By Rabbi Aron Tendler
THE PRICE OF A MOMENT
The 11th Ani Maamin (of the Rambams 13 Principles of Faith) states, I
believe with perfect faith that G-d rewards those who keep His
commandments, and punishes those who transgress His commandments.
If we believe that G-d rewards and punishes, why do we sin? For most of us
punishment is a deterrent and reward is an incentive. If we truly believe
that there are consequences for every action, would we ever sin and why
aren't we just doing good deeds?
There are two possible answers. 1. We really do not believe that G-d
punishes and rewards. 2. We believe in reward and punishment but are
willing to chance the possibility that somehow we will get away with it.
The rational for getting away with it results when we think that we can
repent (do Teshuva) and G-d will forgive and not punish. Sometimes we
actively decide to sin now and repent later (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur
time). Other times we feel that when it judgment day arrives the overall
balance of good Vs bad in our records will be in our favor.
The truth is that the whole principle of reward and punishment is a belief
and not a fact. We might believe that it is a fact but if we are
completely honest with ourselves, we must admit that feelings and
intuitions are more responsible for our belief in reward and punishment
than having empirical evidence to confirm a doctrine of consequences. It
is the absence of absolute proof of consequence that allows an otherwise
religious personality to rationalize sin and sinning. It is the absence of
absolute proof that allows us to not do a mitzvah. It is the absence of
absolute proof that categorizes the doctrine of consequences as the 11th
Principle of Faith and not a fact.
My Grandfather Zt"l (of blessed memory) in his Sefer Darash Moshe explained
(Bereshis 1:6 & Divarim 30:19) that the human is not the only creation
endowed with free will. In fact the angels also possess free will. The
difference is that the angels awareness of G-d, His will, and the
consequences for listening or not listening to His commandments is a fact
and not a belief. It is the certainty of their knowledge of cause and
affect that guarantees their compliance to His wishes. Therefore, it is as
if they have no other choice but to listen.
My Grandfather Zt"l compared the angels knowledge of consequences to our
knowing that fire will burn us and cause great pain. No one in his right
mind would willingly put his or her own hand in fire; (obviously there
could be extenuating circumstances or pathologies that would be the
exceptions) yet, we have the free will to do so if we wish.
The ability to do something will be severely limited by the consequences of
that action, if the consequences are known and believed. Every parent and
teacher knows that discipline is in direct proportion to the believability
of his or her threats. Do as you have threatened to do, and they will
believe and listen to your instructions. Do not do as you threaten to do,
and they will not believe and they will not listen.
The angels have free will to either listen or not listen to G-d, but they
also know the absolute truth of the doctrine of consequences. G-d does and
will reward and punish. For the angels it is as willful as our not putting
our hands in fire. We know there will be a consequence and therefore we
will not do it. The angels also know there will be consequences, good or
bad, and therefore they do G-d's will.
Believing that our actions have consequences is the most powerful motivator
possible. If every action had an immediate reward or punishment, our free
will would cease to exist. We would only do as He commanded and we would
never transgress His wishes. Because G-d does not immediately reward and
punish we have the freedom to decide whether we will or will not believe in
Imagine if every mitzvah performed would add $1,000.00 to your bank
account. Imagine if every sin transgressed would deduct $1,000.00 from
your account. Imagine if every mitzvah performed would infuse every fiber
of your being and consciousness with exquisite feelings of pleasure, joy
and well - being. Imagine if every sin would wrack your body with
indescribable pain and mental agony. Who among us would ever stop seeking
out the next mitzvah opportunity?
What is the reward for a single mitzvah? What is the reward for a single
moment of faith? What is the punishment for a single sin? What is the
punishment for a single moment of lost faith? In this weeks Parsha we see
the extraordinary power of a moment of faith as well as the devastating
consequences for a moment of lost faith.
When the Spies returned from their mission to spy out the Promised Land,
two heroes emerged. Kalev and Yehoshua. Yehoshua was the quintessential
servant of Moshe, and Kalev was the strongest and most courageous of
all. Separately and together, Kalev and Yehoshua had withstood the
pressures of their peers during their mission and returned to Moshe
determined to speak the truth.
The opening report was direct and truthful. The land truly flows with milk
and honey and these fruits are proof of the lands bounty. However, also
note that the nations that presently inhabit the land are equally
impressive. Fortified cities, powerful warriors, sons of giants, and our
old enemy Amalek.
Kalev, the representative of the tribe of Yehudah, realized that the Spies
were about to launch their plot, so he jumped in with the following
confirming statement of encouragement. And he said, regardless of how
impressive the inhabitants appear, we can take the land! We can be
victorious! Had the other Spies echoed Kalevs enthusiastic optimism, the
nation would have proceeded inexorably to capture Eretz Yisroel, build the
Bais Hamikdash, and usher in the messianic age. Tragically, that didn't
happen. Instead, the Spies demoralized the nation with their pessimism and
Kalev and Yehoshua attempted to once again regain and regenerate the
nations trust. The land that we saw is good. G-d has promised it to us and
G-d can do whatever He wishes. Giants and fortified cities are nothing
before the power of Hashem! Please, we beg of you, do not loose faith in
G-d. Do not rebel against Hashem! Unfortunately, their heroic attempt
failed, and if not for G-d's intervention, the people would have killed
Kalev and Yehoshua.
The Torah's account of the events clearly identified Kalev's leadership,
foresight, wisdom and courage. He attempted to divert the Spies even
before their report became insidious. The Chofetz Chaim explained that
Kalev let the other Spies believe that he was a part of their plot so that
he would be in a better position to undermine their conspiracy. Yehoshua,
on the other hand, was known to be the servant of Moshe and could not be
persuaded to go against Moshe's leadership. Therefore, Yehoshua was kept
out of the plot and was only able to respond after the plot had begun.
In Pasuk 14:24, after Moshe secured G-d's forgiveness for the nation, G-d
singled out Kalev for special mention and reward. Whereas the rest of the
generation who witnessed my greatness and glory will die in the desert and
not merit to inherit the Land, Kalev, My servant, who exhibited such faith
in Me will enter the Promised Land and his children will inherit the land.
Furthermore, in Divarim 1:36, Kalev's unique position and reward is
repeated in Moshe's final words to the Bnai Yisroel.
My Grandfather Zt"l asked the following question. Why was Kalev deserving
of such a great reward? If he had successfully challenged the Spies and
won back the nations faith, we would understand why G-d gave such a
reward. However, even on the basis of G-d rewarding our good intentions,
it would not explain the degree of G-d's appreciation to Kalev. In the
end, Kalev failed! The people lost their faith! Why was he still
deserving of such reward?
Rav Moshe Feinstein Zt"l explained as follows. When the Spies gave the
first part of their report, the nation already began to get discouraged and
loose faith. However, when Kalev stepped forward and enthusiastically
expressed his own faith and optimism, the people regained their faith and
optimism. Had the Spies remained silent, the disaster of the Spies would
have been avoided. Tragically, the Spies immediately attacked Kalevs
singular voice and the nation again lost their faith in G-d. Yet, for that
one short moment, it was Kalev who had renewed the nations faith in G-d and
A moment of faith is like a moment of life. The Halacha demands that we
transgress the Shabbos in order to protect and save even a moment of
life. Likewise, a moment of faith in G-d is of equal importance. How much
more so when it is the faith of a nation!
The reward for Kalevs moment of success was to be eternally connected to
the people and the Land. He and his descendents inherited the portion of
Israel containing Chevron and the Cave of Machpelah. According to some
commentaries he eventually ascended to the position of Shofet Judge,
following the reign of Yehoshua. (Asniel ben Kenaz)
King David, the great-grandson of Ruth the Moabite, was a direct descendent
of Eglon, king of Moab. Why did an evil man like Eglon merit to be one of
the progenitors of Mashiach? The Talmud tells us that when Ehud (the
Shofet who followed Asniel) approached Eglon with the intention of killing
him and saving the nation from his evil oppression, Ehud announced to
Eglon, I have a message for you from G-d! The Navi recorded that upon
hearing the name of G-d, Eglon rose from his throne in honor of G-d. His
reward for that single moment of recognition was to be a progenitor of
The Talmud tells us that the evil Nevuchadnetzar rose to become emperor of
the world because of a single time that he honored the name of G-d.
What is the price or value of a single mitzvah? What are the rewards for a
single moment of faith? For that matter, contemplate the value of a word
of encouragement or a smile.
Copyright © 2000 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley Village, CA.