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: Interact respectfully with a person you might otherwise take for granted.
Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.
PIRKAY AVOS--ETHICS OF OUR FATHERS
Perek Daled, Mishna Bais
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Heh'vay Ratz L'Mitzva Kala
Run to Perform A Minor Mitzva
Story: (based on a true story)
This is the story of “that mother” at my childrens’ school. You know, the one whose name is always showing up on notices and emails as a contact for some program or activity and who the secretary tells you to call when you have a question about things, even though she may hold no elected or appointed position in anything. That woman.
In my childrens’ school there are a few, and a couple years ago one of them had a daughter in my daughter’s class and we became friends. I spoke to Perry around the time she was putting together a small school melave malka only a month before her big flagship event that she ran every year. She was a little frazzled but basically fine, and had called to ask me if I could do her a favor by picking something up for her.
I was pretty busy, but since she was a friend I agreed, and the next thing I knew I was helping to set up for the melave malka about a week later. As we worked, I asked Perry how she ended up helping out with so many school events having only been a school parent for three years. Her answer was simple.
“Basically, I said 'yes'. Someone asked me to help her out with serving a Rosh Chodesh treat and I said 'yes'. A few weeks later, someone else remembered that I had helped with Rosh Chodesh and asked for my help for a couple hours with a mailing, and I said 'yes'. The next thing I knew, I became ‘the person who will say yes when you call her’ and people just kept asking.
Seeing my skepticism that it was that simple, Perry continued, “I always knew I wanted to be involved in the school but didn’t know how to get started. Apparently, you just do something, and there will be more for you to do. My goal in the beginning wasn’t to be the head of anything; it was just to be able to lend a hand here and there.”
That, I got. The school definitely needed the help, and I knew from the way the class moms were always begging for classroom volunteers and trip chaperones that every person who helped out once was a big help. I usually said no because of my work schedule. But after hearing during the next week from my daughter that her best friend’s working mom had come to bake with the class, I began to wonder if instead of automatically and maybe callously saying “No”, I should look for a way to say “Yes”.
A phone call soon after proved Perry right. Someone who had seen me setting up for the melave malka called to ask if I could help supervise the elementary girls’ chagiga coming up. It was after my work hours and when my husband was home, and I was easily able to agree. Within two weeks of the event, I was approached to help out with a music program that truly held my interest and through which I could really give something valuable to the girls. That was harder because it was during work, but I already felt connected enough to helping the school to make an extra effort, so I tentatively approached my boss and found that I could easily switch my work days.
I am becoming “that mother”, and finding that there are way more of them than I had realized. They don’t always have their names in school or shul or community bulletins, and sometimes all that work is within their families or on their blocks, but the theme is the same: they start small, and then the more they do, the more they get to do.
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"Ben Azzai omer: Heh'vay ratz l'mitzva kala...she'mitzva go're'res mitzva...she's'char mitva mitzva... ."
"Ben Azzai says: Run to perform a minor mitzva...for one mitzva leads to another mitzva...for the reward of a mitzva is a mitzva..." (Perek Daled, Mishna Bais).
Rashi defines a “light mitzva” as “one that appears easy to you”, i.e., it is not expensive, difficult to perform or time consuming. What then is the point of Ben Azzai urging us to perform such mitzvos? Do we truly need motivation to do so? The answer is that Ben Azie’s intent is not to persuade us to perform these mitzvos; rather, he seeks to inspire us to do so with passion: “run to a light mitzva.”
The mishna here is recommending that when performing a mitzva, we focus entirely on the mitzva we are presently performing, regardless of its status compared to other mitzvos. If we recall that we are primarily observing mitzvos because of our desire to perform HaShem’s will, rather than because of the reward awaiting us, we would make no distinction between mitzvos.
The words of Ben Azzai complement and complete the teaching of Ben Zoma: “Who is mighty? One who conquers his inclination.” After learning Ben Zoma’s words, a person is liable to feel inadequate. How can he conquer his inclination? Most people barely manage to deal with life’s everyday challenges.
Ben Azzai answers this question. It is not expected that you will one day arise and slay your inclination. All that is required is that you perform an easy mitzva. Performing an easy mitzva leads to more challenging mitzvos. If a person finds bentching easy and recites it properly, he will find it easier to daven correctly. We should begin even by performing mitzvos with tainted intent, for “from ulterior motives, one comes to pure motives” (P'sachim 50b).
When a person accustoms himself to run to perform a mitzva, no matter how easy it may be, he begins to appreciate mitzvos, and in the course of time he will naturally find himself drawn to perform them.
(Reproduced from Rav Lau on Pirkei Avos and from Pirkei Avos with Ideas and Insights of the Sfas Emes and other Chassidic Masters, with permission of the copyright holders, ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications, Ltd.)
Discussion Question Options:
In what ways does our valuing of small acts help us? How does it help others?
What things do we not do for others because they seem like too much for us? Can they be broken down into smaller, more doable pieces?
How has taking and valuing small steps provided you with further opportunities for helping others?
Stretch of the Week:
Look for an opportunity to do provide a manageable amount of help to some