The Systems of the Jewish Year
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Growth does not have to be upwards or outwards. The Torah in Parshas Ki Seitze teaches us that the most important growth is often directed inwards.
Back in the days of scales and weights a grocer had the opportunity to cheat his (or her) customers with inaccurate weights. He would use a lighter weight when selling produce and a slightly heavier weight when buying produce. This was a convenient and virtually undetectable way for a dishonest person to tip the scales in his favor.
The Torah prohibits this specifically and tells us that it is a sin to even own inaccurate weights. Rav Aharon Kotler explains that the commandment against ownership of false measures is designed for a man who has already given up trickery. He has turned over a new leaf and is taking the commandment of “Thou shall not steal” very seriously. Even so, in order for his teshuva to be complete he needs to get rid of the weights. Even has stopped cheating others, he still needs to stop being dishonest with himself. It is like a spoiled apple that can ferment and destroy him from within, the opportunity to sin is lying dormant in the back of his cabinets and in the recesses of his mind. He is like smoker who has quit smoking but still carries a lighter around in his pocket.
I once ate Shlalosh Seudos at the Aish Hatorah yeshiva in Jerusalem with students who were in a crash course on Judaism. The conversation at the table went something like this:
Mike: Rabbi A’s class isn’t quite as good as….
Charlie: Uh, Uh, Mike – that is Lashon Horah!
Mike (patiently): Charlie, Lashon Hora was last week. This week we are working on prayer.
Mike was probably joking, but he was describing a common attitude. We get bored of Mitzvos. Rather than take on one mitzvah honestly and thoroughly, we prefer to cycle from one Mitzvah to the next. We need to take our mitzvos seriously.
(Of course we can’t just concentrate on one Mitzva and ignore the other 612; we need to find a balance between global performance of the Mitzvos and our focus on individual mitzvos.)
The Medrash (Rabba Devarim, 3-3) tells the story of Rabi Pinchas ben Yair who was given some grain to watch. The owners of the grain forgot about their package and headed back North to their homes (Reb Pinchas lived in the South). When the grain began to rot, Reb Pinchas planted it and cultivated a new crop. He did this for seven years until the absent owners finally returned for what had become a full silo of grain.
It is not enough to take notice of the lost object, he is obligated to pick it up and care for it as if it his own. We might be tempted to pick up the item, stow it in a safe place, and feel very good about ourselves, but the Torah demands that we be thorough and complete.
Reb Pinchas didn’t just do the mitzvah. He did it completely and thoroughly.
Parshas Ki Seitzei is replete with attention to detail. Lending money and hiring people is not enough, we need to treat debtors and employees respectfully. When we take eggs, we need to care about the mother bird. We may not muzzle an ox while he is grazing. If we have a roof, we need to build a safety rail, even if the fellow should have looked where he was going and deserved to die anyway.
About ten years ago I called Reb Michel Twerski of Milwaulkee to tell him that I was engaged. His reaction was, unfortunately, unique.
“Reb Sender”, he said to me, “this phone call is such a treasure”.
He said it in a way that I could almost envision him taking my phone call and wrapping it up carefully to store in a box for future admiration.
Everybody else was asking me questions about the past and the future: How long did you go out? Where will you live? When is the wedding? Reb Michel taught me to treasure the moment and bask in my simcha.
When we hear that a baby was born we tend to ask the most inconsequential questions: How much did he weigh? How long was the labor? When will you name her?
Imagine if we would react to a birth by commenting on the new Neshama and the Kedusha he or she brings to the world. We could take a minute and treasure it; or we could rather than using wonder about the next step. We should focus on the happiness of the married couple or the new parents instead of on the timetable for the Kiddush or the main course.
In the same vein, it seems to me that if we appreciated the value and beauty of each Mitzvah, we would not be so anxious to leave Mitzvos behind in the quest for bigger and better ones.
When the Ben Ish Chai was twenty-six he sent a letter to his teacher, Rav Eliyahu Mani of Chevron, asking him to explain some of the Kabbalistic Kavanos in the Shemona Esrei.
Rav Mani’s reply was off the topic and to the point:
“Who is wealthy? The man who is content with what has”.
Rav Mani compared the Ben Ish Chai’s quest for Kabbalistic knowledge to a thirsty man who is standing in the middle of a lake with a cup of water. He spends his time worrying about how to collect massive amounts of water when he should be drinking from the cup that he is already holding in his hand.
We do not always need to move the next level. We need to learn to treasure every moment and every Mitzvah.
The Medrash about Rabi Pinchas ben Yair ends with a beautiful promise: If we treasure our Mitzvos, Hashem will treasure them too.
Hashem will take our Mitzvos, wrap them up and put them in a safe place for future admiration.
If we treasure our Mitzvos when we perform them, Hashem will cherish them forever.
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