Monday, 30 June 2008

Rambam - Gifts to the Poor - Chapter 10 Law 3






Dedicated Le'Iluy Nishmas

Chaim ben Yitzchak HaKohen

“Anybody who hides his eyes away from Tzeddakah – behold, he is called “Bliyaal – בליעל" – (wicked), just like idol worshippers are called בליעל (wicked).

“And with regards to idol worshippers it says (Deutronomy 13:14) ‘Lawless (wicked) men have emerged…’ And with regards to those that hide their eyes from Tzeddakah, it says, (Deuteronomy 15:9) ‘Guard yourself lest there be any בליעל (wickedness) within your heart.’ And he is called a wicked person, as it says, (Proverbs 12:10) ‘And the mercy of the wicked is cruel.’ And he is called a sinner, as it says, (Deuteronomy 15:9) ‘And he will call to G-d on account of you, and it will be a sin upon you.’

“And the Holy One Blessed be He is close to the cry of the poor, as it says, ‘The cry of the poor You will hear.’ (See Job 34:28).

“Therefore one needs to be careful to their cry, since a covenant is signed for them, as it says, (Exodus 22:36) ‘And it will be when he cries out to Me, I will listen, for I am gracious.”


The Rambam is continuing “his” line of thought and logic as it pertains to the laws of giving charity. He began with the importance of the Mitzvah of charity and how it can in fact hasten and bring the redemption! He continued by telling us that nobody will become poor through this Mitzvah. And he now continues by adding the theme of those who even after this, decide not to give.

Here, the Rambam points out, that not only is he holding back the redemption (not hearing law 1), and neither does he lack the problem of whether he’ll be poor or not (law 2). Rather, if a person hides his eyes away from someone asking, he should know that he is called “Bliyaal.”

While the traditional translation of this word is “Wicked” or “Lawless”, the actual Hebrew word is made up of two separate words i.e. Bli, meaning “Without” and “Ol”, meaning “Yoke”. In other words he is as if he lacks a yoke! What does this mean?!

The Torah teaches us that the greatest thing we can do is to make ourselves to G-d, like oxen are to the yoke. Whichever direction the yoke points the ox, so it goes. The Torah is the ultimate yoke! In fact, when one recites the reading of the Shema twice a day, we are said to be “Accepting upon ourselves the yoke of the kingdom of heaven!” Perhaps it may seem like we are restraining ourselves, becoming robots, or worse yet – slaves (in the traditional sense of the word,) to G-d. It may seem like after all is said and done, we’re becoming zombies to G-d’s will. Where then is our freedom of choice?!

And yet, our sages teach us that this is what Torah and Mitzvos are all about, to accept upon ourselves this yoke of heaven. Our sages go so far as to tell us that our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were all “chariots” to G-d. Just like a chariot is completely subservient to the owner that rides it, so too did our forefathers do everything in accordance with G-d's will!

It seems that they obviously had no idea about the real world. Perhaps they were such simple people that they could not think anything for themselves – as many of us are able to do in our modern world today! Yes, they were simple people. If only they would have known about the real world, they would have become real men! Men who would think for themselves – probably rebelling against many of G-d’s wishes – but at least being people with their own brains.

In our modern world, we may tend to think this way. But as we live in an upside world, where those on top are actually on the bottom, and those on the bottom are actually on top, our forefathers, with their apparent lack of free will, were completely absorbed in total G-dliness!

Isn’t it a wonder to see how most people today are filled with major difficulties in life, from depression and sadness to simply lacking some sort of fulfilment in life. And yet we all seem to think that with our own freedom of choice, huge brains, and knowledge of the modernity of the world, that in fact we are far greater than those that preceded us?! How many of us see the world of observant Jews as people without the ability to think for themselves?! Things are changing, one needs to fit in with society. Those laws were for the old school so many thousands of years ago. Today, we can think for ourselves – we’ve progressed!

Although this be apparently true, there are yet those – even famous Hollywood stars – who seem to feel that they too are lacking something in their lives, and seem to feel – for whatever reason, that the Torah provides them their food and sustenance – through the popular teachings of Kabbalah. Indeed, they too are searching for something… They too seem to have a hunger in their stomachs – and souls – for something more. There’s an emptiness eating them up! After all this modernity, perhaps the “traditional” way of life was actually the more fulfilling?!

All the freedom of choice in the world is nothing in comparison to the ecstasy felt when one cleaves to G-d in complete Devekus (cleaving!) Our forefathers knew this, and in fact, as we are taught, it wasn’t just at those times that they kept the Sabbath day, or ate kosher. Rather at every moment in their lives – every single step they took, they did so with a yoke around their necks! Did they consider this a punishment?

Is it a punishment to be the servant of the King of all Kings? On the contrary, much like a servant of the king is privileged to be in the palace of the king at all times, often dining with the king himself, so too, our forefathers who cleaved to G-d – every single second of the day, merited to experience complete ecstasy within G-dliness at all times! They hardly needed to think for themselves – as we might think. Rather it was their very giving up the ability to think for themselves that brought them into direct contact with G-d.

As Rebbe Nachman says, “Where philosophy ends, Kabbalah begins”. All the philosophising in the world will not bring one even one step closer to experiencing Divine Ecstasy! A state of complete rapture that the soul loses such control over herself that she wants nothing else than to be subsumed into G-dliness, to give herself over and back to where she came from. When one studies Kabbalah and Chassidut, one begins to get a taste of this… and if one studies further, one can be absorbed even closer into G-d… and if one applies oneself even further, one might even totally expire in Divine Ecstasy! The Torah calls this “Kelot HaNefesh”. Many of our Tzaddikim have spoken of this when they said that one must be careful in one’s relationship with G-d. One must be “Running and Returning”. As the Sefer Yetzira states, “If your heart runs, return to the Place”. When one begins to feel the experience of divinity one has to turn oneself around and come back to reality! Just as the angels continually run and return to and from G-d, so too do we experience this, and should be careful not to venture too far into the unknown.

Where then is the unknown? It can be when one has completely given up one’s own free will. When one becomes so totally immersed in Torah and Mitzvos that one wants nothing more than to simply expire in G-dliness! Perhaps it’s simply when one accepts the yoke of the heavenly kingdom upon onself! Isn’t that strange? When one gives up oneself, one becomes G-dlier… one experiences life as it should be. To this degree, one may even give up one’s own life – just to be absorbed back into total G-dliness. And yet, the average person may feel that they have no free will, that they cannot think for themselves. Of course, it takes someone who’s prepared to move just one step away from philosophy – and a step towards the inner secrets of Torah, to realise and appreciate just what it means to have G-d’s yoke upon oneself.

Therefore the Rambam is correct when he says that one who hides his eyes from giving Tzeddakah is Bliyaal. He lacks a yoke. He neither appreciates G-dliness, nor his fellow man. He believes that with his own freedom of choice, that he, being in charge, can choose what to do with his wealth! How unfortunate this person is to lack the connection to G-d – a connection that would bring him to realise that as he hands over the coin to charity – to help another (nothing less!) he actually connects with divinity. He becomes more G-dly. More spiritual (with such a mundane physical act!) And his reward… the possibility to expire in G-dliness itself!

The idol worshippers may rightly be called “Bliyaal” for they have nothing to go by. Each one has his own way of “serving his god.” Perhaps his “god” may well be himself! After all, when one lacks an objective yoke (i.e. the Torah) one can rationalise anything! And each of us will be correct, for nobody can contradict another’s opinion of what is right. If his “god” tells him so, then it certainly must be true! But Torah – this yoke – is objective. It is divine and true. It allows one to cleave to truth, and to be attached to what life is really all about. Of course, if one feels that the better life is without this “burdensome” yoke, then one may certainly choose the other route. It is a route filled with sadness and deep depression, for it applies to each one individual and to every one god in the world. And while there are *many* other gods in the world, there is only One real G-d!

This individual does not only associate himself with being an idol worshipper, but he is actually given the title “Wicked one!” As the Torah teaches, the mercies of the wicked are cruel. When one is wicked, even when one acts in mercy, it will be cruel. As the Torah teaches, those who are cruel when they should be kind, will be kind when they should be cruel!

Isn’t it a wonder how the world will do all they can to stop the slaughtering of animals in a kosher manner – due to it’s “cruelty”, yet they will butcher live human beings in the name of religion? Or perhaps they’ll rip apart sharks in the sea just in order to be able to have “shark fin” on the menu?! There must be a host of similar examples. But the truth is still the same. Those who lack a yoke – THE yoke, will end up becoming cruel – even with their mercies! And so – as happens many times, they will give of their wealth to those who will use it against them.

How often have we seen the money we have earned and given to those we felt needed it – being used for purposed to kill and harm others?! The Jewish people are falling apart for lack of food… for lack of a place to learn Torah… for lack of being able to start a family and raise Jewish children, and money will be given to the non-Jewish world, who have their own BILLIONAIRES who can aid them (but don’t!) And so, the rest of the world turn against the Jewish people with the very energy given to them through the wealth given to them so that they could feed themselves!

The Rambam will list the order of priorities in giving, later in this chapter. And indeed there is one. For those who feel that saving the whales may accomplish more than feeding a Jewish soul… they may wish to consider just what a Jewish soul actually is. Yes, we certainly need whales in the world, and G-d’s mercy is upon ALL his creatures… Yet, when our wealth is finite, surely we should be cautious to the order of preference in giving to those who we may actually be closer to first. Of course, if there is anything left over, then it can be certain that the whales may definitely be deserving and next in line!

Who knows, perhaps when we have set our priorities right, maybe G-d in his infinite mercy, will attend to the whales on His own!

One who turns his eyes away from those who really need is not only lacking a yoke. He is not only a wicked person (as the Rambam points out.) He is also a sinner. In other words, it is an actual sin to turn one’s eyes away from one who is in need.

One should surely be careful with all of this, for G-d has sealed a covenant with those who cry to Him. One not blessed with wealth is at the mercy of those who have. He prays to G-d, but because G-d has set the world up in a way of give and take, it is His actual desire that the wealthy give to the poor. As mentioned before, G-d could certainly shower gold coins into a person’s own private bedroom at midnight… but instead He chooses to let the world run through the kind acts of those who have already been given the gift of wealth – from none other than G-d Himself! Not because of any specific reason, but rather simply because G-d would like this individual to take part in making the world right… and better. He has been given a privilege to fill the world with G-d’s very own kindness!

And so the poor man has no recourse, except to cry – literally! And each night before he goes to bed, he soaks his pillow with tears. “Why can I not own a home of my own G-d!!!”, “Why can I not afford to send my children to a proper private school G-d!!!”, “Why can I not have a new wardrobe of clothing even once in five years G-d!!!”, “Why can I not even put food on my table G-d!!!”, “Why G-d… why?!” He wishes to contact every wealthy person alive, but for the embarrassment and insult he receives from many “fat cats” and “bosses”, he chooses to burst out his pain each night, filling his pillow, drenching it with hot wet tears!”

And G-d listens… And while it may seem that things still run the same way, they change. The tears of the poor person are received in a very special place above, into a special chamber, one opened only rarely – into a dangerous looking room. Those who have entered it have seen the water… the seas and waves angrily crashing backwards and forwards… and they were forced to slam the door shut, lest it be that they would drown. In this room lie the hot tears of those crying out in pain – especially for just their basic needs. “If only someone would listen G-d!!!”

But the covenant is set up, and the world runs it’s course! And those who are on top, may well find themselves on the bottom, and those on the bottom, may well find themselves on top, for the wheel of fortune is continually in motion! And it is true that ultimately we *are* in an upside world. And those on the bottom are really on top, and those on the top, are really on the bottom.

Our duty is to hear the crying. Even that crying that takes place when we don’t see it. We don’t need to see it, for our duty is to hear it. And just like a businessman looks for opportunities to make wealth, and does not wait for all business to come to him, so too does each one of us have to actively seek out those in need in order to help them. This is our business. And when we do so, we can rest assured that the Owner of the store is certainly watching, and He will make our businesses flourish!

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