24 Aug Parshas Ki Tetzei
The parashah begins with the laws regarding wars. We know that the Torah is eternal and applicable in every generation. So how should we read this verse in our generation, when we don’t wage wars against the gentile nations?
Books that follow the path of the thesis say the first verse of the parashah, alludes to the war against the Evil Inclination. Rebbe Bunim of Peshischa zt’l teaches that in our generations, the primary way to read the verse is following this thesis, that the verse is discussing fighting a war against the Evil Inclination. For our generation, this explanation isn’t only a thesis; it is its simple meaning, the simplest way of understanding the Torah. At the end of the parashah, the Torah discusses the mitzvah to destroy Amalek. Once again, this is a war that we can’t carry out today. According to the thesis, the war against Amalek signifies the war against heresy. It means to implant faith in our hearts. The Torah states (25:18) that Amalek taught that things happen by chance, by the rules of nature, or by “the strength of my hand,” etc. We must destroy this notion and acknowledge that everything is from Above. In our generation, when we can’t literally destroy Amalek, we accomplish the mitzvah by strengthening our awareness that everything is from Hashem. For our generation, that is the simple way to understand the meaning of the Torah. Even if we aren’t actually fighting a war against Amalek, we are obligated to eradicate the philosophy that Amalek propagated.
The Torah says (25:19), “Remove Amalek’s memory from under heaven…” Amalek wants people should think everything happens “under the heavens.” They don’t want to believe matters were destined from Above. They explain everything rationally and worldly, claiming that phenomena from under heaven caused matters to be as they are. We believe that everything is bashert, by Hashem’s plan. For example, people ask, “Why did my neighbor earn so much money while I didn’t?” Amalek’s explanation is because he worked harder, or because he made wise choices. We say that it is because this was Hashem’s decree. It didn’t happen from phenomena under heaven, rather it was decreed and planned in heaven above (Tiferes Shmuel). In (Lamentations 3:66) it states, “Destroy them from under Hashem’s heavens.” The Imrei Emes zt’l explains, we must destroy the notion that things happen “under the heavens,” and recognize that everything happens from Heaven above. It isn’t because he did something, or because of the rules of nature. The origin of everything is from Above.
This week’s parsha discusses charging interest (23:21-22), the prohibition to lend or to borrow money with interest. The Kli Yakar explains that generally, when a person is involved in a business venture, there is a risk factor, which forces him to rely on Hashem. He realizes he won’t succeed without Hashem’s help, so he places his trust in Him. This boost in trust is a significant added benefit that one earns from almost every financial pursuit. Lending money with interest is an exception. People who earn their livelihood this way don’t develop their faith and trust, because this is a field that has almost no risks, the profits are foreseeable, and one doesn’t feel the constant need to turn to Hashem. This is the reason the Torah forbids charging interest. It is a source of income that is not conducive for acquiring trust. The Kli Yakar writes, “The reason for this prohibition is because it causes people to cast away their trust in Hashem… By all other businesses, one raises his eyes to Hashem, because he isn’t certain whether he’ll earn money or whether he’ll lose. However, when one lends money with interest, his income is set and certain. He’s not worried that he may lose the money that he lent, since he took collateral. Therefore, lending money with interest prevents him from developing trust. The borrower also transgresses, because he causes the lender to lose his bitachon. As it is known, those who lend money with interest are usually stingy people who don’t give much charity. That’s because they lack trust [because their profession didn’t require them to learn trust]. Nevertheless, it is permitted to lend money to gentiles with interest.
A chassid told Reb Dovid Moshe of Tchortkov zt’l about a business deal that came his way. “Rebbe, I will soon be rich. There’s a priest who owns a large and very profitable forest, but he is too old to take care of it. He is selling it at a very low price. All my friends and financial advisors are telling me to grab it. They call it ‘a deal of a lifetime.’” Then he spoke with the Rebbe about some other matters. At the end of the conversation the Rebbe said, “And about the forest, I don’t recommend you buy it.” The man left the Rebbe’s room totally confused. He didn’t know what he should do. Everyone was telling him the deal was a windfall, he could make millions. How could he throw away his fortunes with his own hands? He decided to go ahead with his plans. On the first day that he owned the property, he sent lumberjacks to cut down some trees. A few hours later they came running back to him, and they told him that all the trees they felled were very wormy. The entire forest was infested with termites. “The Rebbe was right after all” he grieved. “I lost all my money on a worthless plot of land.” He was embarrassed to face his Rebbe, and to admit that he foolishly didn’t listen to his spirit of prophecy. After two years had passed, he decided, “I lost my money, should I lose my Rebbe as well?” He came to Tchortkov and said, “Rebbe! I know I sinned. I shouldn’t have bought the forest. I should have listened to your spirit of prophecy.” The Rebbe replied, “It wasn’t the spirit of prophecy. When you spoke to me about this business opportunity, I noticed that you didn’t once say ‘with G-d’s help’. You were so certain you would make a lot of money; you didn’t think you need to pray or to have trust. But success is always solely with Hashem. It is impossible to succeed without Hashem. When I saw you took Hashem out of the equation, I advised you not to buy the forest. How could you earn money, if you aren’t relying on Hashem’s help?”