By Rabbi Moshe Bloom
Torah VeHa’aretz Institute
“Should the distance be too great for you, should you be unable to transport them, because the place where Hashem your G-d has chosen to establish His name is far from you and because Hashem your G-d has blessed you, you may convert them into money. Wrap up the money in your hand and take it with you to the place that the Hashem your G-d has chosen” (Devarim 14:24–25).
The Vilna Gaon And The Maggid
Who wouldn’t want Divine revelations that can effortlessly bring you to lofty spiritual heights? At least one such individual did exist: Rabbi Eliyahu, the Vilna Gaon, known also as the Gra. Besides his mindboggling greatness in Talmud and halachah, he was also one of the greatest Kabbalists who ever lived. A person who wanted to draw close to Hashem with all of his gifts and talents (and he was blessed with quite a few of these), the Gra strove to achieve lofty insights of the secrets of the Torah. At one point, he is given a million-dollar opportunity — a maggid angel is sent from heaven to reveal Torah secrets to him. It’s hard to know if angels can be surprised, but if so, this one most certainly was when the Gra declined the maggid’s offer. The Gra preferred achieving these insights through his own efforts, without any shortcuts.
It seems that behind the Gra’s refusal is the understanding that Hashem is not interested in deep spiritual knowledge in and of itself. There is no shortage of angels in heaven. Hashem created people so that we will serve Him and reveal His name and sanctity in this world, with all the problems and difficulties involved. It is the effort, the work, that Hashem desires, not only the results. If today, results are the be-all and end-all for most people, for Hashem, the journey along the way is the determining factor.
Lofty Involvement With Money
Our parashah features an excellent example of the importance of the journey in the verses that discuss ma’aser sheini. After giving terumah to the kohen and ma’aser rishon to the kevi, during years 1, 2, 4, and 5 of the shemittah cycle, ma’aser sheini is to be set aside. (In years 3 and 6, one gives ma’aser ani to a poor person.)
The ma’aser sheini is given to … yourself. People are supposed to go up to Jerusalem with the fruits of ma’aser sheini and eat them there in a state of ritual purity, in order to draw close to Hashem. But what happens if you live far from Jerusalem, and it is difficult to bring so many fruits there? Besides, in Temple times, who said that the fruit would survive all the way to Jerusalem?
In such cases, the Torah allows us to transfer the sanctity of the ma’aser fruit onto money, and to bring the money with us to Jerusalem. This money is used to purchase food and drink to be consumed in Jerusalem in a state of purity. The way the Torah tells us about this mitzvah is very interesting:
“Should the distance be too great for you … Wrap up the money in your hand and take it with you to the place that the Hashem your G-d has chosen.”
The Torah gives us precise guidelines of what to do. We have to transfer the sanctity onto money, take the money in our hand, and go up to Jerusalem. Is there really a need for all of this description? Is there significance in the words “V’tzartah ha’kesef b’yadechah — Wrap up the money in your hand”? If someone puts the money in someone else’s hands, does it make a difference? This phrase seems superfluous.
Chazal noticed this issue, and extrapolate from the verse that the word tzartah is not in the sense of a tzeror (bundle) of money in one’s hand, but rather the word tzurah, form. This teaches us that one may not transfer sanctity onto an asimon, a piece of cut silver, but rather a minted silver coin (asimon is from the word a-siman, that is, without a mark). This interpretation is homiletic, however, and the text always has a p’shat meaning as well.
On the simple, p’shat level, it seems that the Torah wanted to convey the importance of the journey. The significance of the mitzvah is not only the final result — actually eating the fruit or whatever we buy with the money in Jerusalem — but rather what happens along the way. Even taking the bundle of money in one’s hand is part of the mitzvah.
We can learn so much from these few words. People glorify money, dedicate their entire lives to accumulate it, and don’t even leave time for themselves to enjoy it. And here the Torah comes and describes how to ascend to G-d’s city, and how to use the money — the same money that so many blindly pursue — in order to become sanctified, to draw closer to Hashem. One can get so much not only out of the mitzvah that one performs, but even from every step of the journey.
The Journey And The Land Of Israel
The Land of Israel is a place not only of results, but primarily of the journey leading to them. It is a mitzvah to work its soil (according to the Chatam Sofer), and the world of agriculture has a very prominent role, with every step of growth having an impact on the quality of the end product. In light of this, it is not surprising that it was no one other than the Gra — who turned down the option of taking spiritual shortcuts to spiritual growth — who was the first to encourage his disciples to make aliyah, with the set purpose of bringing the redemption in a natural way. This concept was preserved by the tradition of the perushim of the Yishuv, established by the disciples of the Gra in Jerusalem (also indicated in the studies of Dr. Aryeh Morgenstern on the topic). When we see the excitement of the Gra and his disciples from every baby step in the redemption process, we can see how the journey is important, not only the final result.
HaRav Moshe Bloom is head of the English department of Torah VeHa’aretz Institute. Torah VeHa’aretz Institute (the Institute for Torah and the Land of Israel) engages in research, public education, and the application of contemporary halachic issues that come to the fore in the bond between Torah and the Land of Israel today. Recently, the Institute opened an English department to cater to the English-speaking public living in Israel and abroad. For additional information and inquiries, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 972-8-684-7325.