Lech Lecha: Why is it Difficult to Fulfill Mitzvot?

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If G-d wants our Mitzvot, why does He place obstacles in our path? Is there meaning to our efforts, or are they just a conduit to success? And how does a single deed make you a partner with G-d?

Only A Partner

There is well-known question in the Midrash which seems very relevant in our day: If Hashem wants us to fulfill the instructions of the Shulchan Aruch (the Code of Jewish Law) and to live a life of Torah and Mitzvot, why does he place obstacles in our path?

Every Jew’s true desire is to fulfill Hashem’s will and to study Torah, fulfill Mitzvot and live his life according to the Shulchan Aruch. Maimonides writes  that every Jew wants to fulfill all the Mitzvot, “but his Evil Inclination pressures him [not to].” Why indeed, does Hashem place numerous obstacles before the Jew, and force him to toil “with all his might,” sometimes to the point of self-sacrifice!? 

This question has already been asked in the Midrash regarding the very first Mitzvah that was given to the Jewish people – the Mitzvah of Brit Milah: “A philosopher asked…if Hashem so loves circumcision why did he not give it to Adam,” (meaning, why wasn’t he created circumcised)?

The philosopher was answered: “Anything created in the first six days needs further actions. For example, mustard seeds need sweetening…even humans need fixing.” The world was created – from the outset – as a place where a Jew can enter into a partnership with Hashem.

The Inherent Power of Obstacles

This is true for every individual: 

Whenever you encounter a difficulty, the Evil Inclination might come and argue, “You always profess your belief that Hashem is in complete control over everything. But this seems to be a contradiction: If He wants you to fulfill this Mitzvah, why would he put obstacles in your path?”

A Jew needs to remember the answer: Hashem – the ultimate Good – isn’t trying to give you a hard time for no reason. To the contrary: Because we are so dear in the eyes of Hashem, he wants us to realize our fullest potential. And because Torah and Mitzvot are so precious, He wants to give us the opportunity to truly earn the Mitzvah, instead of giving it to us ‘for free.’ 

The verse states “We ate in Egypt for free,” and the Zohar explains that the ‘trademark’ of impurity – the opposite of holiness – is that it comes without effort. Mitzvot, however, must cost money and effort. Hashem wants us to ‘own’ the deed and feel personal responsibility for it. 

…Therefore, the fact that there are obstacles in our path to good and holiness isn’t just a coincidence. Without those obstacles, we would lack the full rewards and benefits that result from our work, because we would be mere ‘receivers.’ But when we invest our own effort, we become partners with Hashem, reaching the very same status of the “Commander of the Mitzvah and Giver of the Torah,” so to speak. 

Better Than Five Angels

However, this ‘effort’ does not mean suffering and severe labor, G-d forbid. The Midrash tells the following story:

Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa saw people in his city bringing sacrifices to Jerusalem. He said, “Everyone is bringing sacrifices to Jerusalem, and I don’t have a thing to bring up.” He found a stone and chipped it, chiseled it, and polished it, and said: “Now I must transport it to Jerusalem.” Immediately, Hashem brought him five angels with the appearance of the men. “Will you transport this stone for me?” He asked them. They said to him, “As long as you help us out with a hand and a finger.” He placed his hand on the stone and found himself standing in Jerusalem.

The story demands explanation. What did he accomplish by placing his hand on the stone? If he is personally obligated to bring a gift to the Holy Temple, how could the angels do the work for him? If they did the actual heavy lifting, he didn’t fulfill his obligation!

The answer is, one must be personally involved in the effort, but even a single finger can be enough. Moreover: When a human being participates with a single finger, it has greater value than five angels transporting the heavy stone all the way to Jerusalem.

Becoming A Partner

We can take an example from Hashem Himself: The Midrash notes that Hashem didn’t create His world through sweat and toil, but rather, through His words. Likewise, to become partners in Hashem’s creation, we don’t necessarily need to sweat and invest back-breaking labor, G-d forbid. Our words can suffice.

But our words must resemble the words of Hashem: The Ten Statements of Creation with which He created the world, cited at the very beginning of the Torah. The Talmud says about the Torah, “Ana nafshi ketavit yehavit.”  The Baal Shem Tov translates, “I [Hashem] have invested My soul in My writings.” He placed Himself in the Torah, and then gave the Torah to the Jewish people. 

We must follow suit: We must invest our heart and soul into our efforts. When even a minor effort is carried out “with all your soul and all your might,” it becomes ‘equal’ to Hashem’s own investment; we become partners in creation, so to speak. And as partners, we gain the right to convey our opinions in the world.

11 Nissan 5732. (Toras Menachem vol. 68 pg. 62)

To watch the video of the Sicha in the living torah magazine, click on the image

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