When a person contemplates his own performance of a Mitzva, or adherence to Halacha, he might evaluate his action in one of two ways. He can laud his Mesiras Nefesh (self-sacrifice), his own self-control and how he struggled and succeeded, or he can take the attitude that this was enjoyable, perhaps downright fun and part of a happy life.
Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l points out this very duality in his Sefer Darash Moshe (Bereishis 31:14). He questions the response of Yaakov’s wives Rochel and Leah, to Yaakov’s proposal that they leave their father’s house. Yaakov presents the factors justifying his proposal for all of them to leave. Then Yaakov informs them that Hashem came to him and instructed him to take his entire family, leave Lavan’s house (after 20 years) and return to Eretz Canaan. Yaakov’s wives responded affirmatively, justifying their response by stating “Are we not (considered) like strangers (in our father’s house)?” Only as a seeming afterthought do they also agree because Hashem said to leave.
This is bewildering, points out Rav Moshe – Yaakov just said this was Hashem’s command – and they respond they like the idea – but for their own reasons. They should have responded – “if Hashem said it, that’s what we’ll do!” Rav Moshe explains – what Rochel and Leah were doing was minimizing the Nisayon, the trial, in following Hashem’s command, making it easier for them to adjust to the idea. They would of course follow what Hashem said – but they didn’t want to make it overly difficult, discouraging, and heroic. By explaining it also makes sense to leave, they brought the potentially difficult act of leaving their father’s house, the comfort of their childhood home, down to a manageable level, where they could wholeheartedly embrace the idea.
We see clearly, that considering oneself a hero for keeping Mitzvos has significant drawbacks. There are advantages to minimizing the difficulty in our mind’s eye, and magnifying the enjoyment. We keep Shabbos not just because we have great inner fortitude to do what’s right no matter what, but rather we should also focus on the enjoyment, the delight of keeping Shabbos.
This has far reaching implications for how we raise and train our children. Rav Moshe further points out that 70, 80 years ago there were a number of Jews in America who, with great courage, clung tenaciously to Shmiras Shabbos. They shared with their children that despite the difficulty, they were strong and withstood the temptation. (Oy, es iz shver tzu zein a Yid!) What happened to the children of these brave, pious souls? Many ran away from Mitzvah observance as fast as possible. They did not consider themselves on their parents’ level. Therefore there was no way they could be as strong, so Shabbos disappeared from the family’s future generations, R’L.
What if the emphasis in their childhood home had been on the beauty and enjoyment of Shabbos rather than the difficulty? What if they heard from the parents that it is so wonderful to be a Jew, and how lucky they are to be Mitzvah observant? The outcome would have probably been very different.
We need to inculcate in our children a confidence in being a Torah Jew and appreciation to Hashem for blessing us with such a lifestyle. It is true that the ultimate reason we do Mitzvos is because Hashem said to do them. Many of us have chosen a life of greater spirituality at great self-sacrifice because we believe it is the right thing. We persevere despite hardships and pitfalls because to us the truth of the Torah has become a central rallying point in our lives. Our children, however, are not we. They may lack our fervor, our focus on sacrificing for truth. They are not yet there yet. As young children they need to feel that keeping Halacha is the most natural thing in the world, and that they would not trade a Torah lifestyle for all the treasures of the world.
With such an attitude embedded in their lives, they can proceed with deepening their intellectual and emotional connection to Hashem and His Torah, and proudly and happily bear the torch for a new generation of our people.
Best wishes for an enjoyable, delight-filled Shabbos,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann