by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – May 21, 2015
In one of his talks on the weekly Torah reading (Sholom Smith, A Vort from Rav Pam, pp. 169-170), R. Avraham Pam notes that in his Mesilat Yesharim, chap. 20, the preeminent Torah scholar and kabbalist R. Moshe Chaim Luzzato (1707 – 1746) points out that the last verses of the Torah portion of Bamidbar are the source in the Torah for the concept of mishkal ha’Chasidut, the balance of piety. The balance of piety demands that one carefully weighs his actions, even those that he considers good deeds, to verify that they indeed are the right thing to do, and not his emotions persuading him as such. Often, what one may think is a good and proper action may be just the opposite.
R. Pam suggests that the issue of balance of piety tends to arise often with regards to the yahrtzeit(anniversary of death) of a parent, a time when a child tries to earn merit for the father or mother that passed away, but, often, in the process of seeking this merit, the child may actually do otherwise. To avoid the wrong result of one’s actions, one must carefully scrutinize them.
As an example of the above, R. Pam cites an anecdote concerning the daughter of the famous Torah giant R. Akiva Eiger (1761 – 1837) who was the second wife of the equally famous Torah scholar R. Moshe Sofer (1762 – 1832) and mother of most of R. Sofer’s children. It is related that “she wrote in her will that despite the mitzvah to fast on a parent’s yahrtzeit (see Rema to Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh Deah 376:4, 402:12) she specifically requested that her children not fast. She knew that when one fasts his ability to study Torah that day is significantly diminished, and she felt it would be a greater merit for her neshamah [soul] if her children devoted the day to intense Torah study rather than to fasting (see also Mishna Brura 55:90). Her husband…ruled that her request be honored, and her son…would make a siyum [completion of the study of a tractate in the Talmud] on her yahrtzeit and eat a dairy seudah [festive meal] in honor of the occasion.”
R. Pam continues to point out the practice of many children in the Diaspora who expend much effort, energies and monetary expense to arrange very lengthy trips to visit their parents’ graves in the Land of Israel, whereby they cause a major disruption to their normal schedules. R. Pam, when consulted on the matter, would suggest that more merit would be brought to the souls of the deceased by forgoing these lengthy and expensive trips and, rather, devote the time to additional Torah study and allot the saved funds to charitable endeavors.
Likewise, R. Pam notes the practice of a son leading the prayer services and reciting kaddish on the yahrtzeit of a parent. Nevertheless, R. Pam relates, the saintly Torah luminary R. Yisrael Salanter (1810 – 1883), on his father’s yahrtzeit chose to decline the offer to lead the services in a synagogue in which there was another Jew who also had a yahrtzeit for his father. When inquired as to his actions, R. Salanter explained, “I know that the other Jew would feel very bad if he would not be able to lead the services on his father’s yahrtzeit. I think that allowing him to lead the services and sparing him the emotional pain will bring greater merit to my father’s soul than my leading the services.”
In our attempt to perform good and proper deeds, we must keep in mind the mishkal ha’Chasidut. We need to think about what we do and not see things from a myopic perspective, but, rather, we must look at the big picture. This is what the Torah teaches us, as set forth by our Torah scholars. Do not just act. First, think and look at the big picture, thoughtfully decide, and, only then act.