Dedicated in Honor of My Parents, Ronnie and Robin Moyal, by Their Son Freddie and Family
When We Follow Mitzvot
This week’s parasha opens with the words “Vehaya ekev tishmeun et ha’mishpatim ha’eleh — This shall be the reward when you hearken to these ordinances.”
According to the midrash, since the word ekev also means the heel of a foot, this verse alludes to the sort of commandments that people may consider unimportant. In other words, these are mitzvot that people may think they can tread on with their heel or treat lightly. But the truth is that we don’t know the value of any of the mitzvot, so we can’t relate to any of them as being less significant than the others. As it says in Pirke Avot (2:1) “Be scrupulous in performing a ‘minor’ mitzvah as in a ‘major’ one, for you do not know the reward given for the [respective] mitzvot.”
The following story was told in Torah Wellsprings. During the last shemittah year, an Israeli family’s non-Jewish housekeeper one day told them that she was going back to her home in Romania. The mother of the Israeli family gave her some apples to take with her on her trip. When her husband came home and heard that his wife gave the goya some apples, he said, “But those were shemittah apples, and it is forbidden to give fruits of shemittah to non-Jews. Furthermore, it is forbidden to take fruits of shemittah out of Eretz Yisrael!” He thought about whether it would make sense to chase the housekeeper to retrieve the apples, and he decided to take extra care with this mitzvah, so he got into the car and drove to the airport to get the fruit back.
The housekeeper saw her employer approaching her at the airport, and she quickly raised her hands. With fear in her eyes, she said, “Fine!! You caught me! I will give everything back. But please, I beg you, don't report me to the police!” As she handed him a velvet bag, the man realized she was not talking about apples. Before leaving her employer’s home, the housekeeper had emptied out his wife’s jewelry cabinet to bring back with her to Romania.
We learn from this story that one earns a lot when he is cautious with mitzvot. The man was careful with the laws of shemittah, and due to his caution, he got the stolen jewelry back. We only gain from keeping the Torah. Sometimes we think abiding by Torah and mitzvot is bad for us because it prevents us from enjoying life to its fullest extent, but in so many ways, life is better and full of berachot and mazal when we keep the Torah.
The following pesukim continue, “Hashem will love you, bless and multiply you, and He will bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land; your grain, your wine, your oil; the offspring of your cattle and the flocks of your sheep and goats.” The pesukim continue with an abundance of berachot for our children, our health, and our livelihood.
Just look at the Jewish population today all over the world; we are a population of just around 15 million, even after so many centuries. We are but a small fraction of one percent of the world’s population, yet we have seen beracha among our people that’s drastically disproportionate to the rest of the world. We can clearly see the fulfillment of the berachot in this week’s parasha by the disproportionate number of Jews that have achieved great things, whether in medicine, law, the humanities, technology, and so many other fields, and the tremendously high proportion of Jewish Nobel prize winners.
After only seventy years, Israel also leads the world in technology, agriculture, and so many other areas, despite the numerous disadvantages and setbacks that come from being a tiny country in a constant state of war surrounded by enemies that continuously threaten to destroy us. Let’s not fool ourselves, there’s great power in these berachot, and they only come from following in the ways of Hashem and our holy Torah!
Once on a trip to Russia, the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, Yitzchak Yosef, met with the Russian president Vladimir Putin. The Rabbi thought it would be just a quick “photo op” type of meeting, but Putin wanted to talk with the Rabbi at length. They sat and spoke for close to ninety minutes.
Putin told the Rabbi that he considered himself a historian and had studied all of the great nations of the past — the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Greeks and Romans, and so on. He said that it had always amazed him that the Jews have outlived all these dynasties, despite their small number and the endless persecutions that they had to endure over the centuries.
He asked Chacham Yitzchak the secret to this amazing success and perseverance. The Rabbi was about to answer Putin’s question, but President Putin decided to give his own answer. He said, “I believe the reason the Jewish people have outlasted all those other nations, is that they have always followed their Torah and because they listen to their Rabbis!”
We can see this clearly from a passuk in last week’s parasha, Va’etchanan, where it says “You shall safeguard and perform them [the mitzvot], for it is your wisdom and discernment in the eyes of the people, who shall hear all of these decrees and who shall say: Surely a wise and discerning people is this great nation (4:6)!”
Rabenu Bahya comments: “The Torah states that universal acknowledgment of Israel’s wisdom will result even from its adherence to the decrees — the commandments for which no reason is revealed — because the wisdom inherent in the parts of the Torah that are accessible to rational study will convince intellectually honest people that there must be great divine wisdom in the decrees as well.”
Parnassah Comes from Hashem
The Torah also wants to tell us to beware and not to get too proud of ourselves and our accomplishments. It states, “Kochi ve’otzem yadi asa li et ha’hayil hazeh — My strength and the might of my hand made me all this wealth (8:17)!” We must realize that although we may consider ourselves great businessmen, Hashem is guiding us each and every day. Hashem gave us the brains and the talents to earn a living. He lets us believe that we’re making things happen, but the work that we do is just to let us think that we have something to do with the results.
At the same time, we can’t just sit back. We must do our part and make the effort, all while knowing that Hashem is granting every aspect of our berachot. In Parashat Beshalach, when B’nei Yisrael were trapped between the Yam Suf and the Egyptian army, Moshe prayed to Hashem. Hashem responded, “Mah tiss’ak elai — Why do you cry out to me?” Hashem then instructed Moshe: “Speak to B’nei Yisrael and tell them to move forward!”
According to the midrash, Nachshon ben Aminadav, a prince of the tribe of Yehudah, was the first one to take that leap of faith and jump into the water! Rabenu Bachaya explains that the Yam Suf didn’t split all at once, and therefore they were not able to see across to the other side. Rather, there was a wall of water in front of them, and with each step they took, the sea continued to split.
The same is true in our own lives. Usually, a clear path through our trials and tribulations doesn’t appear all at once. We must move forward step by step, dealing with our challenges as they come, and overcoming them one by one. Only later can we look back and see with clarity at how we arrived where we are today!
We must constantly have emunah and bitachon that as long as we follow in the way of Hashem, He will be there for us and guide us through our lives, even though we can’t possibly see what lies ahead of us!
Hashem is saying to us: “Mah tiss’ak elai? — Why are you crying out to me?” Just take that leap of faith and have complete confidence and emunah that Hashem is always with us! Hashem lets us think that it’s our strength and our business acumen that’s accomplishing things for us, but it’s really Hashem testing us! This has been proven thousands of times throughout our community and around the world. We have seen how Hashem controls every step that we make.
May we all realize that Hashem is in control, and that as long as we follow the ways of the Torah, He will bless us beyond our greatest expectations with children, health, and parnassah. May we always know that everything comes from Hashem, and we must be careful not to delude ourselves into thinking that it’s our efforts that produced anything, because all the gifts that we have are truly berachot from Hashem!
Rabbi Amram Sananes, written by Jack Rahmey
· Deep down, do we feel that we “make a living,” or that Hashem gives us our parnassah?
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