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Parshas Shemos - Wholly Hearts

By Rabbi Zvi Teichman

Posted on 01/04/18

Moshe is finally summoned by G-d to take the Jewish nation out of Egypt. In what seems related to his characteristic humility Moshe hesitates and asks G-d, מי אנכי, “Who am I” of all people to be worthy of assuming this mighty role? A seven day debate ensues until Moshe finally accepts his noble mission.


There are many suggestions in trying to justify Moshe’s initial refusal, but after all is said and done how is it humanly possible to defy a direct command from G-d, no matter how incomprehensible it may be? Isn’t that the legacy of the Akeidah? Avraham could have posed more penetrating questions to G-d regarding the contradictory prophecies that foretold of promises that would now be quashed in one act. Yet, Avraham defiantly declares “I, in my innocence, will proceed nonetheless!”


In one last ditch effort Moshe conjures up one final argument, begging G-d to appoint his more worthy and older brother to the task of leading the nation, rather than he. The Midrash Tanchuma details the nature of this request revealing that Moshe asserted that he was no longer fearful of accepting the role but earnestly sought to honor his brother who had prophesied for over eighty years in Egypt, fearing that he would be encroaching on Aharon’s greater stature and causing him much stress.


G-d assures Moshe that Aharon harbors no resentment and on the contrary is genuinely happy for him. G-d attests to the fact that ‘when he sees you he will rejoice in his heart’. G-d Himself, the sole judge of the depths of our hearts, bears witness to Aharon’s unqualified joy.


The Midrash makes a fascinating statement on this verse. Rabbi Yitzchok bar Meryon asserts that if only Aharon would have known that the Torah would record for all of posterity his happiness over Moshe’s appointment, he would have gone out to receive Moshe with ‘drums and dance’. From here, Rabbi Yitzchok observes, we learn that when one does a good deed, one should do it בלבב שלם, wholeheartedly.


On the face of it, it would seem to be taking Aharon to task for not having expressed his joy more fully, for if he had realized the significance of his act he should have done it with even greater exuberance.


However the great Reb Tzadok takes a totally opposite approach and offers a revolutionary idea in Avodas Hashem, in how to serve G-d properly.


The true value of an act is not when one senses the importance of it, for then it is not a big deal to be motivated to do that which is so significant. Precisely when one doesn’t realize its implication but acts innocently and simply because it is what is naturally good and right, fitting to be aligned with the will of G-d, then even a plain deed is valued greatly.


Doing something בלב שלם, wholehearted, is accomplished specifically when one is unaware of its import. It is only then that G-d will choose to record it for perpetuity. When one is aroused to do something with enthusiasm from a consciousness of how valuable that act is, one is not acting necessarily out of the deep-seated sense within our heart to do what is simply ‘good’ but rather out of an urge to perform that which is precious in the eyes of G-d, and is thus not identified as בלבב שלם, wholehearted. Despite the many great deeds Aharon performed in his lifetime the Torah chose to record that which, within its simplicity, epitomizes a whole heart.


(דברי סופרים אות כב)


Were Aharon to know how significant his gesture of love towards his beloved brother Moshe meant of course he would have sought to manifest it with ‘a band and on the dance floor’. But were he to have done that it wouldn’t have reflected his true character. What made him great was simply his natural, unadulterated and unconditional joy he possessed for his brother. That is truly wholehearted and never contrived.


The practical lesson for us here is to realize that our deeper personal greatness lays not in our pursuit of great and public displays of acts of accomplishment but in those deeds where we unwittingly respond because we embody that which is instinctively good and right. Therein lays the true litmus test of our accurate persona, of who we really are.


When Moshe initially responds to G-d’s request saying מי אנכי, Who am I?, the Midrash interprets it not as a expression of humility but rather as a pointed query to G-d. Moshe was asking G-d, didn’t You promise Yaakov, אנכי אעלך, ‘I’ will bring you out from Egypt, intimating that You alone would lead them out with all its implications and not by the hand of a mere mortal and his deficiencies like myself? Where is the fulfillment of אנכי, I, is what Moshe is wondering about


The great Gaon and rabbinic leader, Rav Yitzchak Elchonon Spector, the famed Rav of Kovna, says that it was directly to this challenging question that G-d responded, אהיה עמך, ‘I shall be with you’. G-d was implying that specifically through agency of the illustrious persona of Moshe who would fully represent the pure will of G-d in every facet of his being, serving as a virtual conduit for the Divine Presence, as we are taught that the ‘Shechinah spoke via Moshe’s throat’, G-d would indeed be present, fulfilling His promise to Yaakov.(עין יצחק ח"ב פתח השער ח)


Perhaps we can now attempt to understand the motivation and resistance of Moshe to his mission.


Moshe certainly, in the spirit of the Akeidah, would have risen to the role without fear of risk or failure, for if G-d had so commanded him, then so be it whatever the consequence.


What he was striving for however was for that quality of לב שלם, wholeheartedness. After all, if he is destined to attain that stature as a vehicle for the Divine Presence, he would have to ascend to levels of self-perfection so that he could indeed flawlessly reflect in his image the absolute will of the Almighty.


He sought to fathom his role so that his response to any summons from G-d would stem not from his allegiance to the importance of the mission but more purely from the essence of natural good and right that he would embody were he to fully understand his role.


His concern for his brother’s feeling wasn’t an excuse, nor would he deny G-d’s will over his brother’s feelings. Did Avraham hesitate because of the even greater harm that would have befallen his beloved son, Yitzchok? Certainly not! It was necessary though to get in touch with his deepest feelings aligning them instinctively with the will of G-d, so that he would be able to act ‘wholeheartedly’ without any taint of contrivance. Only then could Moshe achieve that which G-d essentially directed him to be, the personification of the ‘good’, the perfect will of G-d, in his every act and emotion.


The Midrash concludes that after the era of prophecy has concluded, each one of our purely motivated, wholehearted actions are recorded by Eliyahu the Prophet and the Melech HaMoshiach and sealed by the Almighty Himself.


May we infuse our being with the pure will of G-d so that our unassuming wholehearted deeds accrue the merit to hasten our redemption. 


באהבה,


צבי טייכמאן