It was well after midnight on a wintry night when the yeshivah bachur arrived in Radin. On his way home to Switzerland after learning in a Lithuanian yeshivah, he had decided to detour to this small town to get a brachah from the Chofetz Chaim. Fortunately, he encountered Harav Hersh Levinson, zt”l, son-in-law of the Chofetz Chaim and Rosh Yeshivah of the Radiner Yeshivah, who took the bachur to his house for the night.
Shivering in the bitter cold, the bachur decided to climb under the warm blanket his gracious host had prepared to warm up before davening Maariv. But since he was exhausted from his travels, his eyes closed of their own accord and, much to his dismay the next thing he knew it was morning — and he hadn’t davened Maariv!
After Shacharis and breakfast, his host took him to the Chofetz Chaim for a brachah.
The Chofetz Chaim began to tell the bachur how he still recalled when, many decades earlier, the local economy had been thriving. When a copper coin fell to the ground no one even bothered to pick it up.
At the present time, he continued, the economic situation was dire and poverty rampant. Every copper coin was picked up and treasured!
The same concept applied in ruchniyus as well. In difficult spiritual times, when even one Maariv is missing it is very noticeable in Heaven, the Chofetz Chaim told the bachur — who well understood the allusion.
The Chofetz Chaim went on to discuss this week’s parashah:
Bnei Yisrael in Mitzrayim had slipped to the 49th level of impurity; were they to fall just one rung further, they would have been lost forever. Many were serving idols, with not a mitzvah to their name. They were in desperate need of some sort of zechuyos, mitzvos that would make it possible for them to be redeemed.
So the Ribbono shel Olam gave them two mitzvos — milah and korban Pesach — and in the merit of those two mitzvos, Bnei Yisrael were able to leave Mitzrayim.
How is it possible that after falling so abysmally low and being so far from avodas Hashem, just two mitzvos could provide enough merits for their salvation?
The answer is that it is precisely because the spiritual situation was so dire that two mitzvos were enough. In a time of a shortage, so to speak, every mitzvah has an enormous impact.
On another occasion, the Chofetz Chaim spoke of the will of Dovid Hamelech to his son and successor Shlomo Hamelech.
“Toward the children of Barzillai the Giladi act with kindness, and they shall be among those who eat at your table, for in this way they befriended me when I fled from Avshalom your brother.”
Barzillai, who was a wealthy and aged patriarch at the time, was one of three men who sent supplies to Dovid Hamelech in his flight from Avshalom. Chazal tell us that Barzillai’s contribution was two food dishes, one of parched wheat and barley kernels, the other of lentils.
What reward did he merit? That his sons ate at the table of Shlomo Hamelech, where the daily fare included “10 fattened oxen, 20 oxen from the pasture, 100 sheep and goats, besides gazelle, deer and fattened fowl …”
At a time of revolt, when so much of the populace turned against the king and supported his rebellious son, Barzillai was one of a small group of loyal supporters. He might have sent only two dishes, but he was there for Dovid Hamelech during a time of rebellion, and therefore he merited an enormous reward.
At a time when so many in Klal Yisrael have drifted from the Torah path and become estranged from their glorious heritage, every Yid who remains loyal to Hashem and his Torah is accorded the status of a Barzillai. At a time when — relatively speaking — there are so few mitzvos being performed, the value of each mitzvah is magnified and the reward multiplied.
A familiar tactic used to try to prevent our growing in avodas Hashem is raising doubts about the value of our deeds and tefillos. For some, there is an “all or nothing” attitude — a sense that if the deed we performed was lacking is some aspects, or one daydreamed during part of the tefillah, it was an exercise in futility. For others it is less extreme, a general feelings of malaise toward avodas Hashem.
Yet the Chofetz Chaim teaches us that even if our mitzvah is not performed with perfection, and the tefillah we uttered was lacking in concentration, these “dishes” we send in such times of rebellion earn us enormous rewards.
Clearly we should be seeking to constantly improve our avodas Hashem, and we never should be satisfied with our current levels. But at the same time, we should be cognizant that even our relatively weak endeavors cause great happiness Up High, and that should bring us great joy as well.