Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Vayera – Receiving by Giving: Following the Mitzvos

Rabbi Yoel Gold told the following story: Yaakov was accepted into a prestigious law school that had no other religious Jews. Despite this, he decided to wear his yarmulke and tzitzis openly. Upon graduation, the school hosted major law firms for interviews. Yaakov faced the dilemma again: Should he continue to openly show his observance? The morning of his interview with a desirable law firm, he decided not to wear his yarmulke and tzitzis. As he entered the room to meet the “power attorney” who could hire him, he faced…a chasidishe man with a large yarmulke, beard and tzitzis. He said, “We selected you from all the other students because we heard you wore your yarmulke and tzitzis for your four years in law school. A person who sticks to his values so well—that’s what we want for our firm. But I see you do compromise on your values. We are no longer interested.” Yaakov lost the job, but learned a lesson for life.

There is a different story with a better outcome. After being out of work for over a year, Abe was very excited to land a new position. Abe asked his rav if he was permitted to shake hands with women in his office. His rav replied he may not. Abe was worried. “If I am so rigid, I may make a bad impression.” He heard some opinions permit it but he decided to follow his rav and not “shop around” for a more lenient opinion. When Abe arrived, his manager said, “I would like you to meet Pat. She will be introducing you to the other members in the office.” Pat stuck out her hand. Politely, Abe said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you. I apologize, but as a religious man I don’t have physical contact with a different gender.” “Oh, I’m so sorry to place you in an uncomfortable position,’’ said Pat. “Come, let me introduce you to the rest of the team.” Pat introduced him to several female team members, but each time, before the team member stuck out her hand, Pat said, “Abe is a religious man and doesn’t shake hands with women.” Once I took the first step, thought Abe, Hashem cleared the way. “If I would have shaken Pat’s hand, I would have to shake the hand of every other woman in all future interactions.”

There is a special blessing Hashem accords to those who follow in His mitzvos, especially when it puts them at odds with the worldview. The Midrash quotes a pasuk in Iyov, “V’achar ori nikfu zos,” and the midrash explains that this refers to many more people being drawn in after Avraham performed the bris milah on himself. Why? Avraham and Sarah had been bringing people close to Hashem and making them Jewish for decades prior to the bris milah. The Sfas Emes explains that objectively, the requirement to perform a bris milah for any male who wanted to be Jewish might sabotage Avraham’s ability to bring people closer to Hashem. As convincing as Avraham and Sarah were, once people would hear this requirement, they might say, “Sorry, I’m not willing to do that!” Yet Avraham went ahead with Hashem’s command, and after his bris milah, many more people converted than before!

A similar challenge occurred with regard to the Akeida (sacrifice of Yitzchak). Rav Shach explains that Avraham had been teaching for years that Hashem is compassionate and caring. If Avraham were to slaughter the only child born to him and Sarah in their old age at Hashem’s direction, surely people would scoff and dismiss him. Nonetheless, Avraham went against his own instincts to follow Hashem’s command.

Rav Tzadok Hakohen says this is the rule for any mitzvah: It must be followed no matter what people may say, and he lists an example. A Jewish farmer must separate terumos and ma’asros from produce grown in Eretz Yisrael, which totals 20% of the yield. Seemingly, this is a significant loss to the farmer. The pasuk says “aser ta’aser,” you shall surely tithe. The Gemara notes that the root letters of the word ta’aser are the same as those for osher, wealth. In using the same word twice, Hashem is giving a blessing: If you tithe, you will gain wealth. Thus the cost of giving terumah and ma’aser, instead of creating a loss, will actually yield a monetary gain! There is one condition, however. Reb Tzadok says the blessing is given only when the mitzvah is performed lishma—altruistically.

In everyday life we encounter situations in which we may feel tempted to compromise our observance of halacha, since it appears our observance will result in a loss. We learn from the above instances that if we don’t compromise our principles, we will merit an increase in blessing and extra help from Hashem to perform each mitzvah in its most optimal form.

Editor’s Article Published In The Jewish Link Of New Jersey – For Your Benefit – A Story Of Reb Chaim Kanievsky Shlita And Rav Avrohom Genechovsky Zt”l