Batya HefterThe writer is founder of the Women's Beit Midrash, Torat Zion Kollel of Cleveland & Director and founder of the Women's Beit Midrash of Efrat and Gush Etzion.
Sent to Arutz Sheva by the Zionist Kollels, Torah Mitzion.
Parshat Kedoshim provides an example of how Rabbi Mordechai Yosef, the Mei Hashiloach, casts a spiritual dimension on a halakhic obligation.
In a strictly halakhic context, the phrase “Do not [unjustly] withhold (ta’ashok) that which is due your neighbor” (Vayikra 19:13) refers to financial obligation: An employer is prohibited from withholding wages due an employee (Rashi)--or, in a wider sense, one is forbidden to deny someone something that is rightfully due someone else.
This same prohibition, however, is interpreted by The Mei Hashiloach to mean “When a person has anything of positive value that he can give another, but he does not, the [Torah] refers to this as an act of ‘oshek’--an act of unjust withholding. And even a prayer that a person can pray to Hashem for his fellow and does not pray is referred to as ‘oshek’…”
What does The Mei Hashiloach mean here by oshek? Surely it would be gracious if a person acknowledges another’s success, or gives praise, support, helpful advice, or prays for another’s health. But why should The Mei Hashiloach claim that one who does not do so is guilty of ‘oshek’ – an ‘unjust withholding’? What damage is done by withholding in this way?
Interdependence, arvut, is a cornerstone of the spiritual world view of The Mei Hashiloach. He views the Jewish People as a single organism; each member is valued as an individual, but in addition is a significant part of the collective. When we feel a responsibility to promote and participate in someone else’s success, or contribute toward their greater health, we confirm that person’s value and we see each individual, together with ourselves, as an indispensable participant in tikkun olam.
The Mei Hashiloach provides another insight on this mitzvah. We are taught that our path to holiness lies in emulating God’s qualities. Rabbi Mordechai Yosef describes two types of holiness found in Parshat Kedoshim: Holiness through restraining (yirah) and holiness through providing and influencing, which he terms ‘kiddushot hashpa’ah' (ahava).
The answer to my question – what damage is done by withholding?--rests in this teaching of The Mei Hashiloach. It is the way of Hashem to “provide for all of His creatures,” to give to them of His goodness. However, in contradistinction to the path of God, people naturally desire to give only to their family, those who are closest to them. It is for this reason that the Torah prohibits licentious relations, ‘arayot,’ meaning to marry within the same family.
According to The Mei Hashiloach, God forbade these ‘natural’ relations so that people would share of their goodness and desire to wield positive influence beyond the confines of their family. God demands that we act not in accordance with our "natural" desires, but to go beyond nature.
By extension, we should ‘not withhold’ of our goodness but rather strive to give of ourselves, be it through helpful advice, acknowledgement of others' accomplishments, or a sincere prayer for our neighbors. This is the fulfillment of the command to be holy.
Your thoughts are welcome, drop a line to Batya@wbm.org.il