Parshat Matot - The Motivation Factor

This post is dedicated in memory of Shlomo ben Aryeh Zalman. May it be an aliyah for his                                                               neshama. 
Shoshana Rosa

There are many people who make G-d's agenda their agenda, as the saying in Pirkei Avos (Ethics of our Fathers') goes, עשה רצונו כרצונך כדי שיעשה רצונך כרצונו - make His will your will so that He will make your will His will (2:4). People interested in serving Hashem (G-d) to the best of their capacity will plumb the depths of their souls for any personal motivations and root them out. Their only interest is glorifying Hashem (G-d's) name. For elucidation on acts of mesirat nefesh (self sacrifice).

Some of the most outstanding examples from the past century are The Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman, Sara Schenirer, The Klausenberger Rebbe, The Chazon Ish, The Manchester Rav, Rabbi Yaakov Galinsky, Rabbi Nasan Tzvi Finkel, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Herman, and Rav Ovadia Yosef etc. etc. Although very different from one another, each of these people shared one common factor: they did their utmost to shine G-d's light into a very dark world.     

Unfortunately, because people have a tendency to focus on negative influences, the positive ones usually get lost in the shuffle of history. This is because the ratio of darkness to light is leaning more in dark's court. After all, the evil inclination never slumbers. 

Also, practically speaking, its harder to focus on the light people shine into this world for the simple reason that their influences are hyper focused, and therefore, limited. As in, the more concentrated a person's energies are -- such as a Jewish leader's improving the conditions of his flock rather than checking in on world wide issues -- the smaller his range of influence will be. That's why we only experience the effect of people who do G-d's will solely for the sake of Heaven when we actively seek them out. 

The same idea as to why we are less aware of wholesome people as oppose to those who have a vested interest has to do with the paradigm of protecting an object of infinite value -- the more precious and delicate objects are generally squirreled away from elements that would bring them to ruination. In short, people who strive to serve G-d solely for G-d's sake tend to live separatist lifestyles because they don't want to become diluted by elements which oppose their values system. 

If you want to get to know people who have rooted out all underlying motivation, you must seek them out. You won't find yourself striking up a relationship with anyone like that at your local coffee bar. 

Maybe a soup kitchen but definitely not Starbucks.   

In any case, while good definitely exists, its voice is barely audible - you will only hear it if you listen closely. Perhaps the way to combat lack of G-d awareness in today's world would be by raising awareness of people who have done good in their lives. After all, knowledge is power. Let's go.  

Classic example: in this week's Parshat Matot G-d tells Moshe to take revenge on the Midianites for mixing in when the Moabites expressed fear over Bnei Yisrael (The Jews) possibly conquering their land, "...the Midianites were angered over a dispute which did not concern them" (Rashi 31:2). Then, the verse continues with an unexpected piece of news, "...afterwards, you [Moshe] will be gathered unto your people i.e. you will die" (31:2). Moshe's reaction is unflinching. He immediately rouses an army of 12,000 to march in on Midian. 

As a Jewish layman, one who has a distant kinship with the idea of doing things לשמא solely for the sake of Heaven, I find the above statement disconcerting. Death may be the next great adventure for some but to most of us, it is a yawning abyss, the dark unknown. There's no denying it: death is scary. 

Regardless, the Sefat Emet, a Chasidic master of Ger from the 19th to 20th century, as well as a popular Torah commentary, tells us that not only did Moshe spring to action, like a soldier ready and waiting to be commanded, he said, "Should the Jewish nations's revenge be obstructed so that I will live?" 

The Torah tells us that when a person engages in a מלחמת מצווה, a war that is either divinely commanded or defending the Jewish nation, its success hinges on how much it is done because G-d commanded it as oppose to how much one may benefit personally. Physically, since Moshe had nothing to gain, except the opportunity of carrying out G-d will, the nation's success was monumental. There was not a single casualty in the Jewish war against Midian.

We have a concept in Chazal (amongst our sages) that Hashem examines the hearts and kidneys (the seat of our emotions). All thoughts, even those one does not admit to himself, are revealed before Him. Moshe knew himself and therefore was able to self perfect so that he could serve G-d with absolutely no vested interest. 

Can we aim for such a level? Not until we know ourselves. Rabbi Yaakov Galinsky, a student of Novardock thought, was known for saying, "If you cannot think, you cannot confess." 

I would add that if you lack self awareness, how can you tap into your latent potential?    


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