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What Is a Great or a Small Sin in the Work?

Article No. 02, Tav-Shin-Mem-Tet, 1988-89

First, we need to know what is regarded as “work.” That is, what is the meaning of the word “work” that we use? We should know that we were given the 613 Mitzvot [commandments/good deeds] of the Torah to observe, and the seven Mitzvot of our great sages [De Rabanan]. We should also observe the customs of Israel that the sages of Israel established, each place according to its custom. They determined for us what is a great Mitzva [singular of Mitzvot] and what is a great transgression.

For example, our sages said, “Great is respect of the father and mother, for the Creator was more strict about it than about His own glory” (Jerusalem Talmud, Chapter 1, 5:1). Or, “Almsgiving is greater than charity” (Sukkah 49), and many others like it by our sages. The same applies to transgressions. Our sages said, “The punishment for slander is worse than the punishment for idolatry” (Mid rash Gadol and Gedolah, Chapter 18).

It follows that they determined what is a great Mitzva and what is a small Mitzva by comparing one to the other. Also, concerning transgressions, they determined which is a grave transgression, and opposite it, which is a small transgression. We must believe that what they determined is really so. This is the meaning of “faith in the sages,” that we must believe what they said and we must not doubt them. All this is called “Torah,” meaning that man’s hand has no connection to it.

“Work” is named after man, after what he does, since a person who works makes the measures, how to keep them. That is, the intention over the act is not in one’s hand to change in any way. Rather, this pertains to the reason, meaning that the worker has measures of the reason for which he observes Torah and Mitzvot.

This is as Maimonides said (Hil chot Teshuva, Chapter 11), “Therefore, when teaching little ones, women, and uneducated people, they are taught to work only out of fear and in order to receive reward. Until they gain much knowledge and acquire much wisdom, they are taught that secret little-by-little.”

We see that Maimonides says that there are measures in the reason, meaning that “women,” “little ones,” and “uneducated people” have the reason of Lo Lishma [not for Her sake]. But those who have already gained much knowledge and acquired much wisdom are given a different reason, which is the Lishma [for Her sake], which is that they must work in order to bestow contentment upon their Maker, and not for their own sake.

It follows that in terms of the act, there is no difference between small and great. But in the intention, meaning in the reason for observing Torah and Mitzvot, there are differences between types of people. Some people belong to the general public, or as Maimonides says, “uneducated people.” There is a difference between the general public and the individual. That is, some individuals do not want to walk in the path of the general public and work for their own sake, but a passion has awakened in their heart to work in order to bestow.

We should know that the work of bestowal means that the person is the giver, while in the work in order to receive reward, the Creator is the giver. There is a big difference between them because the reason for the work is what one receives for it. Thus, a person evaluates the Mitzvot according to the reward. If there is a great and important reward for the work, a person regards it as a great Mitzva, since he is examining the reward.

Conversely, in the work of bestowal, where man is the giver, the consideration is the greatness of the receiver, meaning to whom a person gives. The greater the receiver, the greater and more important is the giving. It is as our sages said, “With an important person, if she gives and he says, ‘You are hereby dedicated [wedded],’ it is as though he has given, since she enjoyed his receiving from her.”

Thus, we see that the greatness of the giving depends on whom we give. By this we measure the greatness of the act. That is, if we give to a great person, it is considered “great giving.” If we give to a small person, it is “small giving.”

From this we can gauge the measure of the work of bestowal. If a person bestows upon a small king, it is small work, since the giver is not so impressed while giving to a small king. But if the person bestows upon a great king, the act of giving is great because “she enjoyed his receiving from her.” It is a great pleasure because he is bestowing upon a great king.

Thus, we see that the greatness or smallness of the giving depends on the worker himself. One who works in Torah and Mitzvot determines to which type he belongs. If he is still in the education called “commandments taught by people,” it means he is still working in Torah and Mitzvot for his own sake, as mentioned in the words of Maimonides, who says, “When teaching little ones, women, and uneducated people, they are taught to work in order to receive reward,” called Lo Lishma.

“Taught” means that as he has been used to working thus far, which was the time of Lo Lishma, that person measures smallness and greatness according to the measure of the reward. But those who work in order to bestow, measure according to the greatness of the receiver of the work.

Accordingly, we can understand that there might be two people performing the same Mitzva. To one, it will be considered a great Mitzva, since he gives his work to a great king. Thus, he feels that he is serving a great king, which makes him delighted and elated that he has been given the great privilege of entering and serving a great king, and there is no end to his joy.

Conversely, the other one does not think that in everything he does, he is serving a great king, but rather a small king. That is, he sees that no one appreciates observing his commandments. But since he feels sorry for this king, he observes his commandments. In that state, a person understands that the king should be considerate of him because he feels sorry for the king when no else wants to look at the king. In that state, a person measures what the king pays him for his work.

If the reward that the king gives him does not shine for him, although he does everything that the king commanded him, then he does it lazily, without vitality, since the reward that the king will give him for his work does not shine for him.

It follows that those two people, who are doing the same, to one it is regarded as performing a great commandment because he receives much vitality and elation in serving a great king, while the other has no elation and he does it by force, since the reward he will receive later does not shine for him as important.

Hence, there is a great difference between them: One thinks that the Mitzva he is observing is a small Mitzva, meaning of little importance, and the other considers it a great Mitzva, meaning he says that he cannot grasp the importance and greatness of the Mitzva, and feels that he does not need to be given any reward for it later.

Rather, he feels right now the reward in that he derives great pleasure in the privilege of serving a great king. It follows that he is delighted because he has already received the reward. He does not have to believe he will receive reward, and he has no doubts about the reward, that we can say that he is unhappy since he doubts the matter of reward and punishment because he has received the reward right on the spot, and he does not expect any other reward.

Rather, he believes that in serving a great king, this gives him pleasure, and for this, it is worthwhile to be born, to have the privilege of serving a great king. It follows that the person himself determines what is regarded as a great Mitzva or a small Mitzva.

However, sometimes it might be to the contrary, meaning that he is walking on one line, where all his actions are only to aim that the act will be in order in its every detail and subtlety. He engages in Torah and Mitzvot in order to later receive reward in this world or in the next world, and he believes in reward and punishment when he performs the Mitzva, and is meticulous in doing the most important Mitzvot that our sages determined which is a great Mitzva and which is a less important one.

When he performs the Mitzva that he has chosen as a great Mitzva, he is happy and feels that he is the most important person, since he has a greater reward than the rest of the people. Naturally, he performs the Mitzva with great enthusiasm.

But his friend, who is doing the same great Mitzva as he, does not want to work in order to receive reward. Rather, he wants to work in order to bestow. And in order to work in order to bestow he must believe that he is serving a great and important king, worth serving without anything in return. If the faith he has in the Creator cannot make him feel that he is serving a great King then he has no power to work joyfully.

Instead, at that time he works compulsively, overcoming resistance, since the body makes him see that it is not worthwhile to work in order to bestow upon a small king. It tells him, “I can understand your friend, who is working in order to receive reward, so it does not matter if he is serving a great king or a small one, since he looks mainly at the reward.”

Thus, it makes no difference whether he is a great or a small king, since what makes him a great king is mainly the reward. If he gives a small reward, he is a small king. It follows that here there is a different order than in bestowing contentment upon his Maker, which is the only reason obligating him to engage in Torah and Mitzvot, compared to the reason obliging him to engage in Torah and Mitzvot being to receive reward.

We see that it is impossible to determine the truth according to man’s feelings. When a person sees that he is working gladly and enthusiastically, it still does not mean that he is on the right path. This is why our sages said, “Make for yourself a rav [great one/teacher],” for only the rav can guide him and determine which way he is going.

But a working person, although he feels which is good and which is bad, he still cannot know the truth because he still can understand only one scrutiny—the scrutiny of “bitter and sweet.” This is so because when he is happy and works with enthusiasm, he feels a sweet taste. Therefore, he says that he is on the right path. But when a person has to work coercively, he tastes a bitter flavor. Then, a person understands that he is in a state of descent, and a person takes this discernment to know that this is a true scrutiny.

However, the scrutiny of “bitter and sweet” was before the sin of the tree of knowledge. After the sin of the tree of knowledge we were given a different scrutiny called “true and false.” That is, a person might taste sweetness in a state but it is a lie, and he might taste bitterness but it is true.

This is similar to what is written in the “Introduction to Panim Masbirot” (Item 16): We should thoroughly know the two types of scrutiny applied in us: The first scrutiny is called “scrutinies of good and bad,” and the second scrutiny is called “scrutinies of true and false.”

The first scrutiny is a physical active force, which works through the sensation of bitter and sweet. It loathes and rejects the form of bitterness because it feels bad, and loves and attracts the form of sweetness because it feels good.

In addition to them there is the human species, in whom the Creator has imprinted an intellectual active power, which works in the second scrutiny: rejecting falsehood and vanity by loathing to the point of nausea, and attracts true matters and any benefit with great love. This scrutiny is called “the scrutiny of true and false.” This applies only to the human species, each according to his own extent.

Know that this second active force was created and came to man because of the serpent. By creation, he had only the first active force from the scrutinies of good and bad, which was enough to serve him at that time.

Accordingly, we see that when a person wants to go by “bitter and sweet,” that scrutiny is no longer true after the sin of the tree of knowledge. Instead, it might be that a person feels sweetness in the work, while he is immersed in falsehood, or the other way around. For this reason, they said, “Make for yourself a rav and depart from doubt” (Avot, Chapter 1:16).

Although the person himself determines how he feels, he might still feel sweetness though it is not on the path of truth that enables us to achieve Dvekut [adhesion] with the Creator, since he might be walking in the opposite direction than the track that leads to Dvekut with the Creator, where all his labor is in order to achieve equivalence of form, which applies to all the degrees, as this is the meaning of the Masach [screen] that is on the Aviut [thickness], where specifically by placing the Masach, the delight and pleasure are revealed.

By this we should interpret what our sages said (Avot, Chapter 2:1), “Be careful with a light Mitzva as with a grave one, for you do not know the reward for the Mitzvot.” There is seemingly a contradiction in the words of our sages, who said, “Great is respect of the father and mother, for the Creator was more strict about it than about His own glory,” or “Almsgiving is greater than charity,” and many others like them. If they said, “Be careful with a light Mitzva as with a grave one,” what does it mean that it is great, how is it expressed that one Mitzva is greater than another?

While performing the Mitzvot, it is impossible to know whose Mitzvot he is observing. Certainly, one who observes the Mitzvot of a great king, who commanded us to observe, is certainly more important than one who observes the Torah and Mitzvot of a small king. It follows that a light Mitzva, but one that a great king commanded to do, is certainly more important than one who observes a grave Mitzva of a small king.

Man is always in ascents and descents, meaning that sometimes he believes that he is serving a great king, and sometimes to the contrary. Therefore, our sages instructed us that we should know that greatness or smallness do not depend on the commandment, but on the greatness of the one who gives the commandments. This is what a person should mind, that he believes each time that there is a great king. In other words, a person should try to obtain the greatness of the Creator. This is the most important thing, and not other things.

Inapoi la pagina 1989 (ŞLAVEY HASULAM (TREPTELE SCĂRII) – link

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