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Shabbat Parashat Haazinu| 5767
Uping the Ante for All
After reciting the frightening consequences found in the Song of Ha’azinu, Moshe gave the following advice: “Place your hearts to all the things that I am testifying before you today that you shall command them to your sons to keep and do all of the words of this Torah. For it is not an empty (rek)thing for you, for it is your lives, and through this matter you will have long lives in the Land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess” (Devarim 32:46-7).
Commentaries note the uncommon use of the word rek, describing the value of the Torah. Rashi points out that the Torah offers great reward for those who apply themselves to it. The Me’am Loez brings a related explanation. One must take proper care in fulfilling the Torah because the fact that one gets reward for it increases his obligation to adhere to it. He makes reference to the halachot of watchmen. One who watches something for free must pay for its disappearance only if he was negligent in watching it. However, a paid watchman must pay even if it was stolen or lost without negligence.
Extending this distinction further, we note the halacha in Bava Kamma 99b. If one is entrusted to slaughter an animal and does so incorrectly, he has to pay for making it unkosher if he was not fully trained to perform the slaughter. An expert need not have expected that the mishap would occur and is exempt. However, if he was paid for his services, even the expert is responsible.
Some Jews are more prepared than others for the responsibilities the Torah places upon us. However, as we receive ample reward for our proper fulfillment, we are liable for the avoidable mistakes we make. Our concentration on the preparations to fulfill our task (the study of Torah) is valuable. Firstly, it increases the percentage of proper fulfillment over mistakes in our service of Hashem, which brings us significant award. Secondly, we are rewarded for the study itself, which is one of the greatest mitzvot. However, study is not an excuse that removes responsibility for mistakes that we make along the way. Punishment can be erased only through the special gifts of teshuva (repentance) and kaparah (atonement), which reach their peaks in the yearly cycle during the coming days.
Let us take this concept in its positive light to explain a well-known Talmudic statement. “Greater is [the reward of] he who is commanded and fulfills than one who is not commanded and fulfills” (Kiddushin 31a). Many explain that the evil inclination of he who is commanded raises the level of difficulty and brings more reward to he who succeeds. If we take the Me’am Lo’ez, in its converse, we can suggest the following. Since the fact that we are obligated makes us liable to be punished for not fulfilling, we are compensated by the fact that our fulfillment brings greater reward.
May all of us individually and collectively succeed in fulfilling our obligations and obtaining full atonement.
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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is dedicated to the memory of
R' Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld o.b.m.
Hemdat Yamim is also dedicated by Les & Ethel Sutker of Chicago, Illinois
in loving memory of
Max and Mary Sutker
and Louis and Lillian Klein, z"l.
May their memory be a blessing!