This issue is sponsored l'iluy Nishmas
Vol. 24 No. 15
Naomi Nina (Freedman) bas David Yosef z"l
To Perform Mitzvos Without Delay
"And you shall guard the matzos, because on this very day I took out your hosts from the land of Egypt; and you shall observe this day for all your generations, as an everlasting statute" (12:17)
'Don't read the matzos,' says R. Yashiyah in the Mechilto, 'but the mitzvos'. Just as one may not allow the matzos to turn sour (chametz), so too should one keep mitzvos from turning sour. Consequently, if a mitzvah presents itself, perform it at once. For as the Gemara states in Pesachim (4a) 'Zrizin (keen people) perform mitzvos early,' taking their cue from Avraham Avinu, who "arose early in the morning" to take his son Yitzchak to the Akeidah.
The slogan must clearly be: 'Don't put off for tomorrow what you can do today!" or more succinctly: 'Don't put off for later what you can do now!" In fact, don't procrastinate at all, but perform the mitzvah without delay. The wisdom behind this golden rule lies in a Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (2:14): "Don't say 'I will do it when I have time' " - perhaps you won't have time!
If something is not important enough to do now, then why should it become more important by tomorrow? Who tells you that by tomorrow you won't have found other 'more important matters' to prevent you from doing it then? After all, it is the persuasive power of the Yeitzer ha'Ra that convinces us to postpone our good deeds for tomorrow. He knows so well that 'tomorrow never comes'. So if we allow him to outsmart us today, what makes us think that he will not outsmart us tomorrow? He has proven himself to be smarter than us once, and it is hardly our lack of conviction and willpower (which gave him the upper hand in the first place) that will strengthen our resolve the next time round. If anything, it is the case of 'one sin leading to another' as, having failed once, the spirit of failure will envelop us, leaving us even more vulnerable than we were before.
How aptly the current Pasuk uses the word "guard" with regard to the mitzvos. We are dealing with a vicious and cunning enemy, who will leave no stone unturned to destroy us (spiritually), and we must be on our guard constantly, not to provide him with the ammunition to accomplish his goal. Against such an enemy to be sure, one dare not relax one's guard for one moment.
We have spoken until now about the dangers of falling into the trap of not performing the mitzvah at all when one procrastinates. However, even if one does ultimately perform the mitzvah 'tomorrow' instead of today, one is still guilty of a lack of 'zrizus'. It is a sure sign that simchah is missing from one's performance of mitzvos, and that one is in fact executing them out of mere force of habit, or training, but not out of love. A mitzvah which falls due should arouse such a degree of excitement and enthusiasm, as to await its arrival with eager expectation (as one does with one's holidays!), so that one is prepared to perform it the moment it falls due, with love and devotion. In this way, a person demonstrates how mitzvos are more meaningful to him that all his mundane activities, whereas to delay the performing of mitzvos means to relegate them to a secondary position in favour of his material interests. This is in direct opposition to the phrase that we recite every evening in Ma'ariv: 'For they (the Torah and Mitzvos) are our life and the length of our days'.
And the same concept is contained in "guarding the mitzvos" to which the pasuk refers, since the word "sh'mirah" also implies anticipation, as we find regarding Ya'akov Avinu, when the pasuk writes :"And his (Yosef's) father (Ya'akov) guarded the thing!" (he anticipated the fulfillment of Yosef's dreams).
Just as matzos can become Chometz through one brief moment's laxness, and so can mitzvos. A slight delay in the performance of a mitzvah may well cause that mitzvah to be lost, and even if it doesn't, it will have highlighted a lack of enthusiasm towards the mitzvah at hand.
Performing a mitzvah with alacrity, on the other hand, boosts the mitzvah and enhances its value, ensuring that it will indeed attain true fulfilment, as one deprives the Yeitzer ha'Ra of another victory gained through one's procrastination.
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Two of the Parshiyos of the Tefillin are taken from this week's Sedra ("Kadeish" and "Ve'hoyo ki-yevi'acho"). Both deal exclusively with mitzvos that commemorate Yetzi'as Mitzrayim in one way or another, Pesach and related mitzvos and Tefillin. And both open with the mitzvah of B'chor - "b'chor odom" and "b'chor beheimoh".
It is easy to understand the significance of the first-born. The Torah itself writes at the end of the Sedra "And it was, when Par'oh hardened his heart, refusing to send us out, that Hashem killed all the first-born in the land of Egypt from the first-born of man to the first-born animal. Therefore I am sacrificing to Hashem all the first-born male animals that open the womb and I will redeem all the first-born of my children."
The killing of the first-born Egyptians was actually based on Hashem's first message to Par'oh through Moshe Rabeinu. "And you shall say to Par'oh: 'So says Hashem, Yisrael is My first-born son (the first to acknowledge My Seniority, that I am the Father of the world, and the first to serve Me). And I say to you, send out My son and let 'him' serve Me. Should you refuse to send him out, I shall smite your first-born son'. "
What is not so easy to understand however, is why G-d found it necessary to sanctify the first-born and make them His?
The Meforshim explain that when Hashem struck the Egyptian first-born at Makas Bechoros, there was nothing at all to justify the additional miracle of sparing the Jewish first-born. After all, the Jews had been serving idols no less than the Egyptians, just as the Angels argued at the Yam Suf. Hashem therefore, sanctified the first-born and declared that they were His, thereby earning them Divine protection, saving them from being slain at Makas Bechoros.
There is a third aspect of the Mitzvah of B'chor, however, namely "b'chor chamor". At first it appears most baffling as to why the Torah should give a din b'chor to the donkey, of all animals. No other non-kosher animal earned such a distinction.
Granted, the donkey, unlike the first-born of kosher animals, is not intrinsically holy. But still, this strange privilege begs explanation.
R. Bachye gives two reasons for this phenomenon: 1) Because in Yechezkel (23:20), the Egyptians are compared to donkeys; 2) Because there wasn't a single Jew who did not take with him ninety donkeys laden with silver and gold when he left Egypt (and G-d does not withhold reward from any creature that has performed a good deed). Consequently, He rewarded them with this distinction.
To elaborate further on R. Bachye's first explanation, the Meforshim explain the mitzvah allegorically. The Egyptians are compared to a donkey and the Jews to "a scattered lamb" (Yirmiyoh 50:17). So Hashem sent to Par'oh (the donkey) "Redeem yourself by giving Me (the Cohen) a lamb (Yisrael). Should you refuse, I will 'break your neck' ".
Par'oh refused to comply, so G-d broke his neck.
Moshe and Not Aharon
Although the Torah (12:1) includes Aharon in the command of G-d, in fact, writes the Mechilta, He only spoke to Moshe, not to Aharon (see also Rashi Va'yikro 1:1). The reason that Aharon is also mentioned is because he too, was included in the command (according to Rashi, Moshe was to pass on the information to Aharon individually). And it was in deference to Moshe that Hashem confined His speech to Moshe exclusively.
On only three occasions, the Mechilta continues, was Aharon excluded from the commands, because 'it is impossible'.
Now what are those three occasions?
A number of suggestions appear in the commentaries, including that of the Zayin Ra'anan (by the Mogen Avrohom), which lists the three occasions that Hashem spoke specifically to Aharon (Va'yikro 10:8, Ba'midbor 18:1 and 18:8/20).
However, it is not at all clear as to why it would have been impossible to include Moshe on those occasions, which is after all, what the Tanchumah writes.
The G'ro therefore gives the following three occasions on which Hashem spoke to Aharon exclusively, and the reason that Moshe had to be precluded from the command to Aharon, in each case, is self-apparent.
1. " And Hashem said to Aharon 'Go and meet Moshe in the desert.' " (Sh'mos 4:27)
2. "And Hashem said suddenly to Moshe, to Aharon and to Miriam (simultaneously, but individually) 'Go, all three of you.' " (Ba'midbor 12:4)
3. (Ibid 12:5) "And He called Aharon and Miriam, and they both went out".
In all three cases it is obvious from the context that G-d must have spoken to Aharon directly, and not through Moshe, so that those must be the three cases referred to by the Mechilta.
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