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Re’eh – Making the Effort

A person who toils to understand the Torah receives great reward even if he fails to attain full clarity in his learning; this is because HaShem wants the effort, the accomplishment is up to HaShem

Re’eh – Making the Effort

Devarim, 13:7-10: If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or your daughter, or the wife of your bosom, or your friend who is like your own soul, will entice you secretly, saying, “Let us go and worship the gods of others…from the gods of the peoples that are all around you, those near to you or those far from you, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth – you shall not accede to him and not hearken to him; your eye shall not take pity on him, you shall not be compassionate nor conceal him…rather you shall surely kill him…

Rashi, Devarim, 13:9 Do not listen to him: When he supplicates for his life to forgive him; it [the Torah] says, “you shall surely help him” – but this one you shall not help.

Your eyes shall not pity him: It [the Torah] says, “do not stand by your brother’s blood] – regarding this one do not pity him.

Do not be compassionate: Do not look for his merit.

In Parshas Re’eh, the Torah outlines the laws pertaining to the meisis; a person who tries to convince his fellow Jews to turn to idol worship.  The Torah instructs us to treat this sinner extremely harshly – more so than any other transgressor.  Rashi explains the Torah’s words as teaching us that this person is an exception to the numerous laws of interpersonal relationships, and there is no Mitzvo to help him.  Moreover, normally in the case of alleged sinners, the court is required to seek extenuating circumstances that would permit it to save a sinner from the death penalty, but in this case, the Torah tells us not to look for any merit.  Chazal explain further that the enticer is punished in Shamayim in a more severe manner than others because of the seriousness of trying to turn Jews away from Avodas HaShem.  We see this with regards to Yeravam, the first King of the Northern Kingdom.  He caused the Jews in the North to worship idols and is one of only three Kings who, the Mishna tells us, has no Portion in the World to Come.  Chazal treat him as the archetypal rasha, even though other Kings committed more severe sins, because he enticed others to sin.

The Alter of Kelm zt”l makes a fascinating observation; he notes that the enticer is treated in such a severe fashion even if he failed to actually entice anyone to worship idols.  We know that the mida tova meruba mipouranios – that the reward for good deeds is greater than the punishment for bad deeds.  Accordingly, if a person attempts to do the opposite of the enticer; that is to bring a Jew closer (mekarev) to Torah observance, then he will be rewarded more than the enticer is punished.  And, the Alter adds, this is true even if the mekarev fails in his efforts.  This teaches us a fundamental principle – HaShem requires a person to make the effort to perform His Ratson (Will).  The actual results of their efforts are out of his hands, and therefore insignificant in terms of the reward the person will receive. 

This concept was elaborated upon by Rav Yitzchak Hutner zt”l in a letter to Rav Moshe Sherer zt”l.  Rav Sherer had been involved in a lengthy attempt to gain financial assistance for non-public schools in America, but had failed in his efforts. Rav Hutner reminded him of Rav Yisrael Salanter’s three rules of work for the Klal. One of them was; ‘don’t be obsessed with prevailing’.  He pointed out that Avraham Avinu did not actually sacrifice Yitzchak Avinu at the Akeidah, but that did not detract at all from the merit that accrued to him and his offspring.  Rav Hutner concluded: “Man is commanded to do, not to accomplish” – the rest is up to HaShem.

Rav Sherer himself expressed this idea based on the Gemara in Brachos.  The Gemara says that if a person thinks to do a Mitzvo and is prevented from doing so by circumstances beyond his control and did not do it, it is considered by the Torah as if he did it.  The hebrew for “considered’ is, ‘maaleh alav’.  Literally, this means that it is ‘raised up’.  Rav Sherer said in the name of a Rav that this means the reward from the unfulfilled Mitzvo is raised up above (ie. higher than) the reward for fulfilled Mitzos.  This is because the person who sought to do the Mitzvo does not even have the satisfaction of having performed it. 

We have seen how the enticer is punished severely even if he fails in his efforts.  Likewise, in reverse, the mekarev is rewarded greatly even if he also fails.  Rav Hutner taught us that this reward is due to anyone who strives in the realm of ruchnius (spirituality).  The Chofetz Chaim zt”l famously applied the same idea to learning Torah.  He noted the words in the prayer that one says when he leaves the beis midrash: “We [Torah learners] toil and they [those involved in non-spiritual pursuits] toil.  We toil and receive reward and they toil and do not receive reward.”  What does it mean that those who toil in non-spiritual pursuits do not receive reward – surely they reap the fruit of their hard work?!  The Chofetz Chaim explains that the prayer refers to cases where a person exerts great effort but does not attain the desired result; for example someone who tries to build a house but fails.  He does not emerge with any gain from all his hard work.  In contrast, a person who toils to understand the Torah receives great reward even if he fails to attain full clarity in his learning; this is because, as Rav Hutner said, HaShem wants the effort, the accomplishment is up to HaShem. 

May we all merit to internalize this lesson in all areas of ruchnius and focus on making the maximum effort to bring ourselves and our fellow Jews closer to HaShem.

From The Book "The Guiding Light 2"