Abarbanel on the Parsha

For the week ending 29 May 2021 / 18 Sivan 5781

To Believe Is to Behave (Part 7)

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
Library Library Library

To Believe Is to Behave (Part 7)
(Lailah Gifty Akita)

“These are the precepts whose fruits a person enjoys in this world, but whose principal remains intact in the World to Come. They are: honoring one’s parents; acts of kindness; early arrival at the study hall in the morning and the evening; hosting guests; visiting the sick; providing the wherewithal for a bride to marry; escorting the dead; praying with concentration; making peace between two people; and Torah study is the equivalent of them all.” (Tractate Shabbat 127a)

Mitzvah number six is providing the wherewithal for people to marry, known in Hebrew as hachnasat kallah. Our Sages teach that the concept of establishing a Jewish home is extremely central to Judaism. They therefore say in Tractate Berachot 6b that one who brings joy to newlyweds is, in a sense, regarded as having “rebuilt one of the ruins of Jerusalem.” Rabbi Shmuel Eidels, known as the Maharsha (the Hebrew acronym for Our Teacher, Rabbi Shmuel Eidels), explains in his innovative and indispensable commentary on the Talmud that the new home that the freshly-married couple establish is strengthened by the joy displayed by others. This “strong home,” in turn, will help perpetuate the social fabric of the Land of Israel.

Additionally, we are taught (Jerusalem Talmud, Bikkurim 3:3) that all of the sins of the chatan and the kallah are forgiven on their wedding day. What an amazing concept! Part of the joy felt at a wedding stems from the idea that when a couple marries, they become a brand new entity and are considered to be pure — without sin.

But it is not just at the wedding that the mitzvah of hachnasat kallah is applicable. Rabbi Shimon Schwab in his Iyun Tefillah includes everything related to the wedding in this mitzvah. Starting with being involved in trying to find suitable marriage partners, all the way up to the wedding itself — and everything else in between.

In fact, this mitzvah is so great that virtually every religious community has a special fund to assist parents in offsetting the costs of marrying off their children. Very often, funds are raised without the family even being aware that money is being collected for them. In addition, there are many innovative, anonymous and non-embarrassing ways that can usually be found and employed to help with the many expenses. The sensitivity of the situation is so delicate that many times the assistance is given in such a way that the family may not even realize that their community is involved. In this manner, the community can help in a significant fashion while the family retains its dignity.

Rebbetzin Devora Sternbuch, the mother of one of the most eminent Halachic authorities of our generation, Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch, ran such a fund. Once, someone came to her to ask for help in marrying off his seventh child. He mentioned that he had managed by himself with the previous six weddings, but the seventh one was proving to be too much for him. Instead of immediately agreeing to help, Rebbetzin Sternbuch uncharacteristically asked the man to come back in a week. One of her sons happened to overhear the conversation and after the man had left he asked his mother why she had told him to come back. She answered that, unbeknownst to the man, she had helped out with the expenses of all six previous weddings and that she had already sent more help for the latest wedding, help that the father was not aware came from her. Now, she had to seek out advice from an established Torah authority, as to whether it was permissible to give him even more. Such is the empathy and the caring of the Jewish People, and the overwhelming desire to help others.

In the Talmud (Pesachim 112a) there is a beautiful aphorism taught by Rabbi Akiva: “More than the calf wants to suck, the cow wants to suckle.” Rabbi Akiva is not just letting us know that no matter the amount the calf wants to take, its mother still desires to give even more. Rather, he is conveying to us an insight into the Jewish psyche. The trait of wanting to help others is ingrained within our “spiritual DNA.” And one of the clearest ways of identifying this trait is by observing just how far a person is prepared to go in order to help their fellow in need.

  • To be continued…

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