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"This shall be the reward because you hearken to these ordinances, and you observe and perform them; Hashem, your G-d, will safeguard for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your forefathers" (Devarim 12:7).

The Hebrew word "eikev," which in this sentence means "because," can also be translated to mean "heel." Therefore, Rashi brings the Midrashic interpretation of the Sages who said that one will be rewarded if he hearkens to the lighter commands which a person usually treads on with his heels (i.e. which a person is inclined to treat lightly).

We once explained that it is common for people to observe those commandments which are, or he considers to be, "important." But they are lax in observing the "less important" ones. The truth is, however, that it is specifically by obeying Hashem's "insignificant" mitzvahs that one proves that he is G-d's proper servant. For a loyal servant does not delve into the importance of his master's request; he simply fulfills them as is expected of him.

In a similar manner, there are different parts to the very same mitzvah. Some of them seem more important to us than others. Those parts according to which will be decided whether or not we have fulfilled our obligation are surely understood to be crucial. However, those which merely enhance the mitzvah and elevate it to a higher level are scorned by many of us as just being something "for extra credit."

The Torah Giants, whom we are supposed to emulate, not only performed even those parts of the mitzvah with the same zeal and enthusiasm with which they perform the mitzvah itself. Sometimes, as in the following, amazing story, they even perform them sacrificially. The end, however, is sometimes very surprising.

Rabbi Shemuel Blech, shlita, the Rav of Lakewood, is one of the elite group of graduates of R.J.J (the Rabbi Jacob Josef Yeshiva and Mesivta) which helped the Gaon, Harav Aharon Kotler ztvk"l establish the illustrious yeshiva of Lakewood, Beth Medrash Govoha, which is today, perhaps, the biggest yeshiva in the world. Once, at a festive gathering, Reb Shmuel told some very interesting stories about the Rosh Yeshiva zt"l, including, I believe, the following one.

Towards the end of a life of self-dedication to spreading Torah in Europe and, subsequently, in the spiritual wastelands of America, Reb Aharon contracted a type of stomach cancer R.l., to which he eventually succumbed.

While in the hospital, the Rebbetzin (Rabbi's wife) and a group of students were always at his side. One day, the Rebbetzin had to travel to New York and she left her great husband to be attended by the dedicated students who loved him as a father and whom she knew she could trust to take care of him. When they were alone with their Rabbi, the students asked him how felt. The Rosh Yeshiva explained that since he was being fed intravenously, his throat was extremely dry and parched. Consequently, he felt very uncomfortable. Although everyone felt very bad, it was quite clear that nothing could be done to relieve the Rabbi's pain. Suddenly, one of the more intelligent students had a brainstorm. Perhaps the Rosh Yeshiva was permitted to suck on a lollipop. This would ease the dryness of his throat but would not be considered "eating" or "drinking" which he was strictly forbidden to do.

Excitedly, the student asked the doctor who attended to Reb Aharon that day and was thrilled to receive a positive reply. The bochur (young boy) ran to tell the Rosh Yeshiva the good news, and, indeed, Reb Aharon was very pleased. Within minutes, several lollipops were brought to the Rosh Yeshiva who held them fondly. However, to everyone's surprise, Rav Kotler placed them down on the table beside the bed. The students were baffled at his behavior and asked him why he did not recite the prayer and eat the delicacy which would relieve him of his great pain.

The students were dumbfounded to hear their great mentor's reply. "I realized," said Reb Aharon, "that I am going to enjoy this 'meal' to no end. It will be very tasty and will relieve me of some of my pain. It will make me very happy. I decided, therefore," he concluded, "that I would save this treat for a few days, in order to honor the Holy Shabbos with it!"

The students couldn't believe their ears. They had heard of even Simple Jews sacrificing their lives not to desecrate the major laws of the Sabbath. But that was not what was at stake now. It was a simple matter of adding honor to the Shabbos by eating special delicacies then. It certainly seemed insignificant when compared to the Rosh Yeshiva's constant pain. Yet he was adamant. He would not taste the lollipops until the holy Day arrived.

Later in the day, the Rebbetzin returned to the hospital and asked how her husband was feeling. The boys told her that he had complained about the pain in his throat but they added, happily, that they had found a solution to this problem at least. They had brought him lollipops to suck on. The Rebbetzin was shocked at the suggestion. "Did you ask the doctor if he is allowed to eat them?" she asked. "Of course, we did," answered the responsible boys. "We would never do anything which could jeopardize the Rosh Yeshiva's health without consulting with the doctor first. And he said that it is quite alright to give it to him. However, the Rosh Yeshiva refuses to even taste the lollipops we brought him before Shabbos."

The Rebbetzin was not yet convinced. "Did you ask the big professor who is overseeing my husband," she asked, "or merely one of the younger, inexperienced doctors in the hospital clinic?"

"We asked the doctor on duty," they replied. "We didn't think that it was such a major question which required asking the professor who wasn't here today."

The Rebbetzin immediately contacted the professor and asked if it was OK to give her husband a lollipop to suck on. "G-d forbid!" came the horrified reply. "In the Rabbi's condition, it could cause him much harm."

The students of Lakewood Yeshiva learned a lot that day. Most of all, though, they saw how keeping even the "insignificant" mitzvahs, which others tread on with their heels, brings a person life, even in this world, and surely in the World-to-Come.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel