Vayikra-March 16, 2018

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Friday Candle Lighting: 6:44pm
Shabbat Ends: 7:33 pm

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Netilat Yedayim Part 3

“If a person will sin and commit a treachery against G-d by lying to his comrade regarding a pledge or loan or a robbery, or by defrauding his comrade.” (5:21)

Those of you who follow this column regularly (Hello Mummy!) may remember back in Parshat Lech Lecha the following story:

As we get older, we fall into two groups: Those who exercise, and those who are waiting for their doctors to tell them to exercise. A few years ago I left the first group and joined the second. I try to swim a few times a week. Outside the changing room of the pool there is a washbasin. Once in a while someone puts there a grubby looking white plastic natlan — a cup for netilat yadayim. It vanishes after about two days. Six weeks or so go by. Someone puts another cup there, but this time it’s secured to the faucet with a serious plastic-covered metal cable. It also vanishes after about two days. A few months ago, someone went out and bought this beautiful eau-de-nil colored metal washing cup with chrome handles. It must have set them back a hundred-odd shekels. I thought to myself, “This one isn’t going to last two days; it’s going to last two minutes!”

I was wrong. It was there the next time and the time after that. Two months later it’s still there.

I thought to myself, “What’s the mindset here? Why will someone take something cheap but leave something expensive?”

In Parshat Eikev Rashi explains the unusual use of the word ‘ekev’ to mean ‘if’. Ekevcan also mean a heel. Says Rashi, a person must be as careful with the mitzvot that are typically down- trodden with the heel as he is with more serious sins.

I can rationalize taking a cheapo plastic cup, worth a couple of shekels at most, when I need it more than them, but to take an expensive item? What me? I’m no thief!

That’s how I understood the psychology.

My good friend and colleague Rabbi Yitzchak Dalah had a different, and I think rather beautiful, explanation. He told me a story that a wall in a certain town square was constantly being defaced with graffiti. The local authority had large signs put up on the wall saying, “NO GRAFFITI!” The result was that the signs were defaced with graffiti. Someone had a bright idea: They got an artist to paint a beautiful mural on the wall. The result? No more graffiti.

When you show me how beautiful the world is, it elevates me into being a higher person, so why would I want to spoil it? When you put something very aesthetic in front of people, it brings out the mensch in them.

I told the above to my Rebbe and asked him how he understood the underlying psychology of why the beautiful natlan was still there.

He thought for a good few minutes, as is his way, and then answered: “Someone who steals money will take money whether it’s a little or a lot, but what he won’t take away is someone else’s giving to the community. That is something he won’t take away from the giver.”

“If a person will sin and commit a treachery against G-d by lying to his comrade regarding a pledge or loan or a robbery, or by defrauding his comrade.” (5:21)

The verse starts by speaking of treachery to G-d, and continues to discuss man cheating his fellow. This seems like a non-sequitur.

In truth, the breakdown of all social behavior is predicated by treachery to G-d, i.e. atheism, because without the Ultimate Authority of the Creator, man’s baser side will find ways to violate even the most widely accepted norms of human behavior. It will start with theft, pure-and-simple, but eventually it will degenerate into the callous theft of even the intangible and the noble.

  • Source: based on Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik
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