Monday, August 31, 2015

491 - Shoftim - Elul

Rav Wolbe (Daas Shlomo) cites a mind boggling Medrash (Bereishis Rabba 2:7). Reb Avahu said, "From the beginning of time Hashem gazed at both the actions of the righteous and the actions of the wicked. Yet, it is not clear whose actions He desired. Once the Torah writes, 'And Hashem saw the light that it was good' it is clear that He desires the actions of the righteous and not the actions of the wicked." What is this supposed to mean? Could there be a possibility that Hashem prefers the actions of the wicked over the actions of the righteous?

Rav Simcha Zissel Ziv, the Alter of Kelm, offers a beautiful explanation. Indeed, even the wicked perform good deeds. However, they limit their good deeds to grandiose actions whose effects can be heard around the world. They will found organizations, create moral ideologies and give their lives for the sake of their country. In contrast, the righteous focus on the small, even minuscule, actions. Chazal were asking who's good deeds are superior - those performed by the righteous or those performed by the wicked? The answer was provided by the Torah: Hashem prefers the small actions of the righteous over the high-flying deeds of the wicked. A similar idea is mentioned by the Rambam. He asserts that for one who wishes to give tzeddaka, it is better that he give many small donations than one big donation. Many small mitzvos are preferential to a single big action.

Rav Yisrael Salanter writes that the focus of teshuva also must be on the small actions. Many are overcome with despair when faced with the prospect of teshuva. "There is no possible way for me to stop speaking lashon hara" or "I simply can't overcome this middah" they lament. However, there is no room for despair when the topic is teshuva. They are absolutely right; at the present time they cannot entirely overcome their inclinations. Nevertheless, they can greatly reduce the severity of their actions if they would merely desist at the times when it is easy for them to refrain from transgressing. If they would take small steps and resist for five minutes here and there, they will already have progressed tremendously down the road of teshuva.

With this in mind, our understanding of Chazal's well known statement becomes even more profound. "Hashem says to Klal Yisrael, 'Open for me a hole like the eye of a needle and I will open for you gateways that wagons and carriages will be able to pass through!'" Hashem specifically is interested in the small holes. Teshuva must begin with a focus on the small actions.

"Just five minutes" is a mantra that can change your life. I will refrain from lashon hara just for five minutes. I will learn just for five minutes. I will spend just five minutes on helping another Yid. The truth is that sometimes one doesn't even need five minutes. A wave of the hand to motion that one can't talk now can save a person from pages of bittul Torah or loads of lashon hara. Moreover, Hashem guarantees that He will reciprocate our small gesture with a huge dose of Heavenly assistance, as He waves us through big gateways of teshuva!

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