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Parshas Behar (5771)

The Final Exam

In this week’s Torah portion we find the laws of Ona’as Mammon, cheating another person in business. As the Torah commands us, “When you make a sale to your fellow or make a purchase from the hand of your fellow, do not cheat one another” (Leviticus 25:14). This includes any type of overcharging or other such dishonest business practice.

When a “religious” Jew acts dishonestly in business, in addition to violating the Biblical prohibition against Ona’ah, he also creates a Chillul Hashem, a desecration of G-d’s Name – one of the worst sins of all.

As the Talmud teaches in Yoma 86a: “What is meant by Chilul Hashem, causing the desecration of G-d’s Name? Abaye explained: As we learned: It says, ‘Love G-d your Lord’ (Deuteronomy 6:5). This means that you should cause the Name of Heaven to be beloved. A person should study the Torah, the Mishnah, and learn Talmud; he should be honest in business, and speak gently to people. What do people say about such a person? ‘Fortunate is the father who taught him Torah. Fortunate is the teacher who taught him Torah. Woe to the people that did not learn Torah; for this person has studied Torah, look how correct his deeds are!’ About this person Scripture says, ‘You are My servant, Israel in whom I glory’ (Isaiah 49:3). But if a person studies the Torah and the Mishnah, and learns Talmud, but is dishonest in business and does not speak gently to people, what do people say about him? ‘Woe to him who studied Torah, woe to his father who taught him Torah, woe to his teacher who taught him Torah! This man who studied Torah; look how corrupt his deeds are, how ugly his ways are.’ About such a person Scripture says, ‘They came to those nations [into exile], they desecrated My holy Name, in that it was said of them, ‘These are the people of G-d, yet they had to leave their land.’ (Ezekiel 36:20)”

[There is another similar law in this week’s Torah portion which needs to be mentioned, and that is the law of Ona’as Devarim - causing pain or anguish to another person with hurtful words (see Leviticus 25:17 and Rashi’s commentary there). This law, which reflects the tremendous sensitivity to others that G-d wants us to develop within ourselves, is unfortunately not well known by most Jews today; yet observing this law is as much a part of what it means to be a religious Jew as is the observance of the Jewish Dietary Laws or the Sabbath. To learn more about Ona’as Devarim and its Halachic parameters, click on: http://dafyomireview.com/article.php?docid=110]

Being honest and “mensch-lich” in our business and social interactions is so important and dear to G-d that, according to our tradition, the very first question we are going to be asked on our “Final Exam” is whether or not we acted fairly and honestly with others.

Yes, you read that correctly, each and every one of us will be given a “Final Exam” after we die, to establish our ultimate level of reward (and punishment) in the Hereafter.

The source for this teaching is a passage in the Talmud in Shabbos 31a, where the sages expounded on the following verse in Isaiah 33:6: “The faith of your times will be the strength of your salvations, wisdom and knowledge; fear of G-d – that is [man’s] treasure”.:

Rava, one of the great Talmudic sages of his time, explains this cryptic verse as follows: When a person’s neshamah (his knowing, conscious soul) is brought into the Heavenly Court of Judgment after he dies, it is asked six questions about what he did during his life here on earth [each question corresponding to a different word in the verse]:

Did you act in good faith in your dealings with others [“faith”]? Did you set aside fixed times for Torah study [“times”]? Did you raise a family [“strength” i.e. a strong family unit and legacy]? Did you yearn for the Redemption and a better world [“salvations”]? Did you delve deeply into wisdom [“wisdom”]? Did you intuit one matter through another [“knowledge”]?

Rava concludes with the final words of the verse – “fear of G-d – that is [man’s] treasure” – which he interprets to mean that even if a person had done all of these good things in his lifetime, they will only be his “treasure” (to remain with him for all eternity) if he had a “fear of G-d” and a connection to him. Otherwise, they have no ultimate meaning and will not accrue to his merit.

If you really think about it, these six questions on our ‘final exam’ to get into Heaven really encompass all of the most important attributes and goals that we need to work on and achieve during our lives here on earth:

1) Dealing honestly with others: This means being a mensch, a person of integrity and noble character – the very foundation of what it means to be a Jew and a human being. As the Midrash teaches (in Vayikra Rabbah 9:3) “Derech Eretz Kadmah LaTorah – being a ‘mensch’ and acting nicely and honestly with others comes before keeping the Torah”. If our Torah study and mitzvah observance is not preceded by proper attention to our character and the way we deal with others, then it is not worth much in G-d’s eyes.

2) Fixing times for Torah: This means achieving a proper balance between our physical and spiritual sides. In order to live good, moral and holy lives, we need to set aside fixed times to connect to our neshamos (souls) and to focus on our spiritual growth. The commentators explain that one of the reasons why G-d gave us Shabbos, the day of ‘rest’, is so that we should refrain from doing work and other physical activities, thus allowing us the time and mental energy to focus on our inner, spiritual selves. 3) Procreating and raising a family: This means being selfless and understanding that our purpose here on earth is to make a difference for others instead of living just for ourselves. And there is no better place to work on caring for others than in one’s own home, raising good children and helping them grow and thrive. [Of course, not everyone succeeds in marrying and raising a family, but there are many other ways to share with and care for others and to lead selfless lives.]

4) Yearning for the Redemption: This means constantly yearning for a better world and taking active steps to make it happen. If we are truly good people, we should be bothered by the existence of evil and evil people in this world. We should not sit by idly while millions of people across the world die of Aids or starvation or terrorist attacks. And if we feel that we can’t do that much to fix the world, at the very least we should be hoping and praying all the time that G-d bring peace and harmony to the world with the coming of the Messiah.

5) Delving into wisdom: This means growing intellectually throughout our lives by tapping into the great wisdom of the Torah. How many of us go through life retaining a grade school level understanding of Judaism and even of ourselves. There is so much insight we can gain from delving deeply into the great wisdom contained in our Holy Books – and these days with the Internet and Smartphones etc., that wisdom is more accessible than ever before.

6) Intuiting one thing from another: This means recognizing that there is always more to what see that we don’t – and often can’t – understand, as G-d’s ways are ultimately hidden and beyond human comprehension. The Kabbalah (Jewish mystical teachings) affords us a glimpse into that Divine Knowledge, yet, at the end of the day, we need to be humble and realize that there is so much that we still don’t know. We need to have faith and trust in G-d’s ultimate Divine Plan for this world.

So if we really want to do well on our final exam, we need to make sure that we don’t mess up already on the very first question, “Were you a mensch in your dealings with others?”

May G-d bless us that we should live our lives in such a way that when we get up to Heaven after 120 years, we will be able to pass that exam with flying colors!

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