Thursday, August 09, 2007

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Blessed to Give

by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths

(Deuteronomy 11:26 - Re’eh)

The three holidays when all males must appear in Jerusalem are listed at the end of this week’s Torah reading. They are Pesach, Shavuot and Succot. These holidays follow the historical sequence and the spiritual sequence.

Historically, first came God’s taking us out of Egypt. This is celebrated during Pesach. Next came the giving of the Torah, which is celebrated on Shavuot. Then came the wandering in the wilderness, when Hashem sustained us in Succot (booths).

This is also the spiritual route we all take. First comes knowledge of God, which brings us out of bondage. Then we move on to learning His Torah, which teaches the way to live and, finally, we see Hashem providing for all our needs.

When we bring our holiday offerings, we are told that we “shall not appear before Hashem empty-handed, everyone according to what he can give, according to the blessing that Hashem, your God gives you.” [i]

The simple meaning here is that each of us should give according to how much God has given us. This recognizes the important lesson: All that we have has come to us from God’s blessings.

But with only a slight change in emphasis, this sentence can be read quite differently: Everyone bringing offerings will (want to) give (an amount) according to the blessings that he has received from God. The blessing spoken of here is not merely the blessing that God gave him so that he could acquire his property from which his offerings are taken. The actual amount he decides to give will be according to the blessing God has given him.

Some people have been blessed with a lot of wealth. But they have not been blessed with the desire to give any of this wealth away. They will not want to give any of their blessings away. Other people have been blessed with less wealth, yet they have also been blessed to enjoy giving. These people will give even more than those who have a lot of property but did not receive the blessing to give.

It is a blessing to be able to give—not only is it a blessing to have what to give, but it is also a blessing to want to give.

There is More Than One Way to Give

Yesterday, I was standing by the entrance to the Kotel area trying to get men to put on tefillin. Three tough-looking police officers walked in and ignored my invitation. They were senior officers and as such were not used to listening to other people tell them what to do. As they walked away from me and toward the Kotel, I yelled out, “Come! Come!” Sometimes a last-minute call can pull them in.

A few minutes later, as they were leaving, a friend from the tefillin booth tried his luck with them. The tough cop replied angrily, “No! I’m not going to put on tefillin, and you know why?” He didn’t wait for an answer. He was looking at me fiercely. He pointed his finger at me and harshly said, “Because that guy over there called me a goy! That’s why!” (A goy is a non-Jew.) I was helping someone with tefillin and didn’t really hear what was going on, but his look and finger did not feel good at all.

After I finished with the guy I was helping, I asked my friend what that was all about. He told me what the cop had said, and obviously I denied it completely. My friend suggested that I go find him and straighten it out. I said, “He’s the one who is spreading the malicious lie, not me. Let him come straighten it out with me.” He said, “Well, he is not going to do that, and there is a Jew going away with a bad taste in his mouth.” I immediately saw that he was right. I went out into the plaza area and walked around, trying to find him. There was some kind of police officers’ gathering and there were dozens of them around. I finally find him. He was talking on his mobile phone. When he saw me coming, he looked at me just like he did when he yelled at me. I waited and he did not rush to get off the phone.

He finished and I explained, “I didn’t call you a goy, God forbid. I called out, ‘Bou, Bou’” (“Come, Come” in Hebrew). Just then the other two officers walked by looking at me just as they had when they thought they heard me call him a derogatory name. He told them what I had actually said, but still they didn’t smile.

He looked at me, apparently appreciative that I had walked over to explain, or maybe he was feeling bad over his mistake. He said, “Come, let’s put on tefillin.” We walked back to the tefillin stand and I put tefillin on him. I felt so much love for him that I stroked the side of his face. After all, he could just as well have shrugged off my effort. But he didn’t. He wanted to be nice.

What’s the point of the story? Being right is not the goal. Bringing peace is.

Helping to Help

A small group of young Americans came to the Kotel. Most of them did not want to put on tefillin. I went over and tried to convince one of them, but he wouldn’t listen. He was stubborn. He walked away, saying, “I am just coming to the Kotel to put a note there, and I am going to do it my way.” I gave him the standard arguments, such as, “Do it His way,” but he wouldn’t listen.

A few minutes later he came over to me and said that he wanted to put on tefillin. Apparently, he had thought about it and changed his mind. (This is a good lesson when trying to help people. Even if you do not see the results immediately, do not be discouraged. You never know what good you may have done.)

When he finished and prayed nicely for his family, I told him that I was going to go over and ask his friend to put them on. “No,” he insisted, “that guy won’t do it. He is really against it.”

“Then you tell him to do it,” I said. “You had a good time, so go share that with your friend.” Sure enough, he spoke to his friend, and the other young man listened to him. He came over with a small smile, saying that if his friend said to do it then he was going to do it. He, too, had a good time.

After the second young man walked away, one of the men who works at the booth told me that he had spoken to that young man and that that was the first time in his life he had ever put on tefillin. By then the group was standing by the Kotel.

I walked over to them and told the first guy (with the others listening), “Look what you just did. It says if you put on tefillin only once in your entire life, it saves you from the deepest punishment in the afterlife. You (I patted him on his chest) helped your friend to put on tefillin. Because of you he did this mitzvah, and this was the first time in his life that he ever put them on. You saved your friend from the deepest punishment. What a wonderful thing to do!”

Boy, did he smile. How happy he was that he had helped his friend. Then one of them said, “That was the first time I ever put them on, too.” How great it is to be able to help people, but it is even greater to help people to help people.

[i] Deut 16:17

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