Piety and Greatness - Can They Lead to Depravity? by Rabbi Hershel Solnica zt'l


            Reb Yosef Ber of Brisk commenting on the Sedrah תרומה says למה באה פרשת תרומה אחרי פרשת משפטים ללמדך שאין אדם רשאי לתרום ולנדב אלא מתוך וודאות שהכסף הוא שלו ולא של אחרים )אוצר חיים דף קנד(  - the reason Parshat Terumah is right after Mishpatim is to teach us that one may not donate charity unless one is certain that the money is his and not stolen.  How does Reb Yosef Ber approach the holy Sedrah of Terumah (Donations for the Mishkan) - by invoking the worst possible scenario of mankind, of theft and robbery.

            My son-in-law, Reb Yitzchak Perl, brought to my attention an incredible מוסר.  After the giving of the Ten Commandments, after the Jews said those special words, נעשה ונשמע (we shall do and we shall listen), the Torah teaches us such monetary laws like עבד עברי, מכה אביו ואמו.  It would make a lot of sense to follow the ten commandments with such lofty and beautiful משפטים (rules between man and man) as Tzedaka and Chesed.  Reb Yitzchak said to me that the מוסר is that when you seek the highest level, as in נעשה ונשמע or receiving the ten commandments, then you are vulnerable to fall and to crash to the lowest depth of human depression.  This is implied as stealing and then being sold as a servant, and examples of brutality and viciousness to parents.

            This very positive מוסר underscores the sharp fear of Reb Yosef Ber of Brisk.  I am tempted to comment on the famous idiom מחיל אל חיל (from strength to strength) in a very uncomplimentary fashion.  We should go from one high level to an even higher one.  But sometimes we go from חיל from a high level to the some of the lowest and most depraved levels of humanity.

            How else can you understand the Israelites going from receiving the Torah to giving in to those who made the golden calf?  How else can you understand a pious Jew maiming his ex-wife?  How else can you understand a religious Jew stealing and selling Torahs and their gold and silver ornaments? How else can you understand Baruch Goldstein and Yigal Amir who bring so much shame, pain and חילול השם to our people.

            The Torah tells us  ויקחו לי תרומה ("and they shall take for me a tax").  The word Terumah means an "uplifting," a word that underscores a very high level of humanity.  However, the word (ויקחו) "and they shall take" is not as complimentary as "and they shall give."  Perhaps if one is not careful the lofty level of Terumah becomes associated with the vulgarity of "taking" and doing that which is self-gratifying.

            The Torah may be warning us that piety and greatness can חס ושלום be adjacent to human depravity.

            It is surely for this reason that we must seek to be pious on all levels, - Religious and Righteousness, Torah with Derech Eretz, Scholarship with a great measure of sensitivity for the feelings of everyone. 

            We may not become tall and great on the backs of others, but with the backing and the underscoring of everyone's feelings,  ויענו כל העם יחדו, and the entire nation answered together, כאיש אחד בלב אחד, as one person with one heart.  I pray this comes to pass in our lifetime and we shall then all stand in the receiving line of משיח צדקנו. 

Give and Take by Rabbi Darren Blackstein

Zechirat Maaseh Amalek by Yehuda Kranzler