SALT - Motzaei Shabbat, September 17, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg

            Towards the beginning of Parashat Ki-Tavo, the Torah presents the obligation of vidui ma’aser, the verbal declaration that must be made every three years avowing compliance with the various requirements relevant to tithing produce.  After making this declaration, one utters a prayer for prosperity on behalf of all Am Yisrael: “Look down from Your sacred abode, from the heavens, and bless Your nation, Israel, and the land that You have given us – a land flowing with milk and honey” (26:15).

            The Klausenberger Rebbe, in one of his published discourses, notes that in this prayer, one makes reference to God’s blessing descending “from Your sacred abode” down to “Your nation, Israel, and the land…flowing with milk and honey.”  The farmer acknowledges that God resides in a “sacred abode,” infinitely distant from the mundane needs that concern us here on earth.  Yet, he asks that despite the gulf separating between heaven and earth, between God and human beings, between the entirely spiritual realm of the heavens and the physical realities of our world, God should bridge this gap, so-to-speak, and grant His heavenly blessing to us lowly mortals whose minds are occupied with lowly, mundane concerns.  This prayer makes reference to God’s promise to our patriarchs that He would give their descendants “a land flowing with milk and honey” – that He would provide their material needs comfortably, and not subject them to harsh conditions of depravation.  God Himself promised to feed His nation “milk and honey,” to grant us material comforts so we enjoy the peace of mind and serenity necessary to devote ourselves to loftier pursuits.  And thus this promise of “a land flowing with milk and honey” is the basis for the prayer that God should send His blessing from His “sacred abode” in the form of material prosperity.  While it might at first seem inappropriate and petty to appeal to God for material success and comfort, in truth, God has Himself made this promise, recognizing the realities of the human condition and the natural desire for a reasonably comfortable standard of living.

            The Klausenberger Rebbe draws a comparison to the practice of Chassidic rebbes to devote a great deal of time to meeting with their followers to hear about their personal problems, and to offer advice, encouragement and blessings.  Many criticized this practice, arguing that if a rebbe is truly a sage and righteous figure, he should not take time away from his study and personal spiritual pursuits to deal with the petty concerns of peasants, laborers and merchants.  The Rebbe averred that to the contrary, religious leaders bear the responsibility to help their followers grow, and helping them sort out their mundane problems, such as issues pertaining to physical health and finances, is a vital part of this effort.  Just as we appeal to God to look down from His “sacred abode,” from the realm of pure spirituality, to take note of and address our mundane needs and concerns, which are so low and trivial from the perspective of God’s heavenly domain, similarly, great religious leaders see it as their responsibility to leave their own “sacred abode” for the sake of assisting others with their physical and mundane concerns.

            The Klausenberger Rebbe adds in this context a novel and surprising explanation for the popular association between the month of Elul and the verse in Shir Hashirim (6:3), “Ani le-dodi ve-dodi li” (“I am for my beloved, and my beloved is for me”).  He suggests that since “Ani le-dodi,” we sincerely wish to faithfully and devotedly fulfill God’s will, we beseech that “dodi li” – He should fulfill our will by meeting our material needs, by granting our requests for “milk and honey.”  Given the importance of material comfort in achieving the peace of mind we need to properly devote ourselves to Torah and mitzvot, we are justified in petitioning God to address even our petty and trivial concerns. 

            Among the lessons we might learn from this insight is that one person’s luxury is another person’s necessity, and what appears trivial to some is vital to others.  While we must strive to overcome pettiness and rigidity, and train ourselves to adapt to undesirable and difficult conditions of any kind and be able to function properly under adverse circumstances, the reality is that all people have needs that might strike others as trivial.  And just as we beseech the Almighty to look down from His “sacred abode,” from which our material aspirations seem unnecessary and childish, and grant all our wishes, we, too, must try to recognize the legitimate needs and concerns of others, even when they strike us as insignificant, and do what we can to meet those needs.