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The Power of Chesed

One of the prominent karbanot discussed in parshat Vayikra is the korban mincha, which consists of wheat and olive oil mixed together, and then cooked or fried in various ways.

The gemara in Menachot (104b) comments on the Vayikra pasuk 2:1 – “V’nefesh ki takriv korban mincha” – why does the word “nefesh” appear in this pasuk in connection with the korban mincha? The gemara answers that the korban mincha is usually brought by a poor person and so Hashem considers it as if the poor person has offered his very soul – his nefesh - up to Hashem because it is so difficult for a desitute person to afford the korban. Indeed, we see in connection with the korban "oleh v'yored" (5:1-13), where the type of korban brought depends upon the individual's financial status, that the poor man may bring a simple flour offering.

Thus, the mincha offering is associated with destitute individuals. Yet, interestingly, we see that the mincha offering also appears among the offerings that each of the Nesi’im of Bnei Yisroel – the princes of Israel – brought when the Mishkan was completed. As described in parshat Naso (7:12-83), we see that each Nasi brought wheat mixed with olive oil as a mincha offering – solet belulah b’shemen l'mincha.

What can we learn from the fact that the simple mincha typically brought by poor people was also part of the offerings brought by the most prominent, famous and richest princes of Israel?

To develop an answer, let’s first look at an interesting story in gemara Megila 16a. After Achasveirosh commanded Haman to dress up Mordechai and lead him on a horse through Shushan as a reward for foiling the plot of Bigtan and Teresh, Haman went to look for Mordechai to carry out the king’s command. At the time, Mordechai was learning the halachos of korban mincha with his students. Mordechai saw Haman coming and told his students to run away. But as it turns out, Mordechai had nothing to fear since Haman was coming to show him honor as Achasveirosh had commanded.

When Haman asked Mordechai what he had been studying, Mordechai said he was learning about laws of korban mincha. At which point Haman exclaimed, “Your handful of flour has pushed aside my 10,000 kikarim of silver.” That is, the study of the laws of korban mincha defeated the money that Haman had paid to Achashveirosh to kill all the Jews.

The story in gemara Megila thus associates the laws of korban mincha with salvation from our enemies. Of course, the question is why should studying the laws of korban mincha provide such powerful protection from our enemies?

The Midrash Rabba on Bamidbar (13:16) offers a metaphorical explanation of the korban mincha of the nesi'im. The Midrash explains that Hashem obtains "nachas" (derived from "nun" and "chet" in mincha) when a person's Torah (represented by "solet", or wheat) is mixed ("belulah") with good deeds (represented by the "shemen," or oil).

Thus, what the korban mincha mixture teaches us it that Torah and chesed go hand and hand - an individual who engages in both will find greater favor in Hashem's eyes. As the gemara in Avoda Zarah (17b) shares in connection with the dialogue between Rav Elazar ben Parta and Rav Chanina ben Tradyon after both were captured by the Romans, an individual who engages in both Torah study and gemilut chasadim is more likely to merit salvation from enemies than one who engages in Torah study alone (as per the dictum of Rav Huna, "whomever engages solely in Torah study, is likened to one who has no G-d [to protect him].")

At the core of chesed is achdus - unity. When Jews care about each other, and help each other out, Hashem has nachas. And when Hashem is pleased with how we treat each other, then He will protect us from our enemies. It’s only when, chas v’shalom, there is sinat chinam, hatred between Jews, that Hashem withdraws his protection and gives our enemies power over us.

This explains why korban mincha can be brought by the poorest man, and yet also be brought by the richest princes of Israel. Rich or poor, we are all Jews, part of one family. It shouldn’t matter whether someone has a lot of money or a lot of power, or no money or power at all; whether someone is a Torah scholar or a simple Jew working hard to make a living. We need to do chesed for each other, and look out for each other. This is what pleases Hashem.

We can actually see this idea hidden in the word “mincha” itself, which consists of the letters: mem, nun, chet and heh.

If we take away the “chet" from "mincha," we are left with the letters mem, nun, and heh. Maneuver those remaining letters around and it spells…heh, mem, nun - Haman! What’s the missing chet? Chesed. So the very word “mincha” itself teaches us that “chesed” – righteous deeds – is the secret ingredient that enables us to vanquish our enemies and disrupt their plans.  The “chet” (chesed) literally pushes the “heh” that would otherwise spell “haman” all the way to the end of the word.

This is what Haman meant when he said to Mordechai: “Your handful of flour has pushed aside my 10,000 kikarim of silver.”

We see chesed is very powerful. How powerful? The midrash at the beginning of Vayikra explains that when Hashem wanted to speak with Moshe, he called – va’yikra -  “Moshe, Moshe,” and Moshe responded “Hineni” – here I am – I am at your service.

Interestingly, there is pasuk in Tanach where Bnei Yisroel calls for Hashem, and Hashem responds, “Hineni” – I am at your service. Yes, Hashem says He is at our service, ready to help us.

That pasuk is Yeshaya 58:9 – “Then thou shalt call – “tikra” – like “vayikra” - and Hashem shall answer. Thou shalt cry, and Hashem shall say, “Hineni” – here I am!

What do we need to do so that Hashem will be at our service? If you read all the pesukim prior to 58:9, they say things like: “to share your bread with the hungry”; “bring the poor into your house;” “provide clothing to someone who does not have any.” In short, chesed is the answer. Chesed is what persuades Hashem to say to us, “hineni” – here I am to help you. Whatever you need.

In sum, when we practice chesed - one Jew to another - Hashem is literally at our service. May we all be zocheh to practice chesed, and thereby merit salvation.


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