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"They have come again."
"The king's soldiers. They are on the march, and will be staying in our town for a few days."
"You know what that means."
"Yes. We will have to house and feed them for the time that they are here."
"How many soldiers is each family required to take in?"
"I'm not sure. I heard that it depends upon how many people live in your house. The more people, the more soldiers you have to take."
"That doesn't make sense. A house which has more people has less room for guests."
"Perhaps. However, people with big families generally have bigger houses and more room for guests."
"Why don't they just decide based upon the size of the house?"
"Yes, I heard that they do that. The size of the house is measured by the number of entrances that it has. Therefore, the soldiers are assigned based upon the number of entrances to the house."
"I hope that is the rule because I have a small house and a big family."
Suddenly there is a knock at the door. The man opens the door to find the king's soldiers standing there.
"We have come to lodge in your house."
"How many of you will be staying here?"
The question is:
Are the soldiers apportioned according the number of people living in the home or according to the number of entrances to the house?
The answer is:
This question is discussed in the Gemora (Bava Basra 11b). According to Rashi's opinion, the Gemora is discussing visiting soldiers seeking housing. The Gemora presents both options of how to distribute the soldiers among the homes. The Gemora concludes that the soldiers are apportioned according to the number of people living in the house. This is also the ruling of the Tur in Choshen Mishpat 172:9.
"Chaim, I really like your watch."
"You are not the first one, Avi. Today someone wanted to buy it from me. He offered me ten dollars."
"That does not seem like enough money for such a nice watch."
"You're right, Avi. The watch is worth a hundred dollars. Naturally, I turned down his offer."
"Even of you had accepted it, Chaim, you could have gotten your watch back. The sale would have been a 'mekach taos' - a mistake. In such a case where the buyer pays less than 5/6 (or 83%) of what the object is worth, the seller can revoke the sale, because he did not receive a fair price."
"Fascinating, Avi. This reminds me of a famous question on this week's parasha."
"Please share it with me, Chaim."
"Eisav sold the bechora (rights of the first born son) to his younger brother Yaakov for a plate of beans. What did those rights entail? The Holy Avodah (Service to Hashem) in the Beis HaMikdash. This avodah originally belonged to the bechoros. When they participated in the chet ha'egel (sin of the golden calf), it was transferred to the tribe of Levi. All of the mitzvos involved with offering the korbonos of Klal Yisrael could have belonged to the descendants of Eisav. How much do you think it is worth?"
"Priceless, just priceless."
"Exactly. Therefore, when Yaakov bought it for just a plate of beans, it was apparently a 'mekach taos.' The sale should have been invalid. This question is raised by the 'Kesones Ohr'."
"That is fascinating. How was Yaakov allowed to keep the bechora?"
"The 'Hafla'ah' begins his answer to this question by citing the Mishna in Pirkei Avos (2:1). 'Be as careful with a light mitzvah as you are with a serious one. For you do not know the reward for the mitzvos. Calculate the loss (of time, money, energy) of a performing a mitzvah against its reward.' This Mishna contradicts itself. If we do not know the reward of a mitzvah, how can we calculate its reward against its loss?"
"That is really puzzling."
"The 'Hafla'ah' answers by quoting a Gemora (Chullin 87a). One man shechted an animal, and another man jumped ahead and covered the spilled blood, thereby 'stealing' the mitzvah of kisui ha'dam (covering the blood of a shechted animal). Rabban Gamliel fined him ten gold coins."
"How did he come up with that amount? We do not know the value of the sechar (reward) that we will receive for a mitzvah."
"Rabban Gamliel chose this amount to see how the man would react. If he accepted the ten gold coins, that would show how much he valued the mitzvah. If he refused it, then we know that the mitzvah was worth much more to him. Rabban Gamliel then would have forced the second man to pay whatever price the first one demanded."
"Now we can understand the Mishna in Pirkei Avos. We do not know the true value of the reward for a mitzvah. In reality, it is limitless. However, we are instructed to make a calculation of the reward of a mitzvah against its loss here in this world. The Mishnah is instructing you to personally evaluate the mitzvah. How much do you value it? How precious is it to you? That is your calculation of the reward."
"Now I understand. Eisav was not interested in the bechora, with all of its responsibilities and severe punishments for mistakes. He truly saw it as only being worth a plate of beans. Therefore, the sale was not a 'mekach taos'."
"Exactly. The 'Hafla'ah' concludes with a compelling thought. One who fulfills a mitzvah, not to receive reward, rather out of love of Hashem, values the mitzvah much more than any reward. What will his reward be? Limitless, unfathomable, unending pleasure. That is the unlimited value of a mitzvah."
Kinderlach . . .
How much is a mitzvah worth to you? Is it worthwhile for you to get up ten minutes earlier in the morning in order to pray with more kavannah (concentration)? Is it worthwhile for you to shvitz a little in order to help your neighbor carry a heavy box? Would you give up ten minutes of your lunch break to learn Halachos of Loshon Hora? Would you give a dollar to tsedaka instead of buying a candy bar? Would you mevater (give in) on a money argument in order to maintain peace? Every mitzvah takes time, money, and effort. How much are you willing to give Hashem for the mitzvah? This shows how much you value it. What is the highest value? When you do a mitzvah purely out of love for Hashem. That mitzvah is priceless. It takes work to achieve this, but that is our goal. Kinderlach, all of your mitzvos should be priceless.
(For further explanation, see the sefer, "Chaim She'yesh Bahem . . .")
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