From the Rebbe’s Torah
Humor to being with:
My friend lost his job at the cemetery after burying someone in the wrong hole.
It was a grave mistake…
— Burying the dead as kindness will be a topic of our sermon…
The Torah tells us in this week’s parsha that we should “attach ourselves” to G-d.
The passuk reads: “You shall follow G-d, fear Him, and fulfill His commandments; listen to His voice, and serve Him — and you shall attach yourself to Him.”
Rashi explains that this means that we should “attach ourselves” to His ways — which will result in our attachment to Him. “Do kindness, bury the dead, visit the sick — just as Hashem did,” Rashi says.
When did G-d bury the dead? It was when G-d buried Aharon the Kohen. The passuk tells us that “Aharon died on the top of the mountain,” and then, immediately after, “Moshe and Elazar descended” from the mountain. It does not say that he was buried. Two parshas later, however, in last week’s parsha, Eikev, the Torah says that “he was buried there” — so it is clear that Hashem Himself dealt with his burial, as no no one remained on the mountain to bury him.
With regard to visiting the sick, it was when G-d came to visit Avraham our Forefather, after he had his circumcision at the age of 99. The Torah tells that “Vayeira — Hashem showed Himself — to Avraham,” in order to be with him during his time of physical pain.
Talking about illness:
"I'm telling you one last time,” a doctor yells at his nurse.
"When you're filling out a death certificate, you put the name of illness under cause of death, not the name of the supervising physician!"
Why did Rashi pick these specific examples of G-d’s kindness, and why specifically kindness? We are taught that Hashem performs all the mitzvos which He commands us to do — so theoretically, it would seem that Rashi could have chosen any mitzva as the means by which we can connect to G-d — because doing these is doing what He does.
However, performing the mitzvos cannot be what Hashem meant when he said: “Attach yourself” to me — because in this same passuk, he had already said: “fulfill My commandments.” So, with the words “attach yourselves,” He must mean something beyond the letter of the law. Something extraordinary.
And this is why Rashi chooses the examples we’ve mentioned — for they are both extraordinary.
Why? Because from the perspective of obligation — there was no obligation for G-d to perform these acts. If there are others who would be more than willing to bury the dead, you are not obligated to offer your services.
Everyone would be willing to help with Aharon’s burial. In fact, the Torah tells us that the entire Jewish people wept for Aharon for 30 days after his death. He was the one who brought peace between man and his wife. He was there for everyone. He was the High Priest. They would all have considered it a great honor to assist with his burial. And yet, Hashem chose to take this job of kindness for Himself. Beyond the letter of the law.
Also with regard to visiting Avraham: He surely had friends and students who would come visit him. And, yet, Hashem came Himself to perform the mitzvah of kindness, even when there was no “obligation.”
Hashem is telling us that we should attach ourselves to Him, by being like Him in this way — doing extraordinary things even when there is no “obligation” — doing kindness even when we are not “instructed to”; when “there are enough” people involved, or someone can technically “handle it on their own.” This is why Rashi chooses specifically these examples — because this is when Hashem acted in such a way. And this is the addition to “fulfilling His commandments,” which G-d is asking of us in this passuk.
[Now, because the instruction of the words “attach yourself” is about doing things even when there is no obligation, Hashem takes it slowly: first He speaks of burying the dead — when there is no worry that the person performing the act may be hurt by this — even though it is strenuous work; and then he speaks of visiting the sick — when there is a chance that person visiting may catch the sickness. When asking you to do things which are out of the box, Hashem takes it one step at a time.]
Story about non-mandated kindness:
A wealthy person lived in the town of Berditchev, where the famed Rabbi Levi Yitzchak resided. This man was a miser, who never gave money to charity, for any of the community’s needs.
When this man passed away, the burial society thought it was high time to get even with him, and demanded an exorbitant sum of money to deal with his burial. His family would not accept this, and complained to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was grief-stricken by the news of the man’s passing, and told the members of the burial society not to charge any extra money for the burial. He also asked them to inform him when the levaya would take place—implying that he himself would attend.
When news spread that the rabbi would attend, rather than boycott the funeral, as they would have, all of the town’s inhabitants came out to show their respects. After the funeral was over, they asked Rabbi Levi Yitzchak why he had such warm feelings toward the deceased.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak replied that no one knew the man as he did. “You misjudged him,” he told the crowd.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak told how this man had come to him for 3 din-torahs, (court cases held by a rabbi, or rabbis, in accordance with Torah law), all of which revealed his truly generous traits.
The first story involved a man who served as a business agent for others, and was entrusted with a large sum of money, which he lost or was stolen. Upon coming to this realization, the man fainted. When he was brought to, and realized his predicament, he fainted again. This kept on repeating itself, and the man was in danger. Eventually, the wealthy man heard about the situation, and came forward with a bag of money. When the agent was reawakened, the wealthy man told him that he had found his purse. The agent then remained conscious, and recovered.
However, the person who actually had the money was now uneasy. This had not been his plan. He wished to repay the wealthy man, and admitted to him that the money had actually been in his possession. However, the wealthy man refused to be repaid. He said, “I did this as a mitzvah, and you cannot force me to part with it.” They went to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak for his ruling, and he sided with the wealthy man.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak continued with the second story:
A Jew in town was not doing well in business. He convinced his wife to let him go on a business trip, by telling her that he was traveling as an agent of this wealthy man, and that while he was away, she should go to his payroll manager every week, and ask for the money that was due to him.
After a week’s time, she went over to the bookkeeper, and repeated the story her husband had told her. The bookkeeper said that he didn’t know of any such employee, but that he would check with his boss. The boss said, “Yes, I’m sorry I forgot to tell you. There’s a new employee on the payroll—please do give her a check every week.”
This is how it went on for 2-3 years. Finally, after experiencing some success, the man came home. When he asked his wife how she had managed to come by, she replied, “What do you mean, I received your paycheck every week, as we made up.”
The man now went over to the wealthy man with thanks and apologies, and said that he wanted to repay the money he had given to support his family. But the wealthy man refused to take the money back. They went to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, and he again sided with the wealthy man, saying that he could keep his mitzvah.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak concluded with the story of the third court case:
A fellow arrived at the wealthy man’s office asking for a loan. The wealthy man asked, “Who will be your guarantor?” The man did not have anyone who would agree to guarantee his loan, so he replied: “G-d is my guarantor.” The rich man said that this was OK.
When it came time to pay, the man was nowhere to be found. Eventually he came back, and wanted to repay his loan. Our friend, the wealthy man, said, “Never mind, your guarantor has already paid me back.” The man insisted that he wanted to pay, but the wealthy man said, “No, G-d paid for you. I refused to take money from you.” Again, they went to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, and for the third time, he ruled in the wealthy man’s favor.
“Do you see,” Rabbi Levi Yitzchak said. “This man was kind in cases when no one else would be — beyond the letter of the law.”
Now, through doing this, we become “attached to Hashem.”
Like we’ve mentioned, the passuk already previously said that we should “fulfill His commandments” — so it is understood that “connecting to Him” is a separate directive, and we have the ultimate connection to Hashem when we do kindness even when there is no specific “command” about it.
How can this be?! How can it be that we are “attached to Hashem” when we do something other than His instructions themselves?! Isn’t fulfilling G-d’s direct instructions for us the greatest way for us to connect to Him?
And so, it is true. Fulfilling G-d’s commandments is what he wants from us first and foremost, and we connect with Him through fulfilling them — and we should make sure to do so.
However, at the end of the day, when fulfilling an instruction to ourselves, this means that we’re around. We are an entity to which G-d is commanding, and we are fulfilling His command — which is what we were created for, and we must do.
But, if “we’re around,” and we feel ourselves to be “something,” then this is not the ultimate connection to Hashem. The ultimate is when we feel that the only thing around is G-d, and our whole existence is only Him.
That’s certainly not for every moment of every day, because we’ve got to be around to fulfill G-d’s commandments, and he wants us to take our own initiative, and be ourselves to do that — and feel our connection to Him on our own terms.
But once in a while, it’s time to connect to him in a way that we’re “gone.” This is expressed through doing things just to fulfill the instruction “to connect to Him”: through doing extraordinary things — out of the box, beyond the letter of the law — just because He does it and just to connect to Him. That’s when it’s all about Him, and only Him.
Now, for one more step: The ultimate is when we connect to G-d so much, through fulfilling his commandments, learning Torah, and prayer, that we automatically do what G-d does, and we are kind beyond measure. Not just “to connect to Him,” but rather, to be so connected that we act in this way automatically.
That is the ultimate connection. Maybe we’ll get there once in a while. Definitely not simple. But something we can all certainly aspire to!
לזכות הרה"ח הרה"ת ר' ישעי' זוסיא בן חנה רבקה
לרפואה שלימה וקרובה
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