Matnas Chinam

The Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, frequently ascended to the attic of his simple house in Radin, where he would make a cheshbon hanefesh and pour out his heart to his Creator. Occasionally he was followed secretly, and so a few of those private conversations have come down to us.

Once he was overheard listing the sefarim he had authored, beginning with Chofetz Chaim and Shemiras Halashon all the way to the six-volume Mishnah Berurah, which had taken him twenty-five painstaking years to compile.

He then spoke of his other projects for the klal: establishing kitchens to provide kosher food for Jewish soldiers in the Russian army, founding the Vaad Hayeshivos, extensive work to build and repair mikvaos around the region, his efforts on behalf of the yeshivah in Radin and many other accomplishments.

At the conclusion of this long and praiseworthy list, the Chofetz Chaim emotionally declared, “Ribbono shel Olam, you were mezakeh me with so many zechuyos, with such great zikui harabim, what did I do to repay You?”

And the saintly Chofetz Chaim began to weep …

With this story Harav Avraham Abba Kossovsky, Rav of Yanova, explained a Rashi at the beginning of this week’s parashah which says that “Va’eschanan” means that Moshe Rabbeinu was asking Hashem that he be allowed to enter into Eretz Yisrael, not because of the myriad zechuyos he had, but as a matnas chinam, an undeserved favor.

Why did Moshe Rabbeinu, who had reached the pinnacle of spiritual greatness, feel it necessary to ask for a matnas chinam?

Apparently he viewed the exalted level of ruchniyus that he had reached and his selfless mesirus nefesh time and again on behalf of Klal Yisrael as gifts that the Ribbono shel Olam had bestowed upon him, not in any way accomplishments of his own.

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In that overheard “conversation,” the Chofetz Chaim also taught that one of the greatest gifts of all is the ability to be mezakeh es harabbim, to help others to do the right thing.

Our community, along with the rest of the country, continues to suffer from the ongoing financial crisis. Many people are still anxiously looking for work, and even those who have jobs are struggling to make ends meet.

Harav Shimon Schwab, zt”l, told of the time the Chofetz Chaim, towards the end of his long life, undertook a taanis chalom. Concerned about his frail health, people close to him pressed him about it.

“I dreamed that I became wealthy,” the Chofetz Chaim reported. “If this dream is among those described by Chazal as caused by thoughts I had by day, then mine is a fast of teshuvah and regret; for a man my age, is it fitting to have such thoughts? But it is possible that it is a real dream, foretelling the future. In that case, I certainly should fast to abolish it [the gezeirah], for wealth is a nisayon …”

Few of us dread becoming wealthy, though all of us should recognize that wealth — no less than poverty — is a nisayon.

In the past few years initiatives have been undertaken in some communities to cut back on unnecessary expenditures while making simchos. Even among those kehillos that did not formally sign on to the chasunah takanos, there is a growing consensus that their time has come.

The fifteenth day of Av, is a day Chazal call, along with Yom Kippur, the greatest of Yamim Tovim.

On this holy day, the bnos Yerushalayim would gather in the vineyards for the purpose of shidduchim. Each had borrowed a dress from another, though, so that the poor among them would not be embarrassed.

For much of our history, for the most part, even within our own community, the rich and the poor led very separate lives. Often they resided in different parts of town, and the children of the wealthy had their own private melamdim. While a certain element of peer pressure presumably always existed, it was a far cry from the situation we face today. Nowadays, the young sons and daughters of the indigent and the rich sit in the same classrooms and are next-door neighbors.

Not being able to make ends meet was always a painful experience, but nowadays, unable to watch their children experience feelings of terrible shame and stigma, parents are practically being forced to go into debt by spending money they don’t have on luxuries no one needs.

Teaching our children that there is nothing shameful about not having will help alleviate the problem, but ultimately a large part of the solution is for those who do have to realize that cutting back is often a most noble way of giving.

The well-off individual who reduces his public expenditures so that those of lesser means should not be embarrassed is a true hero, a mezakeh es harabbim, who will surely be rewarded from Above.