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“Whatever a man has he would give up for his soul.”

Friday, 15 May, 2015 - 5:50 am

 

Dear Friends,

 

I want to tell you a story that I heard from my father countless times. My father, who was witness to it, tells the story very vividly, as if it happened today or just yesterday. And that is the way his listeners have received it as well. The feeling is as if I was there myself and saw everything.

But, before the story itself, I will mention how this week’s Parasha reminds me of it:

At the end of Parashat Bechukotai, the Torah talks about the laws of Cherem (segregation) and Hekdesh (consecration) – when a person decides to donate some property of his to Hashem, to the Temple. From the verse in our Parasha, “However, any segregated property that a man will segregate for the sake of Hashem, from anything that is his…” The Rambam learns that when it comes to a Hekdesh or Cherem, a person must not segregate or consecrate all of his property, for it does not say “anything that is his,” but rather, “from anything that is his.” How much should he give? Up to a fifth (20%) of his belongings. And even if he wants to go beyond what is demanded of him, he shouldn’t give more. A person who gives more than that is considered to be a foolish person who is acting wrongly.

As opposed to Hekdesh, in the laws of Tzedakah (charity) and helping the poor, the Rambam says that in spite of the fact that one shouldn’t give more than a fifth, someone who wants to go beyond what is demanded of him, is permitted to give more than 20% of his assets to Tzedakah.

The Baal HaTanya, when he explains the matter of Tzedakah, says that when the Tzedakah is being given so that the giver will be able to atone for various sins that he has committed, he can give as much as he likes – even all his assets – since in this case the Tzedakah is coming in place of fasting and self-flagellation that he should have taken upon himself as atonement for his sins. So, when a person is coming to redeem and atone for himself, it is worth it to him to give everything he has in order to redeem his soul, the same way a person would pay any amount in order to heal his body. The Tanya quotes a verse from the book of Iyov: “Whatever a man has he would give up for his soul.”

I personally do not know anyone who is capable of giving everything they have, but I am acquainted with Reb Moshe Goldis of Czernowitz of 1960 from my father’s story:

Moshe Goldis was a Chassid of the Ribnitzer Rebbe. A simple, special Jew. Those were the days of Khrushchev, when any kind of trade was strictly forbidden. But Reb Moshe found ways to trade and earn very well from it. In spite of that fact, his home was very simple, and he ate like a poor man.

One day, Reb Moshe Goldis came to the Wishedski home in Czernowitz. My grandfather, Rabbi Moshe Wishedski, and Rabbi Mendel Futerfas, who had already been released from their long imprisonment and exile in Siberia, were there, as was my father, who was then about twenty years old. Moshe Goldis had just come back from a business trip throughout the huge Soviet state, and he said to R. Mendel Futerfas: “I’ve made a lot of money on this trip.” As he was speaking, he began to pull out various bills, starting from his hat and ending in his socks; he extracted money from every garment he was wearing and put it on the table.

“Is that all, or is there more?” asked him Reb Mendel, and mentioned that there was a clandestine Mikveh that still needed completing, and a couple that needed help getting married, and teachers in the clandestine Cheder who needed to get salaries. He then took all the money from the table. “This money,” he said, “is enough to resuscitate the Jews of Silence,” for whom he felt constantly responsible.

“That is all,” answered Reb Moshe, and after a few moments of silence he said: “I’m giving you all my money happily; but I have one request. In order to continue trading, I need some cash. If you take everything, how will I be able to continue?”

“No problem,” answered Reb Mendel. “Tell me how much you need for your business. I will give you an interest-free loan, and you will pay it back to me when you start making money again.”

My father, who was watching all this, expected Moshe Goldis to object, or, at least, to wonder aloud about this, or that his face should show his misgivings. But that is not what happened. Without flinching, Reb Moshe just mentioned the sum that he needed as a loan, and promised to pay it back.

 

“Whatever a man has he would give up for his soul.”

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Zalmen Wishedski

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