Vezot Haberakhah - THE CUP OF BLESSING
THE CONCLUDING sidrah of the entire Chumash is entitled vezot haberakhah because it begins with the words, "And this is the blessing" (Deut. 33:1). This portion of the Torah includes a moving series of blessings which Moses bestowed on each of the tribes on the day of his passing from the earthly scene.
Ever since early childhood the word berakhah played an important role in our lives. We were taught to recite an appropriate blessing before and after partaking of food and drink, and when performing a mitzvah.
At the conclusion of a festive meal on the Sabbath, holidays and other important occasions, prior to the recitation of birkat hamazon - Grace after meals - the leader in bentshen would fill a kos shel berakhah - a cup of blessing - with wine and summon all those who were present to join him in the recitation of the benedictions.
I would like to discuss with you this morning some of the rules that regulate the proper use of the kos shel berakhah - of the cup of blessing.
The first requirement is hadachah mi-befnim - the cup must be washed on the inside. The second is shetifah mi-bachutz - rinsing it on the outside. The third regulation is that the cup be shalem - a finished product, without chips or cracks. The fourth rule is that the cup be maley - filled with wine to the brim. The fifth is meshagro le-anshei beito - that part of the wine be given to others in the household and those who are present. The sixth is me-atro be-talmidim. One ought to invite worthy disciples and learned men to share in such festive moments. The seventh is notlo bishtei yadav - the cup of blessing should be taken with both hands (Ber. 5 la and b; Orach Chayim 183:1-14).
An analysis of these regulations reveals that they are also applicable to an ish shel berakhah - to one who is a blessing to oneself and to the community.
I would like to treat the rules of hadachah and shetifah as a unit. A good person is he who is internally and externally clean; who possesses inner gentility and calm, and outward good manners and refinement. The blessed individual is a true gentleman - dignified without being snobbish, reserved without being aloof. He is the kind of human being with whom it is pleasant to associate and whose company is enjoyable. These qualities, however, must not be a veneer. Unfortunately, there are people who are well-mannered and virtuous in public but uncouth and even cruel at home. There is the husband who is polite to everyone else except to his wife; who is cheerful at parties but glum and disconsolate in the presence of his loved ones; who is orderly and neat in the office but careless and sloppy at home. There is the woman who is active in the work for orphans and underprivileged children, but who neglects to provide loving care for her own children at home.
The good man is an ish shalem - a well-rounded and integrated personality. Regretfully, our educational system only trains people for a career. When a student completes a professional course of study and is finished with his internship, he is also finished with his education for the rest of his life. While it may be true that he is prepared to perform creditably in his special field of endeavor, in many instances he is unprepared for leading a good life. I have known professional men and women who were specialists in medicine, law, engineering and cognate learning but who displayed an abysmal ignorance in every day matters which require a measure of wisdom and experience. By this I do not mean that one ought to be "a Jack of all trades" but rather than one be interested in what is happening in the world outside of the specialty which provides him with a livelihood.
The ish shel berakhais maley. He feels that his life is full. He does not denigrate the work he does nor bemoan his station in life. He is not greedy, nor is he envious of others. "Who is a rich man?" Ben Zoma asked. And he replied, hasameach be-chelko. "He who is happy with his lot" (Abot 4: 1). Though poor in material wealth, a blessed man is fabulously rich in terms of contentment and peace of mind.
Next is meshagro le-anshei beito. He shares the wine with others. He knows that there are other mouths to be fed, other hearts to be warmed, other souls to be comforted. An ish shel berakha is considerate of the needs of others. He works for and contributes toward those benevolences and individuals who need his involvement and help. He fills the cups of the afflicted with the wine of sustenance and good cheer.
Meatro be-talmidim. The good man surrounds himself with disciples of the Torah. He extends his friendship to the talmid chakham - the scholar and the schools that serve as the training ground for sound scholarship.
There are those who contribute to hospitals, homes for the aged and incapacitated, but refuse to help support Yeshivot and talmidei chakhamim. A rabbi explained this phenomenon as follows: "When one contributes to the incapacitated, the aged and the sick, one is moved to do so by the fear that some day he may find himself in a similar unfortunate predicament. But when the same person is asked to donate to scholars, he is quite certain that he himself will never be a scholar!"
The blessed man, however, recognizes the importance of Jewish education. He knows that our people cannot survive without Torah. Despite the many inhumanities, atrocities and indignities that were heaped upon our people through the centuries, it is knowledge and study that have sustained us and kept us from utter despair. The ish shel berakha is well aware of this and devotes himself tirelessly to the perpetuation of our religious heritage.
We are told that the kos shel berakha be taken bishtei yadav - with both hands. Most sermons stress the idea of giving. Let me speak now for a few moments on the subject of receiving. There are times when one ought not only give but receive - and do it with both hands.
A humorous story may illustrate the point I wish to make. There was a kind-hearted and pious woman whose custom it was to put some coins in the tzedakah pushkes - the charity boxes - every Friday before lighting the candles. When she put a coin in the box marked, "Orphan Home," she would whisper a prayer in Yiddish, "As I give to this institution may God grant that my children and grandchildren may never have to be placed in an orphanage." Putting a few coins into the box for a hospital, she would say, "May God help that I should never have to go to a hospital." Then came the Home for the Aged. Again the good woman put some pennies and murmured, "May the Almighty be compassionate with me and spare me from having to go there." The last box was for a Shule. The woman dropped some coins there and, absentmindedly repeated, "May God help that I should never have to go there!"
Ah yes! It is not sufficient to give to a synagogue. We have to take from it everything that it is capable of giving - faith, idealism, wisdom and true piety. It is not sufficient to give to Yeshivot. We ought to take from them all that they can give - teachings for our children, love of learning, loyalty to Torah scholarship and Torah scholars and love of God. And the taking should be done not half-heartedly, but with both hands - the more the better.
Here then are the basic ingredients of an ish shel berakha: He is spotlessly clean from within and without, cheerful and uncomplaining. He caters to the physical as well as the spiritual and intellectual needs of his people. He is eager to learn and to teach, to influence others for the good and to be influenced himself. Such an individual is a credit to his family and a source of blessing to klal Yisrael.