Rabbi Daniel Stein
Rabbi Daniel Stein

Almonds Not Earthquakes

Even after the Earth itself opened its mouth and devoured Korach and his family (Bamidbar 16), the nation was not entirely convinced that Moshe and Aharon were their true leaders. It wasn't until a second miracle occurred (Bamidbar 17), when the staff of Aharon was the only staff to blossom and produce almonds, that everyone became confident that Korach was indeed wrong. Rav Leibel Eiger (Toras Emes) asks, why was the second miracle, which was blatantly less dramatic and extreme than the first, so much more compelling and persuasive? He explains that what is most effective in influencing and inspiring people to improve is not when they are intimidated by the looming threat of terrifying punishments, but rather when they see the fruits and the benefits that lay instore, when they see the almonds. It is only when they recognize that it is in their own best interests to listen and to change, when they see that they are the ones who have something to gain, that people are most likely to act.

Perhaps this idea was in fact first taught to us at the time of the creation of the world, when Hashem declared to his ministering angels "let us create man" (Breishis 1:26). Rashi explains that the pasuk is in the plural, "let us", because Hakadosh Baruch Hu included the angels in the decision making process before creating man. This is not because Hashem needed the permission or assistance of the angels, chas v'shalom, but rather it was in order to instruct us to consult with our subordinates before making decisions instead of unilaterally imposing edicts upon them. Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) explains that this is not only proper derech eretz and middas anavah, but it is also the most effective tool in rallying the support of others. Only when one includes others in the decision making process can they have the ability to understand why a certain course of action was chosen, and why that course of action is ultimately for the greater good. That in turn is the best way to secure their support and collaboration moving forward.

The Nesivos Sholom claims that this is critical when disciplining young talmidim in the classroom as well. He compares the process of maintaining classroom decorum to a lumberjack attempting to clear a forest. He can begin chopping one tree at a time, but by the time he is done cutting down one tree, three more will have sprouted in its place. The better strategy would be to light a fire in the forest and burn down the trees of the forest all at once. Similarly, a rebbe or teacher can discipline each individual child, but they risk abandoning the other students in the process and the classroom can precipitously spiral out of control. However, if the rebbe can successfully light a "fire" of excitement within the talmidim and genuinely "ignite" their interest in what they are learning, the classroom can be more easily controlled. At that point the talmidim will behave and pay attention not because they are being told to do so, but because they want to, because they have come to realize that they are the ones who have something to gain.

This perspective defines our very relationship with avodas Hashem and shmiras hamitzvos in general. At the end of Parshas Shelach (Bamidbar 15:40) the Torah juxtaposes the mitzvah of tzitzis with the prohibition of avodah zara and the mitzvah of Shabbos. Rashi explains that this is because, just as chilul shabbos and worshiping avodah zarah are tantamount to violating the entire Torah, so too, one who performs the mitzvah of tzizis is considered as if he has fulfilled all of the mitzvos of the Torah. This is further reflected by the fact that the gematria of tzitzis is 600, which together with the 8 strings and 5 knots on each corner, adds up to 613. However, if wearing tzitzis is in fact so central and fundamental, why is one only obligated in the mitzvah of tzitzis if he first chooses to wear a four cornered garment? Why is wearing a four cornered garment in the first place not mandatory (see Menachos 41a)? Rav Moshe Feinstein (Darash Moshe) explains that since the mitzvah of tzitzis corresponds to all of the mitzvos of the Torah, in a certain sense it represents our entire relationship with Hashem. Having a relationship with Hashem can't be compulsory or forced, it has to be something that we chose, that we want, because we recognize that it is we who stand to benefit from that relationship the most.

The gemara (Shabbos 88a) tells us that when Klal Yisrael proclaimed "naaseh ve'nishmah - we will do and then we will hear", at the time of kabbalas haTorah, a heavenly voice responded and exclaimed, "mi gila le'banai roz zeh - who has revealed this secret to my children?" The gemara does not elaborate any further on the nature of the secret of "naaseh ve'nishmah", or justify why it is a secret in the first place. The Me'or Vashemesh explains in light of the only "secret" mentioned by the Rambam in all of his Mishnah Torah: the Rambam writes (Hilchos Teshuvah 10:5) that when first initiating a child to Torah and mitzvos, they should be motivated to perform the mitzvos out of fear of punishment and the prospect of reward. However, as they mature and develop, slowly and cautiously, "megalim lahem roz zeh - we reveal to them this secret." Namely, that the ideal form of worshiping Hashem is when it is done out of love not fear, because we want to not because we have to. Similarly, the manner of avodas Hashem implied by "naaseh ve'nishmah", performance before command, is a commitment spawned out of love not fear. However, since universal adherence to the Torah and mitzvos must be uncompromising and unwavering, this notion can't be shared prematurely and indiscriminately. Nonetheless, to have a mature, healthy, and enduring relationship with Hakadosh Baruch Hu, we must at some point and on some level learn to perform the mitzvos out of love. Not just because we have to but because we want to, because we recognize that is for our own benefit and that we are the ones who stand to gain.

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