Wednesday, August 27, 2008

No excuses

An important lesson can be derived from this sicha about spreading the Noahide Laws:

The challenge is raised, “Is disseminating the Noahide Code the only thing we lack? There are other important things.”

Obviously, this challenge is absurd. Such an attitude can bring one to refrain from observing all the Mitzvot of the Torah, for no matter which Mitzvah arises, he will always claim to be busy with another!

This claim can even be used to exempt oneself, may G–d save us, from adhering to all the 613 Mitzvot, including the Mitzvah of accepting upon oneself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven.[1] He will claim that since he is busy with something else, he cannot engage in accepting the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven!

He may even claim to be busy doing a fellow Jew a favor, or concerned with how to prevent a Jew from stumbling and acting inappropriately. If he engages in accepting the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven, the favor performed for that Jew would be incomplete, he claims. He wants to think about that Jew, the favor, the value of a Jew’s material needs, and the like—leaving no time for contemplating the Kingdom of Heaven!

One need not search in books to discover this. This phenomenon actually exists. Experience shows that when one turns to certain Jews and asks them why they don’t engage in prayer, or perform similar Mitzvot between man and G–d, they respond that they prefer to perform Mitzvot between man and his fellow!

Sometimes the person is not merely attempting to slip out of it. He indeed donates a lot of charity, and assists Jews in a manner of “with all your heart and with all your soul.”[2] Nevertheless, to use this fact not to pray to G–d and not to accept upon oneself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven is contrary to Torah. He does a disservice both to himself and to those whom he assists, whom he uses to exempt himself from accepting the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven!

Although “One cannot act as an agent to commit a sin,”[3] this simply means that this is not considered agency in the full halachic sense. However, by instructing someone to sin one certainly violates the prohibition, “do not place a stumbling block before a blind man.”[4] Indeed, the Code of Jewish Law[5] rules that although “One cannot act as an agent to commit a sin,” it is still forbidden to instruct a Jew to violate the Code of Jewish Law, on account of “do not place a stumbling block before a blind man.” [Similarly, he inflicts spiritual harm upon those whom he uses to exempt himself from Mitzvot between man and G–d.]

Just as this concept applies to accepting the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven in general, it also applies to numerous other areas, albeit more subtle. However, this example illustrates how far such a line of reasoning is liable to lead.

Hitva’aduyot 5747, Vol. 2, pp. 616-617.

[1] By reciting the Shema.

[2] Deut., 6:5.

[3] I.e., an agent cannot claim innocence by attributing guilt to the dispatcher—Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin, 42b—in this case, using the recipients of one’s charity as an excuse not to perform Mitzvot between man and G–d.

[4] I.e., do not facilitate violation of a sin—Leviticus, 19:14.

This principle exists in an extreme form, where Jews dismiss religious observance because “I’m not a religious man, etc.” This attitude is really easy to poke fun at, because it is so transparently false. But as the Rebbe says at the end of this sicha, the same principle applies on a more subtle level too. When we simply neglect one area on which we are supposed to be investing effort, and tell ourselves that it doesn’t matter because we’re working on something else instead that is also of merit, we fall into the same trap. The truth is that we are fully capable of doing both, and this is just a way of excusing our laziness. We use G–d to ignore G–d.

As Chassidim, the same principle applies to instructions and wishes of the Rebbeim in all areas.

For example, I have heard the same claim made in all seriousness concerning Hisbonenus: “I can’t do it because I don’t have the time.” Why not for at least five or ten minutes, I ask? If not every day, why not at least once a week? No response. The answer is simple. The person is simply not interested in investing the necessary effort (and it is indeed very hard), so he finds an excuse.

Let’s get this straight: If it is indeed something we are instructed to do, then we are granted the opportunity and energy to do it, because “I [G–d] only ask of them according to their ability.”[1]

Thus, even if we don’t yet do all the things that we should, let’s at least come closer to that goal by recognizing that our inaction is no one’s fault but our own. The start of Avodah is not to fool oneself.

[1] Numbers Rabba, 12:3.