Do It for Your Sake

L’maancha Elokeinu asei v’lo lanu (Selichos)

Harav Yisroel Reisman recounts that there was a wealthy Jew who lived in an apartment building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. One day he noticed a number of police cars in front of the building, so he asked another resident who was in the elevator with him if he knew why they were there. The man explained that his father is the king of a country in Africa who had come to visit his son, and the police presence outside was part of his father’s security detail.

When the prince saw how excited this information made his neighbor, he asked him, “Would you like to meet my father, the king,” to which the Jew replied in the affirmative. The prince instructed him to come to the penthouse at 8:00 that night.

When the man’s son, who had just celebrated his bar mitzvah, heard about this development, he expressed interest in accompanying his father. The two of them went up to the penthouse to meet the king, who took a liking to the boy and asked him his age. When he said that he had just turned 13, the king asked him, “Isn’t that a special age for Jewish boys?” The child responded that indeed, he had just become a bar mitzvah the week before.

The following day, when the Jew went to check his mailbox, he was stunned to discover that the king had left a $50,000 check for his son — an extremely generous bar mitzvah gift! He was embarrassed and went to thank the prince for arranging the visit with the king, but added, “I don’t know if you’re familiar with customary bar mitzvah gifts, but they’re typically $180 or $360 at the most. We don’t give $50,000 checks for a bar mitzvah.” To which the prince responded, “You don’t understand. Even if it’s true that Jews usually don’t spend more than $180, it is beneath the king’s dignity to give anything smaller than $50,000.”

A short time later, the Jewish family took a trip to Eretz Yisrael in honor of the bar mitzvah. While there they were able to arrange a visit with Hagaon Harav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, where the father recounted this incident. Rav Chaim, who views the world through Torah lenses, replied that this episode gives him a new insight into a petition we make each day during Selichos: L’maancha Elokeinu asei v’lo lanu — Hashem, act for Your sake, not for ours.

Our primary goal is that Hashem should answer our prayers; as long as He does so, why do we care whether it is for His sake or for ours? Rav Chaim explained that he now understands that we may only deserve $180 checks, but for the King of kings, it would be inappropriate to give anything less than millions. Accordingly, we ask Hashem to not only grant our requests, but to do so on His grand scale, not on our meager terms.

Q: Rashi writes (Devarim 31:11) that the mitzvah of publicly reading the book of Devarim every seven years during Hakhel was performed by the king. Was this reading performed before the anointment of Shaul as king, and if so, by whom?

A: The Kiryat Sefer writes that the mitzvah was specifically performed by the king. This is derived from the fact that it was commanded to Moshe, who had the status of a king. This is also the opinion of the Chinuch. The Chizkuni suggests that the command was given not to Moshe, but to Yehoshua, who was also considered a king.

The Minchas Chinuch questions what was done until the times of Shaul and suggests that perhaps the requirement for the king to read it was not absolute, and it could be fulfilled by the leader of the generation. This is also the opinion of Harav Chaim Kanievsky. The Netziv writes that in the absence of a king, it was read by the Kohen Gadol.

Q: This Shabbos we read a special Haftarah that exhorts us to do teshuvah. The Gemara (Kiddushin 20a) teaches that if a person commits the same sin twice, it becomes in his eyes like it is permissible. Which sin is considered worse and requires greater teshuvah: the first two times when a person tries to hold back but fails, or the subsequent sins that he does out of habit?

A: The Sefer Hamakneh maintains that the later sins are deemed more severe, for the first two times a person at least recognizes he is transgressing Hashem’s will and attempts to refrain from doing so, even if his yetzer hara ultimately overpowers him. From this point onward, he no longer respects Hashem’s commandment, which renders his actions worse and requires much greater teshuvah to repent for this brazen disregard.

The Meshech Chochmah, the Satmar Rebbe, and Harav Eliyahu Dessler disagree and argue that the primary teshuvah required is for the initial transgressions, for once a person becomes accustomed to a sin, he forgets that it is forbidden and acts out of habit, not to rebel against Hashem. The Meshech Chochmah and the Satmar Rebbe suggest that their position is supported by Dovid’s request (Tehillim 79:8): Al tizkor lanu avonos rishonim, which can be interpreted as, “Do not recall against us the first sins” — implying that the original transgressions are judged more strictly.

Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his divrei Torah weekly, please email