The Meaning of Life Continued. Be a GIVER

In the previous article, we discussed the logical underpinnings of why HKB”H created man and put him in this world. We also explained why life is tough, why we cannot readily “see” HKB”H in this world and why the pleasures of the next world are not known to us.

SO if you are still looking for the answers to those questions, or if you are still wondering why life is so tough – read or re-read the previous article. Let’s now continue the train of thought.

We mentioned in article 1 of this series that once HKB”H gave a man a mind and wisdom one of the first things that he does is compare himself to G-d. The most obvious result of this observation is that I, man, am intrinsically different than HKB”H! He is a/the Creator I am His creation. He is a giver – I am a receiver! These are two things that are a direct result of being a creation. He gives me something, and I give Him … nothing! I, therefore, don’t “deserve” the pleasure that HKB”H wants to give me. It is embarrassing. Nahama d’chisufa!

To alleviate this problem the world was created, and what a world it is!

I know that this is hard for some people to notice, but there ARE other people in the world! Every person is different, and everyone has their own trials and tribulations in life. If we pay close attention, we will note that there isn’t even a single individual on the planet that can get along with his-or-herself! EVERYONE is in need of someone else, it doesn’t matter who they are. If a person would try and get by on his own – he would wind up failing miserably. Quite possibly killing himself in the process.

Let’s say that I wanted to get by on my own. I want to make my own clothes, build my own house, grow my own food. Everything on my own! What would happen? Well, while I would be busy doing everything that I needed to make the strings that I need for my clothes and then weave them together into fabric and then sew them together into a garment… I would die of starvation! If I started with my lodging before my clothing and my food, then I would probably die from exposure and starvation before I ever finished my house! If I began with my food, the exposure would do me in. You see where I am headed with this? We all NEED each other. That’s what the world is for so that we can GIVE  to others as well. In so doing we become like HKB”H, we also become GIVERS.

It is for this reason that one of the “legs” upon which the world stands (Avos 1:2) is CHESSED.

However, one must also know how to give, to whom, when, how much, etc. All of this is detailed in the halachos of the mitzvos of tzedakah and chessed. The reason for this is quite evident. For as opposed to HKB”H who has limitless strength, energy, and ability, WE are all limited in all of the above. If one does know how, how much, to whom, etc. then s/he can overextend his/herself, not give enough of him/herself or even not at all.

There are people who have, what’s called in Hebrew a sritah (literally a “scratch”). They, like a scratched record, (do your remember those?), will keep skipping back to the same place. In this instance, a person with a sritah for giving just keeps on giving regardless of his circumstances and how it affects him or others. That isn’t giving. It’s a mental illness.

A genuine measure of a giving person is that he gives when he should/can and doesn’t when he should not/cannot. He recognizes that he cannot give to everyone and therefore prioritizes who he gives his limited time and resources to. That is the real yardstick for the giving person.

All of this is vital to take into account when giving. Many times there is even a very “fine line” to consider. Take for example the support of Yeshivos and Talmud Torah. One of the other “pillars” of the world (Avos ibid.) is Torah. However despite its greatness and its centrality in sustaining the Jewish world our sages have something else to say about it. In Avos (3:21) “…if there is no flour there is no Torah; and if there is no Torah there is no flour“. A person who learns Torah certainly needs to devote himself to keeping it. As our sages say in Tractate Nedarim on the verse (Bamidbar 19:14) “This is the Torah a person who dies in a tent…“, which was said concerning the laws of tumah (ritual impurity) of tents, our sages, ob”m, explained parenthetically “The laws of the Torah will only be fulfilled [=understood and kept fully] by one who “kills” himself concerning it”. To really become a Torah giant one must give his all as much of the time as he possibly can! So obviously if he is devoting himself to that extent he is not available to work as much as is needed to support himself and his family! Therefore if there is no “kemach”, (i.e. someone/people supporting those who are fully invested in learning the holy Torah), then how will it be possible to learn?

However, and this we must deeply internalize, without those people learning Torah — we wouldn’t have the kemach to give them either! As the Mishna continued and said, “and if there is no Torah there is no kemach (flour).” It is for this reason that our sages, ob”m, explained the verse in Mishley (Proverbs)3:18It is a tree of life to all who hold it” as referring to those who give financial support to the people who are learning Torah, the tree of life!

There is a symbiotic relationship between the Torah and the world and we can either support it by learning the Torah or supporting those who do. It is for this reason that, in many regards, a person who is learning Torah takes precedence over many others when it comes to financial support.

Having said that, however, there is something that comes before that: the mitzvah called pidyon shevuyim (the redemption of the captives). The reason for this is that their needs tend to be much greater and the danger to their lives more imminent. They, therefore, come first in the list of peoples to whom we give. (See RaMBa”M Laws of Gifts to the Poor Chapter 8 law 10 and on).

There is, however, one type of person who comes before even the captive: a Jew who is living a life empty of Torah. The greatest mitzvah of hashovas aveidah (to return a lost item) is to return to someone their own soul! (Chofetz Chaim al haTorah on the verse in Deuteronomy 22:1).

But even in this, there are deeper levels! If a person grew up not-frum, if he doesn’t know anything at all about the Torah or the mitzvos he is called in halacha a tinok she’nishba, (a child who has been captured. Nishba (נשבה in Hebrew) is like the word shavuy (שבוי) from pidyon shevuyim) as they share the same root!) This person is an even worse situation than that of the captive, for the captive, even if he would – chas ve-shalom! – die in captivity he takes his soul with him! But a tinok she’nishba has nothing but an excuse “I  didn’t know any better”. His entire life is lived as a shogeg (a person who unwittingly transgressed the Torah), and if he would do teshuva (return to the Torah’s laws) he would, in the times of the Beis Ha’Mikdash, have to bring a korban chatos (a sin offering) for all of the severe issurim that he transgressed. (See Tractate Shabbos 69 and the RaMBa”M in the laws of the Unwitting). But there is one who is an even worse situation than the tinok, it’s one who grew up frum (religious) and cast it aside. Why is he even worse? Because for many things he is not called shogeg, but rather meizid, as he – many times – knowingly transgresses the Torah.

According to the above, it turns out that there is a greater mitzvah to help someone return to keeping the Torah than there is in teaching a tinok, the unwitting, or even supporting Torah learning!

I bring this example for two reasons:

First> Because it is an excellent illustration as to how exacting and how much thought we must put into who we give our time and efforts to.

Second> Because it is a topic that is very close to me as many of the boys that I have and do work with are boys that are teetering on the edge. Some of whom had practically thrown it all away until they decided to give yeshiva one more chance. All donations help boys like this to become productive members of Torah and Jewish society instead of slipping away into nothing. (It’s also tax-exempt in both the US and Israel).

At any rate. I digress. Back to the topic at hand.

So we see that HKB”H, in creating the world and putting a finite man into it with other finite people created a situation in which — we can now choose to emulate Him and become givers!

So, therefore, the next problem is solved! I, upon receiving my reward in the world to come, will no longer feel that I am getting a free lunch in this regard as I am G-d like! I, like HKB”H, am a GIVER.

But that’s only one more side of the creation and the answer of the question “Why am I here?”. Be”H we will explore further sides of this … in the next article.

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