Man on a Mission| October 12, 2021
We’re here to fulfill the mission Hashem ordained for us, not to create a different one more to our liking
In the Zichronos section of Mussaf on Rosh Hashanah, we recite how none of our deeds, even those done long ago or in secret, are forgotten by Hashem nor obscured from His gaze. The prayer speaks of how on this day, Hashem reviews “maaseh ish u’pekudaso — a man’s deeds and his mission.” We understand why He would scrutinize a person’s actions — that’s what a Yom HaDin is all about — but why the focus on his mission?
Finkelstein had landed his dream job, driving a city bus for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. He showed up bright and early on his first day of work and was assigned his daily route, to crisscross the streets of Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Off he went, eager to please his supervisor and show he was up to the job of a Big Apple bus driver.
At the end of a long day at the wheel, he pulled into the MTA terminal and headed for the main office. This was back in the good old days when passengers paid with cash, and Finkelstein emptied a sack containing the day’s proceeds and fed them into the counting machine. Out came a receipt for $134.57. He handed it to his boss, who was pleased. Finkelstein beamed with pride.
The scene repeated itself the next two days, with the proceeds each day roughly equal to those of the first day. But on day number four, when Finkelstein’s haul for the day was counted, it amounted to a head-spinning $546.23. “Finkelstein!” his boss shouted. “This is a hundred bucks more than the last three days combined. How is that possible?!” “Boss, boss,” he said, “lemme explain. For some reason, my route was almost deserted this morning, there was hardly anyone waiting at my stops. So after lunch, I went over to 34th Street and Sixth Avenue in Midtown. I’m telling you, that place is a gold mine!”
Maaseh ish u’pekudaso. The MTA didn’t want Finkelstein bringing in $546.23 — it wanted him to cover the bus route it gave him and service the Upper East Side’s commuters, however few or many there were on any given day.
The Ribbono shel Olam doesn’t need our creative ideas on how to run His world. All He asks is that we man our posts and carry out our designated missions. Merely reviewing a person’s deeds, then, is not enough to determine his fate on Rosh Hashanah. Deeds and mission must first be laid side by side to ascertain whether the former match the latter.
But it’s actually a quite liberating idea as well. True, we’re here to fulfill our mission and nothing less — but nothing more, either. The MTA would’ve been fine with Finkelstein bringing in only $50 a day, as long as he serviced his route. And we, too, are answerable only for the effort. The outcome is solely Hashem’s bailiwick.
Rav Yisrael Salanter would tell those involved in communal work to focus on three things: First, nisht meed veren, not to tire; second, nisht bays veren, not to get down; and lastly, to remember that z’is fahr unz tzu tohn, nisht oyf tzu tohn, it’s for us to do, not to produce results.
Rav Moshe Sternbuch recently recalled an incident from his youth in London, when Rav Elchonon Wasserman ztz”l traveled there to fundraise for his yeshivah. He was invited to speak in a certain shul before Mussaf on Shabbos morning, but on his way there, he learned that some of the congregants harbored ideas antithetical to Torah belief. He decided it was his obligation to use his talk to present authentic daas Torah on the matter.
Not surprisingly, once he began to speak, an uproar ensued. In the middle of his speech, a majority of the congregation, along with the gabbai, exited in protest and began davening Mussaf in the hallway outside. Although he was left with barely a minyan of listeners, Reb Elchonon calmly completed his derashah.
Afterward, he told the Sternbuchs that although he had come to London to solicit desperately needed funds for his yeshivah, and his speech had cost him many potential donors, he was unfazed by this. Besides being a rosh yeshivah, he said, he was first and foremost an eved Hashem. The purpose of his trip to England had been only to fulfill Hashem’s Will that he discharge his obligation of hishtadlus on behalf of his yeshivah. Yet the need to address a problem among his fellow Jews created another obligation, that of speaking up for authentic Torah beliefs, and he surely would not lose out as a result. Hashem guaranteed that Torah will never be forgotten from Klal Yisrael; how He sees to that is His business.
When Avraham Avinu first receives his marching orders, he is commanded to journey “to the land I will show you.” With those words, Hashem sets the character of his servant’s mission in life, which is to undertake the journey without even knowing where he is headed. The journey itself, in fulfillment of G-d’s command, is the destination. And that, explains Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz, is why he was rewarded for each step he took while on that journey, rather than receiving reward only for reaching Eretz Canaan. Those many steps were themselves the goal.
This is why, after Avraham remonstrates strenuously with his Creator in the hopes of saving the inhabitants of Sedom, and fails, the pasuk states (Bereishis 18:33), “and Avraham returned to his place.” He had performed his mission, which was to advocate on behalf of his fellow men, and although he didn’t succeed, he hadn’t failed either. He simply returned to resume his life and carry on with his mission.
And this, too, helps us understand Avraham’s humble acceptance without reservation of Hashem’s command to offer up his son. He might well have tried to convince Hashem that his life’s work of drawing the multitudes near to Him would be harmed were he to be seen engaging in the very same sort of human sacrifice he regularly denounced when done by others. And after he was no longer here, who would carry on his mission to the world if not his beloved Yitzchak, whose life he would now be taking? But for Avraham, it was all about the mission, the journey, the deed — not the outcome.
We’re here to fulfill the mission Hashem has ordained for us, not to create a different one more to our liking. That’s when we can truly say: mission accomplished.
Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 881. Eytan Kobre may be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
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