parsha of the week

Good character traits create a better world


In the Torah, there are a number of times when G-d uses the word v’natati (and I will place or give) to indicate what He will give to the Bnei Yisrael. Sometimes it is good, and in the cases in our parsha that are in the Tochacha, they are not good.

In the book of Bereishit, the ultimate gift G-d promises to Avraham and descendants is “the land.” This promise is made several times.

In Egypt, G-d says I will place the chen (charm) of the Israelites in the eyes of Egypt, so they’ll pay you parting gifts. Perhaps a contemporary equivalent is that your non-Jewish neighbors will see the good you bring to the world, and will honor your contributions. The flipside would be if they only see red through the hatred they have in their hearts toward you.

The second paragraph of Shema includes two promises of gifts: for rain and produce, and grass for your animals.

In Bechukotai the promised gifts — of Goodness — include peace; having G-d’s Mishkan, His personal resting place, in our midst; and having G-d Himself walk among us.

The curses, which come from bad behavior, disregarding the Torah, not caring about G-d, desecrating G-d’s name, will lead to “gifts” of punishment — that is, “I will turn my attention” (never a good sign) as G-d’s attention will lead to your enemies defeating you; your heavens will be like iron and your land like brass; your corpses will rot on the remains of your idols; your cities will be ruins, and your sanctuaries will be desolate.

Rather than going through positive requirements of the parsha, and negative consequences, let us look at a couple of passages from the Talmud which discuss methods of goodness that we can emulate that are meant to bring good fortune.

The Talmud (Shabbos 119a) tells us how great rabbis would prepare for Shabbos, including a story of Yosef Mokir Shabei — Yosef honors Shabbos and how he became wealthy.

A wealthy non-Jew in his neighborhood was informed through astrology that he would lose his fortune to Yosef. The man sold everything he had and purchased an expensive pearl which he carried with him always, so he could protect his wealth. One day when he was passing a river, the pearl dropped from his possession and ended in the water, where it was swallowed by a fish that was subsequently caught late on a Friday. Perplexed at how they’d sell it so close to Shabbos, everyone told the fishermen to sell it to this Yosef, who would certainly buy it in honor of Shabbos. Which he did.

The Talmud continues with examples of how the people in Israel became wealthy — through giving tithes. And in Babylonia, wealth came to those who honored the Torah. Elsewhere, people became wealthy through honoring the Sabbath.

Lesson number one: Give to the poor, honor the Torah and the Shabbos, and merit to be wealthy. And remember that wealth is not always measured in monetary terms. In last week’s parsha of Avot, we learned Ben Zoma’s teaching that wealth equals being happy with one’s portion.

The second tale (Taanit 20b) is of Rav Adda bar Ahavah and the great merits that came to him on account of his deeds, which include: he never showed anger in his house, he never walked in front of someone greater than him, he never thought about Torah in places which are inappropriate, he didn’t walk a distance of four amos without studying Torah or without wearing his tefillin, he never slept in the beis medrash, he never had any delight when his fellow man stumbled (which even means if someone had to sell something to him at a loss, he didn’t even rejoice over his own gain), and he never called his friend by a nickname.

There are many other examples of wonderful qualities and character traits which are clearly smiled upon in the Talmud. Many of them reflect on seeing the humanity in others, and doing our best to make others comfortable, to preserve their dignity, to protect them and their feelings, all while honoring G-d at all times.

Our task is to bring the focus to where we can be improving our relationships with people and with G-d And to bring the focus to how we can raise up the honor of our friend — as the Mishneh in Avos says, “Let the honor of your friend be beloved unto you as your own honor” — and how we can thereby create a better world beginning with our own conduct, positively influencing others, and having those good behaviors serve as a model for ourselves, our families, and our communities.