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Parshas Vayishlach - Turn something Small into something Big       15 Kislev 5782

11/18/2021 11:14:57 PM

Nov18

The United States of America is, by any measure, the wealthiest, most powerful, and most influential country in the history of the world.  With that said, it also has the largest wealth gap of any nation in the world.  This is not praise; it is a reality which unfortunately is part of a serious side-effect of being a capitalistic country.  Please understand – I am fully in favor of people earning a good living.  At the same time, however, we must accept the responsibility of taking care of those less fortunate, of those who have had fewer opportunities to obtain a good education. I am speaking not of those who choose not to work hard; I am speaking of those who are less fortunate, whose chances for success are either severely limited or not available at all.  This is not a political/philosophical discussion.  I am referring to the hope and belief that we all agree on the principles of earning and supporting.

I believe that one reason there is such disparity lies in the fact that the wealthy do not live amongst those who are desperately poor and therefore fail to truly recognize the need.  There is far too much lip service with regard to claiming we all should take care of the less fortunate.  Here in San Diego, I am so close yet so far away from the severe homeless crisis right here in this beautiful, affluent city.  While I may live in a relatively modest home, it is comfortable, spacious enough for our family’s needs, and in viewing the big picture, provides excellent shelter.  We have plenty of healthy, delicious food.  We live amid a beautiful, close and caring community.  Yet, when I drive around the city, I cringe at the homeless situation we all tend to feel sorry about and wonder how these people live, how much healthy food they have to eat. 

A few days ago a young man and woman knocked on my door.  I had to decide whether to open the door or not.  Please keep in mind, the range of random people ringing my doorbell: missionaries on a Sunday morning, the mom and kids selling cookies, petitioners, and delivery guys dropping something at the front door.  I have no way of explaining why I open the door for some of these people and choose not to do so for others.  In this case, I decided to go outside and speak with the young man & woman on the front steps.   They began to tell their story, which I initially listened to somewhat half-heartedly.  They explained they were collecting for a religious charity which assured that the entire donation would go directly to help the homeless population of San Diego, offering shelter, food and clothing. I was about finished with being polite, ready to say, “No thank you”, but there was something that stopped me, made me continue listening.  The young man told me that he was once homeless and now wanted to give back, to try to help the homeless in a meaningful, purposeful way. At that I gave them a donation which was more than I would ever give to the typical person coming to the front door. There was a direct connection, an avenue for me to help (but not solve) those around us in need. This young man ‘owned his word; his experiences and his inner drive to help others in distress were precious to him. Such focus to help himself and now help others says far more than others who have inherited wealth and are content to simply live the ‘good life’. 

I must say that there are plenty of opportunities to help the homeless; we may not be able to fix the problem, but we can try to help individuals one by one. I recall seeing a woman from Beth Jacob in the parking lot of a shopping center going over to a homeless woman and speaking to her for about ten minutes. It blew me away. It only cost her a few minutes of her time to do an elite chessed. I also met someone who keeps boxes of healthy breakfast bars in her car, handing them out to homeless individuals on the street. I myself, prior to walking into a 7-11, noticed a homeless person and instead of giving just a handout of money I asked what I could get him to drink. He asked for a hot drink, I paid the two dollars and change and had the hot drink delivered to the man outside.

The individual who has lived hunger and poverty, who has ‘been there, done that’, rings out.  This is an individual who knows what it’s like to rise up from nothing, who values even the smallest things in life.  This lesson is clearly seen in the Torah on multiple occasions, but this week is especially poignant.

The Torah states in this week’s Parsha Vayishlach Bereishis 32:25 "ויותר יעקב לבדו, ויאבק איש עמו עד עלות השחר"   “Jacob remained alone. A stranger [appeared and] wrestled with him until just before daybreak”. Rashi comments on the words ‘And Jacob remained alone’. He forgot פכים קטנים  small jars and returned for them. This Rashi is brought as an explanation in Gemara Chullin 91a which explains that this verse is speaking of Jacob wrestling with the angel. The verse states: “And Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day” (Genesis 32:25). “Rabbi Elazar says: The reason Jacob remained alone was that he remained to collect some small pitchers that had been left behind. From here it is derived that the possessions of the righteous are dearer to them than their bodies. And why do they care so much about their possessions? It is because they do not stretch out their hands to partake of stolen property”.

Pachim Ketanim is something of your own sweat and tears, your own handiwork that was not served up to you on a silver platter.  We know that Yaakov Avinu at this juncture in his life was a wealthy man.  Nevertheless, he cared for and risked being harmed by returning to retrieve something that someone else would have viewed as ‘disposable’ or ‘replaceable’, not feel the true value and meaning.

I am always amazed, actually dumbfounded when people simply state that the Shul should do such and such.  The Shul is the collective entity of every one of its members and participants of the community.  The Shul is not a person. People should be doing what they are claiming the Shul should do.  It is always easier for the Shul to do, to spend – and it does – but there must always be a balance of responsibility from the membership and community at large. It is always easier to spend someone else’s money than one’s own.  A person who works hard appreciates the results so much more than the individual who inherits the results of someone else’s labor.  In Pirkei Avos 5:26 it states: הא אומר, לפום צערא אגרא  Ben Hei Hei says: The reward is in proportion to the exertion. Even though this Mishna is speaking of Torah learning and fulfillment of Mitzvos, I nevertheless consider it to be as true with ordinary, everyday work and obtaining of possessions.

Reb Yisroel Salanter points out when Rashi says possessions of the righteous are dearer to them than their bodies he focuses on the word Tzadikim, the righteous. It is the righteous who consider their money or possessions greater and dearer than their bodies, specifically pointing out their bodies - not the bodies of others. The righteous do not consider their money or possessions more precious than someone else’s. 

I think the next time we find ourselves alone with our thoughts, we should think of someone else outside of our particular comfort zone. Take some of our precious, hard-earned little jugs and do something big, something righteous with them. This is the ultimate display of how a Tzadik sees his own precious items.  They are not necessarily for himself; they are, indeed, ultimately for others!

Wed, December 8 2021 4 Teves 5782