In commemoration of the 7th yahrzeit of our father and Zaidie, Cecil A. Labow- Zisse Alexander ben Yisrael Meir HaLevi Z”L on the 3rd of Av
Prepared by Martin S. Labow and Devorah Bat-Sheva Abenhaim
When one walks in to The Jewish Hospital of Hope Pavilion of the Jewish Eldercare Centre in Montreal, they will notice a plaque. This plaque plays tribute to the individuals who were instrumental in the relocation of the hospital from 7745 Sherbrooke St. East, an area far removed from the Jewish Community, to its present location on Victoria. Under the names of these specific individuals it states:
“Rabbi Gamliel Said: Let all who work for the community do so from a spiritual motive, for then the merit of their fathers will sustain them, and their righteousness will endure forever”. “I credit you with great reward (G-d says) as if you accomplished it all”.
This week, it is customary to read the fifth Chapter in פרקי אבות, “Ethics of our Fathers”. The second Mishnah is the source of the above quote. The question here is “Why does Rabbi Gamliel single out those who do communal affairs, whereas in the 12th Mishnah of this chapter, Rabbi Yossi says “…let all your deeds be for the sake of Heaven”? In order to understand this, we would have to go back to the beginning of the second Mishnah, where it says that “it is good to combine the study of Torah with an occupation, for the effort required by them both keeps sin out of mind, while Torah study that is not combined with work will ultimately cease and leads to sin”. This is specifically directed to the Torah scholar. It stresses the importance of not being a burden to the community, because if he the scholar has an occupation, he will be able to both support himself and learn Torah. This is exemplified by the “Hesder Yeshiva”, which combines Torah learning, with training towards a profession. We now get to the message/reward directed to those who work for the community. It is stressed that they should also have an occupation as a source of income, or have sufficient resources that they should not be under suspicion of doing the work for ulterior motives. The work that they are doing should be “for the sake of Heaven….” לשם שמים”, “ and not for the sake of income. Rabbi Moshe Bogolmilsky, in his commentary on פרקי אבות, says that “when one works for community, and receives monetary compensation, he is opening himself up to suspicion and disrespect”. The ideal communal workers should be those who can sincerely dedicate their time and efforts to the cause without any thought of monetary compensation. We are proud to say that our father/zaide, whose name adorns the plaque as President, measured up to this ideal.
Moshe Rabeinu, could not understand why his cousins, and fellow-Levites, Datan and Abiram aspired to the Priesthood, and accused Moses’s of being the seeker of glory and riches (as they certainly were), when in fact, he says to G-d in Bamidbar 16:15, “אַל־תֵּ֖פֶן אֶל־מִנְחָתָ֑ם לֹ֠א חֲמ֨וֹר אֶחָ֤ד מֵהֶם֙ נָשָׂ֔אתִי וְלֹ֥א הֲרֵעֹ֖תִי אֶת־אַחַ֥ד מֵהֶֽם” “Do not accept their offering. I have not taken so much as a donkey from them, nor have I wronged any of them.” Why does Moshe mention this? When Moshe left Midian with his wife after Hashem told him to return to Egypt, it says in Shemot 4:20, “וַיִּקַּ֨ח מֹשֶׁ֜ה אֶת־אִשְׁתּ֣וֹ וְאֶת־בָּנָ֗יו וַיַּרְכִּבֵם֙ עַֽל־הַֽחֲמֹ֔ר” that he used his own donkey to transport himself and family. He did not claim this expense from B’nai Yisrael. Moses, as Israel’s leader, says Rabbi Johnathan Sacks, had always prayed on behalf of his people, even for his sister Miriam when she was struck with leprosy for speaking “lashon hara” (badly) about him. Everything that he did, he did was “לשם שמים”, “for the Sake of Heaven” Moshe was THE ideal community worker.