Parshas Ki Sisa
The Snake Protected His House!
“…no man will desire your land when you go up to appear before Hashem, three times a year.” (Shmos 34:24)
Three times a year, all Jewish males were given the mitzvah of aliya la’regel, to travel to the Beis HaMikdash in Yerushalayim. Rashi says that the purpose was to thank Hashem for His bounty. Who would remain to protect their property when they would go to Yerushalayim? Hashem said (Shmos 34:24) not to worry. No one would take their land. The Ibn Ezra explains that since the Jews were doing His will, Hashem would undoubtedly guard their land from their enemies. The Talmud (Pesachim 8B) says, “Your cow shall graze in the meadow and no beast will harm it, and your rooster shall peck in the garbage dump and no marten [a weasel-like animal] shall harm it”.
The Midrash (Shir Hashirim Rabbah 7:2) quotes a few stories about this.
Once, someone went to fulfill the mitzvah of being ola la’regel on one of the Shalosh Regalim (Pesach, Shavuos, and Succos). He had not locked the doors of his house. When he returned, he found a snake entwined in the rings of his doors, protecting his house. Another time, a man forgot to bring his chickens into his house. When he returned, he found cats torn to pieces near the chickens while the chickens remained unharmed. In another story, two wealthy brothers from Ashkelon had wicked, non-Jewish neighbors. The neighbors waited impatiently for the Jewish brothers to go to Jerusalem so that they could break into their home and rob them. The brothers left early in the morning, before the neighbors became aware that they had gone. The neighbors were surprised as it appeared to them that the brothers did not go. What made them think that? Apparently, Hashem had sent angels in the likeness of the brothers. The angels went in and out of the brothers’ houses, going about their daily routines. Thus, the neighbors thought that the brothers had never left. When the brothers returned from Yerushalayim, they brought gifts for their neighbors. Only then did the neighbors realize the miracle that Hashem had performed for the brothers.
The Talmud (Pesachim 8B) quotes Rabbi Ami who learns from this pasuk that any person who has land in his possession is obligated to go to the Beis HaMikdash for the shalosh regalim. However, one who does not have land in his possession is not obligated to go.
Rabbi Yissocher Frand (Rabbi Frand on the Parashah) questions why one, who does not have land in his possession, is not obligated to go to Yerushalayim. “Is this fair? What is the connection between going up three times a year and owning land?”
Rabbi Frand points out that the name used for Hashem in this pasuk is Ado-noi. That name for Hashem is used only twice in the entire Torah. The only other time it is used is also speaking about the mitzvah of aliyah la’regel (Shmos 23:17). Why? The Sforno (Shmos 23:17) says that the title, Adon, Master, is used to indicate that Hashem is the Master of the Land. Using this Sforno, Rabbi Frand explains that the mitzvah of aliyah la’regel is more than celebrating the festivals in the Beis HaMikdash. This mitzvah also emphasizes that everything belongs to Hashem. Therefore, one who goes to Yerushalayim does not have to worry about leaving his property unattended. Because it’s not his property! It is Hashem’s! This message is given to the one who owns land, the one who is rich and thinks that it belongs to him. One who doesn’t own land does not need this message in the same manner.
It is a challenge for all of us, but it is an even bigger challenge for a wealthy person to appreciate that he does not truly own anything; it all belongs to Hashem. He must understand that he is just a custodian of the wealth. Obviously, he can use it for himself. However, his job is to ensure that the wealth is used properly, that it is also given to help others.
One of the richest Jews was a multi-billionaire until he lost $20 billion. He had given a lot of money to many tzedakos. After he lost all his money, his friend asked him how it was possible that he had lost all his money. After all, the Talmud (Taanis 9A) quoting the pasuk of aser ta’aser says that if you give ma’aser money you will be rich. How could such a big giver of tzedakah have lost his money? The formerly rich man told his friend, “Do you think I gave ma’aser properly? I should have been giving billions! That was too great a challenge for me! I regret it and wish that I could have fulfilled the mitzvah properly.” (Rabbi Yosef Tropper quoting Rabbi Asher Rubenstein zt”l).
Rav Shmuel HaNagid was the treasurer of the sultan in Constantinople, Turkey, 800 years ago. The other ministers, who were Muslims, were jealous of Rav Shmuel. They tried to convince the sultan that Rav Shmuel was dishonest and should not be trusted with the sultan’s money. They finally convinced the sultan to investigate. The sultan asked Rav Shmuel how much money he had. Rav Shmuel replied that he owned 250 golden coins. The sultan was flabbergasted because he knew that Rav Shmuel’s salary was much higher than that. When he challenged Rav Shmuel, Rav Shmuel explained that he had much more money in his vault at home. However, that money was not truly “his” because he could lose it in a moment. Someone could take it from him, or he could die. On the other hand, the 250 golden coins was the sum that he had given to charity. Only that money was truly his and could never be taken away from him. The sultan was so impressed by this answer that he realized that Rav Shmuel was indeed someone who could be trusted (ibid).
All our successes in life are due to Hashem and not because of our shrewdness or brilliance. Everything that we own belongs to Hashem. Hashem graciously gives it to us both for our own use and to benefit others. We are just executors whose job it is to distribute the funds properly. When we can attain this level of belief, it will be easier for us to give more of what we “have” to help others.