some things should be the very best

Thursday, 7 July, 2016 - 8:30 am


Dear Friends,


There are Parashas in the Torah whose central topic is so meaningful that the other topics or commandments in them don’t get enough attention. Parashat Korach, which we will read this coming Shabbat outside of Israel, is one such Parasha. The story of Korach is so powerful and emotion-provoking that it will almost always be the subject brought up in connection with this Parasha.

The last Passuk in the Parasha talks about something quite different, and, in my opinion, very important. It says, “You shall not bear a sin because of it when you raise up its best from it…” The Passuk is talking about the contributions made to the Cohanim (priests), and the Torah comments that here the word Chelev (meaning certain fats that are removed from sacrificial animals) symbolizes the best. And so, when you give the best, it should not be considered a sin. From this we learn that when one does not give from the best, it is considered a sin.

The Halachic authorities are divided when it comes to the question whether giving the best is part of the mitzvah itself, or merely a “Hiddur” – an improvement on the mitzvah, and the mitzvah will be counted even if what is given is not the best. Either way, it is clear that the Torah is demanding from us that when we give, we should give from the best.

Not infrequently, I find myself buying Tefillin, Mezuzahs and the Arba Minim (the Four Species) and such like for people. Often I find myself dealing with people who appreciate quality: they will buy expensive shoes because it is worth it to them to invest money so that their feet will be comfortable. They will save up to buy an expensive washing machine of the right brand, because there are things that must be of the very best. But when it comes to buying Tefillin and Mezuzahs, they suddenly search for something cheaper than what is first offered.

And so, I find myself trying to explain to them that just like with any product on the market, in Jewish ritual items, too, there are different levels of quality regarding the quality of the writing, or the processing of the parchment, or the Sofer (scribe) himself, who should be a G-d fearing Jew who writes carefully. These are things that naturally raise the price of the item – it is simple logic.

When my son became 10 years old, I began to look for a good and expensive Sofer, the kind who has a long waiting list. Two years before the Bar Mitzvah I ordered the highest quality parchment and writing. We could have saved up for a prestigious trip or for a nice car, but we chose to save up for an expensive pair of Tefillin. That is what we saw in our father’s house, and that is what he saw in his father’s house. Because some things should be the very best that one can get.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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