Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Yom Kippur: The Princess and the Villager

There was once a king whose daughter had reached marriageable age. The king invited princes and noblemen to come from many countries for her to meet. The princess, however, rejected them all.

Years passed. In despair, the king vowed that he would marry her off to the next man willing to marry her. A simple villager chanced by - he was of course thrilled to marry a princess - and the king married off his daughter to him.

After the wedding, the princess was brought to her new home in the village. Her mother-in-law treated her like any other village woman, forcing the princess to perform all sorts of heavy labor and difficult chores. The princess, however, had never learned how to cook and clean, milk cows and weed gardens; and she cried bitterly. She wrote a letter to her father, complaining about the harsh conditions in her village home.

The king responded in kind, promising to visit her in forty days.

When the king's upcoming visit became known, there was an uproar in the village. Everyone worked hard cleaning and decorating the simple home. They also procured new clothing for the princess.

Soon a small delegation of royal advisers came to the village. They were greeted with great honor and respect. Then it became known that the king himself had arrived. The entire village gathered together to meet the king.

The king saw how his daughter was nicely situated, with great respect, and was pleased for her. After the brief visit came to an end, and he made preparations to leave, his daughter suddenly fell on his shoulders and began to weep.

"My daughter, why are you crying?"

"Father! How could you abandon me? How could you leave your beloved daughter in such a situation?"

"Why, what are talking about? I see the honor and respect that you have here. What is so terrible?"

"Oh father!" the princess cried. "Everything that you see, it was only done for your visit. They heard you were coming and transformed the house for you. But as soon as you walk out that door, I know that my mother-in-law will be after me, yelling at me and forcing me to do all sorts of hard and demeaning chores, weeding her garden, feeding her chickens, and milking her cow."

The king turned to his son-in-law. "Is this how you treat my daughter? Do you not know how to properly respect and honor a princess?"

The villager also cried. "Your highness, I know that she should be treated as royalty, but when the king decided to marry her to me, I assumed that the king knows that I am a simple villager, with a meager income. I do not have the means to maintain a princess in the fashion that she was accustomed in the royal palace. I figured that the king would send his blessing, providing for us so that I could support her in the style that she deserves."

The Conclusion of Yom Kippur

God wanted to give the Torah to Adam, and then to Noah - but the Torah refused. Finally, He gave the Torah to the Jewish people. But everyday. she writes and complains to her Father, as it says, "Everyday a Divine Voice issues from Mount Horeb, saying: Woe to mortals because of offense to the Torah" (Avot 6:2)

But, at the beginning of the month of Elul, we realize that the King will soon visit us, and we are filled with reverence. We study more Torah, we perform more good deeds and give more charity. When, on Rosh Hashana, the King's delegation arrives, we spend the holiday in prayer and Divine service.

Finally, on Yom Kippur, the King Himself arrives, and He sees the Jewish people are like angels. They are dressed in white, standing in prayer throughout the day, in holiness and purity.

But at the final Ne'ilah prayer, as the Shechinah is about to depart, a crying bursts forth:
"My dear Father! How can you abandon me? Do you not know that as soon as You leave, they will once again force me to perform lowly labors? They will remove my beautiful cover - their love and awe for You, and their desire to study Torah and perform mitzvot - and revert back to their former lives!"

So, too, the soul cries out: "I have washed my feet - how can I soil them?" (Shir haShirim 5:3) After I have become cleansed and purified on this holy day, how can I go back to the lowliness of everyday life?

And lest the Holy One be angry at the body for treating the soul in such a fashion, the body explains: But you knew beforehand that we are flesh and blood, that we live in this lowly material world. Nonetheless, You placed the soul here. Please give us your blessing, so that we will be free from the struggles of this mundane world, so that we will be free to study Your Torah and perform Your mitzvot!


(Adapted from Mishlei Yaakov, pp. 275-277)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Re'eih: The Blessing When Giving Tzedaka

"Make every effort to give to [the poor], and do not feel bad about giving -  for because of this, the Eternal your God will bless you in all of your endeavors." (Deut. 15:10)


How does God bless one who gives tzedakah? One might think it is like the following case:

A man walked through the marketplace and lost a wallet containing a $100. The following morning, he went to the market and found a $200 bill.


Yet this is not what the Torah is talking about. For this person, even though he found more money than he lost, is still upset that he lost the original $100. He thinks to himself: if I hadn't lost that $100, I would have now $300!

Rather, the Torah's blessing is like this case:


A farmer purchased a sack of grain, and carried it home through his fields. Not realizing there was a small hole in the sack, little by little the grain slipped out. By the time he reached his home, the sack was empty!
Some time later, the farmer passed through his fields. He was surprised to find that the grain he had unwittingly spilled on his fields had grown into a tremendous wheat crop. This man will not regret the seeds he lost. He realizes that if they hadn't spilled out over his fields, he would not have been blessed with a wonderful crop.


This is what the Torah promises. "Don't feel bad about giving" - for it is through this very giving that you will be blessed in your endeavors.


(Adapted from Mishlei Yaakov, p. 431)