We are stretching in ahavas yisrael together to create z’chuyos for K’lal Yisrael in these urgent times.
Last week’s stretch of the week was: Look for an opportunity to choose peace over being right.
Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.
Situations Lesson #19
PIRKAY AVOS--ETHICS OF OUR FATHERS
Be As Scrupulous In Performing A Minor Mitzva As A Major One
V’he’vay ZahirB’Mitzva Kala K’VaChamura
והוי זהיר במצוה קלה כוחמורה
Perek Bais, Mishna Alef -
Story: (based on a true story)
“I wish I could be a chessed-machine like Chava”, I told my friend Shifra as I washed the dishes and looked through my kitchen window to keep an eye on the kids playing in the back yard. “I hear all these shiurim about “Olam chessed yibaneh” and how a woman’s strength is her chessed. But I can’t seem to do it.”
“I hear you,” Shifra said. “I’ve got my version of your Chava on my block, too. My neighbor is always making or coordinating meals, or having Shabbos guest who need a place, or visiting people in hospitals, or who knows what else. And I’m happy if there are fish sticks on the table on time for dinner and I can get homework done with the kids. How my children will learn about doing chessed outside the house, I have no idea.”
Shifra and I have had this conversation before. We both feel pretty swamped in our own lives, unable to do a simple thing like making a meal for another family. We know that what we do at home is important, and that every nose we wipe is a chessed to one of HaShem’s children. But it feels like we should be doing bigger and better things.
I hung up the phone when I heard a fight breaking out in the backyard. My neighbor’s older daughter and my younger one were having a disagreement about who got the best swing. I dried my hands on my skirt as I headed out back, grabbing a handful of ice pops from the freezer on the way.
“Snack time!” I called out from the doorway, and the kids came running. I had specifically grabbed all the same color, so there were no fights about who got what. I opened them for the smaller kids, reminding them that popsicles couldn’t be eaten on swings, and went back into the house to finish the dishes. Back at my perch, I saw the two previously-fighting girls sitting on the patio together playing hangman, each with an ice pop in one hand and a piece of sidewalk chalk in the other.
An hour later, just as the backyard kids were sitting down to dinner, my neighbor came by for her kids. “I really appreciate your watching Chana and Yehuda every week while I take Shula to speech,” she said, as she always does. And as always, I told her it was no big deal; I do better when my kids have people to play with. Yes, there were occasional blips, but it was manageable, and the good outweighed the bad. She then followed up, as usual, that while it was easy for me, it still helped her.
I remembered this the next day as I watched Chessed-Chava send out yet another meal on a Thursday night. When I asked her how she managed that, she said, “I guess I don’t find it that hard. Now, serving dinner three times like you do for the younger kids, the older kids, and your husband, I could never do that. More than once is too much for me.”
And I realized it was true. Every person has some chasadim that are hard for her and some that are easier, and some acts fit into a person’s current every-day life better than others. Sometimes we have to stretch extra hard for something that’s genuinely hard for us in times of necessity, like when a woman down the block had a baby just before the week of summer vacation when most of the block was away, and those of us remaining had to somehow find a way to make it work. And I do that. But most of the time, even when it’s just a bunch of small acts, I am doing chessed, even chessed outside the house. I just don’t take notice of it, because it’s small, routine, and not hard. But that doesn’t stop it from being a valuable mitzva.
So during my next conversation with Shifra, we decided to stop berating ourselves and start assessing our chessed strengths. We each identified one, and committed to look for one more opportunity a week to do that chessed. In my case, that week I asked Chava if her kids would like to come by on Sunday when she went to parent teacher conferences so she wouldn’t need a babysitter, which she often found hard to find. It would help me with that nothing-time in the morning when the older boys were in school, and help her too.
She accepted happily, and I was happy too. I never would have thought to offer had I not focused on my being able to help this way. And I have no idea how much my small amount of help ending up helping her.
״ רבי אומר: והוי זהיר במצוה קלה כוחמורה שאין אתה יודע מתן שכרן של מצוות..."
“Rabi omer: …V’he’vay zahir b’mitzva kala k’vachamura, she’ain ata yoday’a matan s’charan shel mitzvos…”
“Rabi says: …be as scrupulous in performing a minor mitzva as in a major one, for you do not know the reward given for (respective) mitzvos…” (Perek Bais, Mishe Alef).
Our Sages instruct us, “Do not calculate which mitzvos yield the greatest reward,” otherwise you will confine yourself to performing them alone. R’ Chiya offers the metaphor of “a king who hired workers to tend to his orchard, but did not tell them the specific payment for planting different types of trees, lest they confine their efforts solely to the more lucrative work. Similarly, the Creator did not reveal the reward of mitzvos, so as to prevent the dereliction of some” (Pesikta Rabbasi 3:2).
The opening passage, “V’he’vay zahir b’mitzva kala k’vachamura”, gives us a clue to perhaps the most critical factor that determines the reward for performing mitzvos: zehirus, diligence. Perhaps your reward will be proportional to the eagerness and diligence demonstrated. Not only the alacrity demonstrated in performing the mitzva but the effort invested affects the mitzva’s reward. A minor mitzva performed with great effort and a great deal of diligence may deserve greater reward than a major mitzva performed lackadaisically.
It is impossible to truly evaluate the full impact of mitzvos on ourselves and on the universe. This--the ultimate effect of mitzvos--is the true s’char, reward, that the mishna feels cannot be evaluated.
Perhaps the term “kala” may refer not only to “minor” mitzvos but to the sacred challenge of “finding” opportunities to perform mitzvos in every aspect of life, no matter how seemingly trivial and remote from k’dusha they may seem.
(Reproduced from Rav Lau on Pirkei Avos and from Pirkei Avos with Ideas and Insights of the S’fas Emes and other Chassidic Masters, with permission of the copyright holders, ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications, Ltd.)
Discussion Question Options:
What are the dangers of grasping mainly for “big chesseds”?
In what ways can seemingly small actions go a long way?
How can we infuse all of our acts with the same importance, regardless of size? How can we teach our children this?
Stretch of the Week:
Look for a seemingly small way in which you can help someone.