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Ooh or Aah?

By Rabbi Jonathan Tawil

The great Chassidic sageRabbi Aryeh Leib known as the ShpolleZeide, tells how as a child, he would go to a shvitz (steam bath) with his father, who would pour freezing water on him just as he began to perspire. “Ooh,” he would scream as the cold water contacted his hot flesh, but – after cooling down – would exclaim happily, “Aah.”

“Remember, my child, the lesson of the Ooh and Aah,” the Shpolle would hear from his father. Before (and often even during) the commission of a transgression, you have physical enjoyment – Aah.

But afterwards, when you ponder your sin and its consequences – Ooh! In the case of a Mitzvah, however, you might cry Ooh when you have to get up early for prayers or for a lesson of daf yomi, but in considering your religious accomplishment, you will always sigh Aah afterwards.

Make sure you conclude your life with an Aah!

 

One might think the commandmentsHashem has placed upon us represent a yoke. They are tough and restrictive, yet the Torah teaches that the opposite is true.

 

The other day whilst walking, I came across an interesting sign.

“G-d said don’t look around you, you will be impressed, don’t look down you will be depressed, just look to Me ….and you will be blessed.”

These words initiated an interesting thought in my mind. We are all in search of blessings, yet never really know how to approach receiving them.

 

This week’s Parasha lends a fascinating insight.

Moshe Rabbenu begins the Parasha by telling the people, “Behold, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse.The blessing, if you listen to the commandments of Hashem your G-d, which I am commanding you today; and the curse, if you do not listen to the commandments of the Hashem your G-d, but turn aside from the way which I am commanding you today, by following other gods which you have not known.”

Moshe tells the people that keeping the Mitsvot will reap blessings and reward, yet if we choose not to then punishment is sure to come.

This poses a difficulty, as we are taught “There is no reward for Mitsvot in this world” (Kiddushin 39b).

In fact this is not the only time the torah seems to contradict the Gemara in Kiddushin. The Torah on many occasions has promised us reward for performing Mitsvot.

In Vayikra(26:3-6) we learn“If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, I shall give you rains in their season, so that the land will yield its produce and the trees of the field will bear their fruit….I shall also grant peace in the land, so that you may lie down with no one making you tremble. I shall also eliminate harmful beasts from the land, and no sword will pass through your land”.

 

How can Gemara in Kiddushin seemingly contradict the Pesukim which clearly state there is reward?

The famous Rabbi Yehudah Halevi (1075-1141) in his magnum opus the Kuzari discusses the difference between Judaism and other religions. He asks – “why doesn’t the Torah stress the reward awaiting the righteous in the world to come.” Instead, the Torah goes out of its way to mention at length the reward one receives in this physical world.

Rabbi Yehudah Halevi goes on to explain that a person who lives a true spiritual life connected to Hashem can achieve closeness to the world to come whilstliving in this world. This is exactly what prophecy is all about. Through the true prophets of Israel the people of Israel were in constant connection with the upper world while living a physical life in this world. Angels were walking amongst them. This is what the Temple is all about, a centre of Divine prophecy and worship where this world and the upper worlds combine. Hence when Yaakov Avinu had his dream over the future Temple site, he saw angels ascending and descending a ladder that had its base on the ground reaching far into the heavens (Bereishit 28:12).

Rabbi Kook (1865-1935) explains that this is the reason why during the first Temple period there was no stress on the world to come since miracles and prophecy would take place every day. It was so natural for the nation to feel a spiritual connection with Hashem in this world. Therefore, there was no need to focus on life after death. However, during the second Temple period and throughout the 2000 year exile when prophecy stopped and miracles were not common anymore, the nation felt the need to focus on the world to come. There was a spiritual vacuum that needed to be filled. When the sun is shining strong there is no need for a candle to give light. Only when darkness is prevalent is the need for a candle felt.

 

The famous Rabbi Meir Leibush Weiser (1809-1879) known as the Malbim brings down the words of Rav Yehudah Halevi and explains that this is exactly the meaning of the opening words of this week’s portion.

In mentioning the blessings and curses the Torah stresses the word “today” three times!

The Torah could have easily mentioned it once. The reason, explains the Malbim, is that by following the Torah one will merit in seeing the blessing of Hashem in this world today and will not have to wait until he leaves it to experience the Divine.

 

The Gemara in Kiddushinhowever refers to the real spiritual reward felt on a higher level of spirituality only due in the next world; but that does not desist from the fact that via performing Mitsvot in this world with a correct heart and good intentions, we will ourselves be feeling the blessings of our actions.

 

The Ktav Sofer makes this message clear by asking on another Pasuk in our Parasha.

The Torah relates (Re’eh 15:10)נָתוֹןתִּתֵּןלוֹ, וְלֹא-יֵרַעלְבָבְךָבְּתִתְּךָלוֹכִּיבִּגְלַלהַדָּבָרהַזֶּה, יְבָרֶכְךָהאֱלֹהֶיךָ, בְּכָל-מַעֲשֶׂךָ.  If we give Tzedakah Hashem will give a Brachah to all our work. Again, how can that be possible if there is no reward in this world?

The Ktav Sofer answers that for the Mitzvah itself there is no reward in this world.  However for the Simcha, the joy with which one performs the Mitzvah, there is a reward in this world.  If we look carefully at the Pasuk we see that the Pasuk clearly states this. נָתוֹןתִּתֵּןלוֹ, give Tzedakah.  וְלֹא-יֵרַעלְבָבְךָבְּתִתְּךָלוֹ, there should be no ill will in your heart when you give it – only joy in doing Hashem’s Mitzvah. כִּיבִּגְלַלהַדָּבָרהַזֶּה, יְבָרֶכְךָהאֱלֹהֶיךָ, בְּכָל-מַעֲשֶׂךָ, because of this aspect of the Mitzvah, the Simcha you had, you will be rewarded in this world.

 

The litmus test to every Mitzvah is the way we approach it. If we are happy in our performance and don’t look around, but rather look towards Hashem, we are sure to feel blessed.

Only then can we be on the path to conclude with anAah!

 

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