Parashat Re’eh

Sharing Our Joy

The mitzvah of rejoicing appears in Parshat Re’eh in several contexts: eating of korbanot, maaser sheni, and the celebration of Yom Tov must all be performed with joy. Whenever we are commanded to rejoice, we are reminded to include those less fortunate in our celebration.

From the words of the Rambam (Hilchot Yom Tov 6:18), it would appear that the requirement to share our joy with others is an integral part of our actual fulfillment of simcha. Giving to others at a time of our joy is not merely a fulfillment of tzedaka, but rather is necessary for our personal joy, to be complete.

Why is the simcha necessary for korbanot, maaser sheni, and Yom Tov not fulfilled if others aren’t included?

Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky explains in the name of Rav Soloveitchik Zt”l that throughout Parshat Re’eh whenever simcha is mentioned, the Torah emphasizes that the simcha takes place “lifnei Hashem – in the presence of Hashem.” Korbanot and maaser sheni are eaten in Yerushalayim “lifnei Hashem” and the Shalosh Regalim are celebrated “lifnei Hashem” by visiting the Bait HaMikdash. Even Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur have a dimension of simcha which is associated with being in the presence of Hashem.

The Rav explained that although Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur don’t have the physical aspect of “lifnei Hashem” of visiting the Bait HaMikdash, the teshuva process which is associated with the Yomim Noraim is also a form of being in the presence of Hashem. It is the state of being in the presence of Hashem that is the ultimate source of joy.

The Experience of being in Hashem’s presence, both physically and spiritually, enables us to refocus on how Hashem acts. Contemplating His actions, we immediately are reminded of how Hashem performs acts of kindness to others. Rabbis teach us that ultimately our obligation to perform chessed emanates from our obligation to emulate Hashem’s ways. Just as He is a gomel chessed(does kindness), so too we must become gomlei chessed. The more aware we become of Hashem’s traits, the greater our obligation to emulate Him becomes.

As we visit Hashem in Yerushalayim to partake of korbanot, maaser sheni, and to celebrate Yom Tov we become even more aware of Him and His actions. It is this realization that must push us to greater heights in of performing acts of chessed. If this experience of “lifnei Hashem” is authentic, it must be accompanied by a greater commitment to share with others.

Standing “lifnei Hashem” creates a dual obligation. It is the source of the mitzva of simcha as well as the source of chessed. If one rejoices by eating korbanot, maaser sheni, and celebrating Yom Tov, but does not share joy with others, that is indicative that his joy does not emanate from being in Hashem’s presence. A true experience of being “lifnei Hashem” will inevitably result in a heightened awareness of the needs of others. One who spreads his joy with others has truly experienced the source of joy; he has stood “lifnei Hashem” and learned the lessons of that awesome experience.

It is interesting to note that there are some righteous people and Tzadikim which each time they make simcha, like their sons or daughters getting married, they donate big sum of  money generously to Tzedaka. This is really something for us to learn from and try to implement it in our life.


facts of life: take this serious

There are eight levels of charity, each greater than the next.

[1] The greatest level, above which there is no greater, is to support a fellow Jew by endowing him with a gift or loan, or entering into a partnership with him, or finding employment for him, in order to strengthen his hand until he need no longer be dependent upon others . . .

[2] A lesser level of charity than this is to give to the poor without knowing to whom one gives, and without the recipient knowing from who he received. For this is performing a mitzvah solely for the sake of Heaven. This is like the “anonymous fund” that was in the Holy Temple [in Jerusalem]. There the righteous gave in secret, and the good poor profited in secret. Giving to a charity fund is similar to this mode of charity, though one should not contribute to a charity fund unless one knows that the person appointed over the fund is trustworthy and wise and a proper administrator, like Rabbi Chananyah ben Teradyon.

[3] A lesser level of charity than this is when one knows to whom one gives, but the recipient does not know his benefactor. The greatest sages used to walk about in secret and put coins in the doors of the poor. It is worthy and truly good to do this, if those who are responsible for distributing charity are not trustworthy.

[4] A lesser level of charity than this is when one does not know to whom one gives, but the poor person does know his benefactor. The greatest sages used to tie coins into their robes and throw them behind their backs, and the poor would come up and pick the coins out of their robes, so that they would not be ashamed.

[5] A lesser level than this is when one gives to the poor person directly into his hand, but gives before being asked.

[6] A lesser level than this is when one gives to the poor person after being asked.

[7] A lesser level than this is when one gives inadequately, but gives gladly and with a smile.

[8] A lesser level than this is when one gives unwillingly.


simcha corner

Sam Silverman walks into his boss’s office. “Sir, I’ll be straight with you, I know the economy isn’t great, but I have over three companies very interested in me – they’re constantly calling, and I would like to respectfully ask for a raise.”

After a few minutes of haggling the boss finally agrees to a 5% raise, and Sam happily gets up to leave.

”By the way,” asks the boss as Sam is getting up, “which three companies keep calling you?”

“If you must know,” says Sam, “It’s the electric company, water company, and phone company.”

Parsha Summary

First Aliyah: Moshe informs the Israelites that they can be the recipients of either blessings or curses — blessings if they obey G‑d’s commandments, and curses if they do not. He further instructs them to proclaim blessings on Mount Grizzim and curses on Mount Ebal — the exact procedure of this ceremony will be described in the Ki Tavo Torah reading (Deuteronomy 27:11-16). Moshe then commands the Israelites to destroy all idols and their accessories that they will find when they enter Israel. He informs the nation that in the future G‑d will designate a specific location (Jerusalem) where He will choose to rest His Presence. All sacrifices must be offered in this location.

Second Aliyah: Although it is forbidden to offer sacrifices in any location other than the one designated by G‑d, it is permitted to slaughter cattle for consumption purposes, but blood may never be eaten. The consumption of various tithes and sundry sacred foods is also restricted to the designated holy city.

Third Aliyah: Moshe admonishes the Israelites not to be lured by the heathen abominable practices of the Canaanites, and to remain true to the Torah; neither adding to nor subtracting from its laws. A person professing to be a prophet who claims to bring instructions from G‑d to worship idols must be put to death. This is true even if the individual performs supernatural acts or accurately predicts the future. This section also prescribes the death penalty for one who attempts to entice others to idolatry, and the catastrophic price paid by a city which has completely succumbed to idolatry.

Fourth Aliyah: As G‑d’s children, we are forbidden to deface our bodies with tattoos or via other forms of mutilation. This section then provides a list of kosher animals and un-kosher fowl. We are also given signs to distinguish between kosher animals and fish and their non-kosher counterparts. The section concludes with the prohibitions against eating meat from an animal which was not properly slaughtered, and against cooking meat with milk.

Fifth Aliyah: After giving a tenth of one’s crops to the Levite, a tenth of the remainder — the “Second Tithe” — is to be taken and eaten within the confines of Jerusalem. Provision is made here for people who live far away from Jerusalem for whom it would be unfeasible to transport so much produce. Instead they may exchange the produce for money which is then taken to Jerusalem and spent on food. There is a three-year tithing cycle. After the conclusion of each cycle, we are commanded to purge our homes of any overdue tithes, give them to their intended recipients, and recite a brief prayer.

Sixth Aliyah: Moshe commands the Israelites to designate every seventh year as a Shmitah (Sabbatical) Year. During this year, creditors must forgive outstanding loans. The section then discusses the obligation to give charity to the poor with a happy heart, and to lend them money if necessary, even if the Shmitah Year is looming. A Jewish slave must be freed after six years of service and must be given generous severance gifts as he departs.

Seventh Aliyah: The male firstborn of kosher cattle must be consecrated and given to the Kohen to eat. If the animal is blemishless it is first offered as a sacrifice in the Temple. The Torah reading concludes with a discussion regarding the three festivals: Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. In addition to some laws regarding each of these festivals individually, we are commanded to rejoice during the festivals and all males must be in attendance in the Holy Temple during these holidays.


something to think about

Which Charities to Give to?


I enjoy giving charity, but I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the number of “good causes” out there: feeding the poor, educational needs, handicapped children, etc. Is there some yardstick I can use to measure the appropriate value of each charity?

Fulfilling one’s charitable obligation does not mean simply “giving the money away.” You need to make a thorough study of the best use of that money. When you choose one project over another, you have to know rationally why it is more effective than the other. God is expecting you to spend His money wisely. Consider it as the “Your-Name-Here Save the World Foundation.”

The first obligation is redeeming captives. Maimonides writes: “Redeeming captives takes precedence over feeding and clothing the poor. There is no mitzvah greater than redeeming captives, since the captive suffers from hunger, thirst, lack of clothing — and his life in danger.”

According to some authorities, Ma’aser must be used solely to support those in need (with priority to Torah scholars), whereas other authorities allow a wider interpretation.

The cost of a mitzvah, that you would have spent in any case, cannot be deducted from your Ma’aser money (Tzitz Eliezer 9:1). For instance, money for synagogue dues cannot be counted as Ma’aser, since there is a prior mitzvah obligation to pray in a synagogue.

However, you could choose to spend extra above-and-beyond what you might otherwise spend for a mitzvah, and deduct that from Ma’aser. For example, if you would normally give a $20 wedding gift, but you know that the couple needs money, you could give a $50 gift and deduct the $30 difference from Ma’aser.

In terms of the order of priority when supporting poor people:

A person’s own needs take priority over those of anyone else, and he is not obliged to give charity until he has enough to meet them. But this applies only to the essential minimum needs of food, shelter and clothing.

The Code of Jewish Law (YD 248) states: “Every person is obligated to give tzedakah, even the poor who themselves are recipients thereof.”

Maimonides writes that nobody ever became poor from giving tzedakah. In fact, the Talmud (Ta’anit 9a) states that when you give Ma’aser properly, it actually earns you additional wealth.

However, those in the most difficult financial situation could rely on the opinion that allows you to exchange the Ma’aser money with another person in need. The other person simply gives his Ma’aser money to you, and you give yours to him.

A person’s poor relatives have priority over other poor people. You can use Ma’aser money to support your parents, but only if you cannot otherwise afford to support them. (If you have other money, it is considered humiliating to use charity funds for this purpose.)

Ma’aser money cannot be used to support your children who have not yet reached the age at which they normally earn a living. If they do not earn a living until they marry, and live with their parents meanwhile, there is a separate parental obligation to support them — and so Ma’aser money many not be used for that purpose. (Rabbi Moshe Feinstein)

Next come poor people of your own town (neighbors first). After that comes poor people in Jerusalem, then in other cities in Israel, and finally poor people in other places outside of Israel. (Midrash – Sifrei Deut. 15:7) (