Monday, July 30, 2007

chacham lev yikach mitzvos: tzidkus and struggle

The gemara (Sota 13a) darshens the pasuk “chacham lev yikach mitzvos” as referring to Moshe: “Come see how beloved mitzvos were to Moshe, for when the Jewish people were involved in demanding spoils from their Egyptian former-slave masters, Moshe involved himself in collecting the bones of Yosef [for burial in Eretz Yisrael]”.

Diyukim to ponder:
1) Without reference to this episode would we not know that Moshe Rabeinu loved mitzvos?!
2) Why must the gemara contrast Moshe's behavior with that of the Jewish people to prove its point - can't Moshe's behavior stand on its own as proof?

I want to preface the answer with a mashal of the Yismach Moshe that is fantastic in its own right. Three friends were discussing the fortune of Ploni, the well known billionaire. One remarked that he is amazed that Ploni’s revenue is in the tens of thousands of dollars every day. His friend retorted that is no kuntz, because if you have a billion dollars in capital you too could generate huge amounts of revenue; the chap is how Ploni was able to start out with nothing and amass such a fortune to begin with. The third friend chimed in that this is no kuntz either, as over 30 or 40 years anyone might hit a luckyt stretch and emerge with a fortune. The real genius of Ploni is that it looked like he was bankrupt and out of luck just a few years ago and in no time he rebuilt his fortune again.

The nimshal: some people are impressed with the deep avodah of a tzadik or the genius of a lamdan and wish that their avodah and learning could match. A more intelligent person realizes such attainments do not come overnight but are the product of decades of hard work; if only we put in the same effort we would perhaps also attain reward. But a still more insightful person realizes that the tzadik or lamdan’s ability goes even beyond that. No one can achieve a plateau in avodah and then coast; we each have ups and downs. Life intrudes; the mundane is inescapable, and even the greatest tzadik and biggest lamdan must emerge from the Bais Medrash and have a hefesk. Those decades of work are not a smooth line upward, but involve countless ups and downs - small steps forward, perhaps a step back, but always that step back is followed by a greater effort to make the next step a positive one forward. It is not smooth upward sailing which is the hallmark of greatness, but consistent upward sailing, despite the frequent bumps in the road.

I was very taken by this mashal and think there is a lot of truth to it. There is a danger of dismissing the model of a tzadik or lamdan as irrelevant because we see their lives as idyllic and without struggle. The real lesson is not that they don't have struggles, but that they don't get stuck by their struggles. The mashal also answers the kashes raised, but I’ll leave that for next post.


  1. very nice. That is why we are always Ba'alei Teshuvah.

  2. I appreciate this mashal on a personal level. Although I am neither a tsadiq nor a lamdan, I have certainly experienced setbacks, and even long periods of spiritual slump. It helps to recognize that this is part of the natural process for everyone.

  3. Dovid9:13 PM

    Another question on the drush in Sota: Wasn't Klall Yisroel also doing a mitzvah in demanding the spoils from Egypt, as it says in Brachos 9A/B?

  4. Dovid,

    Good question, and the Yismach Moshe has a different approach than the one I wrote up where he addresses your issue. I think what you have to say is that BN"Y could have chosen to collect the bones of Yosef or the spoils of Egypt; the fact that they chose the later over the former was motivated by selfish concerns, not a motivation of "yikach mitzvos".

  5. Reb Moshe says that the point is that there is no kiyum hamitzvah when setting up the three on the east before the others are set up. Moshe's love of mitzvos was one of a loving eved doing what he could to speed the fulfillment of his master's will, even though the reward and glory would go to the others.