intentionally, we know inwardly that we have done wrong. Our conscience – the voice of God within the human heart – tells us that we have done wrong. That is what happened to Adam and Eve in the Garden after they had sinned. They felt shame. They tried to hide. For that kind of deliberate, conscious, intentional sin, the only adequate moral response is teshuvah, repentance. This involves (a) remorse, charatah, (b) confession, vidui, and (c) kabbalat he’atid, a resolution never to commit the sin again. The result is selichah u’mechilah – leading, hopefully for God’s forgiveness. A mere sacrifice is not enough.

However, there is a second dimension. Regardless of guilt and responsibility, if we commit a sin we have objectively transgressed a boundary. The word chet means to miss the mark, to stray, to deviate from the proper path. We have committed an act that somehow disturbs the moral balance of the world. To take a secular example, imagine that your car has a faulty speedometer. You are caught driving at 50 miles per hour in a 30-mile-an-hour zone. You tell the policeman who stops you that you didn’t know. Your speedometer was only showing 30 miles per hour. He may sympathize, but you have still broken the law, transgressed the limit, and you will still have to pay the penalty.

That is what a sin offering is. According to Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch it is a penalty for carelessness. According to the Sefer HaChinuch it is an educational and preventive measure. Deeds, in Judaism, are the way we train the mind. The fact that you have had to pay the price by bringing a sacrifice will make you take greater care in the future.

Rabbi Isaac Arama (Spain, 15th century) says that the difference between an intentional and an unintentional sin is that in the former case, both the body and the soul were at fault. In the case of an unintentional sin only the body was at fault, not the soul. Therefore a physical sacrifice helps, since it was only the physical act of the body that was in the wrong. A physical sacrifice cannot atone for a deliberate sin, because it cannot rectify a wrong in the soul.

What the sacrifice achieves is kapparah, not forgiveness as such but a covering over, or obliteration, of the sin. Noah was told to “cover” (vechapharta) the surface of the ark with pitch (Genesis 6:14). The cover of the ark in the Tabernacle was called kaporet (Exodus 25:17). Once a sin has been symbolically covered over, it is forgiven, but as the Malbim points out, in such cases the verb for forgiveness – s-l-ch – is always in the passive (venislach: Leviticus 4:20, 26, 31). The forgiveness is not direct, as it is in the case of repentance, but indirect, a consequence of the sacrifice.

Where Are The Gedolim Today?

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

These are the reckonings of the Mishkan, the Mishkan of testimony, which were reckoned at Moshe’s request. – Shemos 38:21

Parshas Pikudei begins with a detailed accounting of all of the gold and silver that was collected for the Mishkan. A cursory reading would lead us to assume that while of course a man as great as Moshe was above question, he must have asked for this calculation because public leaders must remove any suspicion no matter how farfetched.

However, the Baalei Tosfos explain things a bit differently. It seems Moshe was in fact suspected of stealing money from the Mishkan. There were 16 Shekalim that were unaccounted for, and Moshe was suspected of having taken them. Therefore, Moshe asked for a formal accounting to remove the suspicion. At which point it was discovered that those 16 Shekalim were actually used in the construction of the hooks of the Mishkan.

The difficulty with this Baalei HaTosfos is understanding how anyone would suspect that Moshe Rabbeinu of stealing. The Mishkan was to be the dwelling place of Hashem on this earth. Monies that were separated for the Mishkan were consecrated and holy. How could anyone suspect Moshe of pilfering those monies? Even more perplexing is that these people knew who Moshe Rabbeinu was. They saw him go up to receive the Torah. They heard the sound of Hashem’s voice speaking through him. From the time he came down from Har Sinai his face shone like the sun. They understood him to be the greatest human ever created. How is it possible that they suspected him of petty thievery?

This question becomes even more difficult when we take into account the circumstances of those times. This was the generation of the midbar – all their daily needs were taken care of. They ate manna that fell from the heavens, drank water from a huge rock that followed them through the desert, etc. – in short, all their needs were taken care of. Their entire focus and occupation was to grow in learning and Yiras Shamayim. It was the ultimate kollel community. If so, what possible motivation would Moshe have to steal the Shekalim?

The answer to this question is based on perspective.

Appreciating Gedolim

The story is told that one day a poor man came to the Chofetz Chaim’s door asking for tzedakah. The Chofetz Chaim invited him in, and offered him a full meal. When the man was finished eating he left. As the Chofetz Chaim was cleaning up, he realized this man had stolen a spoon. The Chofetz Chaim ran into the street after him calling, “Wait, wait, don’t forget the spoon is fleishig.”

While this is a beautiful illustration of the giving nature of a tzaddik, there is as subtle message here: the man stole a spoon from the Chofetz Chaim. How was that possible? The Chofetz Chaim! The revered sage. The teacher of generations. Can we imagine anyone today being lowly enough to steal something from such a holy man?

The answer is that no one today would act that way to the Chofetz Chaim because we have an appreciation of who the man was. But in his generation they didn’t. That stature was something he acquired long after he died. For most of his life, he was viewed as a regular man – maybe a talmid chacham, but nothing extraordinary. And even when the world began hearing of the Chofetz Chaim, it wasn’t as some huge, towering, historic figure. A gadol maybe, but not someone who would shape history.

This seems to be a quirk in human nature. When we live in proximity to greatness it is hard to appreciate the size of the man and we tend to minimize the magnitude. It is far easier to lump him together with other people of the generation and assume he can’t be that much greater.

This seems to be the answer. While the people living at the time of Moshe Rabbeinu knew of his greatness, they still viewed him as a man of their generation. Granted, he went up to the heavens and received the Torah, but he was a human being like everyone else, so who is to say he didn’t just pocket some of the Shekalim? While later generations wouldn’t in their wildest dreams suspect such a man, to those living in the times, such historical perspective wasn’t there, and they couldn’t see him for the lofty giant he was.

This concept has particular relevance to us as we look at the leaders of our generation and say, “Where are the gedolim today”? But we aren’t the first to utter that cry; it has been expressed by every generation since Har Sinai, and will continue through the generations. What we see from the Baalei Tosfos is that this sentiment was expressed even with regard to Moshe.

Purim Afterthoughts

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

Purim is the one Yom Tov all Jews can celebrate. Special knowledge is not required and the demands of its observance are easy enough.

There are no restrictions, no prohibitions; we are simply called upon to rejoice and listen to the megillah with its story of the miraculous salvation of our people despite the evil designs of Haman. We exchange gifts, give tzedakah to the poor, dress up in costumes and celebrate at a festive seudah. In short, on Purim, we can experience joy without bounds; we need only plunge into it.

On Purim, the front door to my house, normally closed, is wide open. It simply takes too much time to respond to each ringing of the doorbell. As in all Jewish neighborhoods, young b’nei Torah come collecting for their yeshivas and people of all ages and backgrounds come soliciting for their various tzedakahs.

When the yeshiva boys come to my house and announce which school they are collecting for, I make a demand of them. “Not so fast,” I say. “Make it freilich. Let me hear a good song. Let me see a good dance. Give me a little d’var Torah. Come to the table. I have some cake there so that you can make a berachah and I can say ‘Amen!’”

We talk. I inquire about their families, where they reside, etc. I learned this from my revered father, HaRav HaGaon Avraham Halevi Jungreis, zt”l, who was never content with just greeting people but always engaged every person in conversation and gave him a berachah.

As a young rebbetzin with small babies, I spoke daily at the Pineview Hotel in the Catskills during the summer months. I had the great zechus to have my parents with me every Shabbos. I am not exaggerating when I say it would take us over an hour to make our exit from the dining room, as my father would stop at every table and speak with every individual, giving each a blessing. That awesome legacy left an indelible impression on my soul.

I love all my Yiddishe kinderlach. They are proof positive that Am Yisrael continues to live and thrive. These are Yiddishe neshamalach who devote this day not only to celebrations with their families and friends but to going door to door raising funds for Torah institutions.

Of course, one needs to be wary. This year, a Hispanic-looking man wearing a yarmulke came through my door and announced he was collecting money for himself and his family. He explained that they were in dire need of support.

As I mentioned, I always have a tray of cake on the table and invite all those who come in to make a berachah. On my counter I also happened to have some food I was preparing. Without asking, this man went to the counter and helped himself to the food.

“I didn’t hear you make a berachah,” I said. “I always like to say ‘Amen.’”

He ignored me and just went on eating. I became suspicious and doubted he was a Jew.

“Do you know how to say ‘hello’ in Hebrew?” I asked.

“No,” he replied.

“Do you know what we do as we enter and depart from a house?”

This time he answered “yes,” placing his hand on his lips and making some kissing sounds in the direction of the door.

“What is this called?” I asked, pointing to the mezuzah.

“I don’t know,” he said.

“I don’t think you’re a Jew,” I said. You just want to collect money from Jews.”

Before sending the man on his way I told him, “I will give you a few dollars because it is Purim and we are a compassionate people. But please don’t try to take advantage of our goodness in this way again.”

May Hashem grant that next year we will all celebrate in Yerushalayim Ir HaKodesh, where we will eternally celebrate Purim even when Mashiach comes. May we see him soon in our own day.

Letters To The Editor

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

Beren Kiddush Hashem (I)

Nathan Lewin’s inside report on the frum kids from Beren Academy who, because of Shabbat, were ready to default on a basketball tournament slot was the story of a true Kiddush Hashem (“Playing for a Higher Authority,” front-page essay, March 9).

While being able to compete in sporting events is hardly the essence of life, telling a non-Jewish world that puts such great store in sports – and is not all that familiar with the kind of strict Sabbath prohibitions we live by – is very significant. Perhaps most important is that the students declared to all that they will not easily abide religious discrimination. In doing that they hopefully spoke for all of us.

Bravo to Mr. Lewin and the others for assuming the responsibility of standing up to those who would keep Jews out of the mainstream. It is this kind of hishtadlus that will secure our survival as a people. Irving Brecher (Via E-Mail)

Beren Kiddush Hashem (II)

I have mixed feelings about the Beren Academy controversy. I am proud that the students and their parents stood up to what I believe was outright bigotry. The world did not come to an end because the sports association modified its schedule in order to accommodate students. In fact, there didn’t seem to be even one adverse consequence.

Yet I wonder whether the lingering result of this controversy will be an increased identification on the part of the students with sports competition rather than their religious studies – which, after all, is why we send our kids to yeshiva. I also wonder whether risking a negative court decision that could have impacted on the employment rights of religious Jews was wise. David Lazar Los Angeles, CA

Beware A Reelected Obama

“The President and the Prime Minister” (editorial, March 9) captures the essence of the problem our community faces should President Obama be reelected. I believe that Obama desires to change the special relationship between the United States and Israel – a relationship that has allowed Israel to thrive and pursue its national destiny.

When you boil the Obama rhetoric down, it is clear that he ultimately sees America only as the guarantor of Israel’s physical survival but not as a supporter of its ongoing nation-building. Worse still, he seems prepared to join the other side’s efforts to derail it. His dubious risk-taking with the Iranian nuclear threat at Israel’s expense is certainly indicative of what is to come. Nachman Gorman New York, NY

Inebriated Tzedakah Collectors

Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb’s front-page essay (“Why I Dread Purim,” March 2) was thorough and poignant. I commend you for giving it the space it deserved.

After spending Purim being harangued by a number of young and drunk collectors, I couldn’t help thinking the following: If tzedakah is what brings these boys to our homes, and if they feel that performing the mitzvah of collecting tzedakah on Purim entitles them to act in a disgusting manner, what is missing in the conversation is the most obvious and simple solution. Simply put, we get the yeshivas and organizations to control their own boys.

How? Hit them where it hurts. If potential donors decide that even seemingly drunk collectors will not be given any money at all, the yeshivas will feel the pinch and take control of the situation.

Just as I do on a daily basis with other collectors whose causes I do not identify with, I will be implementing this solution next year, and hope others will join me. If enough of us take this stand, and the yeshivas know about it ahead of time, there might well be a change in the behavior of the visitors we receive. Eitan Zerykier (Via E-Mail)

Contact Schumer About Pollard

I agree with your March 9 editorial “Jonathan Pollard and the McFarlane Factor.” Anyone who is not deterred from spying by what happened to Pollard will not be deterred by anything. And any information Pollard got hold of is by now out of date. He has been punished enough. As McFarlane says, Pollard’s harsh sentence was motivated in large part by Defense Secretary Weinberger’s anti-Israel feelings.

Jewish Press readers should write to Senator Charles Schumer asking that he urge his good friend President Obama to commute Pollard’s sentence to time served. Your editorial noted the example of Israeli President Shimon Peres, who asked Obama to free Pollard. Let us follow Peres’s example. Reuven Solomon (Via E-Mail)

The Plague Of Divorce

Re Dr. Rachel Levmore’s “Demonstrations and Remonstrations on Agunah Day” (op-ed, March 2):

I think we have missed the boat on this issue, to the great sorrow of many individuals and our community as a whole.

The Torah commands men to marry, as “It is not good for man to be alone.” Many have explained the reference to man and not woman because a woman is instinctively inclined to seek marriage.

Adar And Beyond

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

Just last week we experienced the crowning point of the month of Adar by commemorating the extraordinary events that unfolded in the ancient Persian Empire. We read the scroll of Esther, enjoyed a hearty feast, and traded gifts of goodies with each other.

Days later, shalach manos remnants still clutter available surface space in most homes, while the truly artistic, edible works of art sit undisturbed and whole, adorning our dining room sideboards in their original attractive packaging. Not for long, though, because Pesach’s clean sweep will have us scrambling to dismantle or ingest or give away most of the items.

Why, of all holidays, was Purim singled out for the mitzvah of shalach manos? One perspective, attributed to the Chofetz Chaim, links this to the Jews having taken part in the feast of Achashveirosh while nonetheless maintaining kashrus in their own homes. Sending and receiving shalach manos signaled trust in one another, their contention being that participation in the king’s lavish celebration was merely a show of respect for his reign.

Decidedly of greater impact, if less eye-catching, is the Purim mitzvah of matanas l’evyonim, gifts for the poor. Since the mitzvah of tzedakah is boundless as well as consistently incumbent upon us, why does it warrant such top billing at this time of year?

For one, as the twelfth month of the year, Adar affords us a last-ditch opportunity to compensate for our deficiency in repentance a half-year earlier (in the month of Elul). In the same way that we begin our thirty-day preparation at the start of Elul to stand before God on the Yom HaDin, we use the month of Adar to get into shape for Nissan, also a z’man teshuvah, a time when we recall how our Father in Heaven extracted us from the depths of impurity and raised us up to the level of kedushah. A yearning for His closeness prompts us to feel remorse for our wrongdoing, and, as the Talmud states, we will only be redeemed when we do teshuvah.

With the distribution of tzedakah, we fulfill the criteria of teshuvah: tzom (fasting) – we fast on Ta’anis Esther; kol (voice) – we listen to the reading of the megillah; and mamon (money) – we disperse charity with a generous hand.

* * * * *

The Arba Parshiyos, the four portions of Torah read on the Shabbos of their relevancy beginning with Rosh Chodesh Adar and culminating with Rosh Chodesh Nissan – namely Parshas Shekalim, Parshas Zachor, Parshas Parah and Parshas HaChodesh – correspond to the four elements that are the foundation of all creation: fire, water, earth and wind.

Shabbos Parshas Shekalim

Intended as a spiritual uplifting of the yesod of aish (the element of fire), this portion ushers in the month of Adar, during which time we renew our bond with Hashem, and is read in remembrance of the machatzis hashekel, the half shekel each member of the Jewish nation would contribute toward the upkeep of the Beis HaMikdash.

Since we, alas, do not have the Beis HaMikdash in our time, the machatzis hashekel serves as a symbol of that era and is donated to the poor (an act that should not be confused with Purim’s mitzvah of matanas l’evyonim, which is a separate observance).

The root word of machatzis is chatzi (half), composed of the letters ches, tzaddik and yud. The tzaddik in the center stands for tzedakah (charity), while the ches and yud on either side form chai (life) – emphasizing that charity confers life on the giver.

According to an interpretation ascribed to the Shach, man can never be fully satisfied with what he attains and will always feel the need for something more, due to the fact that of the four elements involved in man’s creation, only half – water and earth – are weighable; the machatzis hashekel comes to symbolize that man will invariably have only half of what he craves.

Shabbos Parshas Zachor

The second of the four parshiyos, read on the Shabbos preceding Purim, conveys correction of the element of water and recalls what Amalek did to us on the way out of Egypt (asher karcha baderech – when they met you on the way). The root of the word karach is kar (cold), an allusion to the yesod hamayim (foundation of water), which is cold – as are the cold-blooded Amalekim bent on annihilating the Jewish nation to this day.

The portion begins with an admonition to “Zachor… remember what Amalek did to you…” and ends with “Lo tishkach – do not forget.” Why the redundancy? Reb Elimelech’s reaction to someone who complained of his increasing forgetfulness offers us a clue. The tzaddik advised the sufferer to do teshuvah because repentance is a segulah for good memory retention. Giving in to the yetzer hara leads to a mind blockage, whereas the act of teshuvah has the power of removing one’s forgetfulness. Hence, the mitzvah of obliterating any vestige of evil – as in eradicating one’s evil inclination – will promote good memory.

Thinking Outside The Tzeddakah Box

Friday, March 9th, 2012

The whole idea of an artful pushka (tzeddakah or charity box) is almost a tease, if not an outright mockery. Isn’t there something pretty backward about investing time and money in an ornate container to hold alms for the poor? Having a beautifully decorated receptacle also seems to encourage the accumulation of coins rather than the regular dispensing of that money to the poor on an as-needed basis. In that sense, the difference between the miser and the selfless alms giver grows increasingly small; both become hoarders, and the only distinguishing factor is what happens to the money in the end.

Yet, given the double commandment of tzeddakah—a positive charge to give, and a negative prohibition not to abstain from generosity in Deuteronomy 15—why shouldn’t the commandment of hiddur mitzvah, beautifying the law, apply? Surely we all wish that poverty didn’t exist, but given the inevitability of there being needy, and thus the necessity of a receptacle to contain alms, it is only reasonable to adorn the box appropriately.

In this context, the American Jewish World Service’s new competition, “Where Do You Give? National Design Competition,” is a provocative project. The competition’s website refers to reimaging tzedakah for the 21st century and of “globally conscious designers,” who will “translate tzedakah meaning into compelling, relevant design.”

According to Aaron Dorfman, vice president of programs at AJWS, there have been 70 submissions so far, and the AJWS hopes for another 30. “Like a lot of Judaica, tzeddakah boxes get a bad rap as kitschy, but one of the reasons we’re hosting this competition is because we believe that Jewish material culture—the ritual objects with which Judaism is lived and practiced—has the potential to hugely influence our thinking about Jewish attitudes, values and behaviors,” he says.

It remains to be seen whether the AJWS submissions will be innovative and interesting or kitschy and derivative (AJWS didn’t provide images of the submissions by press time), but it’s worth considering some other examples of noteworthy tzeddakah boxes. For example, the pushkas of about a dozen artists can be found in Ray Hemachandra’s 2010 book, 500 Judaica: Innovative Contemporary Ritual Art.

Toby Rosenberg. Tzedakah Box (2008). 9 x 3.5 inches. Hand-built stoneware. 24-karat gold; fired.

Toby Rosenberg’s Tzedakah Box (2008) represents an unusual interpretation of the pushka. Whereas the boxes that get passed around for donations during synagogue services tend to be durable, metal containers that often look like they could block a bullet, Rosenberg’s piece, which is covered with floral patterns, looks fragile.

On her website, the artist explains the link between the flowers and leaves and the function of the box. “This tzedakah box will fill your hands and remind you/ To make tzedakah is to plant a seed of Justice/ that will grow and blossom.” Not only is giving alms similar to seed planting, but the flowers and the delicateness of the box parallels the helplessness of the intended beneficiaries of its contents.

Just as the 17th century Dutch still life paintings of ripe fruit and cut flowers carried a memento mori (“remember your mortality”) component—the flowers and food might look good now, but they are doomed to decay and spoil with time—the beauty of Rosenberg’s tzeddakahbox can be viewed in a different context. Just as the fortunes and fate of the flowers is inevitable, so too is the inevitable cycle in which some people move in and out of certain tax brackets, as well as comfortable and more challenging living conditions.

Aimee Golant. Justice Tzedakah Box. 8 x 4.25 x 3.5 inches. Silver and tin alloy.

Aimee Golant’s tzeddakah box achieves the opposite effect—evoking Tobi Kahn’s abstract landscapes. Golant’s rectangular box stands on feet (that lend the sculpture a look that isn’t unlike a Torah scroll), and represents an enlarged Hebrew letter tzadik, the first letter in tzeddakah. “The round texture inside the Y of the letter looks like coins dropping into the box, or money flying up into the air like confetti. As we give to others, we all receive,” according to the artist’s website.

In one sense, the box conveys a generally sober response. It is monochromatic and largely minimalist in its composition. And yet the power of the ‘Y’ form—the upper part of the tzadik—is so arresting that it is clear that this is not just any old tzeddakah box. The ‘Y’ can also double as an illustration of a fork in the road, which could be one of two transitions—either the choice, or divergence of possibilities for the alms giver (and box owner) or for the person who will receive the tzeddakah. If the giver chooses the right path, so to speak, the destitute recipient might then suddenly have a second option where there was previously just one inevitable path.

Reb Elimelech M’Lizhensk (Part V)

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

Baruch, from the village of Radovitz, was a sharecropper who barely eked out a living. His income was at the mercy of the infamously cruel Poritz, who owned the Radovitz environs. This Poritz had a repertoire of ways to afflict the area’s Jews, and he never eased in his torturous exploitation.

Reb Baruch was not a talmid chacham, but he was a fearer of Heaven and he accepted his lot without complaint. He would travel as often as possible to Lizhensk, where he would bask in the aura of Reb Elimelech’s holiness.

Baruch’s pitiful financial situation did nothing to ease the predicament of his daughters, who were of marriageable age and no fish were biting. The years rolled on and the girls were becoming spinsters worthy of concern. Baruch’s wife was in a constant state of panic over their plight.

“Have faith,” Baruch assured her, but his assurance was of no solace. In fact, his nonchalance inflamed her.

It would never occur to Baruch to disturb Reb Elimelech, who dealt with lofty spiritual matters, over his mundane, petty issue of matches for his daughters. His wife, however, looked at matters differently.

One year, as the Yamim Noraim were approaching, she forbade her husband from traveling to Lizhensk for the holidays, unless he promised he would present his daughters’ situation to the rebbe. As she was well aware of her husband’s soft nature, she threatened that if this request was not faithfully fulfilled he would never see Lizhensk again!

Despite his thorough distaste for his mission, Baruch upheld his word and articulated his daughters’ plight when he greeted Reb Elimelech. He handed the rebbe a kvittel detailing the situation, and Reb Elimelech’s only response was, “For the time being, remain with us here.”

Reb Baruch did as the rebbe instructed and stayed in Lizhensk from Rosh Hashanah through Sukkos. Finally, when he hadn’t even a penny left, he bade farewell from Reb Elimelech on Motzaei Shabbos Bereishis. At that occasion, Reb Elimelech pressed three copper coins into Reb Baruch’s hand and wished him blessings and prosperity.

Reb Baruch was confused. Since when does a rebbe distribute money? But Reb Elimelech had already extended his hand in farewell and Baruch was pushed in the direction of the door by the people swarm of chassidim taking leave of the rebbe.

Reb Baruch headed back to Radovitz and was just approaching the turn to his village when he heard his name beckoned from behind. Baruch turned around and saw a young man who was a regular at Reb Elimelech’s court. “The rebbe has requested that you return,” he said, making the Radovitzer more perplexed than ever.

But even this paled when Reb Elimelech requested Baruch to return one of the coins. “I can only afford to give you two,” Reb Elimelech explained.

Baruch could not – nor would he ever attempt to – fathom what Reb Elimelech had intended. With perfect faith he set off again on his journey with two coins in his pocket, a gift from the rebbe to acquire success.

As he neared Radovitz he encountered three peasant youth wishing to sell him a handsome leather case with a silver, ornate frame. It was the kind of case that the Poritzes used to transport their money. Baruch opened up the case to discover that it was full of multicolored ruble notes of various denominations.

The illiterate youth were willing to sell the case for a song: just three coins, so that there would be an even distribution among them. Reb Baruch frantically searched his pockets, but all he could find were the two coins that Reb Elimelech had given him. What to do?

Reb Baruch proposed that since he only had two coins he would buy the contents of the quality case, that is the colored paper, and they could hold on to the case. The ignorant boys winked at each other regarding the killing they were about to make. Only the case had value in their eyes, and this foolish wayfarer was willing to pay two-thirds of its worth for mere colored paper!

The deal was consummated and the boys walked off with their empty case with the ornate silver trim. They made themselves a warming bonfire and sat down to celebrate their queer business success. However, their celebration did not last for long. They could not work out how to divide two coins and one elaborate case among three individuals.

Their disagreement escalated and they came to blows. The biggest of the ruffians decided to institute a policy of “all or nothing,” and he tossed the leather case into the fire.

Just then the Radovitz Poritz galloped over. The very sight of this evil man was enough to make Baruch’s blood freeze, and the same could be said for all of Radovitzian Jewry. The Poritz got down from his horse and turned to the youth and asked, “Did any of you come across a leather case I lost in this area?”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/jewish-columns/chodesh-tov/reb-elimelech-mlizhensk-part-v/2012/02/15/

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