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Miriam Aflalo

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

“If his means are insufficient for two doves …”

(Vayikra 5, 11)

The Torah has mercy on the poor when he needs atonement for his sins. Even though he can’t bring a sheep or two doves, he can bring a karbon ani — very simple and sparse.

However, the rich man cannot exempt himself with the donation of the poor. Rather, it is up to him to give generously, according to his ability. He has an obligation to give to Hashem, from what He has bestowed on him. (Chofetz Chaim on the Torah)She was a small girl, born on the peaks of the Atlas Mountains. A place untouched by modern-day technology. She would rise every morning at the crack of dawn, and hurry out of bed quickly because her mother was waiting in the kitchen. Together, they would prepare the round pitas and strong black coffee for the men as they returned from davening.

Her whole childhood was spent in the kitchen or learning embroidery. She didn’t have toys or books to read. Yet, she never complained. What was there to complain about?

At a young age, she married and had children. One after another. I think about her sometimes. At an age when our girls are still crying over two points on a test or if their skirt doesn’t exactly match their shirt, she was raising her children — far from the voice of civilization, without medicine or running water.

But with a lot of tears. She didn’t know how to read. So she would beseech in the language of the mountains. She would turn to Hashem with her simple tears. She begged Him daily that her children should grow in Torah and be yirei Shamayim.

She had twelve children and five died in childhood. Five. She didn’t have a social worker or a support group. Yet, her constant refrain was “baruch Hashem” as she continued to raise her other children with calmness and happiness.  

I love stories of the world that was. But this story makes me cry.

I met her when she was older. She immigrated to Eretz Yisrael in the fifties, yet nothing changed. Her husband’s meals were always ready on the table when he returned from learning, and her house was always filled with emunah and love of Torah. Her children lived with the constant presence of Hashem, at a time when the winds of enlightenment were sweeping Eretz Yisrael and so many youth were throwing off the yoke of Torah.

She would go to shul just to say amen yehei shmei rabbah. And her hands were empty. Why should she need a siddur if she didn’t know how to read? Why would she need a siddur if her heart was always full of tefillos?

There’s a mashul from Rav Yisrael Salanter: A rich man sat down to his meal, expecting his servant to serve him his feast in the proper order. Entrée … first course … soup … etc. However, that day the servant switched the order of the courses and served the soup first. The rich man became furious and rebuked the servant publically. And of course, he did not eat his soup.

A poor person isn’t like that. Whatever his wife serves him, he eats ravenously with his crust of stale bread. He certainly doesn’t care about the order. Because he knows he is poor and wants to grab whatever comes his way. (Maasei L’Melech on the Chofetz Chaim)

I think of myself. I grew up with abundance. I went to school, and learned to read. Everything in my life is easy and accessible.

So why am I so small? Always complaining and pressured? And forgetful? I forget all the things that are truly important.

So it is with spiritual matters. In the previous generations, they were rich in all the middos. And they went from one level of spirituality to the next — higher and higher.

But today, when we are poor and destitute, we grab whatever spirituality that comes our way. As long as we are striving to reach our Father in Heaven. (ibid)I am not small. I am of a generation that is blighted and empty. Materialistic and confused. And despite all this, I am trying to bring my korban to Hashem.

Yes, I have a dryer and disposable dishes. And yet, even with all this abundance, it’s still hard for me to have kavanah when I daven or to forgo those new drapes for the living room.  

But, I am trying. And I sincerely want to grow. Sometimes I am successful. Little by little.

My korban is the korban of the poor person. But it is pleasant to Hashem. Because it came from my heart. And therefore it’s a precious offering to Him.

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