Monetizing Mitzvos

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I had just concluded the morning Daf Yomi shiur when Donny, our resident Teimani, spoke up with a fascinating tale. This past Purim, his brother suffered a robbery at his Hertzeliya home. Thieves had stolen the housekey and picked the combination of his safe, making off with $50,000.

Donny arrived in Eretz Yisrael soon after that and together the brothers sought the counsel of HaGaon Rav Chaim Kanievsky, Shlit”a. I don’t have all the details of what he told them, other than a blessing for success in the matter.

One night several weeks ago, at 4 AM, Donny received a call from his brother: “Donny, I’ve recovered the money!” Earlier that day, Donny’s brother had received an urgent cellphone call to come home at once. Waiting for him there were the two young thieves. They had, in the interim, been chozeir b’tshuvah and had returned to the scene of their crime to return their ill-gotten gains, all 50K — plus an additional fifth of the original sum!

This all started me thinking, in the spirit of the season, about my own t’shuva prospects. Here was an episode in which two individuals’ repentance could actually be gauged in dollars and cents. A teshuva purchased at this high a price is one that will not easily be squandered — especially so in light of the natural propensity of a Jew to get his money’s worth!

After marveling for some time at the kind of heroes contemporary Klal Yisrael is blessed with, I recalled something the Imrei Emes of Gur said in regard to the mitzvah of Tefillin, but which, I suppose could be applied to most any mitzvah.

Would a Jew give up the mitzvah of Tefillin, asked the Rebbe rhetorically, in return for a huge amount of money? Surely not. Well then, think of the joy you’d feel upon learning you’ve just been awarded precisely that princely sum — and strive to experience that very emotion, or something like it, the next time you put on Tefillin, which, after all, you wouldn’t part with for any price.

But, you wonder, isn’t this cheapening what should be a pristinely spiritual experience by assessing its value in such grossly materialistic terms? Actually, no. It’s being realistic enough to acknowledge a value system which, for better or worse, resonates with you and put it towards a higher purpose. “Monetizing” mitzvos in this way partakes of a hard-headed realism reminiscent of Rabbe Yochanan Ben Zakkai’s response of “u’lvai!” upon his disciples’ wonderment that he had blessed them with fear of H-shem equal to their fear of man.

In fact, giving one’s spiritual acquisitions a dollar value would seem to be squarely within the meaning of serving
H-shem b’shnei yitzarecha, with one’s evil inclination as well. Indeed, a seeming precedent for this is Dovid HaMelech’s exultant exclamation of “Sos anochi al imrasecha k’motzei sholol rov,” whereby he likened his joy in mitzvah fulfillment to that of someone (though, interestingly, not himself) dicsovering a vast, hidden booty.

Another benefit of mitzvah monetization is that the mesirus nefesh quotient is immediately discernable; our Hertzeliya thieves-cum-tzaddikim (or, perhaps, greater than tzaddikim. . .) know precisely what their rejection of sin cost them, and it wasn’t chump change.

Sacrificing — or perhaps better put, investing — in ways big and small has been one of the casualties of our progressively greater enmeshment in our materially wealthy, technologically advanced, frenetically-paced, and self-centered society. When even the venerable trip to select arbah minim in those precious days between Yom Kippur and Sukkos so pregnant with joy, is described as a “hassle” fraught with “agony,” as it has been this pre-Sukkos season by entrepeneurs looking to make a buck by bringing the arbah minim to you in the comfort of your home, we’ve lost something as precious as it is ineffable. Examples of this abound and new ones appear with each passing year.

Yet, at the very same time, Klal Yisroel is filled with those who display mesirus nefesh on a daily basis. Just a few days ago, hundreds of Jews, heads of entire families, embarked in Eretz Yisroel on a year-long demonstration of unimaginable loyalty to Ha-shem’s Torah under the most trying circumstances. But then again, is the quotidian commitment of the innumerable parents who strain mightily to give their children a Torah education and the accoutrements of Torah living, as their American neighbors earning half as much live lives of greater comfort, much less heroic?

May all the deeds of greatness, known or concealed, with which our people is blessed, ensure a year of success in every area of our lives. G’mar chasima tova to all!

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5 Responses

  1. barry says:

    I’m sort of curious what your Herziliah brother is doing with $50K (presumably US currency) in cash in his safe.

  2. Reut says:

    This is a really inspiring thought for me to take into the new year. Thank you.

  3. Phil says:

    I see Yossie’s point, but when a non-Jew sees the word “G-d” for the first time, he is likely to ask his Jewish friend the purpose for that. That might spur the Jew to start thinking about God and the holiness of His name. And the non-Jew, too. So what if it is “pointless” to include the hyphen? I’m sure it has led to many a good Jewish conversation.

  4. Yehoshua Mandelcorn says:

    “plus an additional fifth of the original sum!”
    I believe the additional “fifth” is only required if they previously denied the theft under oath.

  5. Yossie says:

    Sorry to nitpick but when I see H-shem, I (and probably others) just skip the rest of the article. The whole purpose of using Hashem is to avoid writing Hashem’s name. H-shem does not make any sense. You are making holy a word that merely exists so that we don’t use Hashem’s Name in vain.