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Vol. 5 No. 16
Livelihood and Faith
If we consider that Hashem created the entire world with nothing more than ten commands, it is hardly conceivable that anything is difficult for Him to achieve. What, then, do Chazal mean when they say: "The livelihood of man is as difficult as the splitting of the Reed Sea"? (Pesochim 118a)
The Ma'aseh Lamelech, quoting the Chofetz Chayim, explains it like this: "The analogy between the crossing of the Reed Sea and man's livelihood is with regard to the initial stage - the stage in which a person is personally involved. The Torah obliges man to make an effort with regard to his livelihood, as it writes: "And He will bless you in all your endeavours". And that was exactly the case by the splitting of the Reed Sea, where Hashem instructed Moshe: "Tell the B'nei Yisroel to travel".
It is only when the people have gone into the sea as far as they possibly can, that the sea will split, since that is the method that G-d employs in miracle-making: the miracle will only occur after man has done all that lies within his power to do naturally - and it is the same with the miracle of parnosoh.
Ultimately, it is G-d who provides. That is not difficult. It is the initial move made by man that is difficult. By the splitting of the sea, it required a momentous effort on the part of Yisroel to jump into the churning sea. And when it comes to man's parnosoh, it requires no less an effort on man's part, to find the right job and to throw himself into his work, without really knowing where his income will come from, and without any form of concrete guarantee that there will even be any income.
The Ma'aseh Lamelech also quotes the Chofetz Chayim on faith. He illustrates the possuk "Throw your load onto Hashem and He will feed you" (Tehillim 55) with a parable. A poor traveller was once carrying a heavy sack weighing 33 kg. when a rich man stopped his wagon and offered to carry his load. The poor man gratefully accepted, but before placing the sack onto the wagon, he transferred 3 kg. into a smaller sack, which he once more slung over his shoulder.
"What are you doing?" asked the rich man in surprise. "Do you really think that, if I can take the 30 kg. I cannot take the other three? Throw the whole lot onto my wagon and let me transport it all for you!" And so it is with man's parnosoh, says the Chofetz Chayim. Ask a young newly-married man of twenty how much his father-in-law gave him to invest in business (as was customary in those times), and he will answer you "So and so much and, Boruch Hashem, I will be able to sustain my family with that for three or four years, even if G-d forbid, no business comes my way." And if you question him further as to what he will do for the remaining forty-six years of his life, he will tell you how he has faith that Hashem will help him to find work with which to sustain himself.
Now why is it, asks the Chofetz Chayim, that for the years ahead, when the young man has nothing, he resorts to faith, whereas when he talks of the three or four current years for which he does have money, he relies on his money and speaks in terms of "even if, G-d forbid, no business comes my way"? What has happened to his faith with regard to these first years? Surely, the G-d who will find him a source of income later, when he has no money, can find him a good investment now, when he has?
That is what Dovid ha'Melech meant when he wrote: "Throw your load onto Hashem" - the whole load, not just part of it! If He can carry the 30 kg., He can just as ably carry the remaining three.
And perhaps that is precisely what Chazal are trying to tell when they compare parnosoh to the crossing of the Reed Sea. It may well be that the B'nei Yisroel played their part by jumping into the sea. Yet nobody was fool enough to believe that with their efforts, they had split the sea. Every single Jew understood that ultimately, in spite of those hard efforts, it was Hashem who performed the miracle. So too, when it comes to man's parnosoh, he must realise that, in spite of all his hard work, and in spite of the strong illusion of success that hard work creates, the miracle of parnosoh is ultimately the work of G-d.
Measure for Measure
Every good deed that a man performs, is repaid by Hashem measure for measure. Indeed, so is every bad deed (as the Gemoro writes in Sotoh 9b). Perhaps one of the most stunning examples of this is contained in next week's Parshah, where Yisro finally realised G-d's Omnipotence only through the fact that He drowned the Egyptians in water - at the Reed Sea, because that is what they did to the Jewish babies - measure for measure (on a national scale - through Hashgochoh K'lolis).
In this week's parshah too, we have a prime example of G-d's quality of dealing with man measure for measure (although here, it is in a private capacity - through Hashgochoh Protis).
It was Moshe Rabeinu himself who saw to (the first stage of) the burial of Yosef ha'Tzadik's remains. What did Yosef do to merit that the greatest Jew alive should see to his burial? The answer is that he, the greatest Jew of his time, saw to the burial of his father, the Tzadik Ya'akov.
And because Moshe went out of his way to see to Yosef's burial, he merited that Hashem Himself tended to his.
"Bring them and plant them on the mountain of your inheritance." At that stage there had been no decree, either against Yisroel or against Moshe, forbidding them to enter the land, yet Moshe and Yisroel sang "Bring them and plant them", instead of "Bring us and plant us". To teach us, explains the Gemoro in Bovo Basro (119b), that Yisroel prophesied here - without even realising it - that they would not enter Eretz Yisroel, only their children.
It is not at first clear as to why this hint is brought here, at a time when Yisroel had reached the highest levels of faith. Why does the Torah choose here of all places, to show us what would happen after Yisroel would sin by the meraglim?
The answer however, lies in the question. Yisroel at the Yam Suf, saw the might of G-d's Hand, but they also appreciated the extent of His Power, as the Shiroh itself testifies.
So convinced were they of the Kidush Hashem that the drowning of the mighty Egyptian army had caused, and of the impact that it had on the nations of the world, that they, with prophetic vision, were able to announce 'Then the Princes of Edom were confused, terror gripped the mighty men of Mo'ov, all the inhabitants of Cana'an('s hearts) melted' etc.
How could these very same people, barely a year later, moan in fear, because they did not believe that Hashem could help them overcome the Cana'anim? What had happened to the mighty hand of G-d that Yisroel had so recently acknowledged? It is one thing for someone who has never experienced G-d's greatness and who cannot possibly therefore appreciate it, to lack faith. But it is quite another thing for a nation who had just seen and fully realised G-d's awesome powers. For them to cry out in frustration - rooted in sheer disbelief that G-d could possibly help them - was inexcusable. That is why the posuk continues "Bring them and plant them" - them, but not us! We, who have seen and will reject, will not deserve to go to Eretz Yisroel.
Hashem the Doctor
"If you will listen . . . (then) all the illnesses that I put on the Egyptians, I will not put on you, because I am Hashem your doctor."
The best doctor is undoubtedly the one who can prevent people from becoming sick. Indeed today, preventive medicine and dentistry are a highly specialised field. And doesn't the old adage say "Prevention is better than cure"?
That is what Rashi means when he writes, in his second explanation, that Hashem is our doctor and that He cures by teaching us Torah and mitzvos, which spares us from becoming sick. It is like the doctor who tells his patient 'Don't eat this or that, because it will make you ill!' And presumably, that is also what the Gemoro means in B'rochos (5a) when it infers from this posuk that anyone who studies Torah, will be spared suffering.
Rebbi Yochonon in Sanhedrin (101a) interpets this possuk differently: he explains that if we obey Hashem's commands, then we will not become sick, but if we don't, then we will. Nevertheless, Hashem is our doctor, and if we do teshuvah, He will forgive us and cure us, like He did by the episode of the copper snake (see Mishnah Rosh Hashonoh 29a).
To sum up: Hashem is our doctor who specialises in preventative medecine, and He has taught us that the best prevention against tsoros that exists is called ‘Torah’.
But He is as great an expert in cures. There, too, He has prescribed the finest cure for tsoros. It is called ‘Teshuvah’.
About The Mitzvos
The Mishnah at the end of Makos states 'Hakodosh Boruch Hu wanted to increase Yisroel's merit, so he gave them a lot of mitzvos!'
The Rambam explains this Mishnah in the light of his principle that a person can merit a place in the World to Come by performing just one mitzvah perfectly. Consequently, he explains what the Mishnah is telling us is, that in order to give every Jew a chance to acquire a portion in the World to Come, He gave us many mitzvos. In the course of performing so many mitzvos, the chances of fulfilling at least one of them to perfection are good.
The Seifer ha'Chinuch explains that by giving us so many mitzvos, Hashem has enabled us to perform mitzvos at every twist and turn. Wherever one is, whenever it is, one will always be surrounded with mitzvos, so that we can literally fill our lives with good deeds.
We can also explain the Mishnah with Rebbi Dessler, who explains the word 'z'chus ovos' to mean the purity of the Fathers - from the word 'zach' (pure). Here too, what the Tana is saying is that Hashem wanted to purify Yisroel, therefore He gave them a lot of mitzvos; because 'the chief function of Torah and mitzvos is to purify and to perfect Yisroel, to fill them with good character-traits' (Medrash Tanchuma).
A popular interpretation of the Mishnah is based on the Gemoro in Kidushin (31a), which states that someone who keeps mitzvos which Hashem has commanded him is greater than someone who keeps the mitzvos that he has not been commanded (but volunteers to). There are many mitzvos which do not really need G-d's command, since they are so obvious, that we would have observed them anyway - not to steal, not to murder etc. So the question arises, why then did Hashem need to command us something which we do anyway?
The answer lies in the above Gemoro in Kidushin - it is in order to give us more reward, since a mitzvah that is performed because G-d commanded it, is more valuable, and carries with it more reward. So Hashem turns our voluntary deeds into mitzvos. And that is precisely what the Mishnah in Makos is saying: "Hakodosh Boruch Hu wanted to increase our merits, so He gave us a lot of mitzvos - turning even those things that we would have done anyway, into mitzvos.
THE MITZVOS OF TODAY
Adapted from the Seifer ha'Mitzvos ha'Kotzer of the Chofetz Chayim.
15. For each person to write himself a Sefer-Torah - as the Torah writes in Devorim (31:19) "Write for yourself this song", which our Sages explain to mean 'Write the Torah which contains this song - Ha'azinu' (since one does not write separate sections of the Torah).
When someone writes a Sefer-Torah by hand, it is considered as if he had received it from Har Sinai. If he is unable to write it himself, then he should either buy one or hire someone to write it for him. Even someone who already has a Sefer-Torah from his father, is nevertheless obliged to write his own. And if he corrects just one letter in a Sefer-Torah which is possul, it is as if he had written the whole Sefer. The Rosh writes that the above is only applicable to the early generations, who used to write a Sefer-Torah and learn from it. But nowadays, when one tends to write a Sefer-Torah and leave it in Shul for the community to lein from, the format of the mitzvah has changed. Nowadays, the mitzvah comprises buying Chumoshim, Mishnayos, a Shas and their commentaries, in order that he and his sons should study them. Because the purpose of this mitzvah is in order to study the Sefer, and it is through the Gemoro and its commentaries, that one gets to know the explanation of the Mitzvos and the Dinim in a thorough manner. Consequently today, these are the Seforim which a man is commanded to ‘write’.
Someone who is able to fulfill both of the above connotations of the mitzvah, is fortunate indeed. This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men but not to women.
16. To cleave to the Chachomim and to their disciples - as the Torah writes (Devorim 10:20) "And you shall cleave to Him!" Can one really cleave to Hashem? But Chazal have said (Kesubos 111b) that if someone cleaves to the Chachomim, it is as if he had cleaved to the Shechinah. Therefore he should marry the daughter of a talmid-chochom, and marry off his daughters to talmidei-hachomim; he should eat with talmidei-hachomim and let them benefit from his property. And he should sit at the feet of talmidei-hachomim and drink their words with thirst. This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and women alike.
17. To stand up before an old man and to honour a talmid-chochom and to stand up before him - as the Torah writes (Vayikra 19:32) "Stand up before an old man and honour a 'zokein'". A 'zokein', Chazal explain, means someone who has acquired wisdom ('zeh shekonoh' - chochmoh - is the acronym of 'zokein'), even if he is a child, one must stand up for him to one's full height (which is not necessary before an old man who is not learned).
The obligation to stand up applies the moment he enters one's four amos - about seven feet - (though today, we tend to stand up the moment he enters the room) and remains in force until he has passed. One is also obliged to honour one's Rebbe - even one from whom he did not learn the majority of what he knows.
It is a grave sin to despise the Chachomim or to hate them, and anyone who despises the Chachomim forfeits his portion in the World to Come. (Someone who asks "What have the Rabbonon done for us?" is an Apikores.)
A Rav is permitted to forego his honour.
This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and to women alike.
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