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“And the dove came in to him in the evening, and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf plucked off; so Noach knew that the waters were abated from off the earth” (Bereishis 8:11).

Rashi brings a Midrashic explanation of the significance of the olive leaf: “She (the dove) said (to Noach), ‘Rather that my food be bitter as an olive but from the Hand of Hashem, than as sweet as honey and from the hand of mortal men.’”

My Rebby, shlita, once explained (perhaps in the name of his Mashgiach, Harav Hatzaddik Reb Shlomo Harkabi ztvk”l) the dove’s preference. There is an intrinsic difference between the loving-kindness expressed by Hashem and that expressed by people.

When a person does someone a favor, he goes out of his way to assure that the recipient knows fully well that he helped him, and that he recognizes his indebtedness to him. (I once heard Harav Mordechai Gifter zt”l say in the name of his mechutten [I don’t know who] that it is common for people to respond to a “thank you” with, “no need to say thank you.” We think that they are being nice and are telling the beneficiary that he shouldn’t feel that he owes them anything. Actually, it’s usually just the opposite. What they are really telling them is, “Don’t think you can repay me with a simple thank you. I want you to remain indebted to me until I decide exactly how to collect my kindness in return.”)

Hashem is exactly the opposite. Knowing, in His great, infinite Wisdom, the terrible feeling of nahama dikisufa (”bread of shame” – some non-earned benefit received for free), Hashem did everything possible to prevent Man from experiencing it. This is explained, in great detail, by the Ramchal (Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto – a great Kabbalist) in his works.

The reason Hashem created Man is that, being the source of Good and Loving-Kindness, He wanted to bestow that Goodness and Loving-kindness on a being. But consider for a moment a poor man who comes to the door of a rich man. The underprivileged fellow lacks food, clothing and cash. The rich man, being a good soul, gives him a hearty meal, a new suit and some pocket money to keep him going for a while. How does the poor man feel? Actually, he has mixed emotions. On the one hand, the greater the gift, the happier he is. On the other hand, since he did not earn this gift and knows that he is begging for charity, the greater it is the more uncomfortable and embarrassed he feels.

But what can the benefactor possibly do to give the poor man a generous hand-out and yet not make him feel ashamed? If he is really concerned with the poor man’s feelings, and if he is creative, there is a solution.

Imagine a poor man, Shim’on, knocking on the door of a rich man, Reuvain. Reuvain runs to answer and sees before him someone who needs a sizeable handout. He decides to give him ten dollars, a respectable gift by all means. But he wants Shim’on to feel good about himself. Reuvain has an idea.

“Oh, baruch Hashem,” Reuvain shouts with excitement as he opens the door wide. “What Hashgachah Peratis” (Divine Providence). I’m here alone, baby-sitting, and the kid is crying for milk. I need someone to run to the store and by a container, real quick. I’ll gladly pay $10 for the trouble.”

“Ten dollars!?” shouts Shim’on. “That’s a pretty hefty tip just to go to the corner grocery, don’t you think?”

“Not at all,” replied Reuvain. “This is a real case of pikuach nefesh (a situation wherein someone’s life is in danger). My baby must have that milk immediately or he might get sick, chas veshalom. I can’t leave him alone and go get it. And here Hashem suddenly sends you to my doorstep, like an angel in disguise. Believe me; it’s really worth much more than that. Now please go right away.”

With a shrug of his shoulders, Shim’on runs to the store, thanking Hashem for sending him to this home “just at the right time.” He buys the milk, delivers it to Reuvain and goes on his way, feeling very good about the money he “earned.”

Reuvain, too, feels very good about the mitzvah he has done bishelaimus (with perfection), and he smiles to himself as he puts the container of milk in the refrigerator, next to all of the other containers sitting there. Then he rejoins his family who was sitting quietly in the living room the whole time.

This is exactly what Hashem did for us. Chazal Hakedoshim (the Holy Sages) say: “What difference does it make to Hashem whether we slaughter an animal through the throat or though the neck? Verily, the only reason mitzvahs were given is to refine people.” In other words, there is no actual benefit to Hashem from our observance of His mitzvahs. As Iyov said (35:7), “If you are righteous, what do you give to Him? Or what does He receive from your hand?” Hashem needs our mitzvahs much less than Reuvain needs the bottle of milk. Why, then, did He command us to do so many things? Because if He were to just create Man and bestow upon him all of the loving-kindness He wants to give him, Man would have those mixed emotions the beggar has. He would feel he is eating “bread of shame,” unearned graciousness. Therefore, Hashem gave us a “very important job” to do, so that when we are rewarded for our “service” we will feel that we earned it and will totally and thoroughly enjoy the eternal bliss He created us to inherit.

Therefore, explained the Rebby, shlita, the dove said to Noach that it prefers even bitter food from the Hand of Hashem than sweet food from the hands of mortal men. Because when Hashem bestows kindness upon His creations, He makes sure that they feel good about it and He does not let them feel indebted to Him while Man does just the opposite.

In many places, though, the Torah commands us to emulate Hashem and walk in His ways. Therefore, we should try our best to help our fellow man while exerting all effort to make him feel that we did nothing at all for him, rather than go into detail about how much we did for him and how hard it was for us and, consequently, how much he owes us in return. The results will be that both he and we will feel very good and we will all be happy in this world and the world-to-come.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel