By Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff | Series: | Level:


Sfas Emes, Zechuso Tagein Aleinu, Parshas Vayikra, 5631

The Sfas Emes begins with the first Medrash Rabba on Parshas Vayikra. That Medrash starts with a comment by R. Tanchum on the pasuk in Tehillim (103:20): “Borachu HaShem mal’achav, giborei ko’ach, osei retzono, lishmo’ah bekohl devaro.” (ArtScroll: “Bless HaShem, O His angels; the strong warriors who do His bidding, to obey the voice of His word.”)

R. Tanchum asks: Who are the mal’achim (angels, emissaries, agents) that the pasuk has in mind? The pasuk cannot be referring to the celestial mal’achim. Why not? Because they are the subject of the next pasuk (“Borachu HaShem kohl tzeva’av.” ArtScroll: “Bless HaShem, all His legions, His servants who do His will.”) How do we know this subsequent pasuk refers to the celestial mal’achim? Because the pasuk refers to “all His legions “all” implying. compliance by the entirety of the legions. Only of the celestial mal’achim can we speak of total compliance with HaShem’s commands. Rather, the first pasuk is referring to mal’achim in the terrestrial sphere, i.e., to human beings who conduct themselves as HaShem’s agents in this world.

The Sfas Emes emphasizes that, in principle, we can all recognize that this is why we are sent to this world — to carry out HaShem’s will. And to the degree that we manage to control ourselves and to make our actions manifestations of HaShem’s Presence, we too can become mal’achim agents, with no agenda of our own.

Why do Chazal mention this topic in the context of the first pasuk of Vayikra? Because Moshe Rabbeinu is the ultimate in this role, always ready to attend to retzon HaShem (the will of HaShem). Where do we see Moshe Rabbeinu’s constant, immediate availability? In the first pasuk of Sefer Vayikra, where the Torah tells us — with no preamble or introduction — “HaShem called Moshe … ” And we know that Moshe was always there, ready to receive his next mission.

Note one “side effect” of Moshe’s posture. Moshe Rabbeinu had ample cause to be unhappy with his life. One of his children did not follow in his footsteps. He knew for a fact that despite all of his efforts, B~nei Yisroel would go off the derech prescribed by HaShem. Last but not least, HaShem denied Moshe his prayer to enter Eretz Yisroel. Despite these serious reverses, Moshe Rabbeinu does not come across as a victim; indeed, not even as a tragic hero. I suggest that the reason for his equanimity was precisely the fact that Moshe Rabbeinu had no ego of his own. Viewing himself totally as an agent to carry out HaShem’s will, he could separate himself from his personal desires.

The next portion of the ma~amar requires some background information. Vayikra, 1:1 13 tells us, in connection with a korban olah (burnt offering) brought with an animal: “Olah hu, isheh rei’ach nicho’ach LaShem.” (That is, in G. Hirschler’s translation of R. Shimshon Rafael Hirsch: “It is an ascent offering, an offering made by fire as an expression of compliance to HaShem.”)

Similarly, if a person brings a much less expensive korban olah, a turtle dove, the Torah (Vayikra 1:17) uses the very same words to describe HaShem’s reaction (as it were): “Isheh rei’ach nicho’ach LaShem.” Likewise, in its discussion of the korban that a poor person brings an offering of flour the Torah (Vayikra 2:2) uses the very same words: “Isheh rei’ach nicho’ach LaShem.”

These three korbanos involve very different financial costs. The fact that, nevertheless, HaShem accepts each of these offerings in the same way led Chazal to comment (in the last mishna in Menachos): “Echad hamarbeh, ve~echad hamam’it, u’bilvad she’yecha’vein ahdam da’ato la’shamyim.” That is, if people focus on serving HaShem, it does not matter whether in their actions they do more or they do less. In both cases, they receive the same degree of acceptance from HaShem; the cosmic impact, so to speak, is identical.

(Concerning the halachic implications of this mishna, speak to your poseik. But before asking, note the powerful condition to qualify: “u’bilvad she’yecha’vein ahdam … ” (“provided people focus on serving HaShem … “).

We continue with essential background information. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim, Siman 1, Se’eef 4) discusses the recitation of Tikun Chatzos (the special text said at midnight to plead with HaShem for the ultimate redemption). Tikun Chatzos is not an easy text. Perhaps for that reason, the Shulchan Aruch states: “Tov me’aht tachanunim bekavana mei’harbei shelo bekavana.” (That is: It is better to say fewer words of prayer with proper focus on what one is saying than to say more words without proper focus.)

This statement echoes our text of “Echad hamarbeh … “. The Taz, a major commentary on the Shulchan Oruch, raises the question: Why should the marbeh and the mam’it receive the same reward? If both do the mitzva with proper focus of serving HaShem, should not the person who does more receive a greater reward? This question of the Taz reflects the conventional reading of the text “Echad hamarbeh … “. That reading assumes, as a self evident fact, that the person who does more must have greater merit than the person who does less. Hence, the question: why does the person who does LESS receive the same reward as the person who does more?

The Sfas Emes reads the text very differently. In fact, one might say that he turns the text on its head. (To this the Sfas Emes might reply that he found the conventional reading of the text upside down, and therefore he had to set it right.) Thus, the Sfas Emes asks: Why should the one who does MORE receive the same reward as the person who does less? Both have achieved the same desired result, namely, to focus their attention on serving HaShem. But the one who does less has achieved this result more efficiently. By being more efficient, he has freed resources time and energy that can be used for other tasks of Torah, Avodah, and Gemilus Chassodim. Therefore, shouldn’t he receive a greater reward?

The Sfas Emes uses a parable to clarify his message. The parable tells of two merchants from the same town, both of whom have to travel to the same destination. One merchant arrives there quickly; but the other merchant arrives only after long delay. When asked why he was so long in arriving, that merchant replied: After all, I finally reached the destination. Let’s not discuss my problems in getting here!”

That is, the person who invests the greater effort in achieving the objective who rather than being lauded for his exertion would be expected to explain himself. But now come the comforting words: “Echad ha’marbeh … ” telling us that the purpose of our actions is “… she’yecha’vein … da’ato lashamayim” (that we focus on our relationship with HaShem). Thus, provided we achieve the objective of the korban to bring us closer to HaShem it does not matter how much we have to strive to reach that objective.

You may find the logic of the Sfas Emes so persuasive that you end with the opposite question. Why does the “inferior” person (the one who expends more resources to reach the desired goal) get the same reward as the “superior” person (the one gets the job done more efficiently)? The Sfas Emes’ parable and his radical reading of “Echad ha’marbeh ” focus our attention on the key take home lesson: “U’bilvad she’yecha’vein da’ato … ”

Author’s Note:

Here is one fellow-learner’s comment on the Sfas Emes on Vayikra:

“Regarding your comment about the halachic implications of “echad hamarbeh, etc.” see Rashba and Ritva to maseches Shevuos 15a, and Tosafos there, for two very different views of the matter.”

Copyright © 2004 by Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff and