Tuesday, July 31, 2007

chacham lev yikach mitzvos: tzidkus and struggle (II)

To get back to the gemara in Sota, one other yesod is needed to answer the questions. Chazal in many places take note of the strong influence of environment on a person’s thinking, and they therefore encourage us to live in a makom torah and to be surrounded with talmidei chachamim. When I told this vort to my wife she brought up the idea of “group think”, the tendency of people to not stray from the consensus, By no means are leaders immune from this phenomenon, and if anything, they can be more susceptible to being dragged along by the masses.

Sifrei chassidus develop this relationship between leader and community further. Leaders are not just psychologically influenced by the moods, tendencies, and desires of their followers, but also embody the neshomos of their followers. The psychological pull to follow the crowd is not just a response to external social stimuli, but is a response to the inner voice of the neshoma which echoes the voice of the masses because to some degree it is the voice of the masses.

We asked on the gemara in Sota why proof is needed from the episode of Moshe gathering Yosef’s bones to establish that he loved mitzvos, and why this good deed cannot stand on its own right without being contrasted with Bnei Yisrael’s gathering of spoil. In light of the mashal of the Yismach Moshe and the yesod above, both questions can be answered. Of course Moshe Rabeinu loved mitzvos, but going back to our analogy, it is not surprising that the person who has billions in capital can create tens of thousands of dollars in revenue. It is not surprising that Moshe could love mitzvos when surrounded by the dor dei’ah seeking Hashem. When you see a tzadik who has tremendous kavanah in shabbos kiddush while sitting at tisch with hundreds of Chassidim expecting no less, or when you see a rosh yeshiva who can say a brilliant shiur surrounded by the best chaburah in the beis medrash, neither takes us by surpise.

Chazal credit Moshe because Moshe alone had the ability to rise to the challenge of loving mitzvos even when faced with difficulty. When the rest of Bnei Yisrael was out looting Egypt, the effect of the “group think” pulled even at Moshe Rabeinu (this itself is a tremendous mussar haskel – even Moshe Rabeinu is not immune to such effects!). Precisely at this moment when the tide was moving against being involved in mitzvos, Moshe collected the bones of Yosef. Doing mitzvos when it is socially encouraged and fits one’s schedule and needs is valuable; doing mitzvos when we feel the pull to be doing other things and overcome that challenge is “chacham lev yikach mitzvos”.


  1. Bill Selliger4:57 PM

    I once heard that the pshat in "פני הדור כפני הכלב" is that a dog always runs in front of the master, yet constantly looks back at the master for direction. The "פני הדור" are the leaders, who run forward, yet continually seek guidance, direction, and approval from the people they are supposed to be leading. The explanation was not said in an approving manner, and it was basically the exact opposite of what you are trying to say.

    Ayin panim (get it?), I guess...

  2. >>>The explanation was not said in an approving manner, and it was basically the exact opposite of what you are trying to say.

    I thought I was saying the same thing. There is a pull to follow the crowd, but good leaders do not succumb. The tzadik hador can elevate the entire dor because he is kollel their nefashos and can drag them up with himself.