Rabbi Daniel Stein
Rabbi Daniel Stein

Start Small

"The entire mitzvah that I am commanding you today you should keep to do it" (Devarim 8:1). Rashi cites the Medrash which derives from the word "entire," that one who begins a mitzvah should be careful to complete it, because the credit for a mitzvah is not awarded or assigned until it is concluded. For this reason, even though Moshe was the primary impetus in returning Yosef's bones to Eretz Yisrael, the pasuk (Yehoshua 24:32) attributes all of the credit for the mizvah to the entirety of the Jewish people, since they were the ones who oversaw and facilitated its completion. In fact, the Steipler Gaon (Birchas Peretz) notes that the numerical value of the phrase from this pasuk, "mitzavcha ha'yom tishimrun" - "commanding you today you should keep to do it," is analogous to the value of the words "maschil be'mitzvah omrim lo gemor" - "one who begins a mitzvah is encouraged to complete it."

The Gemara (Sotah 13b) adds that one who begins a mitzvah without completing it not only forfeits any potential credit for the mitzvah, but also places themselves in spiritual danger and risks losing the confidence of their family and community. Rav Binyamin of Zolishitz (Turei Zahav) compares it to a broken shidduch which can transform feelings of affection and excitement into animosity and disappointment, where the heightened anticipation itself only intensifies and deepens the frustration when the relationship is dissolved. Similarly, when one embarks upon on an ambitious spiritual mission to come close to Hashem, as set of infectious expectations are generated not only by the person himself, but by his family and group of supporters. If the mitzvah is subsequently abandoned, everyone around him might become disheartened and confused, which can lead them to begin to doubt his abilities and convictions in other areas as well.

Moreover, the Medrash tells us that at the end of the sixth day of creation, Hashem was in the midst of fashioning additional human beings, however, He was interrupted by the onset of Shabbos. It was those truncated human beings, with souls but no bodies, that ultimately became the sheidim, or spiritual demons. The Alter of Kelm derives from here, that it is specifically our aborted or unfinished projects which can produce demons of regret that haunt a person throughout the rest of his life. Similarly, the pasuk states, "Beware of ascending the mountain or touching its edge, for whoever touches the mountain shall surely die" (Shemos 19:12). The Kotzker Rebbe creatively interprets the pasuk as follows: Beware of embarking upon bold ventures, such as climbing a mountain, if you suspect that you will might only be able to touch its edge. For if you come up short, if you will only be able to touch the mountain but not ascend to the top, there can be toxic and damaging consequences.

The hallmark of tzaddikim and great people, is that they follow through with their plans. The pasuk states in connection with Avraham, "and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived in the land of Canaan" (Breishis 12:5). Once we are told that Avraham arrived safely in the land of Canaan, why does the Torah bother to inform us that Avraham initially set out for the land of Canaan? The Chafetz Chaim claims that this pasuk must be contrasted with an almost identical pasuk earlier in the Torah, where the pasuk states in connection with Terach, "and they set out together etc. for the land of Canaan, but they came to Charan and they settled there" (Breishis 11:31). Both Terach and Avraham initially hoped to take a spiritual pilgrimage to the land of Canaan, because they both aspired to come close to Hashem. However, it was only Avraham who followed through with his plans, who achieved his goals, whereas Terach got stuck and settled somewhere along the way.

Therefore, instead of conjuring up excessively elaborate and ambitious plans for spiritual growth that will undoubtably prove difficult to achieve, it is preferable to have more realistic religious goals and checkpoints even if they might be less sensational and glamorous. Indeed, the path of authentic avodas Hashem is paved with lots of more modest accomplishments that can only traversed by taking small steps.

Parshas Eikev begins "vehaya eikev tishmaun" - "And it will be if you will heed these laws" (Devarim 7:12). The word "eikev" - "if" can also refer to the "heel" of the foot. Therefore, Rashi comments that the Torah here is stressing the significance of the weak or little mitzvos that we regularly trample upon with our heel. Rav Asher Weiss (Minchas Asher) emphasizes that of course there are no "little" mitzvos, because all positive commandments are equally important and sublime as the Mishnah (Avos 2:1) describes. The only "little" mitzvos are those mitzvos that we choose to devalue or disregard, (see also the Rambam's commentary to Avos). Unfortunately, we tend to emphasize and concentrate disproportionately upon the occasional or spectacular mitzvos, such as blowing the shofar, shaking the lulav, eating matzah, or celebrating a siyum, while neglecting or discounting the daily mitzvos, which are regularly available and more easily attainable. However, in truth, it is the cumulative effect of many smaller achievements, such as davening, learning Torah daily, tzedakah, and chesed that are the backbone of substantial and sustained spiritual growth.

This is perhaps highlighted by the fact, that the parsha that we read on Shabbos Shuva, the Shabbos in between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, is invariably the shortest keriyas haTorah of any Shabbos throughout the entire year. On those years when Yom Kippur falls out during the week, on Shabbos Shuva we read Parshas Vayeilech, the shortest parsha in the Torah, which has only 30 pesukim. During those years that Yom Kippur coincides with Shabbos, we read Parshas Haazinu on Shabbos Shuva, the third shortest parsha in the Torah, which consists of only 52 pesukim. However, during the years that Parshas Haazinu is read on Shabbos Shuva, Parshas Vayeilech is read the preceding Shabbos together with Parshas Nitzavim which together total 70 pesukim. On Shabbos Shuva, not only is the keriyas haTorah remarkably short, but the Haftorah is also taken from the books of Trei Asar, the Twelve Prophets, which is a collection of the shortest books in all of Tanach (see Bava Basra 14b).

On Shabbos Shuva, during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, when we are standing in judgement before the Almighty, and one mitzvah has the potential to alter our verdict for the coming year, why don't we choose to read a Torah portion that is little bit more ambitious and impressive in order to demonstrate our dedication to the mitzvos and learning Torah? It seems a bit odd if not ill advised to look for an easy way out during the most sensitive time of the entire year. However, Rav Pam suggests that these selections are deliberate, and they are instructing us that the most effective way to undertake a process of true teshuvah and real change is by choosing realistic and attainable goals. Only through reviving our commitment and appreciation for small accomplishments and the daily mitzvos that perhaps we trampled upon throughout the previous year, can we accomplish all of the great things we hope to achieve.

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