From the teachings of Maran Rebbeinu Ovadia Yosef ztzvk”l
(written by his grandson HaRav HaGaon Rav Yaakov Sasson Shlit”a)
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
Exploring what the Role of Zechut Avot (Merit of the Forefathers) Played in Enabling the Bnei Yisrael to Accept the Torah, and the Great Reward in Olam Haba (the Next World) that Awaits a Person Who Studies Torah and Observes the Mitzvot
We read in the Parshah, “If only you listen to these laws, safeguarding and keeping them, then Hashem your G-d will keep in mind the covenant and love with which He made an oath to your fathers” (Devarim 7:12).
There is a Midrash that explains that when Am Yisrael accepted the Torah, the nations of the world stood and said, “Who is this coming up from the wilderness?” (Shir HaShirim 3:6). Who are these that are meriting to receive from Hashem the Torah? Hashem replied to them, look who were the fathers of those who are receiving the Torah! They are Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, the Avot HaKedoshim (Holy Forefathers), and in their merit Am Yisrael are receiving the Torah!
We need to understand what exactly was the argument of the nations of the world, and what is the meaning of Hashem’s response to them?
There are many merchants in the world. There is a merchant whose merchandise is small, he buys small items like pens and sells them for a small margin, If he makes a profit it will just be a dime for each pen. Yet this is his trade. And so the reverse, if he won’t be successful in his trade, what will he lose? He will only lose a few dimes according to the value of his merchandise. A small loss like this can be withstood, it’s not so bad if he loses.
But if you ask this person, why do you trade in such small items? Go and buy things worth thousands, large amounts of vegetables, grain, commodities, sell them and you will profit huge amounts! This person will respond to you, it is true sir, if I do indeed make a profit, it will certainly be a great amount, but conversely, if I lose, if the market is weak, perhaps there will be a recession and people don’t come to buy, then oy vey! The loss will be colossal!
Likewise here, the nations of the world were only commanded to keep the Seven Noachide Laws, these are mitzvot that are easy to keep, and with the merit of these mitzvot the Gentiles are sustained and earn a living. Suddenly Am Yisrael came and they are accepting the 613 mitzvot! What a huge merchandise! Therefore the nations of the world were astonished, “Who is this coming up from the wilderness?” Since there is a yetzer hara (an inclination to do bad) in the world, how are Am Yisrael able to accept the responsibility of such great merchandise? For if they lose, the loss will be immense!
But Hashem responded to them, they are Am Yisrael, they have the Avot HaKedoshim, the merit of their forebears. This is akin to a person who comes to make a huge deal and he has wealthy parents, millionaires, so he goes with great joy [confidence] to close this big deal, because he knows that if he loses, he has parents backing him and they will underwrite his loses. So it is with Am Yisrael, they have the merit of their forefathers that will stand for them for all generations, therefore they are able to take upon themselves such a huge yoke of responsibility!
However, we still have to explain that which is stated, “then Hashem your G-d will keep in mind the covenant and love with which He made an oath to your fathers”, what does this mean, that when we fulfil the mitzvot that Hashem will “keep” for us “the covenant and love”?
There was once a respected man who was very wealthy. When he became old a son was born to him. When he came to pass away his son was still just a young child. The man thought to himself, what shall I do? If I bequeath all my wealth to my son, he will squander all the money on nonsense, because he doesn’t comprehend the complexity of business. Therefore he called his beloved friend who had a trading house and asked him to do him a favour after he leaves this world. This is the plan: “Take my son in an official capacity as an employee to work in your shop, and pay him a monthly wage. Don’t tell my son that he has money, rather you shall be a “trustee” (responsible for his inheritance), look after his money until you establish that my son is wise and secerning, and that he understands the intricacies of business and only then give him the money.”
After he passed away, the trustee took the child and began to train him in commerce. He taught him gradually and each month he paid him a wage enough to live off. When the child reached the age of 18, someone saw him and said to him, ‘What a fool you are! Your father left you great wealth, go to your trustee and demand from him all the money!”
The young man came to the trustee and said to him, “Boss, I heard that I have in your possession a huge sum of money from my father’s inheritance! Give me the money!” The trustee replied in a gentle tone, “My friend, I will not stand in your way and whenever you want I will give you the money, but now you are way too young and still not an expert in trading, [you are at risk that] people will come and defraud you from all your money. So listen to me, stay with me another two or three years, became more experienced in business and then I will give you all the money of your inheritance.”
So it is with Am Yisrael. They have a great inheritance that they inherited from Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov who were [and are] the beloved ones of Hashem. They left an inheritance that Hashem had sworn to them [to give them]. Now Yisrael are saying, Ribono shel Olam, please give us the inheritance! Hashem replied, if you want it I will give it to you but it is not worth it for you. Listen to me, this world is all emptiness. Currently I will give you your livelihood in this world, enough to survive [i.e. enough to live by], but the great reward I will give to you in the World to Come. For now I will “look after” the “covenant and love”, I will keep the inheritance for you in a safe place!
A person who amasses for himself Torah, mitzvot and good deeds, happy is his lot! When he comes to Olam Haba, what a welcome he will receive! What joy! “How abundant is Your goodness that You have stored away for those who fear You” (Tehillim 31:20).
When the person will arrive there, he will be astonished, what, so much is for me? They will say to him, it is rightfully yours, through the merit of the Torah and mitzvot that you observed! He will say to himself, Ah! What a pity that I didn’t do more. A person should be confident since on the one hand we have the merit of our forefathers but on the other hand, a person who amasses for himself Torah and mitzvot these stand for his merit alone. The merit of the forefathers is distinct and so is a person’s individual merit.
And to conclude it states in the continuation of the pessukim, “Hashem will take all sickness from you. He will not allow any of the terrible Egyptian afflictions that you experienced to affect you [not place (lo y’simem)]; instead, He will direct them [put them (untanam)] against all your enemies.” (Devarim 7:15). We need to understand the meaning of the change in language “not place (lo y’simem)” them on you and “put them (untanam)” against your enemies. Why do we see these two different verbs placing-sima and putting-netina, and what is the difference between them? [As will soon be apparent, this is both relevant and noticeable in Hebrew and may not be fully appreciated in the English language due to it’ lack of nuance!]
Our chachamim (Gemara Menachot 59b) comment on the passuk that deals with the meal offering of the Sotah woman, “…he shall not place (lo yasim) any oil nor shall he put (lo yiten) any frankincense on it” (Vayikra 5:11), that regarding oil it states the verb “not place (lo yasim)” yet regarding frankincense it uses the verb “not put (lo yiten)”. They explain the difference between the two verbs that the intention of putting-netinah is important (significant) since it must be at least the measure of a kezayit [lit. olive’s bulk - 27 grams] and so if he put on the meal offering a full volume of a kezayit of frankincense, he transgresses a Torah prohibition. However, regarding oil it stays “not place (lo yasim)”, therefore even if he places the slightest drop of oil, he transgresses, because the verb sima-placing implies any amount, even the tiniest amount.
Likewise said Hashem that He “will not allow any of the terrible Egyptian afflictions that you experienced to affect you [not place (lo y’simem)]” even a small amount will not affect Am Yisrael, but “He will direct them [put them (untanam)] against all your enemies”, on them he will put a significant amount as is deserving [as a punishment for their bad behaviour]!
Hashem is very fond of His people Am Yisrael as the passuk declares, “No evil will befall you, nor will any plague come near your tent” (Tehillim 91:10). It is said about a person who studies Torah and performs mitzvot, “The angel of Hashem encamps around those who fear Him” (ibid. 34:8), happy is his portion! And how pleasant is his lot!