Holiness is Giving
“Do not give what is sacred to the dogs, lest they turn against you and tear you to pieces; do not throw your pearls to swine, lest they trample them underfoot.” (Mattityahu 7:6).
“Then the Lord said to Cain: Where is your brother Abel? And he replied: I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” Bereshit 4:9.
This week’s double portion closes the book of Vayikra and gives us practical application for “You shall have no other gods before me” as well as for the fifth to the tenth Commandment. (“you shall honor father and mother; you shall not steal; you shall not murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor and you shall not covet what does not belong to you”).
Why do I mention this? When we have other gods, we question whether the Eternal’s words are good and “profitable” for us (emphasis is on profitable as we will see). The Shemitah was when a people with an economy based on agriculture had to allow the land to rest, lie fallow every seven years, and then every forty-nine years, they would celebrate the Yovel (Jubilee) when the land would return to its original owner and whoever had fallen into slavery would be freed. Would this command for the land to rest be logical economically when we would have to trust that God would feed us for an entire year and more?
I work in an agro-industrial sector, and I am sure that if I proposed that every seven years we close production because God would provide us with double production, they would undoubtedly fire me. It is like saying to the government: “Close down production every seven years and God will provide for you and every 50 years all your debt will be forgiven.” Under the terms of our current liberal, globalist, capitalist economy, it certainly breaks any pattern of economic logic. And even though people say by not keeping shemitah “you are not trusting God”, I wonder, would I have done any different than them? Surely I would have earned a ticket directly to Babylon.
Next, the Eternal instructed Moses to tell the Israelites not to make idols, to keep the Shabbat, and to venerate the Eternal’s sanctuary. And he ends by warning that “human” sacrifices are not in the Eternal’s plan like in the other pagan cultures and religions of that time.
Why did he apply that to the first commandment? Because the Eternal tests us so that we recognize that we love some material aspects more than Him and that it is easier to reason: “Here I apply the Torah, but not there”. King Saul did that when he decided to keep the best of the spoils for himself justifying that it was for God but God reproached him with what honors Him is obedience and not our criteria. Or when King David violated the commandment to not commit adultery making Uriah’s wife a widow.
In this portion, we see that a lot revolves around the money factor (a source of wealth) and how we use it, and how it can be a substitute for the Eternal. Money is “time” and it goes against keeping Shabbat in the name of production. Money is property, long-term assets and is opposed to the idea of Yovel in which I own nothing. Money is based upon efficient and continuous production, 7/24, on uncertainty and the probability of scarcity that become better prices and so, the Shemitah is a concept that goes against the market because it forces us to trust God (Bitachon). Therefore, the Torah contradicts current market principles.
This portion also exposes the blessings and curses that we reap as a result of our decisions. It touches upon the fact that we cannot offer human beings as sacrifices to the Eternal as was the custom of the day, but that there was a mechanism of “appraisal” that replaced the life of the person for a monetary value for the Mishkan. Then he gives us guidelines on how to apply the money directives for one’s neighbor and the Mishkan, which is a practical application of the Commandments.
While reading this portion, I meditated a lot on the following verse related to the verses at the beginning of my message: “And when your brother becomes poor and leans his hand on you, you will stop his fall, even if he is a stranger or a foreigner who lives in the land so that he can live with you. Vayikra 25:35.
This points to a deeper subject called “social responsibility” which in recent years has become so relevant. Many people and companies give to charity to avoid paying taxes. They think of themselves as being “charitable” but it is more self-gratification, be it economic, social or ego. Charity is good, a basic level of Chesed but when we examine the text, we realize that the Torah teaches us that there are certain criteria to know who to help, how to help, when to help, and in what context.
The Torah encourages us to help the poor. Becoming impoverished does not refer to a person who is deprived, who was born into poverty, who is wasteful, who has wasted his money or who is a poor administrator of his resources. Impoverishment refers to a condition that no matter how much you do, you cannot rise above it, for example, a woman who is dedicated to her home and becomes a widow, suddenly loses her source of income and her home – she becomes impoverished. An orphan whose parents died along with his livelihood is left without resources; he becomes impoverished. People who live in war, if for example in Israel, a rocket or missile hits a house and destroys it, this person will be impoverished. A sick person, who cannot work due to a physical limitation, becomes poor. An example of not being impoverished is someone who earns money but squanders it on vices like alcohol, cigarettes, gambling and women, etc. Can you see the difference? The verse begins with “When” and this “when” refers to an action from the Heavens that demonstrates His will, that everything is for our good, although in the short term, it may not seem that way.
How can we know if someone is impoverished or not? The answer comes next: “Your brother,” that is to say, there is a link between a blood relationship or not. It is sad to see how there are families in which third parties or strangers are supported, but those close to them are not. The Torah makes the priority clear to us, first, you help your relatives and those with whom you have emotional ties.
When? When “one extends his hand out to you.” This calls for a level of humility for both parties; those who seek support by not closing themselves off thinking, “I don’t need anyone”, and those who are the supporter by not placing “special conditions” on their help. Can we understand that EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING comes from God? Yes! Both your wealth and your poverty come from the Heavens, and we don’t know when we will be on either side, but in that day we must be ready to act in humility.
He continues with “You will stop his fall”. The word “to stop”, “v’hechazakta”, from חָזַק chazak, has multiple meanings such as “fix, catch, grab, strengthen, heal, help, repair, fortify”, and many more. It doesn’t say “Stop the fall”, but it says, “Stop his fall”. It seems almost the same, but the Torah does not want us to stop only the recovery of their assets, but rather to help stop the person from going under.
When someone becomes poor, and I speak from my own experience from my childhood when my father lost his business, I saw how my parents fell into despair, felt helpless, denied God, wept, fell into depression, became angry and even felt resentment toward those who caused his downfall. We not only fell into an economic pothole, but our family fell spiritually and psychologically. So, “stopping your fall “implies taking care of their economic, spiritual, family and social well-being. He should be sustained without condition.
Finally, the link not only refers to a person who is part of the same social and religious group, (i.e., an Israelite only), since it says: “even if he is a pilgrim or a foreigner who lives in the land” – ger toshav. At what end? That your brother lives in community with you, i.e., that you not only provide “an allowance” but live with him without any reproach. In past portions, we read that the purpose of the Torah is to live and live abundantly. Here the Torah does not say “and you will simply give to your brother”, but it talks about creating conditions so that he can get ahead, that is, that he can buy a property to redeem in the future, that you lend without interest, and that you give him work, these are the best ways to do chesed.
This book has been recounting what it is like to live in a holy way, beginning with what we eat, what springs from our inner being, how we approach God, how we dress, the purity of our relationships, how we ask God for forgiveness, and now this book ends by recounting how we live holiness in our finances and regarding financial support for others.
The question is, am I my brother’s keeper? The answer is obvious, you want to be different, help those closest to you. Can I help anyone? Yes, it is a level of Chesed, but first, help your next of kin. Let’s not be one of those who help without finding to whom, they are giving; it might be to a terrorist organization or promoting vices.
Chesed is stopping your brother’s fall, stopping his impoverishment (mental, material, cognitive, psychological, and physical deterioration). My prayer is that we will be strengthened. If we can’t stop our brother’s fall which takes time, resources and money, then let’s ask ourselves, do I have other gods before me? I close with this Psalm, 41: 1 “Blessed is he who thinks of the weak; The LORD will deliver him on the day of misfortune.”
Chazak, Chazak V’nitchazek חזק חזק ונתחזק.