| Re'eh

This week's d'var Torah is dedicated in honour of the upcoming wedding of Galit Sone and Adam Samuel. May they share much happiness and build a bayit ne'eman b'yisroel. Mazal-tov to the extended family.

Beginning with the Aseret haDibrot, we often tend to classify mitzvoth as being either between man and G-d, or between man and man. While the interpersonal mitzvoth are also an expression of the Divine will, the distinction is a most relevant one, reflected in our attitude towards these separate (but overlapping) spheres.

The concept of kavanah--proper intent for a mitzvah--is seemingly much more relevant in the mitzvoth between man and G-d; at times, the lack of kavanah renders the mitzvah act null and void. Developing a relationship with G-d is dependent on having the right frame of mind and focusing on the mitzvah at hand, and hence, is generally accompanied by a bracha expressing our acknowledgement of G-d as Master of the Universe.

When it comes to mitzvoth bein adam lechavero, intent is seemingly much less important. The primary goal here is to help the person in need or to ensure they are treated properly. It would be grossly inappropriate to waste time focusing on our upcoming mitzvah while the hungry wait for food. It is for this reason that brachot are inappropriate when the opportunity presents itself to help others. Help now and meditate later!

Similarly, the concept of lishma--proper motivation--is much more crucial in mitzvoth between man and G-d. Performing these mitzvoth to gain social acceptance is a violation of yuhara (religious arrogance), and negates much of the mitzvah. After all, one is not really serving G-d, but oneself. It is for this reason that, ideally, mitzvoth between man and G-d should--when possible--personify tzniut (privacy). Only when the mitzvah is performed without human knowledge can one be certain that we are doing so because of G-d's command.

However, the opposite seems to be the case in mitzvoth between man and man. Here, motivations are seemingly less significant. As the goal is directed toward the other person, your motivation is of secondary importance. Thus, in the final analysis, Jewish law recommends that mitzvoth in this realm be publicized; serving as they will as motivation for others, even if such emulation is done for less than noble motives. This is the halachic justification for the many dinners that adorn the philanthropic community, despite concerns for indirect lashon hara, excessive flattery and truth-stretching. Yet if millions can be raised to help others, and we can show gratitude to those who benefit the community, we must take those "religious risks".

Notwithstanding the above, mitzvoth bein adam lechavero are the vehicle for personal religious growth. Developing our relationship to G-d is the result years of work honing our character as we interact with our fellow man. At the end of hilchot teshuva (a most appropriate area of study as Elul arrives), the Rambam states that one of the goals of marriage is to develop our love toward G-d. Only an intense, 24/7, intimate, loving relationship with another can give us the necessary tools to develop our love for an abstract G-d.

"One is obligated to be meticulous in the mitzvah of tzedakah, more so than any other positive mitzvah" (Rambam, Matanot Aniyim 10:1). The Torah, in presenting this fundamental mitzvah, focuses on the giver and not the recipient. The Torah thus begins by warning us not to "harden our hearts nor shut thy hands" (15:7), moving to the positive "Open wide thy hand". The Torah emphasizes that "The needy will never cease out of the world" (15:11). Totally eradicating poverty is beyond human capability, and apparently is not even fully desirable. To do so would rob man of the opportunity to financially help others.

The Sefer haChinuch (13th century Spain) emphasizes over and over again that mitzvoth are to help develop within us the traits of kindness, compassion and empathy. In so doing, others will benefit; but the obligation begins with our need to develop our character. That is the prerequisite to displaying concern for the needs of others.

The constant refrain of the Torah to help the widow, orphan, and stranger because we were strangers in the land of Egypt is directed not so much to the needs of the underprivileged, but to those capable of helping. Mankind is naturally selfish, and tends to view world events through the prism of how it might impact on his or her life. The beauty of helping others is that it makes us feel good, thereby strengthening the bond amongst us. May we merit these good feelings on a regular basis.