[Avodah] [Bais Hamussar] The Small Things

Micha Berger via Avodah avodah at lists.aishdas.org
Wed Aug 19 14:45:42 PDT 2015

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Bais Hamussar
Al Sheim HaRav Shlomo Wolbe zt"l

Shoftim - Elul

Rav Wolbe (Daas Shlomo) cites a mind boggling Medrash (Bereishis Rabba
2:7). Reb Avahu said, "From the beginning of time Hashem gazed at both
the actions of the righteous and the actions of the wicked. Yet, it is
not clear whose actions He desired. Once the Torah writes, 'And Hashem
saw the light that it was good' it is clear that He desires the actions
of the righteous and not the actions of the wicked."

What is this supposed to mean? Could there be a possibility that Hashem
prefers the actions of the wicked over the actions of the righteous?

Rav Simcha Zissel Ziv, the Alter of Kelm, offers a beautiful explanation.
Indeed, even the wicked perform good deeds. However, they limit their
good deeds to grandiose actions whose effects can be heard around the
world. They will found organizations, create moral ideologies and give
their lives for the sake of their country. In contrast, the righteous
focus on the small, even minuscule, actions. Chazal were asking who's
good deeds are superior -- those performed by the righteous or those
performed by the wicked? The answer was provided by the Torah: Hashem
prefers the small actions of the righteous over the high-flying deeds of
the wicked. A similar idea is mentioned by the Rambam. He asserts that
for one who wishes to give tzeddaka, it is better that he give many small
donations than one big donation. Many small mitzvos are preferential to
a single big action.

Rav Yisrael Salanter writes that the focus of teshuva also must
be on the small actions. Many are overcome with despair when faced
with the prospect of teshuva. "There is no possible way for me to
stop speaking lashon hara" or "I simply can't overcome this middah"
they lament. However, there is no room for despair when the topic is
teshuva. They are absolutely right; at the present time they cannot
entirely overcome their inclinations. Nevertheless, they can greatly
reduce the severity of their actions if they would merely desist at
the times when it is easy for them to refrain from transgressing. If
they would take small steps and resist for five minutes here and there,
they will already have progressed tremendously down the road of teshuva.

With this in mind, our understanding of Chazal's well known statement
becomes even more profound. "Hashem says to Klal Yisrael, 'Open for me
a hole like the eye of a needle and I will open for you gateways that
wagons and carriages will be able to pass through!'" Hashem specifically
is interested in the small holes. Teshuva must begin with a focus on
the small actions.

"Just five minutes" is a mantra that can change your life. I will refrain
from lashon hara just for five minutes. I will learn just for five
minutes. I will spend just five minutes on helping another Yid. The truth
is that sometimes one doesn't even need five minutes. A wave of the hand
to motion that one can't talk now can save a person from pages of bittul
Torah or loads of lashon hara. Moreover, Hashem guarantees that He will
reciprocate our small gesture with a huge dose of Heavenly assistance,
as He waves us through big gateways of teshuva!

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