Category Archives: Parshas Behar

Parshas Behar – Give Back The Extra Change!

Parshas Behar

Give Back The Extra Change!

“If you sell anything to your neighbor, or purchase [something] from your neighbor, do not cheat one another.” (Vayikra 25:14)

Many years ago, I read a story by Rabbi Hanoch Teller: Vladimer was a non-Jewish postmaster in a town in Europe. He made all his calculations in his head, never making a mistake. Once, he made a mistake and gave a Jewish customer too much change. The customer did not realize the mistake until he arrived home. He asked a halachic question from his rav, Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky zt”l, who told him to return the money. He tried to return the money, but Vladimer did not believe him since Vladimer never made a monetary mistake. The Jew insisted. Finally, Vladimer acknowledged his mistake and took the money. Vladimer thought to himself that the Jew returned the money only because he was afraid that he would be caught and that all the Jews in the town would be punished because of that. From that time on, Vladimer tested his Jewish customers by giving them extra change. Each and every time, the Jews returned the extra money. Vladimer was very impressed by the honesty shown by the Jews. Sometime after, the Nazis entered the town. There was only one non-Jew in the town who tried to save Jews. It was none other than Vladimer.

The Talmud (Bava Basra 89B) discusses different laws regarding honesty in business:  A person was not permitted to prepare measuring weights of tin, lead, or of any other type of metal because they deteriorate over time. As a result, the buyer would pay for more merchandise than he would receive.  A leveler was used to remove the excess from the mouth of a vessel. A leveler was not permitted to be made from a gourd because it is a light material and does not level effectively. That would cause a loss for the seller. It was also forbidden to make a leveler of metal because it weighs down and removes too much of the merchandise. That would cause a loss for the buyer. And, conversely, one may not level little by little, i.e., with several slow movements, since this would be bad for the buyer and good for the seller.

Rabbi Yocḥanan ben Zakai wanted to give a shiur discussing the laws of honesty and deceitfulness in business, using some of the specific examples that the Talmud discusses. However, he had a dilemma. If he would give the shiur, then dishonest people may learn new methods of cheating unsuspecting buyers. On the other hand, if he would not give the shiur, then dishonest people may say, “Torah scholars are not well versed in our handiwork.” Perhaps the dishonest people would think that wise men are naïve and unaware of the different methods of cheating.

The Maharsha explains that, on the one hand, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai felt that it was important that dishonest people realize that talmidei chachamim, Torah scholars, know all the tricks of how to cheat others yet refrain from doing so. Upon hearing this, many dishonest people would repent. Why? They rationalize their dishonesty by telling themselves that everyone else would also cheat if they knew how. When they learn that many people have the knowledge on how to be dishonest, yet do not do so because they value honesty, then many would repent. The example set by an honest Jew can be a powerful influence to impress others about the Torah way of life. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai knew that even professional thieves can be brought to repentance by seeing a Jew act with honesty. That is the power of making a kiddush Hashem. That is the positive influence you can have on others by doing the right thing. On the other hand, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai was afraid that his shiur would teach some of the dishonest people new methods of cheating. Because of this quandary, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai was not going to give the shiur. The Talmud then quotes Rav Shmuel bar Rav Yitzcḥak who says that Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai finally decided to give the shiur on the basis of the pasuk, “Whoever is wise, let him understand these things, whoever is prudent let him know them; for the ways of Hashem are righteous, tzadikim will walk in them: and sinners will stumble in them.” (Hoshea 14:10). The Maharsha explains that Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai derived from this pasuk another benefit of giving the shiur. Righteous people who would hear the shiur would become more sensitive to and would avoid deceiving others in ways in which they may have been doing so unintentionally. This additional benefit convinced Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai to give the shiur.

Rabbi Henach Leibowitz zt”l had a question on this. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai was not going to give the shiur because of the deadlock between the consideration of encouraging outright thievery versus making a kiddush Hashem. Why would the benefit learned from the pasuk, make a difference in tipping the scales in favor of giving the shiur? Wasn’t this potential benefit very unlikely? After all, tzadikim, righteous people are honest. They review their actions to make sure that they act properly. The odds were minimal that they would cheat others, even unintentionally.

Rabbi Leibowitz zt”l answered that apparently, even though the chance of affecting a benefit to the righteous was minimal, it was still worth giving the shiur for their benefit. This teaches us how terrible it is to deceive others, even when done unintentionally. There is no such thing as a small deception, or a tiny lie! Hashem wants us to be totally, 100% truthful! Any slight deviation is not considered truthful (However, there are some, limited exceptions where the Torah does permit one)!

Acting with emes, with Truth, is one of the obligations of Judaism. The example set by a Jew acting with honesty, can be a very powerful influence to attract others to a Torah way of life!

(Dvar Torah based on the shiurim of HaRav Henach Leibowitz zt”l as recorded in

The Pinnacle of Creation by Rabbi Aryeh Striks and Rabbi Shimon Zehnwirth,

as well as Chidushei Halev by Rabbi Binyamin Luban).


Parshas Behar – Bechukosai: The Power of 1!

Parshas Behar – Bechukosai

The Power of 1!


“If your brother becomes poor and his means fail with you, you must support him….” (Vayikra 25:35)
“I am the L-rd your G-d, who brought you out of the land of Mitżrayim, to give you the land of Cana’an, and to be your G-d.” (Vayikra 25:38)

On Yom Kippur, an elderly resident of Lakewood, New Jersey, davened in Bais Medrash Gavoha, the Lakewood yeshiva. He felt ill and was taken to a dormitory room to lie down. Just before Tefilas Ne’ila, the last tefilla of Yom Kippur, Rabbi Aharon Kotler zt”l, the Rosh HaYeshiva, asked one of his students to go to the dormitory room to daven together with the elderly man. The student said, “But the I won’t be able to daven Ne’ila with a minyan.” Rabbi Kotler replied,”To do chesed for another person is just as important!”

Studying Torah late one night in synagogue, Rabbi Yisroel Salanter zt”l, overheard two poor men talking to each other. One asked the other to accompany him to the well, as he was afraid to go out alone at night. The other was very tired and refused. Immediately, Rabbi Yisroel stopped learning and went to the well to get water for the poor man. (Love Thy Neighbor by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin) [There are times when we should not stop learning Torah to do chesed. Our rabbis can guide us when we should stop learning and when we should not. In this instance, Rabbi Yisroel Salanter stopped learning because he was the only one who could have performed the act of chesed.]

The Talmud (Sotah 14A) says that one should copy the attributes of Hashem and do acts of chesed, acts of kindness. The Talmud brings examples where Hashem clothed the naked, visited the sick, consoled mourners, and buried the dead. Rabbi Simlai said, “Great is chesed for the Torah begins with chesed and ends with chesed. In the beginning of the Torah, Hashem clothed Adam & Chava. In the end of the Torah, Hashem buried Moshe.

Rabbi Moshe Alshich zt”l (as quoted in Iturei Torah by A.Y. Greenberg) points out that in the previous psukim the Torah uses plural terms. However, when the Torah discusses helping a poor person, it changes to the singular. Why? The Alshich explains that it is not uncommon for people to ignore a person in need. People may try to pass the chesed opportunity to someone else who may be a closer friend of the one in need. Or they may try to pass it on to another person who is wealthier and has more money to help. By changing to the singular tense, the Torah is telling us an important lesson. YOU have the obligation to help the poor person in need [if you are able]! Do not try to relieve yourself of the responsibility, by passing it on to another person!

HaRav Henach Leibowitz zt”l explains that the Sforno (Vayikra 25:38) is referring to previous psukim which discuss doing acts of chesed. The Sforno says that when you do an act of chesed, you are doing MORE than an act of chesed for an individual. Rather, it is like you are doing chesed for the entire Jewish People! Your act of chesed is helping to fulfill the purpose of Creation, that of recognizing Hashem.

Rabbi Binyomin Luban (in Chidushei Halev) quotes Harav Henach Leibowitz zt”l  with an additional idea from the Sforno. It is impossible for an individual to achieve the purpose of Creation, by himself. It can only be accomplished together with other Jews. Even if the individual is a tzadik or a chasid, he still cannot attain that on his own. It can only be achieved when Jews live together and do acts of chesed for one another. Doing acts of chesed for each other, unifies us as one.

Even a small act of kindness is the fulfillment of the mitzva of chesed. We should be eager to do the chesed and we should run to do it! It is incumbent on us to do so! Every act of chesed that we do for an individual Jew is considered as if we are doing chesed for the entire Jewish nation!

Our act of chesed helps fulfill the purpose of Creation, that of recognizing Hashem!