Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Yitzchak Cohen
Michtav Me’Eliyahu, Rav Eliyahu Dessler’s seminal work, takes a penetrating look at a host of topics ranging from our relationship with G-d, fellow man, and ourselves. In this stimulating course, Rabbi Cohen discusses these profound essays, inspiring us to think and grow.
In his famous essay, Kuntres Hachessed, Rav Dessler analyzes the concept of being a notein, a giver and a notel, a taker. Hashem gives without expectation of anything in return. Man too has the ability to emulate Hashem by becoming a giver. Taking indicates a love for oneself. This desire is so strong it can lead a person to thievery and dishonesty. Rav Dessler notes that a person is obligated to become a giver and not be dependent on others.
If the purpose of our lives is to give and not expect repayment, how can one engage in business where the goal is to profit more than was invested? Michtav M’Eliyahu answers this with two examples from the Torah. The Torah says that Chanoch walked with Hashem. He worked as a shoemaker. With every stitch that he sewed he was meyached yichudim, he unified higher unities. Rav Dessler explains that his mind was not on spiritual matters but on producing a perfect shoe, because if his thoughts would have been on Torah the shoe would not have been perfect. This teaches us that working at peak efficiency in order to produce a quality product is equated with being meyached yichudim.
Similarly, Yaakov worked faithfully as a shepherd for Lavan for over twenty years and did not learn Torah while on the job. The Torah idea of working and business is to take in order to give back a perfect product. Payment is only a way to enable us to continue giving.
The gemara in Nedarim notes three kinds of people who are considered dead: someone who is blind, a poor person, and someone who is childless. What is the shared characteristic of these three people? They are all unable to give in a fundamental way. Life is the ability to help others.
In the beginning of Parshat Shemot, Paro asked his three advisors, Bilam, Iyov and Yitro what to do with the Jews. Bilam devised a plan to enslave them, Iyov kept quiet, and Yitro defended them. Bilam was punished with death, Iyov was stricken with suffering, and Yitro was rewarded.
Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz asks, if suffering seems worse than death, why was Iyov punished more severely than Bilaam? He answers that in fact Bilaam’s punishment was harsher. The mere fact that Iyov was still alive meant that he could still give of himself, help others, and share in other peoples’ happiness. Giving is equated with true life.
Rav Dessler asks, does love cause giving or does giving create love? At first glance it seems that love arouses a person to give. But Rav Dessler argues the opposite is true. In Parshat Shoftim, the Torah exempts three people from going out to war: one who planted a vineyard but did not reap its fruit, one who built a home but did not consecrate it, and one who was mekadesh a woman but did not complete the nisuin. Can one compare love of a field or house to a wife? He answers that all three people invested a part of themselves into something that they have become attached to. This demonstrates that giving causes love.
The Michtav M’Eliyahu writes that true ahavat Hashem can only be achieved by cultivating the mida of hakarat hatov. When Hashem revealed himself to the Jewish people at Har Sinai he said, “Anochi Hashem Elokecha asher hozeiticha m’eretz Mitzrayim.” The foundation of knowing Hashem is feeling gratitude for all the miracles he did and continues to do for us.
There are three instances in the Torah that mention ahava, Yaakov’s love for Rachel, the Torah commandment to love our fellow Jew, and the mitzva of ahavat Hashem. Showing gratitude to one’s spouse and fellow Jews spills over to our relationship with Hashem. Ungratefulness stems from a deficiency in giving. If a person does not have ahavat chaveirim, he cannot come to true ahavat Hashem.
Giving of oneself is the highest level of netina. Working to perfect this mida will bring us to shleimut and helps us come closer to Hashem, the ultimate giver.