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SAY IT WITH MITZVOT

by Mendel Starkman    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

With the bright sun burning overhead, Steve pushed himself onward, further into the desert. Almost two days had passed since his plane crashed in these sands.

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With the bright sun burning overhead, Steve pushed himself onward, further into the desert. Almost two days had passed since his plane crashed in these sands. Now, stumbling ahead in search of any civilization, he had only one thought on his mind: water. His small canteen was already empty, and he was desperately in need of the thirst-quenching liquid. Out on the horizon, he saw a small figure riding in the distance. It was an old Bedouin on horseback, approaching rapidly. The Bedouin stopped at Steve's side, and handed him a large glass of ice water. No words can describe the gratitude that Steve felt as he thirstily imbibed the contents of the glass.

When Abraham's servant, Eliezer, was sent to find a wife for Isaac, he prayed to Hashem for the following sign. The right girl should be the one who, when asked for a sip of water, would give both him and his camels as much to drink as they needed. Just then, Rebecca came to the well and, as Eliezer had prayed, provided water for both him and his camels. In thanks, Eliezer gave her a golden nose-ring and two golden bracelets. Then, in gratitude to Hashem, Eliezer bowed and declared, "Blessed is Hashem. . .Who did not withhold His kindness and truth from my master [Abraham], and has guided me along the right path" (Genesis 24:27).

When Eliezer gave Rebecca the golden jewelry in thanks for her kindness with the water, it seems slightly disproportionate to the act that Rebecca did. Granted that watering ten camels is a task worthy of merit, but to give golden bracelets in gratitude for such a task seems a little too much. The Ralbag, a classic 14th century commentator, points out that we learn from here that it is proper for a recipient of kindness to reciprocate with even more than what he had received. This is what Eliezer did. He received the kindness of Rebecca giving water to him and his camels, and he reciprocated on a higher level by giving her golden jewelry in return.

Also, the Ralbag continues, from Eliezer's open display of gratitude to Hashem, we see that we must thank Hashem when He grants us success in our endeavors. By realizing how Hashem helps us along, and thanking Him for it, we grow closer to Him and we come to love Him more. When we publicize this idea to others, they will also want to be close to Him so that they, too, will receive His assistance. This is why Eliezer thanked Hashem for His help. He was publicizing how Hashem helped him, in order to bring both himself and everyone around to a closer, warmer relationship with their Creator.

We find a similar idea expressed by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato in his great treatise on Jewish ethics, Mesillat Yesharim (Path of the Just). He explains that we can develop a zealousness and enthusiasm towards our mitzvah observance by contemplating the tremendous kindness that Hashem is always bestowing upon us. In whatever we do, Hashem is always there helping us and pushing us along. If we dwell on this fact, we will want to involve ourselves even more in the performance of His mitzvot as a way to reciprocate and express our gratitude for all that He does for us.

Hence, we see two similar concepts from the behavior of Eliezer and the words of the Mesillat Yesharim. On the one hand, Eliezer's actions teach us of our need to feel grateful to Hashem and thank Him for the many wonderful things that we have. From the love that this develops, we will come closer to Him. At the same time, when we realize how much He does for us, it makes us feel an increased obligation to reciprocate by running to do as many of His mitzvot as we can.

To this we can add the lesson that the recipient of good must reciprocate with even more than he received. To do so in our relationship with Hashem clearly is absolutely impossible. We are constantly surrounded by Hashem's goodness, beginning with our mere existence itself. To reciprocate on an equal level would be impossible, not to mention on a higher level. But if we keep in mind this fact that we are so absolutely indebted to Hashem for everything, it can motivate and inspire us to push our limits in doing mitzvot. There are always areas in which we can grow, and there are always mitzvot that we can work on. If we think about how much Hashem does for us, we'll put ourselves onto a spiritual escalator by pushing ourselves to even higher levels of spirituality.

Also, from our need to actively thank Hashem for all His kindness stems the prayer that we recite three times a day as a part of the Shemoneh Esrei. We say "Modim anachnu lach. . ." thanking Hashem and praising Him for our wonderful lives. We thank Him for His miracles that surround us every day, and for His wonders and kindnesses that He does with us at all times - evening, morning, and afternoon - the vast majority of which we don't even know about.

This is the lesson that we learn from Steve. If Steve felt indescribable gratitude to the Bedouin who gave him a glass of water in his time of need, how much more gratitude must we feel to Hashem for the incessant, everlasting, and innumerable kindnesses that He is always doing for us. For this we must thank Him and praise Him and reciprocate by dedicating ourselves to a greater observance of His mitzvot. We should remember this as we say each word of "Modim" in our daily prayers, instead of speeding through without such intentions and concentration. Through this, may we inspire both ourselves and others to come closer to Hashem and to fulfill more of His mitzvot.

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Mendel Starkman, a native Atlantan, is studying at the Wisconsin Institute for Torah Study in Milwaukee.

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