24 May SHABBOS IS IN THE AIR: CHOOSE ONE
It’s Pirkei Avos season. On the long Shabbos afternoons of spring and summer, we open the Book of Ethics, ready to learn its Torah values.
While each chapter imparts different life lessons, all six conclude with the same passage. “Rabbi Chananya ben Akashya says: ‘HaKodosh Boruch Hu, the Holy One, Blessed be He, wanted to give the Jewish people merit, therefore He increased Torah and mitzvos for them’.”
613 commandments, encompassing all aspects of life. Initially, to some, it may appear difficult, even burdensome. But through studying the words of Ethics, we see the mitzvos in a different light.
“HaShem wanted to give His people merit.” What a beautiful gift. Through mitzvos, each one of us has an opportunity to connect to HaShem, to grow spiritually and elevate ourselves in different ways.
Every morning, in our Shacharis tefillah, we say “Ailu devarim, these are the things (mitzvos) that bring merit and reward in both this world and the World to Come… honoring parents; acts of kindness; arriving at the house of Torah study punctually both mornings as well as evenings; welcoming guests; visiting the sick; providing for a bride; attending a funeral; praying with devotion; being a peacemaker; and of course, Torah study.
Choose one. Make it yours. Put all your kochos, all your energy and strength into it. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we negate the other mitzvos, but that we put extra effort into a specific mitzvah. A mitzvah we can call our own.
I think of the amazing people who saw a need and seized the opportunity to do a mitzvah with selfless devotion and dedication.
In 1965, Rabbi Hershel Weber witnessed someone having a heart attack. It took EMS nearly 20 minutes to arrive. Rabbi Weber stood there helplessly, and watched as the man died because there wasn’t anyone there capable of helping him. He made a promise to himself that he would never be caught in that situation again. Starting with just a few volunteers and some basic equipment, Rabbi Weber created the Hatzalah Volunteer Ambulance Corps. Today, there are Hatzalah chapters with many thousands of medics throughout the United States and across the globe.
In 1963, Rabbi Max and Blanche Kahn recognized a lack of available services for children with special needs. They created HASC, Hebrew Academy for Special Children, which today provides a broad range of services for individuals with developmental delays, from infancy through adulthood.
After losing four children to Tay-Sachs, in 1983 Rabbi Josef Eckstein founded Dor Yeshorim, an organization focused on eliminating genetic diseases, through pre-marital genetic testing. After personally enduring so much pain, Rabbi Eckstein committed his life to the eradication of such preventable diseases.
In 1975, R’ Yehoshua Tzvi (Jeno) Hershkowitz, a US postal employee, became aware that a neighbor of his was struggling to put food on the table. He realized that there must be more people experiencing similar difficulties as his neighbor. From the kitchen of his home in Borough Park, Mr. Hershkowitz, assisted by family and friends, began gathering the ingredients of traditional Shabbos meals and dropping off packages of food at the homes of those in need. From this humble beginning, Mr. Hershkowitz built Tomchei Shabbos, an organization that every week distributes thousands of meal packages to families through a network of branches throughout the United States.
In the 1970s, Kiruv was a foreign concept to virtually all in the Jewish world. Seeing a need to bring Jewish souls back to Yiddishkeit, my own mother, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis a”h, started HINENI to rekindle the light of Judaism in the hearts and souls of so many who were not exposed to a Torah way of life. By reaching out with love to every Jew, today, there are thousands of families who are building generations of Torah homes.
Five people. Each saw a need that wasn’t being addressed. Each, in his/her own way, began with small steps. But with determination and dedication, each changed the world, and touched the lives of countless people over the years.
The Talmud (Shabbos 118b) tells us of several rabbis, all Torah leaders and scholars. Each asked to be rewarded for being especially careful in the observance of a particular mitzvah.
Rabbi Nachman noted his conscientiousness in partaking in the three Shabbos meals. Rabbi Yehudah spoke about his devotion to prayer. Rav Huna was meticulous to never walk four amos (about six feet) without a head covering. Rav Sheishess was scrupulous in his adherence to the mitzvah of tefillin.
Clearly, each of these sages were careful to observe all of the mitzvos. Yet, they asked to be rewarded for a mitzvah that they connected to, and called their own.
A message to each and every one of us. To put extra love, care and passion into a mitzvah that resonates and calls out to us.
My brother, Rabbi Yisroel, and his wife Rivki, understood the importance of immersing oneself in a mitzvah. When they lost their son Meshulem a”h, they initiated “Mitzvos for Meshulem”. A chart of mitzvos was sent out to family and friends, asking everyone to choose one to focus on. One mitzvah to be extra careful with, and observe with diligence. Mitzvos that would not only bring merit to those observing them, but also be for an aliyas neshamah, bringing Meshulem’s soul to a higher place Above.
Ben Azai teaches (Pirkei Avos 4:2), “Schar mitzvah, mitzvah”. The reward for a mitzvah is another mitzvah. We may start off with choosing one mitzvah that brings us closer to HaShem, but one mitzvah leads to another… and another. Being deeply connected to one mitzvah changes our very being. The joy of performing mitzvos becomes part of us, we want to do more and more. Each mitzvah brings us closer to shleimus, fulfillment. A fulfillment of the soul that leads to spiritual shalom, inner peace.
Which mitzvah will you choose?