Monday, 10 October 2011

What's a Mitzvah worth?

There is a wonderful, magical movie- One of my personal favourites which was released a few years ago, and I’m sure many people here have seen the film it’s called Ushpizin- it is a Hebrew language film with subtitles in English.
It’s a wonderful film because it gives us- the public an opportunity to look into the lives and the mindset of the Charedi Jew in Israel. I have also spoken to Israelis who have told me that the film has broken down barriers between the Charedim and Chilonim in Israel because it has pierced through some of the pre conceived notions that people have about Charedi Jews.  
It is also interesting to note that a number of the actors are in fact Charedi Jews themselves which gives the film a certain amount of authenticity and honesty.
The film begins with the Arbaah Minim Shuk in Yerushalayim. Moshe the hero of the story, a Bresleva, Charedi Jew, is looking to buy an Esrog for the coming Chag of Sukkot. He is led into the room where the Esrogim are sold, and there he sees in front of him the diamond of all Esrogim- The jewel of the crown-the most beautiful Esrog you ever saw. However the Esrog is far too dear for Moshe- but he so much wants this Esrog for the Chag.
However, Moshe sits studying Torah all day long and he lives together with his wife Miriam on a very meagre existence, sustaining themselves on the very insufficient Kollel stipend and indeed for Sukkot this year they have no money.
Through a series of interesting circumstances, and a chain of events, they receive a sum of money, enough to sustain them for the Chag. The first thing Moshe does is he goes to the market to buy his Esrog- and what joy he experiences to have this beautiful Esrog to fulfil the mitzvah.
Looking from the outside in, you think to yourself maybe Moshe’s a meshugannah; He has to look after the needs of the house and his wife and he’s going spending crazy money on let’s face it- a glorified lemon- His wife Miriam when she hears what he’s done is none too pleased; you have to watch the rest of the film to find out what happens to his Esrog. But the question is; is there a basis to this behaviour whereas we take money and we use it disproportionately for the sake of a mitzvah?
The Mishneh in Sukkah tells us that on the first day of the Chag the Torah says

“You shall take for yourself (referring to The Arbaah Minim) on the first day”.
The Mishneh says that you have to take the four different kinds yourself- that means that for the duration of the mitzvah on the very first day of the Chag at the very least you have to own the Arbaah minim- it has to be yours. The Gemara then delves into a discussion about ownership. What is called ownership- How far do we extend this rule?
Does this mean that everybody has to go to the expense of buying his own Arba minim?
A story is told of Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah and Rabbi Akiva (sounds a bit like Pesach doesn’t it) who all were travelling on a ship together during Sukkot.
The only person who had the Arba Minim was Rabban Gamliel who had purchased his set for 1000 zuzim.
The Talmud then says that each one in turn used the Arba Minim of Rabban Gamliel, but each one of these Rabbonim in turn took the Lulav as a gift from Rabban Gamliel. They then gave it back to Rabban Gamliel. The Gemara concludes with two lessons. Number one that even though it has been given as a matanah al menat lehachzir, that means that the Arba Minim was given as a gift on condition that it would be given back to the original owner, it is still called a matanah and throughout the duration that the  
 Person fulfils the mitzvah he/she has ownership even though it has to be given back at the end.
Number two; why did the story have to say that Rabban Gamliel had purchased his Lulav for 1000 zuzim- what do we learn from this story? Answers the Gemorrah; Lehodiacha Kamma Mitzvos Chavvivos aleihen- To teach us how mitzvoth are so beloved by our Torah leaders. Rabban Gamliel was a wealthy man, but even for Rabban Gamliel 1000 zuzim is a lot of money- but he was ready to go over and above the call of duty in order that he would have the opportunity of fulfilling the mitzvah.
My friends, I think the message is clear; we cannot always estimate the value of a mitzvah. What might seem to me something very important and valuable may appear to another second person worthless- because we cannot put a price on the value of a mitzvah. Rabbi Yochanan in Pirkei Avot says this very succinctly in the Mishneh when he says “ Hevei Ratz lemitzvah Kallah kevachamurah-she-ein atah yodeah matan secharah shel mitzvoth”
“Run to fulfil even a light precept like you would for a stricter one- why?-for you do not know the reward for each individual mitzvah”
When I was in Yeshiva in Montreal and used to give my wash in to the local launderette, the lady behind the counter used to say; why do you give me this rag each week to wash? –and she was holding up my tzitzit- To me this was Tzitzit with which I remember all the mitzvot of Hashem, and with which I connect up to God and constantly look upon the Tzitzit to maintain my bond with Him - but from her perspective it was a simple rag brought in to be washed.
And we also do not know the value of a mitzvah on a second person. Every year we go on the first day of Rosh Hashanah around the houses and also to the local hospital to Northwick Park to blow Shofar and to bring people a little bit of the feel, of the Simchah of Yom Tov.  
Sometimes, we do not realise what a difference we can make-The opportunity to hear the Shofar; a little cup of grape juice, some apple dipped in honey, a few words of cheer – these little things- small though they may be-one has no idea the affect that one can have on somebody unable to be  in the shul at this crucial time of the year.
So. I wish you all once again Chag Sameach and with the message that we never always quite know the value of one single mitzvah.

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