by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"Then Moshe separated three cities, on the opposite side of the Jordan
River, towards the east." [Dev. 1:12-13, 15]
In the previous verses, Moshe Rabbeinu [our teacher Moses] described the
unique connection created between G-d and the Jewish people when G-d took
us out from Egypt with open miracles, and then spoke directly to us. As
predicted so accurately in the Torah, no other community has ever claimed
that an entire group of millions of people heard G-d directly and saw
"signs and wonders". This, says Moshe, will inspire us to return to G-d and
His Mitzvos even when we have wandered geographically and spiritually, and
tells us that doing Mitzvos will be good for us and our future generations.
But what is the connection between this, and the selection of Cities of
Refuge in the next verse? The Torah says "then Moshe separated..." as if
there were some sort of logical connection -- and yet one is not
The Ramban, Nachmanides, writes that immediately following the exhortation
to do Mitzvos for the rewards they offer, Moshe says "let us do the Mitzvah
which has come to our hands" even though the Cities of Refuge would only
take effect after the Nation conquered the Land and separated three more
cities within it. The Kli Yakar elaborates: even though one cannot bring
the Mitzvah to its completion, one should do whatever is possible
nonetheless. This is true even if the benefit is entirely "for future
generations" -- like a man who plants an Esrog tree (Esrogim are used
during the holiday of Sukkos) knowing that only his son will be able to use
the fruit. Doing a Mitzvah is its own reward; one doesn't need to see the
benefit, or even be able to complete the Mitzvah, in order to be rewarded
for beginning the act.
By saying this, the Kli Yakar seems to extend a well-known concept
concerning the study of Torah -- that the study is an end in itself, and
its own reward.
I had lunch this week with two lawyers in New York, and one described how
he had written a 50-page brief concerning a known ambiguity in the law,
which was relevant to a recent case. The Court of Appeals, however, decided
in his favor without discussing or making a ruling about the ambiguity --thus never evaluating his lengthy argument.
So he decided to at least put the matter up for discussion by presenting
his discussion in a law journal. He spent many additional hours editing and
digesting his article, and was finally prepared to submit it for
publication -- when Congress recognized the ambiguity and promptly changed
With Torah study, there can be no such disappointment. All Torah study is
valuable and rewarding! And the Kli Yakar tells us to approach all Mitzvos
the same way: knowing that the practice of Mitzvos is rewarding, whether or not we
can see the benefit or even complete the Mitzvah.