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Parshat Mishpatim (5771)

This week's section contains fifty-three commandments, the majority of which deal with money and one is the commandment to loan money to the needy. (22:24) The Rambam (Matnas Anyim 10:7) teaches that loaning money (of course without interest) is the highest form of charity as it maintains the dignity of the receiver.

But the Zohar teaches that these monetary laws also contain the mystical secret of the reincarnation of souls.

This makes sense as we see how money arouses the hidden recesses of one's soul, awakens the deepest emotions, and causes people to do the craziest things, including risking their very lives (spiritual as well as physical).

The main purpose of the Torah, on the other hand, is to teach us how to transform this craziness into Jewishness. If a person can learn how to use money to serve G-d it is a real novelty. It's one of the things that Moshiach will accomplish. (See the last chapter in Mishna Torah of the Rambam that the entire world will only be devoted to knowing and serving G-d). But until Moshiach arrives, souls will have to undergo many incarnations until they get it right.

The illustrative story is told of two souls that floated past each other in heaven.

One was on the way "down" to get born in the world, and the other on its way "up" after finishing its earthly stay.

The one descending said. "Hey! Hello there! Tell me, are you just coming from the world?"

"Yes!" the rising one answered.

"Could you tell me what is it like? I mean, what is there for a soul to do down there? I mean, in heaven it was ideal! Why am I descending?"

"That's an easy one!" The ascending soul answered. "Down there, there are Commandments!"

"Ahhh yes!" The descending soul said excitedly. "Right! Now I remember! Up in heaven they talk about them. Even the angels go wild when someone does one. But I've never seen one. What are they?"

"What are they!?" exclaimed the rising one as the distance between them widened. "They are the inner will of G-d Almighty. And you can get them by just giving the right person a few pieces of paper called "Money"."

"Wow! This is really exciting!" yelled the descending soul as the distance between them widened. "Just a few pieces of paper! That's great! I can't wait!"

"Oh, but just one thing I didn't tell you" yelled the ascending soul who in a few seconds would be too far away to be heard, "Until you get those pieces of paper...your soul can go out!"

This is the secret of the Holy Temple; taking the mundane and making it holy. In a personal way it is called serving G-d with "All your might" (i.e. all your money. see Rashi Deut. 6:5) as is explained in the book "Tanya" in many places.

And that is the greatness of Charity.

When one gives charity it is as though he is giving his very life in order to enliven his fellow man. Therefore, it is often considered the most important commandment, and will be one of the main forces that will bring Moshiach.

Here is a story to explain.

It was a cold miserable December day when Shmerel the Rich Miser of Breditchev died. It wasn't nice to say, but everyone was glad to be rid of him, and glad he died on a day when the weather provided the perfect excuse not to attend his funeral.

So you can imagine how surprised and disappointed everyone was when the Rabbi of the city, the holy Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Breditchev announced that he was going to the funeral and wanted everyone else in the town to attend.

They bundled up in their warmest clothes and dutifully complied but as soon as the dismal funeral ended they asked the Rabbi for an explanation. How could a man that was such a recluse and a miser merit such a grand procession?

"True, Shmerl kept to himself." The Rabbi answered "But that is certainly no sin. And you should know that his reputation as a miser was undeserved. Perhaps once or twice he didn't give as generously as he could have. But in fact he was a remarkably generous person."

When the Rabbi saw the amazed, incredulous looks on everyone's faces he continued. "I know this, because on three occasions various people brought him to trial before me on monetary cases and each time I was the Judge."

"Complained? Trial?" murmured the crowd "What is so generous about that?" someone said aloud.

The Rabbi continued, "The first time was about twenty years ago, and the man who brought him was blazing mad.

"It seems that a certain businessman lost a leather pouch in the marketplace containing over two thousand golden coins he was going to invest in merchandise. Most of the money was borrowed, so he was under extreme pressure to find it. At first he searched alone feverishly for a half-hour. He kept it quiet so no one would know what had happened, he was afraid to advertise it. But when it didn't turn up he became desperate, confused, started moaning loudly, fell into a swoon, and passed out unconscious right there in the middle of the market place! This, of course, attracted much attention. A doctor arrived and announced that the man's life was in danger, and when he revived him, our hero feebly mumbled "Two thousand guilders...brown leather pouch....Oy! Oy!" and fainted again.

"Suddenly someone stepped out from the crowd and announced, 'I found it! Here! Exactly that amount of money a few minutes ago! Here! Look! It wasn't in a leather pouch but maybe someone stole it and threw the pouch away. Anyway, here it is! I was just on my way to take it to the Rabbi to ask him what to do with it. You're in luck my friend!" Whereupon he gave the bewildered loser the money, and disappeared in the crowd before anyone could even notice who he was.

"The crowd dispersed and went back to business except for one man … the real thief!

"He was holding the stolen money, and when he saw what happened it shook him to the depth of his soul. Here, he was so selfish that he was willing to make others suffer and TAKE their money, while this man was willing to suffer just to help…a complete stranger!

"He began to think deeply until he decided to change his ways. So a few days later he appeared at the door of the "finder" with the money. But he was in for a surprise: 'Sorry my friend' was the reply. 'I gave that money because that is what G-d wants. I don't want the money you stole. If you want, give it to charity, not me!'

"The thief had no recourse but to bring him to me for trial and demand that he take the money. But I decided in favor of the defendant; I told the thief to give the money to charity and stop stealing, but the "finder" didn't have to accept it if he didn't want to.

"And that "finder" was none other than …. Shmerel the "miser".

"A few years later came the second case. Someone in Braditchev told his wife that he was going on a business trip for a month. But he really intended to desert her and his children and never return again. He gave her enough money to last her a month and said that Shmerel the Miser owed him a large debt and that when she needed more she should go to him and he would pay her, which, of course, was a lie.

"A month later when the money ran out and she went to Shmerel's house at first he didn't understand what she was talking about. But after a few seconds he figured it out. He told her to enter, gave her a nice sum, apologized for "forgetting" and told her to return whenever she needed more.

"Meanwhile, her wayward husband wandered around for five years, until he managed to get himself into really big trouble. His life was in danger, and he and swore to G-d that if he lived he would repent. Miraculously he escaped, repented and, with no other recourse returned home. He expected his wife to not let him in and demand a divorce. But when he arrived he was amazed to see that she and his children received him with joy and open arms. "Why, Shmerel paid me the money every month just like you said he would." She explained. "He must have owed you a fortune!"

"But when the 'deserter' went to Shmerel and demanded that he accept repayment Shmerel refused. "I don't owe you anything" He insisted. "I gave the money of my own free will. If you want, take me to court."

"The case came before me and I decided, as before, that Shmerel had no obligation to accept the money, but the man should give it to charity if he so desired.

"The last case was the simplest. A fellow named Isaac needed to borrow a large sum of money for a business deal but couldn't obtain it for the obvious reason that he had a bad reputation and no one trusted him. When he had almost lost hope, he remembered that one 'potential' loaner sarcastically told him to try Shmerel the miser. So with nothing to lose, he decided to try his luck.

"Shmerel received him cordially, invited him in and asked him to sit down. But when he heard what he wanted and asked who his guarantors would be for the loan, all Isaac could say was, "G-d Almighty is my only guarantor". But surprisingly Shmerl took him seriously. He thought for a while, replied that he had the best guarantor possible and gave him the loan.

"The loan was for one year but Isaac didn't show up on time to pay it back. In fact, he only turned up five years later with the money. But he was amazed when Shmerel refused to accept it! Shmerel clamed that just after the year was up he unexpectedly made an extraordinary profit from one of his investments which he considered to be G-d keeping His end of the deal. "If you want to repay someone," Shmerl said, "then repay G-d, not me."

"The man eventually came to court and pressed charges, he demanded that Shmerel just take the money back. But I, as twice before, refused to force Shmerl to accept it.

"So you can see that you were wrong about Shmerl. Money didn't make him crazy. All he cared about was doing what G-d wants and making people happy and trusted G-d to take care of the rest. All his life he was quiet and kept away from attention, now is the first time that he can't refuse!"

That is why loaning money to poor people is so important. Because this is exactly what G-d does to us:

G-d creates the entire world (including each of us) constantly so actually we come from 'nothing', have nothing of our own and G-d certainly doesn't owe us anything…. Nevertheless He "loans" us our talents, our senses, and our very being in order that we work and "repay" Him! All this in order that we retain the feeling of self-achievement and dignity.

This is the secret of true "Simcha" or Jewish joy, Like Shmerel the miser; to be happy just to do the will of G-d and make others happy.

And that the reason that Charity is so important; it simulates what the world will be like when Moshiach arrives. People will no longer be crazy for money or selfishness but only for doing what G-d wants; making the world into a perfect place.

And we can make it happen.

By learning the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe (see your local Chabad House) and thinking positively, just one good thought, word or deed can tip the scales change the entire world and bring…..

Moshiach Now!

Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.

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