During the horrible massacres of the Gzeiras Tach, (Chmielnicki Massacre of "Tach v'Tat" (1648-1649) ravaged and killed 100,000 Jews of Poland and Russia) the Beer HaGolah wrote the introduction to his first classical volume on the Shulchan Aruch. He described how he left his home with thousands of other Jews and walked to nowhere with nothing but the shirt on his back and a small pocket calendar. He writes of the atrocities of the Cossacks and the Tatars and their hatred toward Jews and how in his generation there was no peace between Jew and Gentile.
In the book itself, Choshen Mishpat 348;5 he writes: “I write this for the generations, I have seen people become wealthy by taos akum, tricking a gentile. In the end they lost their money and left no blessing after them. I have also seen many people that have made a kidush Hashem and have dealt honestly with the gentiles even at great expense. They have always succeeded financially and have been able to leave large amounts to their children.”
In this Parsha there a number of Mitzvoth that end with the added command, “You shall fear your G-d.” The reason for this ending is always the same.
“You shall not charge another Jew interest, you shall fear your G-d.” Yochol, You may try to create a legal fiction by making a fake partnership with a non-Jew, therefore the Torah warns you to fear your G-d. (Rashi)
“You shall rise for an elderly person, You shall fear you G-d.” Yochol, you may close your eyes and pretend you didn’t see, therefore the Torah warns you to fear your G-d. (Rashi)
I read these words of Rashi and I wonder what type of Jew is the Torah speaking about? Someone is sitting on the subway, reading the NY Times. He’s comfortable, he’s tired and in walks a Seiva, an elder. I really don’t want to get up so I close my eyes! If you don’t care about the Mitzvah, forget it. If you do care, stand up. What am I accomplishing by closing my eyes?
Someone asks me if they can borrow some money, I really don’t want to ruin my interest in the bank, I’m not allowed to charge interest so I make up a story about a non-Jew! If you don’t care about the Mitzvah, forget it. If you do care, don’t charge interest. What am I accomplishing by making up a fiction?
There are three kinds of Jews. There are Jews that really don’t care about the Mitzvah, they do what ever they want. On the other extreme there are those pious Jews that will meticulously do the right thing at any expense. Then there is the rest of us. We may have made a commitment to a Torah life yet we really want to keep sitting. We, as Jews are so capable of making a pilpul that by the time we get finished not only do we not feel as if we were sinning - we are sure we are doing a Mitzvah. We are sure that when we enter the ever after we have a kush in keppela waiting for us. If we really want to do something we can make it work in our minds. We are very talented. We not only rationalize but we are sure that G-d is with us on this.
To this comes the Torah and says “You must fear your G-d.” It’s the Torah pulling us by the collar and shaking us saying Wake up! This is G-d were talking about, just do the right thing!
Sometimes there just is no other hand, as much as we try to make one. The Beer HaGolah, lived in a time where anything could be rationalized; after all they stole from him. For him it would have been so easy to justify a little bit of trickery to get by. But for him there was no other hand.
Rabbi Yaacov Haber
Rabbi Yaacov Haber is Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Orchos Chaim in Jerusalem http://www.orchos.org.il and President of TorahLab http://www.torahlab.org Comments and questions are very welcome: email firstname.lastname@example.org