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Torah – the Greatest Gift of All
The author of the Chovos Halevavos writes that service of Hashem is a direct result of appreciation. One who receives a favor from someone cannot refuse him a favor in return. Granted, if the original favor was minimal and the reprisal request was major, then he may refuse. However, if the original favor was enormous, the receiver cannot decline to reciprocate, no matter how great the appeal is.
Imagine someone named Yankel who owns a fancy sports car and will not lend it to anyone. A good friend of his, Avi, begged him many times to let him drive it, just once, but Yankel adamantly refused, stating that he would never let anyone in the world get behind that wheel. Yankel explained that his car is simply too precious and means too much to him to risk someone banging it up chas veshalom. Avi was quite upset but accepted his friend's principles as being inalienable.
Imagine Avi's shock when one day he saw Chaim driving Yankel's car; and not only for a few minutes but for a whole day! Furious, he challenged his "best friend's" loyalty; having chosen someone else's request over his. However, Yankel appeased him easily by simply explaining to him that although he would never let anyone drive his car even for a few minutes, Chaim was the exception to the rule. The reason, he explained, is that Chaim is the one who gave him the car! How, then, could he not let him use it whenever he wanted?
Similarly, says the Chovos Halevavos, if one were to realize and contemplate how many favors Hashem does for him, he could not possibly deny Hashem the things which He requests of him. How can we not give tzedakkah (charity) as commanded when Hashem gave us all of the money we possess? How can we claim that we are too tired to go to pray or learn when Hashem gives us the strength to do all that we want to do? Therefore, he concludes, appreciation is the foundation of our service.
To help us keep score of how much we owe Hashem, the Chovos Halevavos compiled a list (in Sha'ar Habechinah, Chapter 5) of all of the favors Hashem bestows upon us, from before we are born until after we die. These are all general favors. Everyone, he says, should then sit down and prepare his own list of the specific favors Hashem did for him personally which require him to be even more grateful and subservient to Him.
But the greatest favor of all, he says, is that Hashem gave us, the Jewish People, the Torah, through which we can get to know Him and His prophets. This favor obligates us, more than any nation in the world, to be His loyal servants and obey all of His commandments perfectly. The amazing thing is that although Hashem has already done all of these wonderful things for us, even before we did anything, and we owe it to Him to serve Him; even so, He then rewards us after we obey Him and pays us as if we were not required to do what we did.
It is interesting to note that this approach seems to have been adopted by the authors of the siddur (prayer book) too. We are commanded to recite the Shema in the morning and in the evening. One of the mitzvahs mentioned there is the commandment to love Hashem. Jewish philosophers ask how is it possible to command someone to love? One can be commanded to do or not do something, since action is under his control. But love is an emotion which, seemingly, is out of his control. If he does not feel love for someone or something, how can anyone command him to love?
The answer is that one's intellect does, indeed, have influence over his emotions. Imagine Reuvain who despises Shim'on. One day, Levi surprises Reuvain by telling him how much Shim'on loves and admires him and how many favors he has done for him without his knowledge. Instantly, Reuvain's hatred for Shim'on is transformed into love.
Similarly, if one were to contemplate how much Hashem loves him and does for him, he would immediately feel a reciprocal great love for Him too. Therefore, before we recite the Shema, Chazal instructed us to read a paragraph describing how much Hashem loves us abundantly and unceasingly (Ahavah Rabbah and Ahavas Olam). But which favor did they choose to remind us of? The greatest one of all: the presentation of the Torah to us and our children.
If we were to realize what a great favor the Torah is, we would truly love Hashem with all of our heart, with all our soul, and with all our resources. And we would celebrate Shavuos, the Holiday of the Giving of the Torah, with more joy than any other time of the year.
May we appreciate the Torah – the greatest gift of all – always. Then we will be truly happy in this world and in the World-to-Come.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network