Parshas Chayei Soroh 5759
Shvitzing for a Mitzvoh
Mitzvohs demand physical and mental elbow grease
"And the young girl was very pretty, a virgin untouched by any man. She went down to the well, she filled her jug and came back up." (Bereishis 24:16)
Rashi, (v.17), based on the Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 60:5), comments that Eliezer, the servant of Avraham, noticed a miracle taking place. He saw that the water rose to meet Rivka and filled her jugs without any need for her to draw the water alone. When Eliezer saw that, he was convinced that this was the young woman destined to be the wife of Yitzchok, the son of his master Avraham.
The Ramban posits that the Midrash derived its comment from the fact that the verse omits any mention of her "drawing" the water herself, it only says that, "...she filled her jug". Afterwards, in v.20, when Rivka is watering Eliezer's camels, the Torah writes that she, "...drew water for all his camels".
R' Levi Yiztchok of Berditchev, in his magnum opus, Kedushas Levi, asks what is the difference between the first time she went to the well when the water rose to meet her and the second time when she drew the water herself?
He answers that there are deeds which are obligations and those which are discretionary. The first time she went to the well was to drink for herself and to bring water for her family. Providing for one's own physical needs is a discretionary activity. Because of her righteousness, a miracle occurred and the water rose up to meet her and she filled her jug without having to draw the water up.
The second time was a mitzvoh of Chesed when she gave water to Eliezer and his pack of camels. As the sages concluded, "Mitzvos require Kavannah (intention)." (Tamlud Bavli, Brochos 13a) This intention includes not only mindful intention but also the physical effort involved. The more effort one puts into a mitzvoh, the more exquisite it becomes in the eyes of the Creator. By doing so, a Jew shows his desire to fulfill the will of Hashem and that gives Him much pleasure. One's extra effort in mitzvohs show his joy in serving the Creator. Therefore, the second time, when Rivka wanted to draw water for Eliezer and his camels, Hashem didn't make any miracles, but rather let her exert herself in the mitzvoh. (A thirsty camel just off a long desert journey can easily drink 150 liters of water [40 gallons] which weighs 150 kilos [330 lbs]. And that's just a drop in the bucket! Rivka drew water for all ten of Eliezer's camels.!)
This physical and mental elbow grease is an integral part of every aspect of one's Divine service. It is the difference between doing a mitzvoh and doing A MITZVOH. Joy, mindfulness, and passion while doing mitzvohs disclose one's true intentions.
The early chassidim (from Mishnaic times) used to prepare for an hour before the morning prayers, pray for an hour and then reflect on their prayers for an hour afterwards. (Talmud Brochos 30b). (They did this three times each day!) What did they do for those 2 hours before and after the tefilla? They beseeched Hashem that their prayers would be clear and pure, rise up and be accepted before Hashem. They would remove all other thoughts from their minds, focusing on the Creator until their whole being would declare, "...Hashem, mi k'mocha, Hashem, who is like you!" (Psalms 35:10) Then they davenned with every fiber of their being; a deep outpouring of the soul and a shaking off of physical constraints. After davenning, they continued to beseech Hashem that their prayers be considered favorable. Anybody who struggles to stay mindful during davenning can appreciate the efforts of these chassidim.
It is told of the close disciples of the
Ba'al Shem Tov, that their preparation for morning prayers was such that when they put on their tallis and tefillin, felt as if they weren't even connected to the ground. As if by donning their tefillin, they were borne aloft into another world, a world full of light.
Once R' Mordechai of Lecovitz received a kvittle (written note) from one of his chassidim. In it, the chassid wrote that when he would place his tefillin on his arm he would become so possessed with spiritual awe, that he was rarely able to manage to continue and place the tefillin of the head!
Yet more often than not, one doesn't have an overly spiritual experience when doing mitzvos. How is it possible to awaken and get more out of doing mitzvos, or more accurately, give more nachas to Hashem by our mitzvos?
One way is according to the principle of, "Ta'amu U'R'oo, Ki Tov Hashem, taste (experience the mitzvoh) and (then you will) see that Hashem is good". (Psalms 34:9, Shabbos morning prayers) It is common for people to miss the deeper experience of a mitzvoh because they don't want to do the mitzvoh without first understanding what it means, or because they give up on the mitzvoh before it has the chance to penetrate their hearts.
"Ta'amu U' R'oo, Ki Tov Hashem, taste (experience the mitzvoh) and (then you will) see that Hashem is good". First. taste the mitzvoh. After experiencing it for some time, even without feeling or understanding. If your desire is to come closer to Hashem through that mitzvoh and to give nachas to the Creator, then a deeper feeling will blossom.
This was the declaration of the entire Jewish people at Mt. Sinai as they accepted the Torah, "...all that You say, we will do and then we will understand". (Shemos 24:7) The meanings behind the mitzvos are so deep that without practicing them it is only an intellectual exercise. Judasim is a full being experience.
(Kedushas Levi, Parshas Chaye Soroh, "VaYaratz Haeved"; Sefer HaMayan HaNitzchi, Chate Soroh, Ma'amar 2)
Dovid HaMelech said, "To every goal I have seen a limit, but your mitzvos are extremely expansive." (Psalms 119:96) On this the
Maggid of Mezeritch asked a question. What does it mean, "...but your mitzvos are extremely expansive"? We see that most mitzvos are specific limits. The Sukkah has to be at least 7x7 cubits, and no more than 20 cubits high. The tefillin need to be 2x2 finger breadths, you need to eat an olive sized piece of matzoh to fulfill the mitzvoh. etc.
Yet, the mitzvohs that we do are only the tip of the iceberg. They only hint to what they represent above. There they are truly limitless in terms of how much influence they have and how much nachas ruach (delight) they bring to Hashem. One small mitzvoh sets tremendous spiritual forces into action, creating a ripple effect that reaches out into countless celestial spheres. No single mitzvoh is isolated; each one enhances the spiritual aura of the entire universe - forever.
That is why we say before every mitzvoh, "...asher kidishanu b'mitzvosav...", who has sanctified us by your commandments. That is the final result of the mitzvoh. The Maggid says that it means that Hashem does the same mitzvohs that He commands us to do! That is certainly enough to inspire us to do mitzvohs with energy and enthusiasm.
(Sefer Derech Chassidim, p.210, 15)
R' Moshe Cordevero of Sfas writes in Tomer Devorah, that one need not understand the full kavvanoh in order to do mitzvohs. But it is important to know that each mitzvoh has tremendous implications above. This fact can be of great encouragement to one who will advance in Divine service.
A Weighty Decision
The tzaddik, R' Dovid of Lelov made his living selling beer and spirits to the local gentiles. "Once, I was in his home one morning at dawn," recalled R' Yiztchok of Vorki, "Just as he had enwrapped himself in his tallis and tefillin in preparation for the morning davenning. A surprise knock at the door revealed a local peasant who had come to buy a jug of beer. No other members of the household were yet awake, so R' Dovid took care of the customer himself."
Making mitzvohs the priority in one's life.
"He took the peasant's container and with great diligence, intently measured out the beer, making sure that the peasant got an exact measure of beer with no foam."
"As R' Dovid was pouring the beer, the gentile began to dicker over the price, trying to get a bit more beer for the same money. Abruptly, R' Dovid poured the beer back into the barrel, turned on his heels and headed back to his study to begin the morning davenning."
"I could not understand what I had just witnessed. Why did he even bother to start with the peasant, and since he had already begun, why didn't he finish? Later that morning I had a chance to ask the tzaddik about the incident."
"From the time I was young," he answered, "I was taught that the guiding principle for a Jew is '...to know Him in all your ways'. (Proverbs 3:6) A person must have in mind to always follow Hashem and to give Him delight in all his actions."
"Therefore when the peasant came looking for beer, I saw the opportunity to fulfill the mitzvoh of keeping accurate weights and measures. (Devarim 25:15) But when I realized that our encounter had become no more than plain business, I withdrew myself, for what delight would Hashem have from this?
A Polished Salesman
Once an impoverished yet pious woman came and poured out her heart to R' Chaim of Tzanz, the Divrei Chaim. "I haven't even got the means to provide for Shabbos," she cried out pitifully.
There is no time like the present for doing a mitzvoh.
"Don't you have an apple cart in the market," queried R' Chaim?
"Yes," she replied, "But people complain that my apples are no good, so they don't sell."
R' Chaim, deciding to take the matter into his own hands, went straight out to the market square. Standing behind the poor woman's apple cart in his fur hat and royal attire, he called out in a booming voice, "Apples for sale, beautiful apples for sale."
Within moments, customers were crowded around the apple cart vying with each other to buy the tzaddik's produce. Price was no object. Everyone wanted an opportunity to buy even a few apples. Soon the entire stock was sold out and a handsome profit was earned.
"It seems that the townsfolk were simply misinformed," said R' Chaim wistfully. "As you can see, your apples are perfectly fine!"
HAPPY IS THE ONE WHO KNOWS HIS PLACE
The relationship that an ordinary person has with Judaism's sages and teachers is symbiotic. This relationship can only succeed when each one knows his proper place in relationship to the other.
"The servant then took ten of his master's camels, bringing along the best things of his master. He set off and went to Aram Naharayim, to the city of Nachor." (Bereishis 24:10)
Rashi - Avraham Avinu's camels were especially recognizable. They were always muzzled in order to prevent them from grazing in the fields of others along the way, which is an act of theft. (Bereishis Rabbah 59:11)
And the man (Eliezer) came to the house (of Rivka's father) and opened (the muzzles of) the camels, and gave them straw and fodder, and took water to wash his feet and the feet of his entourage. (Bereishis 24:32)
Rashi: "Opened" means taking off their muzzles. As mentioned above, Avraham's camels always traveled muzzled. They were now unmuzzled so that they could eat and drink. (Bereishis Rabbah 60:8)
Here is the continuation of the second Midrash quoted above:
(Part 1) "R' Huna and R' Yermiah asked R' Chiyya bar R' Abba, "Weren't the camels of Avraham Avinu (an extension of himself) as righteous as the donkey of R' Pinchos ben Yair?" (a Mishnaic sage who lived some 1800 years after Avraham)
The donkey of R' Pinchos ben Yair was captured by bandits, and taken to their secret cave in the hills. After three days the donkey still hadn't eaten anything. The bandits were worried that he would die and the stench of the rotting carcass would give away their hiding place. So they sent him back to his master. The donkey set out for home. When R' Pinchos heard the braying and howling of the donkey outside, he immediately recognized the voice. He instructed his household to quickly bring the famished animal something to eat since he knew that it hadn't eaten for days.
They brought some barley, but the starving animal wouldn't eat it. R' Pinchos asked "Did you remove the Trumah tithes?" (the portion for the Cohen). "Yes", they replied. R' Pinchos further inquired, "Did you take out the rest of the tithes?". "No", they said. "Did not the Rebbe teach us that animal food does not require separation of the remainder of the tithes?" "What can I do", replied R' Pinchos, "My donkey is stringent with himself!"
(Part 2) R' Yermiah sent a basket of figs to R' Zeira as a gift. Thought R' Yermiah to himself upon sending the gift, "It is possible that R' Zeira would eat the figs and not first separate the tithes?" Upon receiving the figs R' Zeira thought, "Is it possible that R' Yermiah would send me something from which he hasn't already separated the tithes?" So R' Zeira ate the figs not knowing that they were tevel (produce from which tithes have not been removed), and therefore forbidden.
The next day R' Yermiah met R' Zeira. "By the way," asked R' Zeira, "Did you separate the tithes from the figs that you sent me?" "No", answered R' Yermiah, "It never occurred to me that you would eat them without first separating the tithes yourself!"
R' Abba bar Yemina, who was also present lamented, "If the Avos and Imahos (forefathers and foremothers) were on the level of angels, then we are like ordinary people. But if the Avos and Imahos are like ordinary people, then we are no more than animals - and not even as righteous as the animal of R' Pinchos ben Yair! He refrained from eating tevel where we have stumbled!"
Upon closer look, the Midrash is difficult to understand. What is the connection between the animals of Avraham Avinu and R' Pinchos, and the un-tithed figs of R' Yermiah? The two parts seem to have no connection to each other. I heard from Rav Shlomo Ashkenazi shlit"a, of Jerusalem, a fabulous explanation of this puzzling Midrash.
A careful reading reveals a common denominator between the two parts: R' Yermiah. It was R' Yermiah who raised the initial question; whether or not the camels of Avraham Avinu were as righteous as the donkey of R' Pinchos. It was the same R' Yermiah, who by not tithing the figs caused R' Zeira to stumble.
R' Yermiah's attempted comparison of his predecessor of five generations, R' Pinchos ben Yair, to Avraham Avinu, initiates a series of comparisons diminishing the stature of all: When Avraham, by comparing him to a much later sage like R' Pinchos, is reduced from the level of an angel to that of an ordinary person, then the ordinary person is further reduced to the level of an animal. When man sinks to the level of an animal, he cannot be even as righteous an animal as the donkey of R' Pinchos ben Yair.
Any Questions? Comments?