Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Messilas Yesharim (1st Day of Rosh Hashanna Thurs., Sept.13)


The reason for this is obvious. One who loves his friend could never endure seeing him attacked or abused. He would certainly come to his aid. Likewise, one who truly loves G-d could never endure seeing His name being profaned, G-d forbid, or His commandments being overrun. Solomon was referring to this when he said, "Those who abandon Torah would praise the wicked, while those who keep it would rebuke them" (Proverbs 28:4). Those who would praise the wicked for their wickedness instead of castigating them for their blemishes are abandoning Torah and allowing the name of G-d to be profaned, G-d forbid. But those who keep Torah and strengthen themselves to maintain it would certainly rebuke them, and would not hold themselves back or keep still. G-d said to Job, "Cast the rage of your wrath abroad. Behold everyone that is proud and abase him. Look upon everyone that is proud and bring him low, and tread upon the wicked in their place. Hide them in the dust together and bind their faces in the hiding-places" (Job 40:11–13). This is the greatest love one who really loves his Creator could ever exhibit. As is written, "Those who love G-d hate evil" (Psalms 97:10).

To this point we have explained piety in terms of the actions themselves that are required for it. We will now discuss it in terms of the motives behind those actions. We have already spoken about the notion of acting either altruistically or for an ulterior motive, and all the degrees in between also. The truth of the matter is that someone who serves G-d so that his soul could be purified before Him, that he might merit residing among the just and pious and "witness the pleasantness of G-d and visit His Sanctuary" (Psalms 27:4), as well as to receive the reward of the World to Come cannot be said to be ill-motivated. But, he cannot be said to have the best intentions either. As long as someone is moved by selfish reasons he is serving G-d for self-serving purposes. The motivation in serving G-d found among the truly pious, those who toil and strive in it, is only that His glory grow and spread. But this only comes after your love of G-d is developed, and you come to long for the expansion of His honor and suffer with its lessening. Only then will you be motivated to serve G-d so that His honor grows and enlarges through you at least. And then you would want others to act hat way and would grieve over their lessening G-d's honor, (though you would grieve most over your own diminution of it, even if it came about by happenstance or because of a character flaw, which might very well happen, for in truth it is difficult to avoid sin at all times, as the Torah says: "There is no man so righteous in the land that he only does good and never sins" [Ecclesiastes 7:20]). This is all expounded in Tanna D'Bei Eliyahu Rabbah (Ch. 4) where it says, "The sage of Israel who has honest Torah within him and grieves over the honor of the Holy One (blessed be He) as well as the honor of Israel his whole life; who longs for and worries about the honor of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple, and hopes that salvation will blossom soon and the exiled will be gathered is worthy of Divine inspiration in his words...." We can infer from this that a motivation which is based upon the honor of the Creator and the sanctification of His name (accomplished when His creations do His will) is the best and farthest from being self-serving. Regarding this it is said, "Who is pious? One who is pious towards his Creator" (Zohar, Mishpatim).

Beside serving G-d by performing His mitzvot with this motivation, the pious person must be in a constant state of agitation about the exile and the destruction of the Holy Temple, because both are the cause of the lessening (so to speak) of G-d's honor. He should long for the redemption which will bring an uplifting of G-d's honor. This is what the quote from Tanna D'Bei Eliyahu Rabbah was referring to when it spoke of someone, "who longs for and burdens himself over the honor of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple, and so forth." The pious person should constantly pray for the redemption of Israel and the restoration of the previous glory of Heaven. Should you say, "Who am I that I should be so esteemed as to pray over the exile and for the sake of Jerusalem, as if the exiled would ever be gathered or salvation blossom because of my prayers?" our response would be based on the statement "... that was why man was created alone, so that each individual should say, 'The world was created for my sake'" (Sanhedrin 37a). G-d finds satisfaction in His children's prayers for this. While He may not respond to their prayers because the right time has not come, or for some other reason, they should do what they must and G-d will be happy with that. The prophet thundered about the lack of this, saying: "And I saw that there was no man, and I was dumbfounded that there was no interceder"(Isaiah 59:16); and, "I looked and saw that there was no helper, and I was dumbfounded that there was no supporter" (Isaiah 63:5). It is also said, "It is Zion, for whom no one cares" (Jeremiah 30:17). Our sages explain that we can imply from this that someone must care for it (Sukkah 41a). So we see we are duty-bound in this, and we cannot excuse ourselves by claiming a lack of power, for we have learned "It is not for you to complete the task, but you are not free to avoid it" (Pirke Avot 2:16). The prophet also said, "There is no leader for her from amongst the children she has borne, nor a protector from amongst the children she has raised" (Isaiah 51:18); and, "All flesh is like hay and all its kindness is like weeds in the field" (Isaiah 40:6). Our sages interpret that to mean that all the kindnesses they did was for their own sake, their own good and benefit, and no one was idealistically motivated or wanted the redemption of Israel and the restoration of her glory (Avodah Zara 2b), though it is impossible for the Divine glory to increase any other way, as one is actually dependent upon the other. As we quoted from Tanna D'Bei Eliyahu Rabbah, one has to "grieve over the honor of the Holy One (blessed be He), as well as the honor of Israel."

We see that there are two aspects to this matter: the motivation behind the performance of mitzvot and Divine service (for the elevation of G-d's glory by bringing satisfaction to Him) and the suffering in demand for the elevation of this glory and the general well-being of Israel. There is another major object of a pious person's concentrations: the well- being of his generation. The pious should direct their actions toward the good of the entire generation to earn them merit and protect them. This is the point of the verse that reads, "Praise the righteous for they are good-- they eat the fruits of their deeds" (Isaiah 3:10), signifying that the entire generation eats of their fruits. Our sages say about the verse, "... (see) if there are any trees... (in the land)" (Numbers 13:20)-- "(see) if there is anyone who can protect the generation like a tree" (Baba Battra 15a). So you see, it is G-d's will that the pious of Israel atone for and make worthy all sorts of people of the nation. And our sages used the lulav and its co-components as an example, saying "These will come and atone for those" (Vayikra Rabbah 30:12). G-d does not want the destruction of the evil. The saintly have been commanded to try to make them worthy and to atone for them. And that has to be done with certain concentrations in worship and prayers. The pious person should pray for his generation to atone for whomever needs atonement, to returning repentance whomever needs that, and to act as an intercedant for the entire generation.


© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman