Going in the Right Direction

Last week we quoted Rashi saying that we bring bulls as korbonos in the merit of Avrohom because he ran to shecht a bull to give hospitality to his guests. We deduced from this that if we want to earn the opportunity to bring bulls as korbonos in a rebuilt Beis Hamikdash, we have to go in the ways of Avrohom Ovinu, in particular, following his example in chessed. Rashi also says that we bring rams as korbonos in the merit of Yitzchok who was prepared to be brought as a korbon himself and was only replaced by a ram at the last second. This requires us to follow Yitzchok’s example of fearing Hashem if we want to merit bringing rams in the rebuilt Beis Hamikdash.

This appears more difficult. To do chessed is to some extent, natural. We enjoy helping others. Following Avrohom’s example is a challenge, but a challenge which we can meet with simcha. Fearing Hashem, to the extent that Yitzchok did, goes against our instinct for self- preservation. How can we take on such a seemingly unsumountable challenge?

I remember an exchange which took place in Glasgow about thirty years ago between Rabbi Chaim Jacobs of Lubavitch and some members of the community at a public gathering. Somebody asked Rabbi Jacobs why Lubavitch teach the children to say brochos  in their cheder when the parents don’t say brochos. I remember his answer. He said, “One day you’ll thank us that your children will not be under the impression that they can do whatever they want, whenever they want.”

When we learn about saying brochos before we eat, we are learning to fear Hashem. We are learning that we can’t just do whatever we want, whenever we want. We have a G-d who allows us to do certain things and does not allow us to do other things. We don’t just grab food and put it into our mouth. First we have to check that the food is kosher. Next, what the correct brocho is. Is it milchig if we are fleishig. This teaches us self-control. Indeed it is the beginning of learning to fear Hashem. It is not merely a drush which extrapolates the mitzva of saying one hundred brochos per day from the posuk “What does Hashem ask from you …except for fearing Him.” Brochos and fearing Hashem are intertwined.

We learn to say brochos when we are young because this is how the process begins. We asked how we can reach the level of Yitzchok’s fear of Hashem. The answer is that we cannot reach his level in a moment or two or three. It is a long process, possibly the work of a lifetime. In the meantime we can climb the ladder of yiras Hashem step by step.

We start with a fear of punishment. Hashem seems to be an extension of our parents or teachers who will punish us  if we cross the road without looking right, left and right again. So Hashem will punish us if we transgress one of His mitzvos. Although this is a childish concept, it is an important first step. If a child is told gently that it not a good idea to cross the road without looking because he might be hurt, this will not enter his mind very deeply. And if a ball or an ice-cream van happens to be on the other side of the road, he might just forget the benign warning he was given. However if he is told that he will be severely punished if he runs into a road without looking, fear of punishment might be more effective and help him think twice. Similarly we have to realise that Hashem is not just giving us good advice when He tells us to do mitzvos but He will punish us severely for any transgression. This might be more effective when we are faced with a strong temptation to sin. “Consider what you will gain from doing this sin — a moment’s gratification, compared to the loss — severe punishment which Hashem can give us.”(Pirkei Avos 2:1)

As our concept of Hashem matures, we realise that He is not just a disciplinarian. He provides for us constantly. As a person’s knowledge of his body increases we realise that we are dependent on Hashem for the good functioning of countless aspects of our physical and mental health. Now we will not just obey Hashem because otherwise he will punish us. We understand that we are so utterly dependent on Him that only a fool would transgress His will. If we are sinning, who will keep our heart beating if Hashem decides against continuing to give us life? Our yiras Hashem will already be on a higher level than before. We are climbing the ladder.

In time, hopefully, our recognition of what Hashem does will continue to grow. He doesn’t just provide for us. He provides for every creature from the eagles in the sky, the elephants on the plain and the small ants on the ground. He provides sunshine, rain and winds according to what the world needs. He controls all the Hosts of the Heavens, millions of galaxies. Transgressing His will is futile. Can we hide from Him? Can we disobey Him? Can we question His authority? The idea of not doing what He says is absurd and self-defeating . If He commands, we do it, without question.

Whilst we may consider these concepts from time to time, thinking about them constantly  –Shivisi Hashem lenegdi tomid is the level of tzadikim. To be able to think about the greatness of Hashem at every moment, whatever we are doing, without a pause, is the level of our Gedolim. When a person is on that madreiga, even if Hashem says to him, “Give up your life for Me,” he will obey without question. This was the madreiga of Yitzchok Ovinu, symbolized by the ram.

It is our task to aspire to this level if we want to bring a ram in the rebuilt Beis Hamikdash. We may not be   on the top rung of the ladder, or even half way up. But if we are at least on the ladder, trying to climb, Hashem will certainly rejoice that we are going in the right direction.