TORAH MINUTE - NASO (2) JUNE, 1995
This is my second opportunity to speak on the portion of Naso and I was seriously thinking about taking the easy way out and delivering the same talk I did last year. Judaism however, never seems to do anything the easy way so who am I to break that tradition. Naso opens with a description of the duties of the Levites which pertain specifically to the transportation of the various components of the Tabernacle. The Chapter concludes with this curious statement, which hints of a Collectivist philosophy: (Numbers 4:49) "According to the commandment of HASHEM, they were appointed by Moses, each individual according to his task and what he was able to do, and they were numbered as HASHEM commanded Moses". Leaping Lennin, could Hashem be conspiring with all those Liberal Democrats to lead us down the path of creeping Socialism?
Relax all you Reganites, because several verses later the Torah begins a tilt towards the right with a classic lesson on individual responsibility. We are taught that when a person sins against another, the sinner, in order to properly repent, must assume personal responsibility for his actions. This concept is so radically different from the modern American criminal defense where guilt is often tacitly admitted, but responsibility for the crime is attributed to nearly everyone except perpetrator. (Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, my client is the true victim here, being forced to murder that Gas Station attendant by a society which left him no choice but to commit armed robbery because it could not provide him with an executive position capable of supporting his drug habit).
The Torah states clearly that the sinner and only the sinner is responsible for his crime. Only after accepting his responsibility can the formal process of repentance be attempted - a process which is equally personal in nature. The sinner must confess the sin before HASHEM, personally pledge that the transgression will never be repeated, and must make financial restitution to the victim. No F. Lee Baily, no "Junk Food Defense," none of the shifting of blame which typifies modern American Justice, - the Jewish concept of TSHUVAH (repentance) stresses direct, individual responsibility for the sin and direct, individual penitence and restitution.
All this emphasis on individual responsibility is sure making Moses sound like the world's first Sovereign Citizen. Fortunately (for this Liberal writer) the next chapter of Naso appears to reconcile the dichotomy between individualism and collectivism through a discussion of the ASER TASER, the Tenth Part Tithe, forerunner of the modern practice of voluntary charitable contribution. Clearly, the individual gift of charity materially benefits not only the recipient, but society as a whole - but what material benefit can the donor realize? That benefit is provided directly by HASHEM through His promise to reward the willing giver with a commensurate increase in wealth. For modern Jewry, this promise is a rare, measurable manifestation of HASHEM's presence and power.
Fundamental economic principles state that one must invest money to make money. Charity however, is not an investment, it is an outright gift that when offered willingly, somehow results in an increase rather than a reduction in the donor's net worth. The Sages teach that the promise of tangible reward for willing charity is the only one of HASHEM's commandments that can and should be tested. Well, I have – and incredibly it works. How can such a thing be true, contrary to all known economic theory? Because it is Jewish, and our economics "answer to an even higher authority".
Earlier this year, the eternal flame of Judaism was dimmed a bit by the passing of Rabbi Dr. Benjamin Morgenstern, for many years and through all my formative years, the spiritual leader of Cong. Sons of Israel of Bensonhurst Brooklyn. Rabbi Morgenstern was not a "REBBE" he was a Rabbi. While his advice and council was frequently sought by the Orthodox Rabbinate of the community I grew up in, his greatest success and appeal was the education of marginal Jews like myself. The fact that I am remembering him in a synagogue on this SHABBOS, given the choices I had in conducting my life, is perhaps the greatest tribute I can offer him. One of Rabbi Morgenstern's passions was teaching the PIRKEY AVOS (Ethics of the Fathers) and in his memory I committed myself to study AVOS between PESACH and SHAVOUS. I would like to conclude today with a few self-explanatory readings from AVOS which, since we're already talking about Torah economics, provide some interesting investment advice.
Chapter 4, MISHNA 11: Rabbi Jonathan says: Whoever fulfills the Torah despite his poverty will eventually fulfill it in wealth, but whoever neglects the Torah because of his wealth will ultimately neglect it in poverty.
Chapter 3, MISHNA 6: Rabbi Nechunia ben Hakana says: If someone accepts the Torah he will be relieved of the weight of Government and worldly responsibilities, but if he rejects the Torah, the full weight of Government and worldly responsibilities will be placed upon him.
Chapter 4, MISHNA 2: Ben Azzai says: Run to perform even a minor MITZVA and flee from sin because one MITZVA leads to another MITZVA and one sin leads to another sin. The consequence of MITZVA is MITZVA and the consequence of sin is sin.
So what investment advice can we glean from these three readings. By not keeping up the tradition of these weekly Torah Minutes we, as a congregation, are neglecting the study of Torah and will sink deeper into spiritual and eventually physical poverty. If you want to increase your personal fortune while reducing your tax burden, run to Rabbi Jacobson and volunteer to prepare a Torah Minute, and we will all be richer for your effort.