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Beha’aloscha: No Counterfeit Substitutes

Miriam Aflalo

Sunday, June 05, 2011

“And the man Moshe was more humble than all men …” (Bamidbar 12:3)

In Pirkei Avos, chapter four, Chazal warn us against the trait of pride: “Be very, very humble … ” Why do they warn us against this trait more than all the other traits? (Chofetz Chaim al HaTorah)

“Everything has its price,” the cynics say. “If you pay, you’ll get it. And if not? Pay more.”

Yet, there are some things which cannot be bought, not with all the money in the world.…

There is nothing in this world that has enough value to be worth payment for a mitzvah. Therefore, says the Ramban, the reward for mitzvos is not revealed in this world. (ibid.)

How much is your Shabbos candlelighting worth? How much for your netilas yedayim? Your Bircas HaMazon?

A thousand dollars? A million? Do I hear a billion?


To appraise it like that would be to ask you the value of your son. Or how many stickers from your daughter’s collection it would take to buy a Rolls Royce. Fifty stickers? Five hundred? All the stickers from all her friends put together?

Notwithstanding this comparison, surprisingly, there is one thing in This World that possibly can be used as a payment for a mitzvah.

However, one who receives honor in this lowly world for fulfilling a mitzvah — although it’s an illusory benefit — is already receiving a type of payment. Because honor is a spiritual thing. And although honor cannot be monetized, people are nevertheless willing to pay tens of thousands for this illusory benefit. So we can deduce from this that there is a spiritual satisfaction to being honored publicly and receiving praise for wealth, good deeds, or wisdom. (ibid.)

Throughout life, achievements are accredited with honor, as befits each stage of development. The one who jumps rope best. The girl with the most clothes. The valedictorian. The first to get engaged. The mother with the cutest, most well-behaved kids.

But somehow, the fanfare never seems to reach you.

Why not?

Do you too sometimes feel that you are treading on a side road in life? Away from the bright lights of the highways … on a path trod by gray, shadowy figures, never leaving footprints in the soft sand?

You labor, and persevere, although sometimes it’s difficult. You invest thought, emotion, and tears. Applause, please.

But your audience is silent. A wearying silence that preys upon the ears desperate for some recognition.

Don’t send me bouquets; don’t buy me presents. Just show me that you value what I do, who I am.

Nothing. The silence is deafening.


Because you merited this silence. You were worthy, and therefore received no honor for your efforts. You merited that, On High, your mitzvos have been gathered up together in a stunning bouquet, meticulously recorded, and stamped in large letters: not paid.

No, you weren’t paid with honor, with applause, with flattering letters of gratitude, with a phone that never stops ringing, or with thousands of people who can’t manage without you.

You weren’t paid. All your good deeds, from the very smallest to the hardest and most exhausting, remain valid, standing, and enduring — arranged and waiting for you. It was well worth it, those gray days, lacking in praise and luster. You will yet be grateful for all those who didn’t mar your deeds with the smallest blemish of recognition, but left them in their original purity.

Because honor is a coarse payment in exchange for noble spirituality.

And this is why the Tanna warns us to protect ourselves from it in every way possible. It’s impossible to pay for a mitzvah with any sort of material compensation. But if someone is paid with spiritual remuneration, such as with honor and recognition, then it’s possible that some of his merits will be deducted in the Next World, since this type of payment is spiritual. And it’s conceivable that regardless of a person’s good deeds, he will be left poor and bare of mitzvos in the World of Truth. Because he received his reward here, through honor. (ibid.)


Why do you need counterfeit and transitory payment? Har Sinai stood silently, not joining in the quest for the greatest of all honors — to be the venue for the giving of the Torah. It remained humble, not daring to seek even this spiritual honor within a physical world. Therefore, Hashem chose it from all other mountains, so it could deliver this message together with the Torah. The true reward of Torah is kept for those who shun it in this world.

Priceless diamonds are awaiting you; don’t exchange them for copper pennies.

Thank you for the silence.

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