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MORE OR LESS

by Mendel Starkman    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

A farmer from a small town once went to the big city to mail a package. Upon arriving at the post office, he approached the nearest clerk, dropped his package on the counter, and explained that he wanted it to be sent to his friend.

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A farmer from a small town once went to the big city to mail a package. Upon arriving at the post office, he approached the nearest clerk, dropped his package on the counter, and explained that he wanted it to be sent to his friend. The clerk placed the box on a scale and replied that it was too heavy.

"What should I do?" asked the farmer in dismay.

"Put on two more stamps," replied the clerk.

"But if I put on two more stamps," exclaimed the farmer, "then the package will weigh even more!"

We are told in Proverbs (3:9-10) to "honor Hashem with your wealth and the first of your produce, [for] then your storehouses will be filled with plenty and the wine of your vats will burst forth." Rabbeinu Bachya, a classic 14th century Torah commentator, explains that this verse refers to the mitzvah of bikurim described at the beginning of this week's Torah portion, in which a farmer is required each year to bring the first of his produce to a Kohen (priest) in the holy Temple.

With this and any other mitzvah that entails giving of one's own personal possessions, it is very easy for a person to feel that he has lost something. One may sense that since he has given something away, even though it was for a mitzvah, he now has less for himself. Rabbeinu Bachya stresses that one should not feel like this. On the contrary, it is through this very giving - through honoring Hashem with our wealth and the first of our produce - that our storehouses will be stocked plentifully and our wine vats will be filled to capacity. By giving, even though it may now look like we have less, Hashem will bless us that we should have even more.

When we speak about giving, we don't only mean giving from one's self (charity, first fruits, and the like), but also giving of one's self. The Chofetz Chaim, the saintly Torah scholar and leader at the turn of the century, wrote how people must realize that helping others is not limited to monetary matters. There are many other ways by which a person can provide assistance to another, and it does not have to be time or effort consuming either. Something as simple as opening a door for another, or carrying around quarters and single bills in case someone should need change, can be a big help in a time of need.

These ideas are especially important now, as we approach the High Holidays. During these days, we try to evaluate ourselves to see how we climbed or fell spiritually over the course of the year. We think about where we might have made mistakes, and we develop ideas of how to avoid those mistakes in the future. This serves to promote our status in the World to Come, for the better a Jew we become, the greater reward we will get for it.

If a person is selfish and only concerned with his immediate personal welfare, he locks himself into a very finite, short-term perspective. As a result, when it comes time to consider the possibility of giving up some personal pleasure in this world in order to promote the long-term goal - the acquisition of the largest possible portion in the eternal World to Come - he will be unable to make the sacrifice. By not helping others, one actually hurts himself in the long run, because he trains himself to only be concerned with his immediate self - not anyone else and not his own long-term self. But if a person works on himself to be able to look out for the needs of others, he will certainly be able to give of himself for his own goals as well.

The Chofetz Chaim writes further that Hashem responds to a person in the way that he himself responds to others. So when we come before Hashem on Rosh Hashanah, beseeching Him for atonement, health, and prosperity, Hashem will judge us with kindness if we have acted with kindness to others.

The realization that we must come to is the same one that is necessary for the farmer in the post office. Although it is true that posting additional stamps will add more weight to the package, it is that extra weight that enables the package to be mailed in the first place! Similarly, although it is true that giving will leave us with less right now, it is that same act of giving that will result in our being blessed with so much more in the long run. If we give our first fruits to the Kohen and our charity to the needy, Hashem will bless us with wealth and prosperity. And if we give of ourselves, always looking for opportunities to assist others, it will train us with the concern necessary to pursue our long-term goal and will cause Hashem to respond to our prayers with a parallel kindness. By working on this, through our introspection and our teshuvah (repentance), may Hashem bless us and all of the Jewish people with a year of goodness, blessing, and prosperity, and may we all be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life, for a good year and for peace.

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Mendel Starkman, a native Atlantan, is studying at the Wisconsin Institute for Torah Study in Milwaukee.

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