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THE SOUND OF SILENCE

by Michael Gros    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

The Chidah, an 18th century Sephardic writer, wrote a list of 22 attributes that a person should have when doing a mitzvah. Each attribute is paired with one of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet for easy memorization. For the Hebrew letter samech, the Chidah said that a person should do a mitzvah with seter—concealment.

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The Chidah, an 18th century Sephardic writer, wrote a list of 22 attributes that a person should have when doing a mitzvah. Each attribute is paired with one of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet for easy memorization. For the Hebrew letter samech, the Chidah said that a person should do a mitzvah with seter—concealment. "One should hide his good deeds, for if one reveals them to bring praise on himself, he loses his merit, and is punished," the Chidah writes. He brings the example of a woman mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud, who often fasted voluntarily, but bragged about it. Due to this she lost her reward for fasting, and brought upon herself the condemnation of the sages.

When we do a mitzvah, it is important to remember that we are doing it for G-d and not for ourselves. We should ask ourselves, "Am I doing this because G-d commanded it, or so that people will give me praise?" If we run to tell the whole world whenever we do a mitzvah, we negate the value of that mitzvah. Some mitzvot should be done publicly; for example a brit milah (circumcision) or praying with a minyan (quorum of ten). However, in general, when doing a solitary mitzvah, it should be done modestly. As the great sage Shammai states in Ethics of Our Fathers (1:15), "Say little and do much."

Judaism is full of examples of a person who seems ordinary but is really a righteous person. There is no greater example of this principle than one found in this week’s Torah portion. "You shall make a cover for the tent of red-dyed ram skins, and a cover of tachash skins above" (Exodus 26:14). From the outside, the Mishkan (Tabernacle) appeared to be a plain, ordinary tent. However, inside it was full of gold, precious stones, and gorgeous artwork. Such is the mission of a Jew—to be full of mizvot and beautiful deeds inside, but to be humble and modest on the surface.

We can learn this humility by emulating Hashem and by looking closely at the Purim story. The sages point out that the book of Esther is unique among the 24 books of the Biblical cannon because G-d’s name is absent throughout it. Even though He is not clearly seen, His presence is felt. Haman plotted to destroy the Jews, but no matter what he tried to do, the unseen hand of G-d thwarted his plans at every turn.

The Talmud (Tractate Chulin 139b) asks, "Where is Esther mentioned in the Torah?" The sages teach that every event is predetermined and is hinted at in the Torah, and therefore Esther’s name must appear somewhere. The Talmud answers that her name is hinted at in the verse "V’ani haster asteer panai b’yom hahu—But I will surely have concealed My face on that day" (Deuteronomy 31:18). The Talmud notes that the word "asteer" comes from the same root as "Esther." The sages say that this refers directly to the Purim story, in which numerous miracles occur, even though G-d is not seen. Rashi, the preeminent Torah commentator explains, "In the days of Esther there will be a concealment of the Divine countenance." As an aside, this is one of the reasons why we dress up on Purim. By hiding our faces behind masks, we remember how G-d, too, was hidden.

Our mission as Jews is to emulate Hashem. G-d was hidden during the Purim story, allowing us to see only His good deeds. We must act similarly, doing mitzvot and deeds of kindness to others, without broadcasting to the world what we did. We can change the world through our actions, but our actions are magnified only if we do them modestly.

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Michael Gros, an alumnus of Emory University in Atlanta, is learning at Yeshivat Darche Noam/Shapell’s College in Jerusalem.

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