Hearing this, the guest frowned and said with wonder, “So they came to a din Torah arguing over a paltry one percent? How petty and money-hungry can you get?”
Rav Chaim took on a serious demeanor and said to the man, “Why don’t you first ask how much money was involved in the deal?”
“Nu, so how much was it?” asked the guest.
“The deal was worth fifteen million dollars,” answered Rav Chaim. “That’s quite a hefty sum of money, and one percent of that is a considerable amount that is worth claiming in bais din.” Then Rav Chaim added, “We can learn a great lesson from this. When the stakes are very high, even a minute portion of what’s being discussed takes on great significance. When we realize the infinite value of Torah and the reason for the creation of the world, we can appreciate that even one minute of limud haTorah adds immeasurable light and simcha to the universe.”
The same holds true for all matters of ruchniyus. Even a slight hiddur in a mitzvah can make a world of a difference. One small, indiscernible effort can be life-altering for an individual and his progeny for eternity. This idea can be found both in Tanach and in Chazal. Sheim and Yefes, the sons of Noach, both performed the same act of covering their father in his tent, yet one initiated the deed with the purest of intentions while the other was just a follower. Sheim merited that his progeny, the Bnei Yisroel, are the people amongst whom the holy Shechinah rests, while Yefes was blessed with mere eternal beauty whose descendants are the Greeks and Gog Umagog. What a difference.
Chazal derive halachos from an extra single word in the Torah. Rebbi Akiva drew forth mounds and mounds of halachos from every tip of the crowns of the letters of the Torah (Menachos 29b). Big things can come in small packages. Similarly, the deeds of people, although seemingly unremarkable, can teach us great lessons and have important ramifications for the future.
The Medrash (Rus Rabbah 5:6) tells us that had Reuvein known when he suggested that Yosef be thrown into a pit that Hashem would write about him in the Torah, “And Reuvein heard and he rescued him from their hands” (Bereishis 37:21), he would have carried Yosef on his shoulders and brought him to his father. Had Aharon known that Hashem would write about him, “Behold he is going out to meet you” (Shemos 4:14), he would have gone out with drums and dances. And if Boaz would have known that Hashem would write about him, “And he handed her (Rus) parched grain and she ate and she was satisfied, and she had some left over” (Rus 2:14), he would have served her fattened calves.
This Medrash is puzzling, for it seems as if these tzaddikim would have acted differently had they realized that they were in the spotlight and would receive great honor for their deeds. How can this possibly be?
The Telzer rosh yeshiva, Rav Elya Meir Bloch, explains that, often, one can perform a seemingly small act and not realize the great significance of it. With our limited vision, we cannot envision the spiritual lights hidden within and the impact it can have on others, even affecting the entire history of Klal Yisroel. The fact that Hashem had something recorded in the Torah shows that the deed was not trivial at all. Rather, it impacted on our history and is thus recorded for the ages.
When Reuvein had Yosef put into the pit, he had no idea how important his suggestion was. Yosef was needed to help carry out Hashem’s master plan for Yaakov and his sons to go down to Mitzrayim, which would lead to the miraculous redemption and Matan Torah, when we became the Chosen Nation. As far as Reuvein was concerned, he was merely acting as an older brother, afraid that his father would hold him responsible if the brothers would harm Yosef. Had he known that Hashem would record this as an act in Tanach for the generations because it impacted the history of Klal Yisroel, he would have recognized its real significance and would have performed his deed with more vigor.
Similarly, Aharon was not aware of Moshe Rabbeinu’s hesitations in accepting the leadership role in Klal Yisroel instead of his brother. He was merely going out to greet his younger sibling, whom he hadn’t seen in years. Little did he know that this act of love was pivotal in encouraging Moshe to take on this monumental task. Had he known at the time that it would be recorded in the Torah because it was so paramount, he would have done it with much greater celebration.
Likewise, Boaz thought that he was merely being nice to a giyores. He had no idea that his kindness would lead to the eventual birth of Dovid Hamelech, Malchus Bais Dovid, and the Melech HaMoshiach. Had he known all of this, he would have performed this chesed with a more elaborate seudah.
One can perform an ordinary act and only years later realize its magnitude. One of the gedolei hador, who is amongst the elite of the malchus haTorah today, revealed what motivated him to ascend to the heights that he did.
“When I was a young boy,” he related, “my father once came home and brought my mother a present, a beautiful gold necklace. Aware of my father’s financial situation, I knew that buying such an expensive piece of jewelry was a great sacrifice on his part. My mother was very surprised and happy, and she asked my father, ‘What’s the occasion? It is not Shabbos or Yom Tov… Why do I merit such an expensive gold necklace?’
“‘I met our son’s melamed today,’ answered my father, ‘and he described to me in great detail our child’s hasmadah and yiras Shomayim. He expressed his opinion that our son is destined for greatness. I was so elated by the news. I thought to myself that I am not at home with the children throughout the day. Only you, my dear wife, are mechanech them. If our son is so successful, it is primarily because of your efforts. I therefore decided to express my gratitude for your devotion and tireless efforts in being mechanech our children.’”
This adam gadol related, “I happened to have been in the very next room when the conversation between my parents was taking place and I heard every word of it. Seeing how my melamed’s report gave my parents such nachas and joy, instilled in me a tremendous chashivus for limud haTorah, to the extent that from that moment on, I found it impossible to leave my learning even for one moment.”
Undoubtedly, at the time, the father had no idea of the outgrowth of his act. He was merely doing what any good husband would do to show appreciation to his wife. He was totally oblivious to the fact that his son heard every word of the conversation. And yet this beautiful deed was a catalyst in propelling his child not only to becoming a talmid chochom, but one of the gedolei hador. There is no question that it also imbued in him the importance of hakoras hatov and how one should show appreciation to his wife (Aleinu Leshabeiach).
There is much to be learned from this little anecdote. Not everyone would be so humble to think that the marvelous chinuch that his son was receiving had nothing to do with him. Some would say to themselves, “Ah, boruch Hashem my son has inherited my brains, or has my work ethic, or that I set an example with my seriousness and my diligence.” Had this been the case with this father and son, the beautiful message would never have been conveyed and a great opportunity would have been squandered. The father was humble enough to recognize that the prime chinuch was coming from his wife.
Furthermore, we can see the important role that a mother plays in the chinuch of her children. In the secular world, women are constantly agitating for equality with lucrative careers, struggling to find their mission in life. Many of these women are now in the dusk of their lives, without a family to speak of. They realized equality with lucrative careers, but they missed their true purpose in life. What greater honor is there than that which is accorded to the mother of Rabi Yehoshua ben Chananya by the Tanna of the Mishnah, who says, “Praiseworthy is she who bore him” (Avos 2:11)? She bore him not only in the womb, but also by emotionally nurturing him and instilling in him the right middos and values.
The father of this adam gadol did not take it for granted that that’s what an aishes chayil should do. He recognized how fortunate he was that his wife was doing such a wonderful job bringing up their children. Recognizing is one thing. Expressing it is another. He was moser nefesh to buy his wife a beautiful present, but, even more importantly, he verbalized his appreciation, making his wife feel wonderful.
Actions speak louder than words. Unbeknownst to him, he taught his child an important lesson in husband-wife relations and hakoras hatov. Mitzvah goreres mitzvah. This act of hakoras hatov brought along another lesson. The sheer joy of his father and the ahavas haTorah that it displayed motivated the child to strive for great heights.
Sunshine is the most essential source of energy in the world. At any given moment, the sun showers billions of tons of energy down on us, sustaining all life on earth. Spreading sunshine in our homes is just as important. Creating a happy atmosphere accomplishes so much in nurturing a family. In this day and age, with all of the pressures and challenges we face, this is not always easy. But if we realize how paramount this is and how great the benefits are, we will make every effort to create a cheerful ambiance in our midst.