Two Approaches for Staying Enthusiastic About Mitzvos
There is a famous Rashi at the beginning of Parshas Beha’alosecha which we comment on almost every year. Aharon was given the mitzva of lighting the Menorah every day in the Beis HaMikdash. The Torah says: “And Aharon did so, toward the face of the Menorah he kindled its lamps, as Hashem had commanded Moshe.” (Bamidbar 8:3) Rashi comments on the words “And Aharon did so” that “This is stated to tell the praise of Aharon in that he did not deviate.”
On a simple level, Rashi is saying that this pasuk is a testimony to Aharon that he did not change what he was supposed to do. Everybody asks on this Rashi, what else would we expect of Aharon? Of course he did not deviate!
In past years, we quoted the famous vort of the Sefas Emes (Rav Yehuda Aryeh Leib Alter, 1847-1905). This year we are sharing a vort from the Ishbitzer Rebbe (Rav Mordechai Leiner, 1801-1854), which also tries to understand this Rashi, but has a totally different take on this question.
The Sefas Emes says that when a person does something over and over again, by the thousandth time, it becomes a little monotonous and the person loses his enthusiasm. This is the time of year when schools let out for the summer. If you look at children coming into school on the first day of school in September or you look at the teachers on the first day of school, you can see an excitement and a passion for learning. However, in June, you can see the proverbial “child running away from school.” Why? Because it has become “Same old, same old… Day in, day out, same thing.” That is the way it is with people.
If you ever see a Bar Mitzvah bochur putting on Tefillin for the first time, you see how carefully he wraps the straps around his arm to make sure that they are equidistant from each other and so on and so forth. After a person puts on Tefillin for thirty or forty years, his level of meticulousness is not the same. That is the way people are. Enthusiasm wanes.
The Sefas Emes explains that this is what Rashi is saying. The Torah states the praise of Aharon that no matter how long or for how many years he lit the Menorah, his enthusiasm for the mitzvah never waned.
The Ishbitzer, on the other hand, says that the word “sheenah” (in Rashi’s expression “melamed shelo sheenah“) can mean something else. It can mean that Aharon never did it the same way twice. He didn’t repeat. Each day he had a different kavannah (intent and focus) when he lit the Menorah. The hadlakas haMenorah of yesterday was not the same as the hadlakas haMenorah of today and tomorrow will yet again be a different hadlakas haMenorah.
These are two different approaches to Rashi, but the similarity is that either there was a tremendous enthusiasm which did not wane, or there was newness with every single lighting of the Menorah that introduced a new kavannah with each new day.
We just finished Parshas Nasso, the longest parsha in the Torah. It is not, however, the hardest parsha in the Torah because a good part of it is just repetition. Everyone asks why the Torah needs to repeat the offering of each nasi (prince), even though they were identical to the offerings of the previous day’s nasi. The answer is that even though it was the same offering, each nasi had a special kavannah.
We can relate to that, because we know that for different folks there are different strokes. Each person thinks in his own unique way. But it is perhaps even more noteworthy for the same person, doing the same thing over and over again, to have a unique kavannah each time. That is the praiseworthy attribute of Aharon haKohen.
The “Shame” of Not Bringing the Korban Pesach During the Forty Years in the Wilderness
The Torah states: “Hashem spoke to Moshe in the Wilderness of Sinai, in the second year from their exodus from the land of Egypt, in the first month, saying: The Children of Israel shall make the Pesach offering in its appointed time.” (Bamidbar 9:1-2). We are talking here about the first month, Nissan, in the year after the Exodus.
This is strange because Parshas Bamidbar, which we read two weeks ago, clearly takes place one month later, in the “second month,” Iyar, also one year after the Exodus. Why is the Torah going back in time from Iyar to Nissan? Rashi comments on this and cites this as an example of his well-known principle that the Torah is not necessarily written in chronological order (ayn mukdam u’me’uchar b’Torah).
Rashi advances a theory as to why the Torah does not begin Sefer Bamidbar with the mitzvah to bring a Korban Pesach (which is first mentioned here, in Beha’alosecha). Rashi says that this matter was “genusan shel Yisrael” (of an unseemly nature for Israel) in that throughout the entire forty years in the Midbar (Wilderness), this was the only Pesach offering that they brought. The Torah did not wish to emphasize or highlight that fact.
Tosfos in Maseches Kiddushin (37b) asks, what is so unseemly about this? After all, they were not commanded to bring the Korban Pesach until they arrived in Eretz Yisrael! It is not “genusan shel Yisrael” that we do not sit in a Succah in June! There is no mitzvah to sit in a Succah in Sivan so there is absolutely nothing unseemly about not doing so. Likewise, Klal Yisrael were given a mitzvah to bring a Korban Pesach on the second year of the Exodus and then not to bring it again until they reached Eretz Yisrael. What, Tosfos asks, is so unseemly about that?
Tosfos answers that the “genusan shel Yisrael” was the fact that the aveiros (sins) of Israel caused them to wander in the Midbar for forty years until they reached Eretz Yisrael. Had they not sinned, eleven days later they would have been in Eretz Yisrael and would indeed have once again brought the Korban Pesach the following Nissan.
The Maharal in Gur Aryeh asks Tosfos’ question and offers a different answer. He says that even when someone is excused from doing a mitzvah, it is still genai hu lo (an unseemly matter for him). The bottom line is that they did not do the mitzvah for all the many years when they were in the Midbar. Even if a person is an anus (he can’t help himself) and he has all the excuses in the world and he wasn’t supposed to bring the Korban Pesach, nevertheless that is not a good situation. There is no blame and there is no punishment but nevertheless, the mere fact that he did not fulfill the mitzvah is a genus.
The Chidushei HaRim, the first of the Gerer Rebbes, offers yet a different answer to this question. Parshas Beha’alosecha also includes the story of the people who were tameh (impure) and couldn’t bring the Korban Pesach on the 14th of Nissan. They came before Moshe and complained “…Why should we be left out by not offering Hashem’s offering in its appointed time among the Children of Israel?” (Bamidbar 9:7) Basically, they claimed that it was not fair that they who were tameh for legitimate reasons (carrying the coffin of Yosef), should not be able to participate in the national enterprise of offering the Korban Pesach. It bothered them that they did not bring the Korban Pesach.
The Chidushei HaRim explains that the “genusan shel Yisrael” was that not offering the Korban Pesach for the balance of the forty years in the Midbar apparently did NOT bother them! These people who carried Yosef’s aron spoke up and asked the question “Why should we be left out?” What happened for the next forty years? Why didn’t Klal Yisroel feel bad? That was the “Genusan shel Yisrael.”
Sometimes a person is forced into situations where he just can’t fulfill certain mitzvos. We shouldn’t just have the attitude “Patur is patur!” The attitude should be “Why are we left out (Lamah neegara)?”
If a person comes home from shul on the second night of Sukkos and it is raining, the halacha is that he is patur from sitting in the Sukkah. Then suddenly one of the kids announces “The rain stopped!” They need to go into the Sukkah. He needs to wipe off the table and chairs. It is a mess. It is wet. It is damp. He thinks, “Well hold on. Maybe it will start raining again. Let’s not jump the gun.”
That should not be our attitude. Our attitude should be different. We should say, “It is raining? Why should we be deprived? Baruch Hashem, if it stops raining, we can go back into the Sukkah.” When it bothers someone that he cannot fulfill a mitzvah, that is an indication of the value of the mitzvah to him.
We should all live and be well until 120 years, healthy and strong, all the way to the end. But sometimes a person cannot fast on Yom Kippur. There are two ways of looking at that. A person can think, “Yom Kippur is so long, I have never been able to concentrate fully on my davening because of my hunger pains. This too is for the best. The doctor says that I need to eat, so I will eat.” That should not be our attitude. We should feel upset. “Why should I be deprived? I can’t fast on Yom Kippur? I fasted my whole life on Yom Kippur! Lamah neegara?”
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Beha’alosecha is provided below:
- 015 Reinstituting the S’micha
- 060 Waiting Between Meat and Milk: Adults and Children
- 104 The Seven-Branched Menorah
- 149 Bringing the Sefer Torah to a Temporary Minyan
- 196 Vegetarianism
- 242 Military Service and Potential Halachic Problems
- 286 When Do We Stand in Honor Of a Sefer Torah?
- 332 Tefilas Tashlumin: Making Up a Missed Davening
- 376 Davening For A Choleh
- 420 Fish and Meat
- 464 Honoring Levi’im
- 508 The City of Yericho
- 552 Kavod Sefer Torah Vs Kavod Talmid Chochom
- 596 Sitting on Top of Seforim
- 640 Lox and Cream Cheese
- 684 Kissing A Sister
- 728 Lechem Mishna Revisited
- 772 Simchas Shabbos – Is There Such a Thing?
- 816 Niduy – Excommunication
- 860 Standing For A Sefer Torah On Simchas Torah
- 904 Women and Birchas HaGomel
- 948 The Ba’al Shacharis Who Forgot Maariv
- 991 The Shabbos Bar Mitzva in the Good ‘Ole Summertime
- 1035 Davening that the Suffering Patient Should Die – Permitted or Not?
- 1079 Does A Grandfather Have To Pay For His Grandson’s Tuition?
- 1122 Meat and Fish – Must You Have A Separate Fish Pot?
- 1164 Davening For A Choleh: Must You Mention Father’s or Mother’s Name?
- 1252 The Dilemma of the Baalas T’shuva at her Non-Frum Brother’s Wedding
- 1296 Should You Daven for the Same Choleh Over and Over Again?
- 1340 Bringing a Sefer Torah to the House of an Avail or Temporary Minyan
- 1384 Can You Be Mechallel Shabbos To Send A Kevital To A Rebbe?
- 1428 Health Care Professionals – Treating and Touching People of Opposite Gender: Problem?
- 1472 Davening for a Choleh: Should You Use the Person’s Father’s Name or Mother’s Name?
- 1516 Behaaloscha 35 – Pets on Shabbos – Are they Muktzeh?
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