bybyby Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – April 6, 2011

In Chafetz Chaim al ha’Torah, R. Yisrael Meir Kagan, the late 19th century and early 20th century Torah great popularly known as the Chafetz Chaim, offers an intriguing comment on a verse in the Torah portion of Metzora.  We read, “If he [one seeking atonement after being afflicted with tzara’at] is poor and his means are not sufficient, then he shall take one male lamb as a guilt-offering for a wave-service to provide atonement for him; and one tenth-ephah of fine flour mixed with oil for a meal-offering, and a log of oil.  And two turtledoves or two young doves – for whichever his means are sufficient – one shall be a sin-offering and one a burnt-offering” (Vayikra 14:21-22).

The Chafetz Chaim notes that there are those who study and pray and think to themselves that, while they fall short of their duty, they outdo their friends and neighbors who do not even reach their level.  In this thought, they take solace.  However, they fail to consider that they are “rich” in knowledge while their friends and neighbors may be “poor” in knowledge; and when one “is poor and his means are not sufficient” he may bring “two turtledoves or two young doves,” whereas someone who is rich cannot fulfill his obligation with the offering of someone who is poor.  The rich cannot bring the offering of the poor.

Just as in the case of the offering, the Chafetz Chaim continues, so it is in regards to service to G-d in general.  He who is richer in knowledge and understanding is expected to reach greater heights than one who is poorer.  G-d tells each and every one, “Be all that you can be,” – not “Be what your friend can be.”  Each one of us is expected to fulfill his potential – not his neighbor’s.  It is incumbent upon each one to do that which he is capable of – not what his friend is capable of.

This reminds us of a well-known story of the Rebbe, Reb Zisha. Reb Zisha once said, “When I stand before the heavenly throne, G-d will not say to me, ‘Zisha, why weren’t you like Moshe Rabbeinu, or Zisha, why weren’t you like Rabbi Akiva?’ He will say, Zisha, why weren’t you like Zisha.”

The story of Reb Zisha brings to mind another anecdote.  R. Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (1817-1893), the great Rosh Yeshiva of Volozhin, known as the Netziv, arranged a festive meal upon completion of his magnum opus, the Haamek She’eila.  At the meal, he explained the significance of this milestone for him. As a young boy, he did not show much interest in his Torah studies.  One night, young Naftali overheard his father bemoaning his lack of progress.  With tears in his eyes, his father told his mother it was time for their young son to leave the yeshiva and become an apprentice to a local craftsman in order that he may learn a meaningful trade.  Deeply moved by his parents’ distress, he rushed to them and promised to apply himself to his Torah study.  Subsequently, he grew to become one of the great Torah giants of the 19th century.  The Netziv then displayed his work and declared full of emotion, “Had I become a shoemaker or tailor, I never would have written these volumes.  After 120 years, I would have appeared before the Holy One Blessed Be He, and He would have demanded, ‘Why didn’t you write the Haamek She’eila?’  No doubt I would have responded in disbelief. ‘What, I am only a simple shoemaker. How could I have written this magnificent work?’ ‘No’, G-d would have insisted, ‘you were capable of authoring this profound work,’ and of course that would have been the case.  Imagine, for eternity I would have endured the anguish, pain and disgrace of not having authored the Haamek She’eila.”

Too often we make excuses for not performing up to our potential, but, deep down in our hearts, we know that we could do more and better.  We tend often to take the easy way out, because it appears more comfortable or convenient.  However, we are only fooling ourselves.  We are missing out on the accomplishments that we can achieve.  And at the end of our lives, there will be no more room for excuses.  G-d knows the truth.

May we all give our utmost in service to G-d, fulfilling our full potentials, and may G-d in turn give His utmost to us in reward for our actions.

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