Shabbos – Parshas Ki Tz’zeh

Woke up late and did not feel well. Decided that I needed the round trip 11 mile walk to Anshe Sholom. Left a little late, 8:30 AM. Walking on Broadway, near the Shul, I saw a family with 5 kids walking to Shul. I knew that they could not be from the neighborhood, as it is rare for a large family to belong to Anshe Sholem and the boy was wearing his Tzizis out. By the time a family has a few kids, they move north to West Rogers Park or Skokie.

Of course I spoke to them and they were visiting Chicago from Teaneck, New Jersey, ground zero for Modern Orthodox Jews. It seems that everyone at Boca Raton Synagogue has a relative in Teaneck. The family belongs to Rabbi Sholem Baum’s Shul, Kether Torah (refer to my July post) and live a block from my cousins in Teaneck.  They said, my cousins are the ones  that have a son (Rabbi in Omaha, Neberska, featured on my Blog) who sold  his Chometz to Warren Buffett.

They said they saw Rabbi Perry Tirschwell a few weeks ago. Rabbi Tirschwell is moving to Teaneck. I know Rabbi Perry Tirschwell from Boca Raton and wish him well in his new position as National Director, National Council of Young Israel.

Walked into Anshe Sholem at 10:20 AM and the services were at the fifth Aliyah. Rabbi David Wolkenfeld introduces each Aliyah with a 2 minute Torah thought.

Rabbi Wolkenfeld spoke on these Verses:

אֶלבֵּיתוֹ, לַעֲבֹט עֲבֹטוֹ.

10 When thou dost lend thy neighbour any manner of loan, thou shalt not go into his house to fetch his pledge.

יא  בַּחוּץ, תַּעֲמֹד; וְהָאִישׁ, אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה נֹשֶׁה בוֹ, יוֹצִיא אֵלֶיךָ אֶתהַעֲבוֹט, הַחוּצָה.

11 Thou shalt stand without, and the man to whom thou dost lend shall bring forth the pledge without unto thee.

יב  וְאִםאִישׁ עָנִי, הוּאלֹא תִשְׁכַּב, בַּעֲבֹטוֹ.

12 And if he be a poor man, thou shalt not sleep with his pledge;

יג  הָשֵׁב תָּשִׁיב לוֹ אֶתהַעֲבוֹט כְּבוֹא הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ, וְשָׁכַב בְּשַׂלְמָתוֹ וּבֵרְכֶךָּ; וּלְךָ תִּהְיֶה צְדָקָה, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ.  {ס}

13 thou shalt surely restore to him the pledge when the sun goeth down, that he may sleep in his garment, and bless thee; and it shall be righteousness unto thee before the LORD thy God. {S}

Rabbi Wolkenfeld* said that the Torah is telling us that we have to treat people in poverty with respect. We cannot use laws to criminalize poverty. We cannot use the law to hurt and destroy poor people. Rabbi Wolkenfeld gave an example of a poor person with a car that has a broken tail light. He cannot fix it because he has no money. A cop gives him a ticket for not having a tail light. The poor person misses the court date because he cannot take time off from work or does not have money to pay the ticket. There is now a warrant for his arrest. The law has criminalized poverty. This is a terrible injustice. The Torah is telling us that we cannot have laws that criminalize poverty.


Years ago my brother missed a court date for a ticket and later that day the police showed up at my brother’s job to arrest him. My brother was dealing with life’s issues and forgot the court date. Luckily my brother was able to take care of the ticket. Imagine if he hadn’t. He may have ended up in jail and possibly his life ruined. Recently, my friend told me his tragic story. Years ago he received a ticket for a nonsensical issue, was not able to go to court, and this led to series of events that led to years of problems, all because the law criminalized innocent behavior.

I walked over the Rabbi Wolkenfeld and told him that my 11 mile round trip walk, just to spend 5 minutes in Shul and hear the above Torah though was all worth it. I felt that I could leave the Shul after just five minutes, even though I did not daven, because I heard a beautiful, profound Torah lesson. I stayed and Rabbi Wolkenfeld ‘s speech was magnificent. It was about Jewish identity and with that we become caring people, not only to our family but to all Jews, and to the world.

Left Anshe Sholem at 11:12 AM and made it home at 12:50 PM.

* Rabbi David Wolkenfeld added the following important comments:

Thank you for joining us at ASBI this Shabbat and for this kind and thoughtful reaction to what I said. I hope you’ll make the trek to Lakeview frequently!

One quick-point to emphasize. I believe that the Torah isn’t just telling us to “respect” the poor, but is calling on us to accept some amount of increased risk in our dealings with the poor (letting them have their collateral at night) because applying the law in an objective way, would have a disproportionate impact on the poor [c.f. Anatole France: In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges] and could lead to criminalizing poverty as I described. For more on “criminalizing poverty” see, the last section of this powerful essay by Barbara Ehrenreich:

kol tuv,