IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS
Rabbi Shmuel Weiss
We all imagine that it is the "big" issues in life which ught to command our attention. Consequently, we often worry about mitzvot we consider "major," while paying far less attention to those commandments that we deem "minor."
We all imagine that it is the "big" issues in life which ught to command our attention. Consequently, we often worry about mitzvot we consider "major," while paying far less attention to those commandments that we deem "minor." We would shudder to violate Shabbat, for example, or eat chametz (leavened products) on Passover. But we might casually speak lashon hara (slander), denigrate a community leader, or fail to bless Hashem for our food, without so much as a second thought or a ripple of guilt.
This week's Torah portion makes it clear how dangerous and foolish such a path can be. By playing on the Hebrew word, eikev (heel), Rashi, the preeminent Torah commentator, teaches that it is precisely the mitzvot which society tends to trample upon with their heel that we must most zealously guard and observe (Deuteronomy 7:12). Rashi echoes Ethics of Our Fathers, which warns us to treat all mitzvot equally, "for we do not know the reward of the Commandments."
Indeed, the sages continually focus upon "minor" rules as having major ramifications: We are told that we gain entrance into the World to Come by reciting a small paragraph during prayers; we find that the sweeping away of the burned-up ashes in the Temple was a source of great blessing and wealth; and we are promised long life just for shooing away a mother bird with a simple wave of the hand.
The true story is told of the Jew in pre-war Germany who would take a morning stroll each day. Along his walk, he would greet one and all with a polite tip of his cap and a joyous "Good Morning!" that came straight from the heart.
When the war broke out, the man was taken to a concentration camp, like all the Jews in his city. He was then sent to a labor camp, and forced to work for the Nazis under brutal conditions. He slaved for 18 hours each day, with little food or water. One day, the man could take no more. He collapsed at his work, a victim of exhaustion and malnutrition. The Nazi guard lifted him by the collar and said, "Now you'll see what we do with lazy Jews like yourself!" The man recited the Shema prayer, believing his minutes were surely numbered.
He was thrown into the commander's office, where he lay on the floor. He dared not even look up at the German, who had a reputation for extreme cruelty. But when the commander yelled, "Jew, get up!" the man instinctively replied, "Yes, and good morning to you." Amazingly, the German answered back, "And good morning to you, sir." The Jew looked up, stunned. The soldier in front of him was none other than his ex-neighbor, whom he had greeted each day in his "former life." He was then sent to the infirmary, given food, and lived to see the end of the war.
All this because of a "little thing" like a greeting, a smile, a tip of the hat or nod of the head. It's the little things that count.
Rabbi Shmuel Weiss, a close friend of the Torah from Dixie family, is the director of the Jewish Outreach Center in Rana'ana, Israel. He is also the author of Shammas: Stories of the Jewish Experience.
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