Tuesday, Jun 11, 2024

The Reward of Hard Work

My wife is originally from the Bayit Vegan neighborhood of Yerushalayim. For the past several decades, whenever I have visited there for Shabbos, I have davened at Yeshiva Ateres Yisroel, a makom Torah known for its illustrious rosh yeshiva, Rav Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi. Rav Ezrachi is a gifted maggid shiur, a compelling and dynamic orator, whose deep, penetratinglomdus fuses with his natural energy and enthusiasm to make it a particular joy to hear him speak. He is also a genuinely nice and fine person. Now Rav Boruch Mordechai ben Hinda Malka, a man who so personifieschiyus and vibrancy, needs our tefillos, after his heart stopped beating last week. I thought it would be a zechus to learn some of his Torah over Shabbos. Providentially, perhaps, I opened his sefer on Chumash, Birkas Mordechai, to a piece on this week's parsha, where Rav Boruch Mordechai quotes the words of the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh.

The Torah lists the various donations to the Mishkon, beginning with the most valuable (25:3) and continuing in descending order, until the most basic. Yet, it is only much later, at the end of the list (25:7), that we read about the donations of the avnei shoham and the avnei miluim, precious stones that were used in the sacred bigdei kehunah.
The Ohr Hachaim asks that if the donations are listed in the order of their value, why are the precious stones listed last? They should have been on top of the list.


In one of his answers, the Ohr Hachaim quotes an opinion in the Gemara in Maseches Yoma (75a) that the stones required for the eifod and the choshen were inaccessible in the desert and were brought to the Bnei Yisroel in miraculous fashion via the clouds. Rav Shmuel bar Nachmeini said in the name of Rav Yonason that every day, precious stones would fall together with the monn. He derives this from a posuk which states that the nesi’im brought the avnei shoham. While nesi’im is commonly translated to mean the leaders of the shevotim, the word can also be defined as clouds.


The Ohr Hachaim explains that as precious as the stones were, since the donations of the stones needed for the eifod and choshen didn’t involve any work, self-sacrifice or financial cost, they were listed after all the other donations.


Rav Ezrachi analyzes the message here. While we understand thatHashem values hard work, how does the lack of effort expended in obtaining the precious stones cheapen their actual worth? Since the Torah lists the donations received for the Mishkon in the order of their value, they still should have been mentioned near the top of the list and not at the bottom. He answers that we can derive from this that in the eyes of the Torah, a lack of toil and hard work actually affects the essential value of the goods. Although they may be rare, beautiful and expensive, items that are acquired at little or no cost are considered as having little value to their recipient.


In a speech, Rav Yissochor Frand once connected this principle to a report he found in an old Vilna newspaper, Dem Vort. A reporter described the chanukas habayis of the Kletzker Yeshiva, led by a young Rav Aharon Kotler. The celebration was crowned with the presence of Rav Elchonon Wasserman, Rav Shimon Shkop and Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, who made the arduous trip from Eretz Yisroelin order to be present.


The writer painted a picture of the festive parade as it wove its way through the small Lithuanian town. He described how, as the procession reached the yeshiva, askonim stood at the bimah and the townspeople – hardworking folk, all of them – approached with their donations. In the presence of gedolei olam, the gabboim made a mi shebeirach for each donor.


The article describes a very short old woman entering the bais medrash, taking labored steps through the room towards the bimah. Tears were coursing down her wizened cheeks as she handed over a few rubles to the gabbai, but her eyes shone with joy. “She was not just giving her few pennies. She was giving her very Jewish soul towards the building costs of that yeshiva building,” reported Dem Vort.


This is the Jewish way of giving tzedakah. Both gabboim and donors understand that far more than amounts, the Ribbono Shel Olam appreciates what lies behind the donation, the heart and effort invested in it. Throughout our history, from the times of “Zos haterumah asher tikchu mei’itom,” through our stops in golus in big cities and small towns such as Slutzk d’Lita, until today, great edifices of Torah and kedushah have been built through the generosity of the poor, as well as of the rich, individuals giving with their hearts and souls, the fruits of their hard work.


Thus, the posuk states, “Veyikchu li terumah mei’eis kol ish asher yidvenu libo.” Hashem desires the donations of those who give whatever they can with eager hearts.


This idea is especially appropriate for the rosh yeshiva of Ateres Yisroel, who personifies ameilus and the joy of hard work in a sugya.


A few years ago, a friend of mine, a rebbi, asked the rosh yeshiva during one of his many American visits to speak in his yeshiva. Rav Boruch Mordechai graciously visited the yeshiva. Upon entering, he quickly realized that the students at that particular institution were weak in learning. Many of them were disinterested and apathetic, so instead of delivering the shmuess he had prepared, he told a story.


He recalled how, as a bochur in the legendary Chevroner Yeshiva, he and his friends encountered a young man who found his way to the yeshiva one day. Rav Boruch Mordechai related that the visitor looked out of place in his shorts and a torn shirt. He wore a cap on his head instead of a yarmulke.


He introduced himself to the bochurim, telling them that he had survived the Second World War and escaped Poland. He asked the curious spectators how he could be accepted into the yeshiva. While the bochurim felt bad for him, they didn’t consider for a moment that he was likely to remain in the yeshiva. They sent him to the mashgiach’s office, chuckling inwardly at his boldness for thinking that he might be accepted to the prestigious yeshiva. They were shocked when the young man emerged from the office of the mashgiach, Rav Meir Chodosh, with the news that he’d been accepted.


Rav Boruch Mordechai said that over the course of the day, he and his friends studied the boy. They pitied him as he held hisGemara upside down and clearly had trouble with the basics of reading. Then, continued Rav Boruch Mordechai, it came time for Minchah and the boy rose to daven.


“I watched him begin Shemoneh Esrei, and then I knew, in one instant, that this boy would make it and that he would succeed in the yeshiva,” recounted Rav Boruch Mordechai.Why? Because as soon as he started to daven, tears flowed down his face. His burning desire was evident as he cried.”


The boy wept during davening and the bochurim around him took notice. They concluded that he was for real. He desperately wanted to succeed in the yeshiva. They drew him close, learning with him and helping him until, Rav Boruch Mordechai said, he overtook them all. He rose to become one of the lions in a yeshiva of metzuyonim, eventually achieving renown as the gaon Rav Shaul Barzam, son-in-law of the Steipler Gaon.


“Do you know how he became a gadol?” exclaimed Rav Boruch Mordechai to his enraptured high school audience. “With those tears. No one succeeds without effort; in those tears we saw the strength of his desire and how hard he would work.”


The Ribbono Shel Olam values blood, sweat and tears above all else. As Chazal famously said, “Rachmona liba bo’i,” Hashem wants each person to utilize his abilities for the good. Irrespective of how much one has been blessed with, it is the effort and heart one invests in one’s undertakings and contributions that counts.


We have entered Adar, the most festive month on the Jewish calendar, and we are instructed by Chazal to be b’simcha. How do we become happy? What is the secret to feeling joyous?


The surprising answer is through hard work. Nothing makes a person feel accomplished and fulfilled like working hard and achieving results.


Abochur wrote to the Chazon Ish complaining that he didn’t feel joy in the performance ofmitzvos. The Chazon Ish responded with a suggestion. “Purchase a begged suitable for tzitzis and then affix the tzitzis strings yourself after learning the halachos. When you will wear those tzitzis which you assembled with your own ten fingers,” the Chazon Ish wrote, “you will experience a deep sense of joy.”


Rav Tzadok Hakohen of Lublin, in his sefer on Chumash, says that this is the secret to the supremacy of Adar’s joy.


Chazal tell us, “Mishenichnas Adar marbin b’simcha. When the month of Adar arrives, we increase our happiness.” This obligation is not present in any other month, even the month of Nisson, during which our greatest Yom Tov occurs. What is there about Adar that causes it to be a happier month than even the month in which we gained our independence and were formed as an independent nation?


Rav Tzadok says that there must be more at the root of Adar’s simcha besides the salvation that our forefathers experienced during this month, since there was a much greater deliverance in the month of Nisson. Pesach freed us from slavery and domination by Paroh. Following the neis of Purim, we were still “avdi d’Achashveirosh,” subservient to a wicked tyrant. The happiness of the month of Adar requires an explanation.


Rav Tzadok illuminates the conundrum, differentiating between the nissim of Purim and those of Pesach. The miracles that led to the Yom Tov of Pesach were so extraordinary that they were brought about completely by Hakadosh Boruch Hu Himself. He took us out of Mitzrayim by Himself, removing one nation from the midst of another, a miraculous feat. It was all publicly and openly done by Hashem, with none of our hishtadlus.


He split the sea to save us from the advancing Egyptian army. At Krias Yam Suf, the nation was instructed, “Hashem yilacheim lochem, v’atem tacharishun.” The Jewish people were told to stand passively on the side and to permit Hashem to fight their battles. Great miracles were performed in that effort, but the salvation was not caused by us.


In the neis of Purim, however, Hashem’s involvement was hidden. The mitzvah of mechiyas Amaleik requires us to bring about the decimation of Amaleik. The actual Purim story involved Mordechai and Esther, Divineshlichim who saved their people. The victory was solidified when the Jews killed the ten sons of Haman. They then triumphed in battle, slaying those who wished to exterminate them. The tale of Purim is one that came about through our effort. Thus, its successful culmination brings a pervasive simcha.


The miracles of Pesach were greater, but since Purim celebrates a miraculous deliverance in which Hashem was ever present but was hidden, and we fought and labored mightily to bring about our salvation, the joy is that much greater.


The intense joy that fills our homes and streets at this time of year celebrates the miracles brought about with Jewish blood, sweat and tears. There is no joy like delighting in the fruits of hard work.


In the world of drush, this is reflected in the mitzvos hayom, specifically the drinking of wine. The shivah mashkin, the seven fluids recognized by the Torah as liquids in regard to tumah v’taharah, are known by their acronym, Yad Shochat Dam (yayin, wine; dom, blood; shemen, oil; cholov, milk; tal, dew; d’vash, honey; and mayim, water.)


Seforim teach that each one of the liquids hints to a specific Yom Tov. Yayin hints to Purim. Dom hints to Yom Kippur, when the blood of the korbanos is so central to the avodah;Shemen hints to Chanukah andcholov to Shavuos. Tal hints to Pesach, when we begin davening for dew. D’vash hints to Rosh Hashanah and mayim hints to Sukkos, when we are judged about water and offer nisuch hamayim at the Simchas Bais Hasho’eivah.


The natural state of the fluids tied to the Yomim Tovim is liquid, except for oil and wine. These two started out as solids and, through a laborious process, become liquids after being squeezed from their parent fruits.


The Yomim Tovim that oil and wine represent are unique in that they are not Biblical, but rather miderabbonon. The holidays of Chanukah and Purim were formulated by Chazal following much toil and effort, using the middos shehaTorah nidreshes bohen.


As Chazal say in many places in Shas, “d’asya midrosha chaviva lei,” halachos that the rabbonon arrived at through extrapolation are particularly beloved.


Perhaps in line with Rav Tzadok’s teaching, in the glasses of wine that Chazal tell us to drink on Purim, we perceive the obligations and joy of the day. Just as wine is not a naturally formed liquid, but the result of squeezing the prized and intoxicating spirit from a grape, so too, the miracles that led to this day and the avodas hayom prescribed by Chazal came in a similar way: through work.


Chazal derive that on Purim we accepted anew, and willingly, Torah Shebaal Peh, the Oral Torah. Though delivered to Moshe Rabbeinu at Har Sinai, it came to us through much human toil, as it was not Divinely written, but was produced by man and is mastered to this day only with the arduous ameilus exemplified by great people such as Rav Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi, who is in need of our tefillos.


On Purim, the day which commemorates a miraculous salvation brought about through our hard work, we merited accepting the Torah anew and gladly received the word of Hashem which is arrived at through drashos and ameilus.


Torah Shebiksav isHashem’s holy, written word, but in Torah Shebaal Peh we taste human labor and exertion on every line, the sweetest, happiest taste on earth. Let us all pray that we merit to exert ourselves for Torah and good causes and benefit from the happiness that emerges from that endeavor.



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