From HaGaon Rav Zevadia HaCohen Shlit”a, The Head of the Batei Din in Tel Aviv
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
This Shabbat we read, “And it shall be because of your listening to these laws, and your observing and keeping them, then Hashem your G-d will safeguard for you the covenant and the kindness, which he swore to your fathers” (Devarim 7:12). In essence this means that the Torah promises that if the Jewish People observe the mitzvot of the Torah, then it is assured to be blessed with livelihood, victory over enemies and good health. And as the verse continues, “And He shall bless the offspring of your womb and the produce of your land, your grain, wine and oil, the offspring of your cattle and the herds of your flock etc.” (Devarim 7:13).
The question is asked why does the Torah begins in the plural [first verse quoted v.12] and then move to the singular [second verse quoted v.13] [this isn’t noticeable in the English language since “you” is the same for both the singular and plural but in Hebrew it is a marked difference], It should all be in the singular or all in the plural.
However, if we think about this carefully it appears that concerning the fulfilment of the mitzvot it is in the plural “you shall listen, you shall observe and you shall keep”, however, regarding the reward and blessings that result from the mitzvot the Torah was particular to write it in the singular. This is to teach us that many are able to fulfil the mitzvot, however, concerning reward for the mitzvot this depends on how much a person invests in them. Since one cannot compare a person to whom a mitzvah came easy to another whom there was a great difficulty. There is no comparison to one who goes to pray in shul when he is satisfied from his meal, having taken a shower and walking leisurely, in contrast to another who returns from work close to sunset, still hungry, thirsty and tired, and nevertheless he runs to shul to pray Mincha. Even though they have both prayed the same prayer, nevertheless, their rewards are not equal, rather it is measured according to how much effort and sacrifice was invested in the fulfilment of the mitzva, as it states in Tehillim (62:13), “And to You Hashem is kindness, for You reward each person according to their actions”.
A story is told of a mighty and powerful king who built a new palace. In it was an elegant banqueting hall where he was able to entertain many guests. The king wanted the banqueting hall to be the most decorative possible. He invited four interior designers and artists commissioning each one to decorate each of the four walls. Each one should paint designs according to their skill and preferred design. He gave them thirty days to conclude the commission, whilst assuring each of them substantive payment at the end of the assignments. They each received a substantial sum to purchase materials.
The next day, each of the four stood in the banqueting hall, each choosing a wall, screens were draped in from of each of them so that none of the others would copy their handiwork.
The first artist cracked on immediately with magnificent greenery, snowy mountains, rivers, streams and waterfalls.
The second artist began to paint decorative gardens, fruit and flowers, in magnificent colours.
The third artist was drawn to depict the animal kingdom. Parrots and rare birds, dwelling in forests against a backdrop representing the wonders of creation.
Only the fourth artist sat with his legs folded. With the money given for materials he purchased food and drink and just rested. When his friends asked him, “What’s up with you?” He replied, “There is still plenty of time and now it’s time to rest.
And so each week went by. The three artists advanced with their work and only the fourth rested and went on outings arguing that he still has time.
Three days before the end date that the king had fixed, they received a message that in three days the king will come to see their work and pay them.
With this the fourth artist woke up and realised that he has no more time left for his work and that he has spent the money for materials. He began to devise a plan how to escape his ill fate. A brilliant plan popped into his head. He measured the wall that he was responsible for decorating and went to the glazier. He ordered a huge mirror the size of the entire wall. He stuck it to the wall with the view that this is how he will resolve his dilemma. When the king will come, he will see all the other artists designs in his wall. And so whilst the other three artists frantically finished their designs, the fourth artists sat down to rest.
On the designated day of completion, the king arrived together with his officials to see the banqueting hall and the artistic work of the painters, and to pay them.
He came to the first wall and removed the screen. Everyone was inspired by the majesty of the magnificent greenery, snowy mountains and waterfalls that appeared so real.
They turned to the second wall and removed the screen, and to their amazed eyes were revealed a giant painted wall of decorative gardens, trees and flowers in rare colours.
Immediately they turned to the third wall and removed the screen. And before them was spread a painting depicting the animal kingdom, various species of birds and parrots that gave the impression of being lifelike.
Immediately they turned to the fourth wall and when they removed the screen sounds of inspiration and surprise were emitted from the king and his officials. For on this wall they saw not only magnificent greenery and the water kingdom, but also the world of plants and the animal kingdom, all in one place.
However, the king realised the cunning approach of the fourth artist that he had affixed a mirror to the wall and thereby reflected the other three designs. Yet he held his silence.
When it came to paying them, he instructed his treasurer to place a bundle of gold coins next to the wall of the first artist, and likewise for the second and so the third. The fourth artist saw this and asked, “What’s with me?” The king replied, “Look in your wall, there you will see placed the other three bundles of gold coins and take them for yourself!”
This teaches us that a person’s reward is given according to the amount invested in fulfilling the mitzva, “for You reward each person according to their actions”, likewise during this period of holiday and rest, [we are acutely aware that] challenges present themselves in fulfilling mitzvot. There may be certain difficulties in fulfilling mitzvot, which may appear to us as if it is a situation of extenuating circumstances. As such we should make every effort in fulfilling mitzvot, times of prayers, prayer with the Kehilla, we should be particular to fulfil the mitzvot in the choicest way as is required each day [within the framework of any advice regarding health from the ministry of health during the current world health situation]. And with this may we merit from Hashem to all the berachot written in this week’s parasha. [And let us say] Amen.
Shabbat Shalom and be blessed!