Focus in Times of Financial Crisis by Leead Staller


Parashat Re'eh lists the numerous tithes and offerings that a farmer must bring. One such tithe was Ma’aser Sheini, a tithe given on alternating years that consists of a tenth of the produce a farmer grows after the first tithe, Ma’aseir Rishon, was given to a Leivi. The farmer was to make a pilgrimage to Yerushalayim and eat these fruits in the city. The Pasuk states, “VeChi Yirbeh MiMecha HaDerech, Ki Lo Tuchal Se’eito, Ki Yirchak MeMecha HaMakom…” “And if the path is too long for you, so that you cannot carry [your produce], because the place is too far from you” (Devarim 14:24). If a farmer had too much fruit to carry to Yerushalayim, he was to sell the produce and use the money to purchase food in Yerushalayim to eat. The Alshich HaKadosh points out that the word chosen here for Yerushalayim, HaMakom, is also another name for Hashem.

The Alshich suggests that from this usage of “HaMakom,” we learn that for some people, wealth and material possessions become a hindrance to their spiritual life. If one has too much produce and involves himself with too much materialistic desire, one will become “weighed down” and hurt his spiritual growth. One needs to be able to focus on the spiritual fulfillment of the Mitzvah, and not the physical burden of carrying the fruit. We see that material possessions have a dual potential: the potential for Mitzvot and the potential to distance us from “HaMakom.”.

 As is well known, Parashat Re’eh is read in close proximity to the Yamim Noraim, Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur. Before Yom Kippur, there is a Mitzvah of Kapparot, the practice of waving money over one’s head while reciting a plea to Hashem to enable this offering to be in place of punishment in the past year. Through the Alshich’s message in Parashat Re’eh, we can further understand this practice. By waving and offering money, we are showing our physical detachment from this world before Yom Kippur. This detachment is a statement to Hashem in the time of judgment. We are making a demonstrative statement to Hashem that we understand our purpose in this world, one of spirituality and not materialism, and if we are granted longevity and fortune, we will not allow it to distance us from “HaMakom”; rather, will use the material possessions we receive for the purpose of fulfilling Mitzvot.

Throughout the Tefillot of the Yamim Noraim, there are many references and requests for success and wealth in the upcoming year. An apparent question arises: why, at such a spiritual and important time, are we concerning ourselves with materialistic requests? This message of Ma’aser Sheini and Kapparot serves as an answer to this question. On Erev Yom Tov, we demonstratively separate ourselves from the material desires by sacrificing our wealth with the Kapparot. Now that we have showed we have an understanding of wealth and how it should not “weigh us down” from Torah UMitzvot, we are enabled to ask for wealth for the upcoming year for righteous and spiritual purposes.

In our current economic crisis, it is easy to be caught up in the material world. However, as difficult as it may be, one must not forget that the purpose of material possessions should be to provide assistance in observing the Mitzvot. If we allow ourselves to become caught up in financial problems and neglect the spiritual problems we face, we defeat the purpose of material possessions. May we all internalize this message to further our understanding of the material world as well as our understanding of the Yom Kippur Tefilot. Through this understanding, may we merit times of peace and Mitzvot and not of material obsession.

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