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Thought for the Day: Obligations are Opportunities

I was sitting next the non-religious, but very respectful father of a newly married Orthodox kallah at their second Sheva Brachos s'uda.  Somehow the conversation turned to Orthodox practice and philosophy.  (That's what I said, "somehow"; what, you think I can't talk about anything else?)  At one point, he asked me, "That's a lot to do every day.  I assume, though, that if something came up  at work in the middle of the day that was more important than mincha, then you could skip it, right?  Or is it an obligation?"  I had to quickly quell the urge to respond rhetorically with, "What could possibly be more important about your work than going to mincha?"

What I did say is that mincha is certainly an obligation and one would need to stop what he is doing in order to daven.  I didn't stop there, though.  I noted that as a created being, there is nothing I can give to my Creator.  I am always in the position of having to be a taker; which doesn't feel great.  Therefore, the Creator -- in His great kindness -- created for us an environment (ie, this world) where we can have the illusion that we are giving something back: We give up "our" time to fulfill an obligation.

In fact, Chazal tell us (Avos 5:19): l'fum tza'arah agra/the more distress/difficulty, the more reward.  Whereas the modern expression, "no pain, no gain", says that pain/distress/difficulty is a necessary condition for real progress in an endeavor; this ma'amar Chazal says that pain/distress/difficulty is a sufficient condition for progress and aliyah (elevation) in giving your life meaning.  Why?  Because HaShem sets up the situation; every moment is a separate and independent creation, arranged with infinite wisdom to give us the illusion of time and therefore give us the opportunity to exercise our free will and choose avodas HaShem.  It is not by accident that we have an obligation to pray in the middle of the afternoon when we are involved in our daily work -- it is by design to give us the reward of choosing HaShem/Torah/eternal life over another fleeting moment of life in this world (a life which always ends the same way; in the grave).

And what is that reward?  A mind to know, eyes to see, and ears to hear/understand (D'varim 29:3).  See Rashi there who explains that that pasuk refers to the day when Moshe Rabeinu gave the sefer Torah only to Sheivet Leivi.  On that day the rest of Klal Yisrael came and said, "We were also at Har Sinai, we also accepted the Torah -- if you don't also give us a sefer Torah, a day will come when we will be told that is wasn't give to us!"  That is, they wanted to be sure they were locked in to all those obligations.  That was one of the happiest days of Moshe's life, and the day that HaShem gave us "a mind to know, eyes to see, and ears to hear/understand."

Why are we excited about all our obligations?  They are the key to everything; to knowing, seeing, and understanding the Author or Reality Himself.


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