How we react when we're exempt from a mitzvah
“Those men said to him, ‘We are ritually unclean [because of contact] with a dead person; [but] why should we be excluded so as not to bring the offering of the L-rd in its appointed time, with all the children of Israel?’ ” (Bamidbar 9:7)
Take a look how important mitzvos were to these people who came to Moshe. They were exempt from Korban Pesach, but they wanted so badly to be keep the mitzvah. This shows their tremendous love of mitzvos. (Rav Meir Rubman, Zichron Meir)
couldn’t help the sigh of relief as I put down the phone. I’d been granted a reprieve; the rav said no, I didn’t need to fast this coming taanis.
For years, my fasting on the “smaller” fasts had been sporadic due to the fact I was usually at some stage of child-bearing. But now that my youngest was no longer a baby (although I still call him that!), I knew I needed to ask the rav about the upcoming fast.
When I was younger, fasting was a piece of cake. But over the years, it’s become more difficult. On the last few fasts, I ended up with a migraine that lasted a few days.
The rav said I could stop fasting. All I had to do was Tishah B’Av and Yom Kippur. And boy, was I relieved.
The Gemara (Berachos 35b) discusses the differences between the earlier generations and later generations. The former would bring in their fruit through the entrance to their house so that it was subject to maaser. The latter would bring their fruit in through unusual ways to exempt it from maaser.
It’s not that the later generations were lax in the mitzvah of maaser; they were looking for ways to ensure they wouldn’t accidentally eat fruits without taking off maaser. But the former loved mitzvos so much, they didn’t want to look for leniencies; they wanted to do the mitzvah with all its stringencies.
As I repeated the rav’s heter to my husband later, I again felt the feeling of relief that come this fast day, I’d be functioning and not lying in bed moaning in agony. At the same time, I felt there was something skewed in my approach. And I was suddenly reminded of a very different reaction I’d had several months before when I’d been forced to cancel an upcoming trip to the States for health reasons.
On Erev Shabbos Hagadol last year, I pulled my back so badly I ended up in the hospital. For the next few weeks, a heating pad and Advil were my constant companions. Although I’d been planning a trip to the States, there was no way I could sit for 12 hours on a plane.
I got a letter from my doctor and canceled the trip without any penalties. But what was my reaction then? Did I do a jig for joy that I’d been granted reprieve from being cooped in a sardine can for 12 hours? Did I breathe a sigh of relief that I’d be able to drink as much water as I wanted without having security confiscate my bottles? Did I rejoice I could sleep in my own bed instead of having insomnia 7,000 miles away from home?
True confessions. I didn’t have any of these reactions. I was frustrated and disappointed that I’d had to cancel, despite any inconveniences the trip entailed.
The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 3a) says that the goyim came and said to Hashem, “Give us a mitzvah and we’ll do it.” So Hashem gave them the mitzvah of succah, which they built.
Then Hashem made the weather extremely hot and they each left the succah, kicking it on their way out. According to the halachah, they weren’t obligated to stay in the succah when it was so hot and uncomfortable. While that’s true, they didn’t have to kick the succah on their way out!
The way a person reacts when exempt from a mitzvah shows the level of intensity with which he loves the mitzvah. Is he disappointed he cannot keep the mitzvah? Or does he “kick it on his way out”?
I’d been granted a reprieve. When the fast day arrived, I secretly drank my water, ate my cereal, and even had my coffee. (Best anti-migraine medicine.) But instead of breathing a sigh of relief, I tried to focus on what I was missing. It’s awfully hard to tune into the nuances of a fast day when you’re not fasting. It’s hard to remember to be sad when you feel content and full. I realized I’m missing out a lot by not missing out on food that day. I’m not lucky; I’m lacking.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 647)
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