Parshas Naso #1
A Gift to the Giver
“Each man’s sanctified gifts shall be his; what a man gives to the Kohen shall be his” (Bamidbar 5:10).
In Parshas Naso, the Torah mentions two of the Matnos Kehunah (Priestly Gifts) allocated to the Kohanim. The Torah’s instructions conclude, “What a man gives to the Kohen shall be his.”Understood simply, this means that whatever is given to the Kohen now belongs to him – it is his. The passuk can also be explained differently: the pronoun “his” can refer to the giver. Whatever he gives for sacred purposes – “to the Kohen” – remains his own. This double meaning provides a new perspective on money and charity.
Rav Azarayah Peugot (1579-1647), an early Italian Achron, elaborates. He writes that it is foolish to believe that the money we have stashed in our homes or vaults is really our own, while money given to charity is a total loss. The opposite is actually true – the money in the cashbox is not really ours. All we really own is the money we give for charity and sacred purposes (Binah L’Ittim, 41).
A story which took place less than a century ago highlights the truth of this principle.
Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein, rosh yeshivah of the famed Slabodka Yeshivah in Europe, visited the United States in 1924 on a fund-raising trip for the financially strapped yeshivah. He was still in New York when he received catastrophic news: the yeshivah’s students faced imminent draft into the Lithuanian army, a disaster on every possible level. The only solution was to get the students out of Lithuania, far from the reach of the government. The yeshivah would be relocating one hundred fifty students to Eretz Yisrael, but the cost of this rescue mission was enormous: $25,000 in 1924 currency, equal to approximately $350,000 in 2016 dollars. Perhaps miraculously, a wealthy New York Jew named Mr. Schiff donated the entire sum. The students left Lithuania and established a branch of the yeshivah in the historic city of Chevron.
Just a few years later, Mr. Schiff lost his fortune in the Depression, and was reduced to living in the basement of a building he had formerly owned. Rav Moshe Mordechai’s son-in-law, Rav Yechezkel Sarna, came to the United States in the 1930’s to raise money for the yeshivah, and Mr. Schiff, now penniless, spoke at a parlor meeting. He told the group at the meeting that everything he had ever owned was gone; there was nothing left of his vast investment empire, except for the $25,000 he had given to establish the Chevron Yeshivah. That belonged to him and his family forever, and could never be lost.
Unknown to the listeners, there was even more to the story. When Rav Sarna heard that Mr. Schiff was now bankrupt, he sent a telegram to his father-in-law, telling him what had happened to the yeshivah’s generous friend. Rav Epstein cabled back instructions to Rav Sarna to arrange a loan of $5,000 for Mr. Schiff. This was a very sizable sum in those days, enough to help Mr. Schiff reestablish himself in business. Rav Sarna was able to raise the money, and he went to Mr. Schiff’s basement home to deliver it in person.
When he heard that the roshei yeshivah had obtained a loan for him, he was horrified. “What are you doing to me?” he said. “All I have left is the $25,000 I gave to the yeshivah. Do you want to deprive me even of that?”
Mr. Schiff’s money still continues to bear fruit. Relocated to Jerusalem after the 1929 Chevron Massacre, “Chevron” is today one of the major Torah centers in Eretz Yisrael.
Question for Discussion:
It is not easy to give money away to charity, but ultimately, we are the ones who benefit when we give. What is something you do because you know it is right, despite the difficulty?Click Here To Respond
Dahlia, newly observant, spoke about a difficult challenge she deals with daily: “I grew up non-observant, but have been keeping Torah and mitzvos for four years, including the laws of tznius (modest dress). The idea of a married woman covering her hair was entirely foreign to me – no one I grew up with did this. Even now, I have a very hard time covering my hair when I go out to work every day. I do it because I know it is right, but I am so torn… At least twice a month, I dream about going out with my hair flowing freely. Maybe if I learned more about the mitzvah and the reasons behind it, it would be easier.”
As a parting gift, we gave Dahlia a book about the halachos of hair covering for a married woman, including sources and an explanation of the reasons for the mitzvah. We hope that by the next time we see Dahlia, this important mitzvah will no longer be such a struggle for her.