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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Tzvi Abrahams

Behaalotacha: Only The Poor Get Answered – Who Is Rich, Who Is Poor? ~ Tzvi Abrahams

Updated: Nov 4, 2022


Parshas בְּהַעֲלֹתְךָ

Only the Poor Get Answered — Who Is Rich, Who Is Poor?

עַנָוָה: humble

עוֹנִי: affliction

עֹנֶה: answer, testimony

עָנִי: poor

וְהָאִישׁ מֹשֶׁה (ענו) עָנָיו מְאֹד מִכֹּל הָאָדָם אֲשֶׁר עַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה And Moshe was very humble, more so than any man on the face of the earth.

עֲנָוָה: Humble

One of the explanations of עֲנָוָה /humility is that Moshe did not answer for himself; rather, when Miriam and Aharon questioned Moshe’s actions, it was Hashem who answered them on behalf of Moshe. Hashem refers to Moshe as His servant because the one who is truly humble knows that Hashem did not bring a person into this world to serve himself, but rather that one is in this world to serve Hashem. The one who is truly humble does not answer for himself, but rather answers for Hashem. All of his actions are לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם/for the name of Heaven.

Moshe is the only one who climbs the mountain of G-d, showing us that Moshe’s middah of עֲנָוָה is what causes man to reach the spiritual heights of drawing close to Hashem. This is the middah of Moshe, who was known as אִישׁ אֶ-לֹהִים/ the man of G-d, and this is the middah we should all try to attain.

עוֹנִי: Affliction

The purpose of a תַּעַנִית is to afflict ourselves, to cause us pain, to humble ourselves, to make ourselves poor in front of Hashem, to cause Hashem to answer our prayers.

עֹנֶה: Answer, Testimony

The ninth of the Ten Commandments is לֹא תַעֲנֶה בְרֵעֲךָ עֵד שָׁקֶר/not to bear false witness.

The Gemara in Sanhedrin says that whoever sins by giving false testimony causes the clouds to withhold their rain, which in turn brings trouble to the world.

In contrast to the verse above, it says in Hoshei’a: אֶעֱנֶה נְאֻם ה’ אֶעֱנֶה אֶת הַשָּׁמָיִם וְהֵם יַעֲנוּ אֶת הָאָרֶץ/ I will answer the heavens and they will answer the land, i.e., with rain.

Hashem gives עֵדוּת/testimony to His hashgachah/Divine Providence on how He runs the world. If man is corrupt and gives false testimony, not only does he give false testimony upon his friend, he also gives false testimony upon Hashem by not testifying to the fact that Hashem runs the world. He does this because he ignores the evidence within creation that Hashem will stop the עַנַנִים/clouds from giving their rain. The way to combat the lack of rains is to make a תַּעַנִית, from the lashon of עִנּוּי/affliction, to make oneself עָנִי/poor. תַּעַנִית is also a lashon of “answer,” to ask Hashem to answer us, because Hashem only answers the poor — תְּפִילָה לְעָנִי. Then, when our prayers are answered, Hashem will give His answer through the עַנַנִים, which will open up their rains and satisfy us, as it says: כִּי הָאֶ-לֹהִים מַעַנֶה בְּשִׂמְחַת לִבּו/then Hashem will answer through the joy of His heart.

עָנִי: Poor

תְּפִילָה לְעָנִי/a prayer for the poor.

The one who is listened to, i.e., the one whose prayers are answered, is the poor man. There is no such expression תְּפִילָה לְעָשִׁר/a rich man’s prayer, because a rich man has everything, as it says in Koheles: וְהַכֶּסֶף יַעֲנֶה אֶת הַכֹּל/money answers everything, i.e., if you have money you don’t need Hashem. The עָנִי does not have money, instead he has Hashem and he knows the real power of prayer. Hashem answers the poor man’s prayer because his prayers are heartfelt. The one who lifts up his voice to Hashem and cries out is never turned away, as it says the gates of Heaven are never closed to tears.

Who is rich, who is poor?

The Gemara in Pesachim quotes Rabi Yochanan as saying that one who wants to become rich should marry the daughter of a kohen, and all the more so one who marries the daughter of a talmid chacham will become rich. However, if an am ha’aretz/ignoramus marries the daughter of a kohen, it will only lead him to poverty.

How do we explain this? All too often we find that the opposite is true: that there are many poor talmidei chachamim and many rich ignoramuses! So how can the Gemara assert that one will not become rich if he is an am ha’aretz?

On the very next page of the Gemara, the son of Rabi Yehoshua ben Levi, after having a near-death experience, tells his father about the world he saw. Everything was upside down: what was above was below, and what was below was above. The meaning of this is that whoever is rich and important in this world is the opposite in the World to Come. His father then asks him what about we talmidei chachamim, to which his son replied that just like we are here, so too we are there.

Does that mean that those who are poor in this world will be rich in the next? Does it mean that one should be poor in gashmiyus/physicality and partake less from the pleasures of this world in order to enjoy the real ruchniyus/spiritual pleasures of the World to Come?

Does Hashem really want us to deprive ourselves of pleasure in this world? According to Rabbi Noach Weinberg’s “Five Levels of Pleasure” lecture, Hashem created us to partake of the pleasures in His world, so it can’t be that we are meant to abstain from them. Still, one should be careful to distinguish between what is real pleasure and what is fake pleasure.

Actually, we can be poor in this world in order to be rich in the next world, even while we are in this world. How so? By being “poor” of the false temporary pleasures and instead focusing on the real, lasting pleasures that come from Hashem. By elevating the physical, we become truly rich in the spiritual, even while we are in the physical world.

One of the keys to becoming rich is to be happy. When you are samei’ach bechelkecha/happy in your portion, you lack nothing. The rich in this world are never happy because they are always chasing what they are lacking. By always wanting more and more, they are never satisfied. They are considered poor in the spiritual world because they lack happiness. Only one who is happy, who takes great pleasure in this world, can connect to Hashem, for ruach hakodesh/the spirit of Hashem only rests on a person who is b’simchah/happy.

The difference between being אָשֶׁר/happy and עוֹשֶׁר/rich is that the aleph is replaced with an ayin. So too, after Adam sinned, his body changed from translucent אוֹר to skin עוֹר, with the aleph, which symbolizes a more spiritual state, changed into an ayin, signifying a more physical state. This reveals to us that the wealth of happiness is a higher spiritual level, as opposed to the wealth of money, which is a lower physical level.

So this is what it means by a world where everything is upside down. While in this physical world, if one is rich in physicality, one is literally poor in spirituality, and therefore in the next world, the spiritual world, one will be very poor. But if in this physical world one rises above physicality and becomes rich in spirituality, then in the spiritual world he will also be rich. These are the talmidei chachamim, who there will be just as they are here, whereas the am ha’aretz, who sacrifices spirituality for ignorance so that he can be rich in physicality, will be the opposite in the true reality.

In conclusion, one can be rich in physicality or one can be rich in spirituality. The difference in this world is happiness, and the difference in the next world is an “olam hafuch”/opposite world for the am ha’aretz, but not for the talmid chacham, because the talmid chacham is considered wealthy in this world and the next. What the Gemara is really telling us, then, is that true wealth is acquired only by the ones who are rich in Torah.

Appendix v

בְּהַעַלוֹתְךָ — נֵר ה’ נִשְׁמַת אָדָם/The Soul of Man Is the Light of Hashem

How could a nation complain? A nation that had received the Torah; that had just built the Mishkan, causing the Divine Presence to dwell among them; a nation that had all its provisions provided for with the manna; unlimited water from Miriam’s well; and protection from the Clouds of Glory? More than a five-star hotel, the desert gave them all-star accommodations!

The opening Rashi explains that when Aharon was told to light the candles of the Menorah, he was to make sure that each light should light up by itself before moving on to the next light, in order that it shouldn’t go out. בְּהַעַלוֹתְךָ, referring to the lights, is lashon עוֹלֶה/to go up by themselves.

After the people complain, Moshe turns to Hashem and says that he is unable to carry them by himself. Hashem tells him to gather seventy elders, and then the ruach of Hashem that is within Moshe will rest upon the seventy elders, and in this way they will be able to share the burden. Rashi says that Moshe is compared to a light that has the power to light many more lights without itself being diminished.

נֵר ה’ נִשְׁמַת אָדָם/the soul of man is the light of Hashem. Not only Moshe but all of us have the potential to be Hashem’s light. How do we bring out this potential? Only through the Torah. The Torah is known as light — Toras Ohr. By attaching ourselves to the Torah, we kindle within us the spark of Hashem, and we begin to shine. We all have the potential to be Hashem’s stars in the world, shining his light and lightening up the world.

The light of the Menorah in the Mishkan represents the spiritual light of the Torah. In the same way that Hashem’s warns Aharon to be careful when lighting up the lights of the Menorah, so too we should be careful when lighting up another person’s soul with the Torah to be sure they are fueled up by themselves before moving on. We should make sure that the Torah is burning from within them, so that independent of us they are on fire.

The Bnei Yisrael, even though they had been lit up by the Torah from Har Sinai, were still not independently burning from within. Before they were ready to continue with life’s journey, the encampment was already moving on. As a result, the flame within them extinguished and they were burnt out, leaving them hungry and desiring physicality. It is a bit like taking a drug, being lifted up to a higher realm, and then crashing back to reality when the effects wear off. Since the manna could only satisfy someone who was holding on the higher level, it could no longer satisfy them, resulting in their desire for real basar/flesh.

As we mentioned before, the true wealth of the world is owned by the talmidei chachamim; only those who are infused with the Torah are able to prosper in the spiritual realm. Only the ones who have elevated themselves along with their physical surroundings to the higher realm can truly benefit from the manna, the spiritual food of the שֻׁלְחָן גָּבוֹהַּ/the higher table.

The fact that we celebrate the festival of Chanukah in the darkest time of the year teaches us a valuable lesson. Just like the light of the stars are only seen at night, all the more so their light is seen in the darkest night skies of the desert. So too the עָנִי/the poor man who leads a life of hardship sees the light of Hashem shining much more than someone who lacks for nothing.

The opening Midrash in בְּהַעַלוֹתְךָ says that when a man builds a house, the windows are narrow on the outside and wider on the inside in order to increase the light that shines into the house. The opposite is true with the Beis HaMikdash. There, the windows were narrow on the inside and wider on the outside in order to shine out and light up the world. Where did the light come from? It did not come from the Menorah itself but from what the Menorah represented — the Divine light that Hashem hid within the Torah for the tzaddikim to find. Each one of us, when we infuse ourselves with the Torah, becomes a living Beis HaMikdash, and then instead of receiving our light from the outside, we shine Hashem’s light from within. בְּהַעַלוֹתְךָ, lashon עוֹלֶה/to be going up by itself from within, where we light up the world with Toras Ohr, the light of the Torah, then we truly become נֵר ה’ נִשְׁמַת אָדָם/the candle of Hashem.

צָרִיךְ שֶׁכָּל אָדָם יָדַע וְיָבִין שֶׁבְּתּוֹךְ תּוֹכוֹ דוֹלֶק נֵר, וְאֵין נֵרוֹ שֶׁלוֹ כְּנֵר חַבֵרוֹ וְאֵין אִישׁ שֶׁאֵן לוֹ נֵר. צָרִיךְ שֶׁכָּל אִישׁ יָבִין שֶׁעָלָיו לְעַמוֹל וּלְגַלוֹת אֶת אוֹר נֵרוֹ בְּרַבִּים, לְהַדְלִיקוֹ לְאַבוּקָה גְדוֹלָה וּלְהַאִיר לְעוֹלָם כּוּלוֹ.

A person should know and understand that within him is a candle that burns, and his candle is not like his friend’s candle, and no one’s candle is like his candle. And every person should know that it is upon him to work to reveal the light of his candle in public, to kindle it so it becomes a great beacon that can light up the whole world. (Rav Kook)

1 Bamidbar 12:3.

2 Sanhedrin 29a.

3 Hoshei’a 2:23.

4 Koheles 5:19.

5 This does not exlude the rich man if he humbles himself and becomes needy like an עָנִי.

6 Pesachim 49a.


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