14 Jun What is the Most Challenging Mitzvah?
Let me ask you a philosophical question. What is the hardest mitzvah in the Torah? The most difficult and challenging to fulfill? The Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer says that the hardest mitzvah is Kibud Av v’Eim, to honor one’s Father and Mother. This, of course, is not always the case since some people are blessed with easygoing and caring parents. Still, the obligation noted by the Chayei Adam, to regard one’s parents as a sar or a gadol, a noble or a great person, can be challenging in many cases. Even more challenging might be the halacha that even if a parent throws one’s purse into the sea or spits at one’s face, an individual is still not allowed to act disrespectfully toward a parent. Now, this is challenging to the extreme.
The Vilna Gaon, Zt”l, Zia, has a fascinating choice for the most challenging mitzvah. He proposes that it is the mitzvah of “Vehayisa ach somei’ach – And you should be only happy.” This is the mitzvah to be joyous nonstop throughout the festival of Succos. The Gaon says that to be in a continuously joyous spirit for seven consecutive days is a daunting task.
If you take some time to ponder this question, I’m sure you’ll come up with some ideas of your own. I have several ideas. One of the mitzvahs that I think is extremely challenging is the Tenth Commandment, “Lo sachmod – Do not to covet what is not yours.” Imagine two families live next to each other in a bungalow colony. Husband A comes up for the weekend and, even before he gets into the bungalow door, his wife greets him with a shrill. “Don’t even think of getting comfortable! We are out of everything! Get right back in the car and get us some food.” When he returns home, exhausted after standing in line in ShopRite for an hour, his wife says sharply, “I hope you’re not thinking of taking a nap, you lazy guy. I’ve been cooped up the whole week! You watch the kids. I’m getting out for a break!”
In the meantime, Husband A can’t help but notice that Husband B arrives and his wife greets him warmly with a smile, saying how happy she is to see him. He then further overhears her saying, “Come on in. I have a fresh latte ready for you after your long drive. Husband A then hears Husband B’s wife ask whether he would prefer to go for a swim, since it’s the men’s hour for swimming or would he rather take a nap. For husband A not to covet what is not his is an extremely difficult task.
Likewise, when a man who has to walk twenty blocks to work because he can’t afford a bicycle, sees his neighbor kicking the tires of his brand new Cadillac Escalade, it’s so hard not to be envious.
Another very difficult mitzvah is the prohibition of “Lo sitor.” This is the partner of the negative prohibition of “Velo sikom – Not to take vengeance.” The Gemora explains the difference between these two commandments. On Monday, Reuven asks Shimon to borrow his car and Shimon says no. If a month, later Shimon asks Reuven to borrow his snow blower and Reuven says, “Absolutely not! You didn’t lend me your car last month,” it’s revenge. If Reuven says, “I’ll give you my snow blower. I’m not like you!” that’s transgressing the commandment of lo sitor, otherwise known as netira. Thus, in practical terms, lo sitor means “not to bear a grudge.” Now, the only way to avoid saying, “I’m not going to do like you,” is if one is able to put to rest his fellow’s past misbehavior and not allow himself to store it in his mind. This is the way the Torah practices mind control, teaching us what to store in our minds and what to try to forget.
On the last day of Yom Tov, when I bang on my shtender and announce Yizkor, I give a blessing that all those who exit (because they have living parents) should merit to leave for many years. But, in my mind I also think when I announce Yizkor (which means to remember) that this subject, namely the memory of our loved ones, is worth the effort to remember. Other things, however, such as the hurt that other people caused, is not worth remembering. How sad that there are families which are feuding for generations, and are not smart enough to bury the hatchet caused by previous mistakes.
This commandment of not bearing a grudge is so hard. For example, someone said something negative about one of your children and because of what was said, a prospective Shidduch is lost. Or, someone said that you are lazy or not resourceful to your employer and because of this statement you lost out on a promotion. In such cases, it’s very hard not to bear a grudge. So, this is also one of my choices for the most difficult mitzvah.
Of course, Lashon Hara, the temptation to divulge juicy gossip is also a candidate for the most difficult mitzvah as we can all readily attest to. But the Ksav Sofer, Zt”l, Zy”a [in Response 57] suggests an interesting choice for the most difficult mitzvah. He says that it’s the mitzvah of tochacha, the mitzvah of rebuke, the responsibility to chastise a fellow Jew when he is doing something wrong. This, he says, is extremely difficult, for the Torah warns us, “V’lo sisu alav cheit – Do not bear a sin while you are chastising.” As Rashi explains, do not embarrass someone publically when you are rebuking him. The Chazon Ish, Zt”l, Zy”a, in Hilchos Shechita, says that there are very few people today who know how to do this mitzvah properly. If one is not careful his rebuke will just make matters worse, add fuel to the fire, and can create enmity, cause lashon hara to be spoken and, chas v’shalom, bring about machlokes.
May Hashem grant us the fortitude to fulfill all His mitzvahs and in that merit may Hashem bless us with long life, good health and everything wonderful.