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Cache of the Day: Av

Sima Freidel Steinbaum

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Tefillas HaDerech, the travelers’ prayer, is a powerful reminder to guard against chilul Hashem, profaning Hashem’s name.

Right after we ask Hashem to protect us from “from every enemy and ambush, from robbers and wild beasts on the trip, and from all kinds of punishments that rage and come to the world” we ask Him to “send blessing in our every handiwork, and grant us grace, kindness, and mercy in Your eyes, and the eyes of all who see us.”

Wouldn’t we think that if we were already protected from “the hand of every foe, etc.,” we wouldn’t need further assistance? But we’re also asking Hashem to help us merit to be a Kiddush Hashem, to sanctify His name while traveling. And that opportunity exists everywhere.

Whether or not you’re a baseball fan, chances are you’ve heard of D. J. getting his 3000th hit. In baseball, that’s a very big deal. But while even non-baseball aficionados may have heard of D. J., almost no one had heard of cell phone salesmen Christian Lopez. He comes into the equation because he caught the 3,000th hit. What were the chances?

While many believe the winning of a lottery is pure “chance,” the Torah Jew knows it’s pure Hashgachah pratis, Divine intervention. Everything happens because Hashem has orchestrated it. Rambam, in Hilchos Taanis, (1: 1-3) warns us against ever believing that anything happens by chance or coincidence. It’s what we do with the results of His orchestrations that are a matter of free will.

So Christian Lopez, still paying off student loans, is now holding a baseball worth an estimated $250,000. A winning lottery ticket. Only he doesn’t cash in. He simply gives the ball to D.J., telling the press, “It wasn’t about the money; it’s about a milestone. D.J deserved it. I’m not going to take it away from him. Money’s great and all, but I’m only twenty-three and I have a lot of time to make that. It’s his accomplishment.”

And America went crazy. Millions gushed about this amazing act of generosity and millions lambasted him for failing to take the money and run.

Some would call Lopez’s act a mitzvah, but only because they’re erroneously translating “mitzvah” as “good deed.” A mitzvah is only something Hashem has commanded us to do; that’s why we do it, not because it’s “nice.”

“Greater is one who is commanded [to perform a mitzvah] and fulfills than one who is not commanded but fulfills” (Bava Kama 87a; Kedushin 31a).

The root nun-daled-vav means: to associate freely; volunteering; being free and independent; patron or giver. Related verbs include nun-tes-feh, flow from within; nun-daled-peh, blow strongly; and nun-saf-veis, move freely.

Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch writes:

Nadav [nun-daled-vav] would indicate a “flowing out from within.” Nadiv is one whose actions arise solely from the dictates of his own inner self, free, independent. Whereas, then, nadiv in itself would designate the free-willed nature of the action, this voluntary nature of the action is quite specially stressed by the addition of the word lev, [as in] nadiv lev, and to a still higher degree by nadiv libo, moved by his own heart. Any and every compelling influence or even any exterior directing influence is definitely excluded” (Shemos 35:5). Thus the text removes any hint of coercion, or even any external influence on the part of the giver.

Chazal say kibud av v’eim is the hardest mitzvah, and surprisingly bring a non-Jew, Dama ben Nesina, as the greatest example of its fulfillment. When the Sages approached Dama to buy a jewel for the Kohein Gadol’s breastplate, Dama says the key is under his sleeping father’s pillow, and he can’t wake him. He held fast despite the huge sum offered. His priority wasn’t money. Hashem rewarded him with a parah adumah [rare red heifer] which he sold for a fortune (Kiddushin 31a). The Chidushei HaRim asks why, specifically, a parah adumah.

When Dama did this, he writes, the Angels criticized Bnei Yisrael, saying a non-Jew (who’s not commanded) had greater kibud av than the Jews, who are commanded. Therefore, Hashem gave Dama a parah adumah to demonstrate (when the Sages bought it from Dama for a fortune) that while a non-Jew might forego a fortune for a good deed that makes sense to them, like honoring parents, a Jew will spend even more for a mitzvah, even one with no rational reason. With their purchase, the Sages removed the kitrug, the Heavenly accusation, from upon the Jews, that as we’re commanded to honor our parents, we should practice it at least as well as those not commanded.

Similarly, when Christian Lopez literally “ripped up” a winning ticket, his priority wasn’t money. The Yankees have now rewarded him and the interest from his good deed will last far longer than the money would have.

The entire world was watching him do this.

The whole world already watches Am Yisrael everywhere they go. May we each merit to be a Kiddush Hashem on our every trip this summer, and always.

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