Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
Knowing One's Calling
Every man, it has been said, has a calling. Parshas Vayikra begins with
Moshe Rabbeinu's calling, "And He called to Moshe, and Hashem spoke
to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying... (1:1)" The Midrash (Vayikra
Rabbah 1:15) notes that until Hashem called out to him, Moshe would
not enter the inner sanctuary of the Mishkan (Tabernacle); he waited to
be called upon. "From here our Sages derive," comments the Midrash,
"that a Torah scholar who has no sense is worse than a dead carcass.
For Moshe, who took the Jews out of Egypt, and split the Yam Suf, and
ascended to the Heavens, and erected the Mishkan, still would not enter
the holy sanctuary until called upon by Hashem..." What is so important
about "waiting to be called upon"?
In a village not far from the town of Vorki lived two Vorki chassidim
(disciples of the Holy tzaddik R' Yitzchak mi-Vorki zt"l) who were both
melamdim (Torah teachers). Both were accomplished Torah scholars in
their own right, and proficient teachers, and were regarded by their
peers as equals.
One chilly winter day, a number of disciples of the famed Rebbe of Vorki
set out on a journey to visit their holy rebbe. All day it rained and blew
as they trudged onward through swampy sideroads and country villages.
With a few hours left before reaching Vorki, and the last light of day
fading quickly over the horizon, the group realized they would have to
stay somewhere for the night, and conclude their journey the next
morning. After a short discussion, they decided to lead their wagon into
the nearby village in which the two melamdim lived.
As soon as they entered the village, they inquired regarding the
addresses of their friends. Since the one named R' David lived closer,
they decided to approach him with a request for lodgings. Knocking on
the door for quite some time, it was eventually opened for them.
"Shalom aleichem, R' David!" the guests called out joyously. "We got
stranded in the stormy weather on our way to the rebbe - could you
perhaps put up a few sorry souls for the night?"
"No way," he answered abruptly. "Don't get me wrong - I'd love to do a
mitzvah and everything, but I'm a melamed, and a good night's rest is just
critical for me. I need to be alert for my students tomorrow. If I'm going
to get busy with you fellows now... who knows when I'll get to bed.
The weary travellers couldn't believe their ears. "What do you mean? Is
that a reason to act so coldly, and leave your friends to sleep outside,
hungry and shivering in the pouring rain?"
Learned man that he was, R' David was quick to respond. "That's not an
issue. One who is occupied performing one mitzvah is exempt from
doing other mitzvos. I am fully occupied with the mitzvah of teaching
Torah, and so I have no time to take care of your needs. Even my sleep
is a mitzvah! Sorry."
With that, he shut the door on them. Seeing that R' David meant what
he said, they turned back and went to find the house of R' Shalom, the
other melamed. With great apprehension, half-expecting yet another
rebuttal, they timidly knocked on the door. Here, however, the door
immediately opened wide, and the group was greeted by the smiling face
of R' Shalom, who called them straight in, and extended his hand with a
warm "Shalom aleichem!" "What a surprise!" he exclaimed. "Welcome,
welcome to my humble abode! I never dreamed of meriting so great a
privilege on such a cold night!"
R' Shalom immediately put his entire family to work, preparing a warm
meal for his guests, and assembling linens for their bedding. Only after
the weary group had eaten and were sound asleep did R' Shalom and his
family start preparing themselves for bed.
The next day, they thanked R' Shalom deeply for his warm hospitality,
and set off to Vorki. When the chassidim finally arrived, and entered their
rebbe's private chamber to receive his blessings, he asked them about
their journey, noting that they had arrived particularly early in the
morning. They told him how they had been forced to spend the evening
in the nearby village, and how R' Shalom the melamed had so warmly
welcomed them into his home. From their praise of R' Shalom, the rebbe
sensed that they had beforehand been put off by someone else. It didn't
take much for him to surmise the part of the story the group had left
out - R' David's blunt refusal to take them in. "So that's how it was?" the
rebbe murmured to himself. "That's how a chassid greets a weary
guest?..." The tzaddik sighed heavily.
The following evening, R' David, who indeed tried to retire early every
night, was already dozing off when he was suddenly awakened by a
knock at his front door. He peered through the shutters, and could see
the wrapped-up form of a man huddled at his doorstep. "What do you
want?" he asked curtly.
"Lodgings," came the short reply.
"Sorry, I can't help you. I'm a melamed, I'm busy teaching Torah. I must
sleep well to be alert for my students tomorrow. I'm exempt from
hachnosas orchim (the mitzvah of welcoming a guest)."
As the disappointed man turned away, he called out over his shoulder,
"It was I, Yitzchak - be well!"
There was no mistaking it - that was the voice of his holy rebbe. R' David
flung open the door, but the tzaddik had already climbed back into his
coach, which promptly sped off. "Rebbe, please forgive me!" R' David
shouted, but his trembling voice was all but swallowed up by the horses'
The next morning, the small village was brimming with excitement. "The
tzaddik of Vorki has arrived for an unexpected visit - and he's staying in
the home of R' Shalom, his disciple!" Dozens of townsfolk streamed to
R' Shalom's house, hoping to catch a glimpse of the holy rebbe, and
perhaps even receive his blessings.
"I would like to test the students of the two melamdim - R' David and R'
Shalom," the tzaddik suddenly remarked to his assistant. The news
spread quickly, and the students were soon assembled in the house of
R' Shalom. R' David, of course, accompanied his students, although he
was still deeply ashamed by the previous night's events.
The students of the host, R' Shalom, were tested first. They answered
the tzaddik's questions with clarity and precision. Their teacher, R'
Shalom, glowed with pride.
When the rebbe began to test the students of R' David, however, no
answers were forthcoming. Ultimately R' David was forced to come to
their assistance, and prod them with all kinds of hints and suggestions.
Even then, their answers were unclear and stilted. R' David turned pale.
Everyone present was asked to leave the room except R' David. "Let me
tell you, R' David," the tzaddik began, "that the main reason we study -
and teach - Torah, is in order to know and perform its mitzvos. A teacher
who teaches in order to observe the mitzvos will find that the Torah he
teaches is preserved and blessed - his students will find success in their
studies. But a melamed who teaches in order to exempt himself from other
mitzvos will not see success and blessing in his students. You have now
seen this for yourself.
"Of course a melamed must get a good night's sleep - indeed the holy
Rambam stresses the point. But to use your position as an excuse for any
other mitzvah which comes your way, and allow your friends to remain
in the cold, is no way to teach Torah!"
When a Jew is presented with a choice between clear-cut good and evil,
the decision, at least philosophically, is a simple one. But when
mitzvos present themselves, it's much harder to decide what Hashem
truly wants. Moshe Rabbeinu knew that Hashem ordered the building of
the Mishkan in order to communicate through it to His nation; yet he
still didn't trust himself to enter until he was called. "Perhaps I'm going
in because I want to go in - because my honour and respect will
somehow be increased by being the 'chosen one,'" he thought. "Perhaps
I'm using the mitzvah of entering the holy Mishkan as a vehicle for self-
aggrandizement? Is this 'mitzvah' one of my own doing?" He would not
enter until called by Hashem.
While we can't always wait for a clear communique from the Almighty,
it's important that we continually inspect our "mitzvos" to make sure
we're not manipulating the Torah for our own good.
Have a good Shabbos.
Text Copyright © 2003 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.