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Vol. 5 No. 46
It is a fallacy to believe that a Jew must develop his intellect, to the point that he performs the mitzvos purely with his intellect - devoid of feeling, like some mechanical robot that carries out instructions at the touch of a button.
To be sure, the concept of quashing one's desires is well-founded, but that applies only when those desires clash with the Torah's requirements. Then he is obliged to bring his intellect to bear, to prevent the forbidden emotions from causing him to sin.
But when his emotions actually concur with the Torah's requirements, then the contrary is true. Not only must he not repel them, but he must actually incorporate them into his actions, so that they work in concert. The mitzvah is thereby greatly enhanced, as not only has he committed more limbs to the service of G-d ("All my limbs shall praise you, Hashem!"), but he has actually mobilised the king of limbs - his heart - to serve Him.
In fact, that too, is what Chazal mean when they say: "G-d wants the heart". They mean that, whatever mitzvah a Jew performs, He wants the heart to participate in its performance.
In effect, when one refrains from contravening a law forbidden by the Torah, then the heart participates in a negative way, by abstaining, and when one is performing a mitzvah, then one's heart participates in a positive way, through joy, enthusiasm, mercy, gratitude, etc. Either way, the heart participates.
What is important however, is that the initial motivation to perform the mitzvah should be sparked off by the intellect - i.e. the kowledge that he is performing the will of G-d. The emotions must be used to add meaning to one's actions, for so King David wrote in Tehillim 'Serve G-d with joy' - joy must be used to enhance one's service of G-d, but not to instigate it - since the ideal motivation for every mitzvah is because G-d commanded it. That is the true meaning of 'lishmoh' (for the sake of the mitzvah), not for any personal motives, of which joy is one.
The mitzvah of helping to unload an animal (mentioned in Mishpotim) and that of loading an animal (or helping a fellow-Jew to carry a load - in this week's parshah) are described by the Seifer ha'Chinuch in the same way as he describes many mitzvos between man and man. He writes: 'The root of the mitzvah is to teach us the quality of sympathy, which is something praiseworthy. It is unnecessary to mention the obligation to sympathise with a fellow-Jew who feels bodily pain, but even someone who is on the verge of suffering a financial loss deserves that sympathy too. There is a mitzvah to feel sympathy towards him and to help him avoid that loss.'
Clearly then, the Seifer ha'Chinuch teaches us that our emotions must become an integral part of our daily performance of mitzvos - to give charity to a poor man without sympathising with him, is as praiseworthy as honouring one's father and mother without loving them. 'Rachmono libbe bo'i' - Hashem wants the heart! (Sanhedrin 106b).
In fact, the Seifer ha'Chinuch has gone further than we initially indicated. When he writes that the root of the mitzvah is to teach us the quality of sympathy, he is saying that, in addition to the sympathy that one already feels upon assisting a fellow-Jew, the mitzvah will help him to develop that trait of sympathy even further. He is in fact, echoing the words of the Rambam, who writes in Pirkei Ovos that the more often one tends to give, the more one becomes a giver (an extension of the principle "one mitzvah leads to another" - Pirkei Ovos 4:2). And the source of this idea lies in Chazal who have taught us: 'The Torah was given to Yisroel in order to purify them, to develop good character-traits through the performance of mitzvos' (Vayikro Rabbo 13:3). So it is not so much the emotions that lead to the performance of mitzvos, as the performance of mitzvos that leads to the refinement of one's emotions.
The greatest goal of a Jew must be to strive towards the perfection of his character, through perfect control over his emotions -'just as Hashem is merciful, gracious, etc., so too should you be merciful' (Shabbos 133b). And at the same time he must know that there is only one way to attain that goal - not through the study of Torah (alone) and not even through the study of Mussar (alone) - but through the performance of mitzvos - lishmoh!
Parshas Ki Seitzei
(Adapted from the Chofetz Chayim)
"When you go out to war against your enemy, G-d will deliver him into your hands" (21:10). The greatest enemy of all, points out the Chofetz Chayim, is the Yeitzer Ho'ra. Consequently, we can interpret the posuk to mean that if one fights the Yeitzer Ho'ra, G-d will crown one's efforts with success. Indeed, our sages have said that, without Divine assistance, it would be impossible to overcome it. Conversely, with Divine assistance, it not only becomes possible, but one is bound to succeed.
The main thing of course, is to treat the Yeitzer Ho'ra as an enemy and to fight with him using all the strategies that one would in wartime.
Sometimes, explains the Chofetz Chayim, he attacks outright, but sometimes, he comes, like a spy, in the guise of a friend, like a partner who is bent on embezzling the firm's assets. So one needs to be on the alert to recognise the Yeitzer Ho'ra in whichever guise he presents himself, and then to use the appropriate strategy to counter him.
Chazal have said in B'rochos (5a) that one should always incite the Yeitzer Tov over the Yeitzer Ho'ra, i.e. fight with him. In the event of the initial attack not succeeding, one should study Torah (Hashem's antidote to the Yeitzer Ho'ra); should that strategy, for some reason, fail, he should recite the Shema, and the fear of G-d will overcome the urge to sin; should that fail, one should recall the day of death, when he will have to give a reckoning for all of his sins. That is bound to dispel pride, flattery and the other bad character-traits that are the source of sin. But one thing is certain: should he fight him, using the appropriate strategy, he will ultimately win.
"Load (his animal) together with him" (22:4) - but not, Chazal infer from these words, if the owner sits himself down, and says to the passer-by 'Since it's your mitzvah, go ahead and load, whilst I watch!'
This concept, says the Chofetz Chayim, is not unique to the mitzvah of loading another Jew's animal. In fact, he says, in all areas of spirituality too, G-d will always help a person - provided he makes the necessary effort to do whatever he can (in similar vein to what we just wrote in 'Fighting the Yeitzer Ho'ra'). It is naive, even foolish, to expect Divine assistance, as long as we are unwilling to respond when it is offered.
For example, we say every day in our Tefillos, 'enlighten us with the words of Your Torah'. But if we fail to sit down immediately at the table, open a Seifer and learn, then how can we possibly expect this prayer to materialise?
And the Chofetz Chayim goes on to compare this to a man who asks his friend for a loan, a request to which his friend readily agrees, even going so far as to fix a date and a time when the money will be ready. But when the time arrives, for no plausible reason, the borrower simply fails to turn up. Needless to say, not only will the loan not take place, but it will leave the friend angry and frustrated for the wasted time and effort, and even worse, for the fact that he has been made to look a fool.
Imagine then, how Hashem must feel, when we ask Him, day in, day out, to enlighten us in His Torah, and then after davening, instead of opening a seifer - a Gemoro, a Mishnah, a Chumash - to learn (even if it is only for a few minutes), we rush off to eat and then go off to work. Imagine how frustrated (Kevayochol) Hashem must feel. But in any event, there is not the slightest doubt that this meaningful prayer will not bear fruitsevayochol) Hashem must feel. But in any event, there is not the slightest doubt that this meaningful prayer will not bear fruits, and that there is no cthat we will become any the wiser than we were before we recited it, unless we follow it by opening a Seifer and learning.
"And let Him not see in you any nakedness, because then He will turn away from you" (23:15). The characteristic of tz'niyus (modesty), explains the Chofetz Chayim, is the most praiseworthy of all good character-traits; so much so, that it is the one thing which, when it is not practiced, it causes the Divine -Presence to depart. This means, in practical terms, that if Jewish people (and particularly women), fail to dress modestly (i.e. to conform with standards as prescribed by the halochoh), it drives Hashem away, with the result that He no longer supervises us (to guide and protect us) and we are left to our own devices.
It seems, concludes the Chofetz Chayim, that with modesty, one has everything, and without it, one has nothing!
Incidentally, it should be stressed that modesty is not confined to dress; it covers many areas of human behaviour - even speech - as is evident from the Torah's expression 'ervas dovor', because whenever the word 'dovor' is used, it refers to 'speech'. It is vital that our dress, our behaviour and our speech should be modest and refined. It is one way of ensuring that G-d is always in our midst.
Ve'Ohavto . . (cont.)
The Ramban defines 'your heart' and 'your soul' as pertaining to our desires and our intellect (respectively). (The Ibn Ezra reverses the two - and the Ramban commends his explanation.) Consequently, the Torah is instructing us here to dedicate our physical and material desires, together with our intellect, to the service of Hashem.
If we take the words 'loving G-d with all our hearts' to the extreme, we will follow the example set by Avrohom Ovinu, whose profound love of G-d overrode all other loves - even that of his own son, the son whom, due to the circumstances in which he was born, must have been particularly dear to him - and that is why he bore the title "Avrohom My loved one" (Yeshayah 41:8). That is the true meaning of "loving G-d with all our heart" - to love Him over and above the love of women, of children, of good food and of every other pleasure that this world has to offer. The love of G-d must override them all (refer also to 'And unify our hearts' - The Shema and Its Brochos Part 9).
Each and every Jew must be prepared to give up his life for G-d, should the need to do so present itself. For when all's said and done, it is He who gave us life in the first place, it is He who returns our souls to us each morning and who grants us the right to live (irrespective of whether we deserve it or not), and long before the time arrives, we know full-well that He (has the right to, and He) will take our souls back, when He sees fit to do so. And it is our job to relinquish it graciously - with love - when G-d indicates that the time has arrived to return it to him. Sometimes, G-d's emissary, the Angel of Death, takes a person's soul from him without his consent. Then he is duty-bound to acquiesce to G-d's will, and to relinquish it graciously, as we explained, and with love. But sometimes, G-d expects a Jew to rise to even greater heights, to hand back the soul (that after all, was only given to him in the form of a deposit) of his own accord - even when he has the option of remaining alive - in order to perform what is perhaps the greatest mitzvah of all - that of sanctifying G-d's Name, by giving up his most treasured possession - life - for His sake. For, by doing so, one forfeits not only all of life's pleasures and challenges - present and future - but also all one's potential spiritual growth, which comes to an end with death. No wonder our Sages have said in Pesochim (50a) that nobody can stand on the level of the martyrs, who gave up their lives for G-d.
So important is this mitzvah of Mesiras Nefesh that, when reciting the posuk of "u've'chol nafshecho", the halochoh prescribes that one should actually have in mind to be prepared to fulfill the mitzvah of giving up one's life for the sake of Hashem, should the opportunity arise. To a certain degree this is even considered as if one had actually fulfilled the mitzvah. In any event, doing this will certainly facilitate putting it into practice when the time arrives - like we find by Rebbi Akiva, who said, in the last moments of his life, 'My whole life I have waited for this mitzvah, now that it has come to hand, shall I not implement it?' - implying that the one led to the other.
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