Monday, February 18, 2008

Losing YOUR Religion

Reading Jewboy's post about something in the orthodox world that saddened him reminded me of a New York Times article that a friend forwarded me a few days ago.

The article speaks about an Orthodox rabbi serving a 27-year sentence in an Otisville, NY federal penitentiary (where, I'm told there is at least 1 Daf Yomi Shiur) for fraudulently obtaining more than $4 million. Oh, and we're not talking about not-paying-your-taxes $4 million, we're talking collecting-money-for-a-fake-lottery $4 million. He is suing the Bureau of Prisons for the right to be able to pray outside of his cell. He claims that he cannot pray inside of his cell because of the presence of a toilet, and in doing so, he would be violating Halacha.

Thank G-d, we live in a country where we can pray where we want, when we want. We live in time period that is arguably the best for Jews in recent history. But, how do we obtain these liberty and freedoms? It doesn't come for free; it comes with the price of obeying the rules of this country. You steal money from innocent people who think that they can win money in a lottery - a clear violation of the laws of our land, yet you claim that you're owed protection from those same laws? Sounds like some real chutzpah to me.

I'm sure Rabbi Samet would scold me for speaking Lashon Hara. I'm sure Rabbi Samet could run circles around me in learning. But, I have to imagine that I have one up on him in the eyes of Hashem; after all, I didn't swindle $4 million out of anyone. I fail to understand how these people can be so Machmir in all aspects of life, but when it comes to money, they feel that they can do whatever they please. TAXES?! Who pays taxes? To a Goyishe government!? The hypocrisy in which these people live their lives is astonishing.

I would like to believe that Hashem doesn't as readily accept the prayers of people who live their lives seeped in such hypocrisy as he does mine and yours. Rabbi Samet - you know how you go about being able to daven whereever you want? A: Don't steal $4 million from innocent people and it wouldn't even be a problem in the first place. Deal with it.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Parshas Terumah 5768

דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְיִקְחוּ-לִי תְּרוּמָה: מֵאֵת כָּל-אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יִדְּבֶנּוּ לִבּוֹ, תִּקְחוּ אֶת-תְּרוּמָתִי.
“Speak to the B'nei Yisrael and have them give Me a terumah-offering. From every man whose heart impels him to generosity shall you take My terumah-offering.”

This week’s parsha starts off by talking about the different donations given to the Mishkan. The Torah starts off by talking about a person who gives Terumah, but uses the phrase “VAYIKCHU li terumah”, literally, when you TAKE for me Terumah. If the Torah is talking about one who is GIVING terumah, why does it use the seemingly opposite word “TAKE”? The famous answer from the Beis haLevi goes something like this…

The only things that we really “own” in life are those that are eternal. Sure, we have cars, homes, fancy things – but none of these items are eternal, so our ownership of these things is limited. However, when one takes something like money, which is not eternal, and gives it to Tzedaka, the money has transformed from something fleeting into a Mitzvah – something eternal. Thus, we see that “Vayikchu li Terumah” teaches us that when we give Terumah to the Mishkan, we have transformed this money into something eternal, and therefore, while we are technically giving to the Beis haMikdash – in reality, we’re really TAKING something for ourselves…we take that transformation of the fleeting money into an eternal merit.

Chazal in the Medrash to Parshas Bo tell us that, “More than the money that the Ba’al haBayis gives to the poor person, the poor person gives to the Ba’al haBayis.” How is this so? Typically, in a Tzedaka situation, we view the Ba’al haBayis as the giver and the poor person as the receiver. However, in light of what we read above, we see that really these distinctions aren’t so clear; the poor person, while receiving the money, is really a “giver” in the sense that he enables the Ba’al haBayis to do a Mitzvah – and the Ba’al haBayis, while giving the money, is really a receiver in the sense that he reaps the reward and merit for his gift.

One final example where the distinctions between giver and receiver are not so clear: the Gemara in Kiddush tells us that for a marriage to be valid, the man must give the ring to a woman. However, there is one exception where the marriage can be valid if the woman gives the ring to a man: if the man is an “Adam Chashuv/important person.” The gemara explains that while it seems like the man, in this case, is receiving something and the woman giving it, that isn’t the case. If I bring a gift to the President, and he accepts it, I will get great joy out of this. So too in our case above; the woman, by giving the ring to a very important man, while technically a “giver” in that she gives the ring to the man, is, in reality, a receiver, because she gets the joy out of knowing that the very important man retains her present.

I think the lesson to be learned is an obvious, yet profound one. We see it in marriage and in friendships alike – the only time we get anything from a relationship, or from life in general, is when we give, or put work into that venture. The more work we put in to maintain these relationships and to achieve things in life, the more benefit we will receive from them. Again, while it seems that we are the “giver” in the sense that we are putting all of this work in, we learn from the second Pasuk in this week’s parsha and throughout Chazal, that the one who wants to receive anything must be a giver.