Making the Effort
Devarim, 13:7-10: If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or your daughter, or the wife of your bosom, or your friend who is like your own soul, will entice you secretly, saying, "Let us go and worship the gods of others ... from the gods of the peoples that are all around you, those near to you or those far from you, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth - you shall not accede to him and not hearken to him; your eye shall not take pity on him, you shall not be compassionate nor conceal him ... rather you shall surely kill him...
Rashi, Devarim, 13:9 sv. Do not listen to him: When he supplicates for his life to forgive him; it [the Torah] says, "you shall surely help him" - but this one you shall not help.
Sv. Your eyes shall not pity him: It [the Torah] says, "do not stand by your brother's blood] - regarding this one do not pity him.
Sv. Do not be compassionate: Do not look for his merit.
In Re'eh, the Torah outlines the laws pertaining to the meisit; a person who tries to convince his fellow Jews to turn to idol worship. The Torah instructs us to treat this sinner extremely harshly - more so than any other transgressor. Rashi explains the Torah's words as teaching us that this person is an exception to the numerous laws of interpersonal relationships, and there is no Mitzva to help him. Moreover, normally in the case of alleged sinners, the court is required to seek extenuating circumstances that would permit it to save a sinner from the death penalty, but in this case, the Torah tells us not to look for any merit. The Sages explain further that the enticer is punished in Heaven in a more severe manner than others because of the seriousness of trying to turn Jews away from Avodat HaShem. We see this with regards to Jereboam, the first King of the Northern Kingdom. He caused the Jews in the North to worship idols and is one of only three Kings who, the Mishna tells us,(1) has no Portion in the World to Come. The Sages treat him as the archetypal rasha,(2) even though other Kings committed more severe sins, because he enticed others to sin.
The Alter of Kelm makes a fascinating observation; he notes that the enticer is treated in such a severe fashion even if he failed to actually entice anyone to worship idols. We know that the mida tova meruba mipouraniot - that the reward for good deeds is greater than the punishment for bad deeds. Accordingly, if a person attempts to do the opposite of the enticer; that is to bring a Jew closer (mekarev) to Torah observance, then he will be rewarded more than the enticer is punished. And, the Alter adds, this is true even if the mekarev fails in his efforts. This teaches us a fundamental principle - God requires a person to make the effort to perform His Will. The actual results of their efforts are out of his hands, and therefore insignificant in terms of the reward the person will receive.
This concept was elaborated upon by Rav Yitzchak Hutner in a letter to Rav Moshe Sherer.(3) Rav Sherer had been involved in a lengthy attempt to gain financial assistance for non-public schools in America, but had failed in his efforts. Rav Hutner reminded him of Rav Yisrael Salanter's three rules of work for the community: One of them was; 'don't be obsessed with prevailing'.(4) He pointed out that Abraham did not actually sacrifice Isaac at the Akeidah, but that did not detract at all from the merit that accrued to him and his offspring. Rav Hutner concluded: "Man is commanded to do, not to accomplish" - the rest is up to God.
Rav Sherer himself expressed this idea based on the Gemara in Brachot.(5) The Gemara says that if a person thinks to do a Mitzva and is prevented from doing so by circumstances beyond his control and did not do it, it is considered by the Torah as if he did it. The hebrew for "considered' is, 'maaleh alav'. Literally, this means that it is 'raised up'. Rav Sherer said in the name of a Rav that this means the reward from the unfulfilled Mitzva is raised up above (i.e. higher than) the reward for fulfilled mitzvot. This is because the person who sought to do the Mitzva does not even have the satisfaction of having performed it.
May we all merit to internalize this lesson in all areas of spiritual growth and focus on making the maximum effort to bring ourselves and our fellow Jews closer to God.
1. Sanhedrin, 90a.
2. See Pirkei Avos, 5:21.
3. Rav Sherer was the Head of Agudas Yisrael, and was generally recognized as the leading askan on behalf of the Orthodox world in the second half of the 20th Century.
4. The other two were: 'Don't get angry' and, 'don't get tired'.
5. Brachos, 6a. It is also in Kiddushin 40a.