Sunday, October 11, 2015

When Sheker Met Pachsa

by Rabbi Daniel Travis

Two by two the animals came into the Ark to Noach. [Bereishis Noah 7:9]

The concepts in this verse are illustrated by the following allegory:

Sheker (lies/deceit) approached Noach and requested entry into the Ark. Noach refused sheker on the grounds that it did not have a “mate.” When sheker left Noach, it met pachsa (financial loss and destruction) and proposed that they form a partnership, so that together they could gain entry into the Ark. Pachsa agreed, stipulating that any profit which would be earned through sheker would be handed over to pachsa to be destroyed.

There are many questions to be asked about this allegory. Why did our Sages see fit to single out sheker from all the possible negative character traits? Furthermore, why was it necessary for sheker to find a mate? Surely it would have been better to deny sheker entrance to the ark altogether. On the other hand, if sheker belonged in the world, should it not have been allowed to enter the ark without having to fulfill any conditions?

The decree of the flood was sealed on account of the dishonesty of that generation. Sheker was rampant, and there was no way to stop it short of wiping out the entire world. In the process of reconstructing the world, God wanted to make sure that the sins which had caused it's demise would not be repeated. Therefore sheker could not be allowed to perpetuate in its present form. However, it was important that sheker continue to exist in order for the iniquities of the previous generation to be rectified. This could only come about through recognition of the utter futility of any involvement with sheker.

When pachsa joined forces with sheker, causing the loss of all profits earned through sheker, it made it glaringly evident that any association with sheker is totally counterproductive. The lesson that would be learned from the alliance between sheker and pachsa allowed sheker to continue to exist.

After leaving the ark, sheker came to pachsa and requested all of the profits that it had acquired through under-handed methods. Pachsa reminded sheker of their agreement, and sheker was unable to respond. Although under normal circumstances sheker would have denied ever making such a promise, this case was different. Denying the truth would be tantamount to self destruction, for without its partnership with pachsa, sheker would not be allowed to exist.

At the time of the flood sheker joined with pachsa to teach the following generations the futility of trying to acquire wealth dishonestly. Although this type of destruction is certainly a punishment for one’s crooked behavior, there is a flip side to this relationship. Since pachsa “wed” itself to sheker, it can not affect any money earned one hundred percent honestly.

This concept was vividly demonstrated to the Jewish people after their Exodus from Egypt. For forty years they were sustained every day with manna, a miraculous food that descended from the heavens. Each individual was instructed to take an omer each day – not more, not less. If someone tried to “steal” a little bit more than he was allotted, the extra manna would disappear. The futility of taking more than was Divinely allotted was quite clear. Although we are not privileged to see this principle in action in such a striking fashion, it is still in effect even in our times.

Someone once came to Rav Mordechai Schwab and told him that one of his investments had gone sour, causing him a loss of seventy thousand dollars. Rav Schwab asked him if the money had been earned honestly to which the man replied in the affirmative. Rav Shwab assured him that he would recover the money, for wealth acquired honestly does not get lost. Within a few months the investment turned a profit.

Similarly, when Rav Chaim of Volozhin was hosting a meal in his home, one of his guests inadvertently knocked over the table. All the delicate porcelain on the table came crashing to the floor. The guests were all stunned into silence, in anguish over the tremendous loss which they were certain had occurred. Only Rav Chaim remained calm. He explained to his guests that property loss can occur only if the money used to purchase that property had been acquired corruptly. Since he knew that every penny used to buy the dishes that now lay on the floor had been earned honestly, he was sure that none of the porcelain had broken, so there was nothing to worry about. When they picked up the dishes, they found that not a single one was broken or damaged.

From the above incidents we see that the partnership that sheker established with pachsa still remains in force. As such, we can be sure that any funds acquired without a tinge of corruption are not subject to pachsa, and will be spared from damage.

(c) Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and

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