In memory of the Av Beis Din of Cape-Town, Rabbi Desmond Maisels of blessed memory who held the fort of halachik honesty for so many decades in that beautiful city.
One of the great achievements of the past few decades in the Jewish world has been the return to observance by so many people, spear-headed by the “Baal Teshuva” movement.
Whereas 60 years ago, Orthodox Judaism was considered almost dead and buried, the most vibrant and growing Jewish communities of today are found mainly in the Torah-observant world.
This trend is highly noticeable in the plethora of kosher supermarkets, Pesach products, eruvin, mikvaos, and Torah day school that form the heart of any Jewish neighborhood.
Although many members of these communities are also involved in a large selection of outreach and charitable organizations, there seem to be many who still do not put the same focus on the area of ethical behaviour and inter-human relations as they do in the realm of ritual.
People very often get swept up in the “frumkeit” (ritualistic piety) without even realizing how it sometimes comes at the expense of other things that the Torah values even more dearly.
We have mentioned elsewhere that the Gemara (Brachos 17a) cautions against a person learning lots of Torah and acting in a disdainful fashion to his parents and teachers- the stereotype of the yeshiva bachur who will no longer eat in his shul Rabbi’s home because “his hechsher” is not good enough for him.
On our daf we are told how the son of בוהין used to leave פאה (the corner of a field left for the poor) from certain vegetables, even though they are exempt from this requirement.
When בוהין later saw poor people collecting the פאה, he told them to rather take double the amount from other produce of his that had already been tithed.
All though פאה is not subject to tithing , פאה taken on vegetables is not considered פאה and one who eats it without separating tithes is both eating טבל and stealing from the Levi and Kohain.
We see how easy it is to be so stringent in one mitzva that one lands up transgressing another, something that we have referred to elsewhere as a stringency that leads to a leniency, or a full-blown transgression.
We also note that rather than be seen to be strict about maaser at the expense of the poor, בוהין was prepared to double the portion collected by the poor from his own tithed produce, at great expense to himself!
Our daf carries on painting a disturbing picture of a period when the כהונה (priesthood) was so corrupt that the stronger kohanim used to forcibly take the portions of the weaker ones.
We are taught how Initially the skins from the sacrifices were divided amongst the kohanim on shift, but due to the above corruption, they started rather declaring them הקדש (sanctified for the Temple.)
We see the incredible irony that these thugs were still “frum” enough that they would never think of benefitting fromהקדש , but they were happy to steal from their fellow kohanim and intimidate them.
It reminds me of the famous story of the Yeshiva student who used to store his milk in the communal fridge of the yeshiva dormitory.
He noticed that certain students had been regularly drinking his milk without permission and responded by putting a sign on the milk container that read : “not chalav yisroel!”- the stealing immediately stopped.
My father of blessed memory would often tell how his mentor, Chief Rabbi Louis Rabinowitz zt’l once intervened in the case of a very observant man who refused to give his wife a גט (bill of divorce.)
After various warnings, he took to the pulpit to condemn his hypocrisy, noting that due to his high level of kashrus at home , he was certain that “his pots and pans will go to heaven!”
There are people who think that it is possible to serve Hashem by treating him like a king, while treating other people like slaves.
Hashem teaches us that an essential part of his service is doing good for his creations – if our service does not make the world a better place, it is not service, but rather an abomination, a point well illustrated by countless excerpts from our prophets and sages.
There are plenty “frum” people who try to follow the ethical and interpersonal elements of the Torah as precisely as they follow the rest of the commandments.
It is those people, and their leaders, whom we should strive to emulate.
Rav Maizels zt’l virtually created halachik observance in Cape Town, bringing standards of public kashrus and religious observance to incredible heights for a small community at the southern tip of Africa . At the same time, he always taught by example that it is not a mitzva to be excessively stringent at the expense of others, and that growth in one’s relationship with Hashem is directly proportional to one’s growth in one’s relationship with one’s fellow human beings.
May we all merit to continue his legacy.