Today’s learning is dedicated to the refuah sheleima of Simcha Nosson ben Zissel.
In the previous post we discussed how Hashem acts mercifully towards the Jewish nation by focusing on our ancestral merit. As we say in the Amidah prayer, “Blessed are You, Hashem… Who recalls the kindnesses of the Patriarchs and brings a Redeemer to their children’s children, for His Name’s sake, with love.” We also mentioned how this compassion is an aspect of matnas chinam, gratuitous gifts.
The Midrash (Shemos 33:18) tells us that when Moshe Rabbeinu ascended Har Sinai and prayed, “Please show me Your glory,” Hashem revealed to him the reward that awaits each person. While viewing the various storehouses of heavenly treasure, Moshe asked Hashem for whom they were designated. Hashem then explained to Moshe the purpose of each one, “These treasures are for people who keep mitzvos. These treasures are for people who raise orphans.”
Hashem then showed Moshe a sizeable treasure house. “Who are these for?” Moshe asked. “From here I give free treasures to those who have earned no treasures of their own,” said Hashem, as it is written (Shemos 33:19), “I shall favor those whom I shall favor” (implying that Hashem has simply chosen to favor them, for no apparent reason).
Rebbe Nachman teaches that when requesting assistance from Hashem, whether it be for our material or our spiritual needs, we should ask for matnas chinam, an undeserved gift. We must never approach Hashem with a sense of entitlement, or feel that we are owed remuneration from Hashem (and we must certainly never make demands of Hashem.) Rebbe Nachman teaches (Advice, Prayer # 31), “He should plead with G-d and beg Him for an undeserved gift. He should not rely on his own merits. He should stand before G-d like a poor beggar and beg for His help. Whenever a person prays, he should never try to force matters and insist that G-d should do exactly what he wants Him to do. He should make his request and entreat G-d’s mercy. If G-d grants it, well and good. And if not, then not.” (See Likutei Moharan I, 20:5)
As we say in Selichos, “Not because of our righteousness do we cast down our supplications before You, rather because of Your abundant compassion.” Similarly, the closing line of Avinu Malkeinu reads, “Our Father, our King, be gracious with us and answer us, though we have no worthy deeds; treat us with charity and kindness, and save us.”
This is also in accord with the Midrash stating that one should not make the fulfillment of his prayer dependent upon his merits, for even when Hashem fulfills a request as a result of a person’s meritorious deeds, “no created being can rightfully make demands of his Creator.” Thus, one must always petition Hashem for matnas chinam, a gratuitous gift.
Parshas Vaeschanan begins with Moshe’s plea to Hashem that He allow him to fulfill his dream of entering Eretz Yisrael. Moshe refers to this prayer with the word ואתחנן, “I pleaded.” Rashi explains that this particular term refers to requesting matnas chinam, a “free gift.” He writes: “Although the righteous are able to rely upon their good deeds, they ask the Almighty only for a ‘free gift.’”
(Similarly, we find the verse states (Tehillim 30:9), “To You Hashem I called out; and to my Lord I appealed.” Here too, the wording of “chanan” (appealed) is used to beseech Hashem for a gratuitous gift, rather than demanding compensation for his meritorious deeds.)
Rabbi Efrem Goldberg explains, “If a person approaches his friend to ask for a favor, and in presenting his request, he says, ‘Look, I did a favor for you last week, so now it’s your turn’ – this says something about the relationship, or about how he views the relationship. It shows that he sees their relationship as purely transactional, a utilitarian arrangement. This is a very superficial and fragile relationship… The righteous cultivate a deep relationship with Hashem, not a transactional arrangement. They come and ask Hashem for what they need not on the basis of their ‘credit,’ the things they have done for Him, as it were, but rather because they deeply believe that He is their father, that He loves them. Asking for matnas chinam reflects a deep relationship, a bond of love and mutual devotion, which transcends far beyond a shallow, utilitarian connection.”
Similarly, Rabbi Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff explains that tzadikim don’t rely on their credentials or their laudable deeds when praying to Hashem, since true prayer entails recognizing one’s total and complete dependence on Hashem. He writes, “In such a one-way relationship, there is no place for a quid pro quo deal negotiated with Hashem.”
We must also remember that if it weren’t for Hashem’s kindness and compassion, we would be incapable of performing any mitzvos. The Midrash teaches (Vayikra Rabbah 27) that if a person becomes haughty and proud because he has affixed a mezuzah on his doorpost, Hashem says, “He thinks it was he who truly did the mitzvah? Who gave him a house upon which to affix a mezuzah in the first place?”
Expounding on this, Rebbe Nachman teaches (Likutei Moharan I, 2), “We find that all our meritorious actions and prayers come from Him, and we thus shouldn’t consider ourselves worthy of receiving reward for anything. Even though it may appear that the Redemption approaches as a result of our prayers and Torah study, in truth we rely on His Mercy, for only in His Mercy shall we be redeemed.”
Similarly, Rebbe Nachman teaches (Advice, Prayer # 6), “Never feel that you are entitled to a reward for anything. All the good deeds we do are sent to us by Hashem. At times Hashem may help a person in a certain way or he may achieve a certain spiritual success. But he should not think that this is a reward for his Torah study, prayers or good deeds, or anything else. Everything is sent by Hashem, and were it not for His great mercy, the person would have been sunk in failure long ago, G-d forbid.” (See Likutei Moharan I, 2:4)
Although the premise of Tomer Devorah is that Hashem designed the system of creation in a way that our actions affect all the upper realms and the heavenly channels of blessings, still we must never fall under the mistaken impression that we are due Hashem’s bounty. We must constantly remind ourselves that anything Hashem grants us is complete and absolute kindness.
As Rabbi Yaakov Klein writes, “We must remain humble and realize that without Hashem’s Infinite Mercy we could never serve Him at all. Nothing He gives us is deserved or owed to us, regardless of its appearing that way. Everything we have is due to His Infinite Kindness and Love alone.”
This is truly a precarious balance. On the one hand, as we’ve discussed, it is imperative that we take pride in our spiritual accomplishments, knowing that we are capable of greatness. On the other hand, we must acknowledge that were it not for Hashem’s kindness, we would be incapable of the slightest achievement. It’s a delicate balance between knowing that we have the power to move mountains, while acknowledging that, without Hashem, we couldn’t lift a finger.
This is in no way meant to insinuate that we won’t be rewarded for our good deeds; every action, every positive thought is worth more than we can ever fathom. However, this teaches us not to demand our reward, lest our deeds be scrutinized (i.e., to determine if we are truly deserving). When we are patient and humble, not insisting or pressing the issue, Hashem acts with benevolence and mercy. As Rebbe Nachman teaches (Sefer HaMiddos, Humility # 8), “When a person is humble, his deeds are not scrutinized.” This also leads to the acceptance of our prayers, as Rebbe Nachman writes (Sefer HaMiddos, Humility # 5), “A person’s humility causes his prayers to be heard. It is as if he offered all the various sacrifices.”
This level of understanding and humility leads to a greater degree of appreciation, which ultimately results in true joy and happiness. Increased appreciation leads to increased blessings; when we smile heavenwards, Hashem smiles back. As Rebbe Nachman teaches (Siach Sarfei Kodesh II, 32), “When asked how things are and, despite hardship or suffering, you answer ‘Good, thank G-d’ then Hashem says, ‘You call this good? I’ll show you what good really is!’”
(In other words, the less we demand, the more we receive. As Rabbi Yaakov Klein writes, “When we reflect on this and humble ourselves in our service, we become the perfect vessels to further receive G-d’s blessing in our lives.”)
With Hashem’s help, in our next post we will discuss how the great tzadikim understood that the greatest reward for a mitzvah is the mitzvah itself.
TO BE CONTINUED…