The Chafetz Project -
Melekhet Machashevet Citations

    The following are online citations from Moshe Chafetz's 1710 work Melekhet Machashevet, found on the internet.

    Not all links are still active, but relevant text is excerpted here in full.

    Parshat Re'eh
    (From Deuteronomy)

    Hamaayan - The Torah Spring (Aug. 2010)

    Excerpt: "You shall surely give him, and let your heart not feel bad when you give him, for in return for this matter, Hashem, your Elokim, will bless you in all your deeds and in your every undertaking." (15:10)

    R' Aharon Lewin z"l Hy"d (the Reisher Rav; killed in the Holocaust) writes: This verse is teaching that the degree to which one's giving tzedakah is considered a complete mitzvah depends on his attitude when he gives. Do not act haughtily toward the beggar and do not make him feel like you are giving begrudgingly. Rather, as we learn in Pirkei Avot (ch.1), "Let your house be open wide and let the poor be members of your household."

    R' Lewin writes further: We read in Vayikra (25:37), "Do not give him your money for neshech / interest, and do not give your food for marbit / increase." On the peshat level, this is a commandment not to charge interest. However, R' Lewin quotes R' Moshe Cheifetz z"l (Italy; 1664- 1711) who writes that the word "neshech" can also be taken literally, meaning "a bite." Says R' Cheifetz: When you give tzedakah, do not accompany your gift with "biting" words. Similarly, R' Lewin writes, the word "marbit"is used in Shmuel I (2:33) to mean, "the greatest people in a household." Thus, the verse in Vayikra can be read, "Do not give him your money with biting words, and do not give your food making the recipient feel as if you are a far greater person than he." (Ha'drash Ve'ha'iyun)

    The above-mentioned R' Cheifetz writes further: It is not uncommon that beggars knock on our doors with a sense of entitlement. After all, they say, you have a mitzvah to give me tzedakah! Rather than having the desired effect, however, this causes people to want to withhold charity. And, when an unusually generous person does invite a pauper into his house, the pauper soon acts like he is king of the manor. In the verses quoted above, the Torah exhorts us to pay no attention to any rudeness on the beggars' part. Rather, we are called upon to strengthen ourselves and give tzedakah with a good heart and a shining countenance, for that is Hashem's desire. (Melechet Machshevet: Parashat Behar)

    Netivot Shalom - Shira Leibowitz Schmidt

    "And you shall be only joyful" (Deut.16:15) :
    The Danger of Thumb-twiddling.
    by Shira Leibowitz Schmidt

    In describing the fall harvest holiday of Sukkot (Deut.16:14-15) the Torah uses the word for joy (simha) twice:"You shall be joyful in your holiday.....and you shall be only joyful." (The popular holiday song merges these phrases, from two different verses, into one lyric: "v'samahta b'hagekha, v'hayita akh smeah"). Not only is the superfluity puzzling, but the meaning of being "only joyful" is obscure.

    Abraham Ibn Ezra posits that the word "only" (akh) comes to exclude sadness. The problem with this interpretation is discussed by Nehama Leibowitz a"h in her Studies in the Book of Devarim. "Is it not natural for man to rejoice when he sees the fruit of his toil, his harvest and vintage and granary overflowig?" There should be no necessity for the Torah then to command us (twice?!) to rejoice, and to do nothing but rejoice.

    I had the privilege of hearing Nehama teach a class on this verse, and she suggested one resolution of this difficulty, this kushiya, could be found in the commentary, Malekht Makhshevet, by the 16th century Italian scholar, Rav Moshe Hefetz. He connected the phrase "you shall be only joyful" to the words immediately preceding it, "You shall hold the festival seven days...for the L-rd will bless all your crops and all the work of your hands, and you shall be only joyful." Rav Hefetz writes, "Idleness is a source of evil-doing and sin. Abundance is one of the causes of idleness...How then could the Almighty command us to rejoice by means of a cessation from work?..But the rejoicing ordained by the Torah is one which is not overdone, leading to levity and riotousness... For this reason, certain works were permitted on the intermediate days of the festival, in order to preclude idleness which leads to sin... 'For the L-rd will bless all your crops and all the work of your hands and you shall be only joyful' implies that you should indeed work and not sit idle, and then you will have real joy inspired by right purpose."

    When Nehama taught this passage in class, she added an example not found in her book. She referred to the literary work of the 1924 Polish Nobel prize writer, Ladislav Reymont. In his novel Summer he describes the harvest rejoicing of the Polish peasants, the bounty that leads often to drunken revelry. This elicited from the European-born participants in the class memories of riotous rejoicing by the non-Jewish folk in the countryside of eastern Europe; post-harvest festivities often spelled danger for Jews in shtetls. Many years later I searched out the relevant passages in the book Nehama had mentioned off-handedly. "All the countryside was redolent of the fresh ripe grain... and all day long the lasses and lads made a joyful noise... When they came home in the evening, the harvesters of Lipka thrilled to the merry din of talk and laughter, of music and songs" and trouble ensued. A similar description is found in The Slave by I.B. Singer who describes wild merrymaking at cropping time. "The peasants celebrated...danced and drank...and forgot their troubles. The children sipped vodka, laughed and giggled..." This is the sequence of events that the Biblical verse may be warning against: from autumn harvest bounty to idleness to wanton dancing and drinking to trouble.

    A contemporary of Rav Hefetz described this in art. In "The Peasant Dance" the Dutch painter Bruegel depicts the sinning which can follow the religious fall harvest festival, the Kermes. This phenomenon is also depicted in music. Vivaldi, an Italian non-Jewish landsman of Hefetz, wrote in the score of the autumn movemnt of the Four Seasons concerto, that the peasant harvest dance tune is followed by "the drunken one falling asleep...while the dancers continue."

    With this background we can understand the apprehension of R.Hefetz, that seven Sukkot post-harvest days without the "work of your hands" must be tempered by warning us to moderate, limit our joy: only joy, not hilariousness.

    Does this imply that non-Jewish celebration leads to inebrity? No, and no again. It must be made absolutely clear that Hefetz was addressing a general human trait, a potential fault that Jews and non-Jews alike share. Bounty, with its ensuing idleness and celebration can lead all of us astray. We must have no truck with those who see in the Torah's words support for Jewish superiority. The opposite is true: because the Israelites were just as prone as anyone else to behaving wildly, the Torah commands us not to be idle and to modulate our joy.

    That this is a problem of human nature, can be seen in two other examples. In Mishna Ketuvot 5:5 Rabbi Eliezer posits that "Even if a husband brought his wife a hundred servants, she should still embroider or work with wool, because idleness leads to zima (lasciviousness); Rashbag says idleness leads to shiamum (mental unbalance)." Is idleness then a problem for women only? Again we must emphasize the Mishna here is talking about a human fault that can cause men as well as women to stumble.

    That men's twiddling thumbs are just as likely to get them in trouble is expressed in a second example, based on the verse "Six days you shall work and do all your labor" (Exodus 20:9).The simple meaning here is that for six days we may work or not work, but on the seventh we must desist. However, Avot dRabi Nathan uses this verse as an opportunity to drive home a midrash about the dangers of idleness. "What should someone do who has no labor? If he has an empty lot, or an idle field, he should go and work in it, since it says:Six days you shall work...."

    Idleness can lead all of us, Jew and non-Jew, men and women, astray. One of our contemporary problems is the intense focus on pleasure-seeking, possibly a sign of our ignoring the dangers of economic plenty and excess leisure. Rav Hefetz interpretated "you shall be only joyful" as commanding us to moderate our joy with an admixture of work (and study); the distance from idleness to idolatry is not great.


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