Parshas Behar - Bechukosai (5772)
I would like to share with you a beautiful Midrash that relates to the upcoming festival of Shavuos (May 27-28, 2012).
Now I bet you’re probably wondering … what’s a Midrash?! I know that it sounds like a Middle Eastern skin disease, but Midrash is something very different – it is actually an integral part of the Torah that the Jewish people received at Mount Sinai over 3300 years ago.
Midrash is a generic term for a group of approximately 60 collections of Rabbinic commentaries, stories, metaphors and ethical essays arranged around the books of the Torah, Prophets and Writings. The most famous collections of Midrashim are Midrash Rabbah, Midrash Tanchuma, Mechilta, Sifra, Sifri, and Yalkut Shimoni. Most of the Midrashim date back to the time of the Mishnah (around 200 CE) and many authors of the Midrash appear in the Mishnah and vice versa. Many of the central concepts and commentaries of the Midrash are part of the Oral Tradition from Sinai. [To learn more about Midrash, click on: http://ohr.edu/judaism/survey/survey5.htm#MIDRASH]
I like to say that the Midrash “fills in the gaps” of the Bible, i.e. where the written Torah is vague or unclear and doesn’t give us the complete picture, the Midrash helps to clarify what’s going on “behind the scenes” and to give meaning and nuance to the laws and stories it is elucidating.
The Midrash that I want to share with you comes from the Yalkut Shimoni in his commentary to the Book of Ruth - one of the Five Megillos (“Scrolls”) - which is read publicly in its entirety on the second day of the festival of Shavuos (this year on Monday morning May 28th) in synagogues all around the world.
The last chapter of the Book of Ruth tells how the righteous convert Ruth ends up marrying Boaz, the great leader of the Jewish people. All assembled at this momentous occasion blessed the newlywed couple and said to Boaz: “May G-d make the woman who is coming into your house like Rachel and like Leah, both of whom built up the House of Israel” (Ruth 4:11).
The Midrash Yalkut Shimoni on this verse (4:607) extolls the virtues of the great Jewish women throughout history who, through their great devotion, wisdom and vision, were able to create and build up so many Houses of Israel to their full glory. The Midrash illustrates this point with the following amazing story:
Once upon a time there was a righteous man who was down on his luck. This man had a very special wife. To make ends meet, he took a job as a day laborer. Once while he was plowing the field, Elijah the Prophet appeared to him in the form of an Arab. Elijah said to the man, “You have been rewarded [by G-d] with six good years [of prosperity]. When would you like them – now or at the end of your life?” The righteous man responded, “You are a demon! I have nothing to give you! Go away and leave me in peace!” Elijah returned to the man [with the same offer] three times. Upon the third time, the man told Elijah he must first discuss the matter with his wife. He came back home to his wife and repeated Elijah’s offer. His wife said, “Go tell him we want the six good years now”. The man returned to Elijah with his decision. Elijah told him, “Go home now and you will see that by the time you reach the front gate of your house, there will be great prosperity there. The children were playing in the dirt and they found money and jewels – enough to sustain the family for six years – and ran to tell their mother. When the righteous man reached the gate of his house, his wife told him that Elijah’s promise had already come true. He immediately thanked G-d [for the money] and felt a tremendous relief. What did this man’s special wife do? She said to her husband, “Now that G-d has already stretched a thread of kindness upon us and has blessed us with six good years of plenty, let’s involve ourselves in Gemillus Chassadim (acts of generosity) and share the money we were given with others less fortunate than ourselves, in the hope that G-d will continue to bless us in the future”. And so she did. Every single act of kindness that she and her husband performed with the money they received, she instructed her young son to record it in a little notebook. This practice she continued for six years. When Elijah appeared to the righteous man in the field to take back the money, he told Elijah that just as six years previously, he must first ask his wife. He came back home and told his wife that Elijah had come back to take his money. She said to him, “Go tell Elijah that if he finds anyone else who can be relied upon more than us to use this money properly and to share it with others, he should definitely give it to him!” G-d took note of this special woman’s words and of the many acts of kindness that she and her husband performed, and He rewarded her family with many more years of prosperity and peace.
This Midrash is a testament to the amazing wisdom and strength of the Jewish woman – and it teaches all of us a powerful lesson for life. If we can only show G-d that we are using the many gifts He showers upon us properly – sharing our bounty with others and performing many acts of kindness and Gemillus Chassadim – then we can be virtually guaranteed that He will continue to bless us with more of the same in the future.