Positive Influence

September 19, 2021

5 min read


V'Zot HaBracha (Deuteronomy 33-34 )

Devarim, 33:6-7: “May Reuven live and not die, and may his population be included in the count. And this is the Yehuda…”

Rashi, 33:7: Dh: VezoT LeYehuda: “[The verse] places Yehuda next to Reuven…Our Rabbis explained that for all of the forty years that Yisrael were in the desert, the bones of Yehuda were shaking in his casket because of the excommunication that he accepted on himself, as it says, ‘and I will have sinned to my father forever.1 Moshe said, ‘ who caused Reuven to confess? Yehuda.”

In the final blessings to the Tribes, Moshe juxtaposes the blessing for Reuven with that of Yehuda, saying the words, ‘and this is to Yehuda’. Rashi, citing the Gemara2, provides the background to explain the connection between the two: Hundreds of years earlier, Yehuda guaranteed to his father Yaakov that he would bring back Binyamin safely from Egypt, and if he would fail, then he would have sinned all of his life. Even though ultimately, Binyamin was not taken, Yehuda had to bear punishment for these words. As a result, for the whole period that the bodies of the sons of Yaakov were being carried in the desert, the bones of Yehuda were shaking vigorously, indicating that Yehuda had not been accepted into the Next World3.

Moshe was addressing this point and exclaiming, ‘is this to Yehuda?’ - meaning is this what Yehuda deserves4? The Sages continue that Moshe was alluding to a particular merit of Yehuda that related to Reuven. Reuven sinned when he moved his father’s bed, and although he repented, he never confessed his sins because he did not know that was necessary. At a later time, Yehuda repented for the incident with Tamar and confessed in public. When Reuven saw what Yehuda was doing, he realized that he too should confess5. It was in this merit, that Moshe successfully appealed to God to release Yehuda from his suffering and bring him into the Next World.

Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz6 asks a penetrating question about this Gemara. Why did Moshe refer to Yehuda’s merit in positively influencing Reuven, when he could have simply referred to Yehuda’s great Mitzva in and of itself of publicly confessing to a sin. Indeed, the Tosefta tells us that this act of confession was one of the factors that led to Yehuda being the Tribe of Kingship. Rabbi Shmuelevitz answers that we learn from here that positively influencing others through an action is considered to be greater than the action in and of itself. A possible explanation for this is that when a person does a Mitzva then only one Mitzva is performed, but when he causes others to do Mitzvot, then many more Mitzvot are performed as a result. However, in the case of Yehuda and Reuven, only one person did a Mitzva as a result of Reuven’s actions, and still it is considered greater – this requires explanation.

A possible approach is based on another idea of Rav Shmuelevitz with regard to the greatness of positively influencing others. The Gemara7 states a principle: ‘Skar behai alma leicah’ - this is literally translated as, ‘there is no reward for Mitzvot in this world’. The commentaries explain that a Mitzva is a spiritual action, and it can only be effectively rewarded with spiritual reward, which, ultimately is in the Next World. Accordingly, when one does a Mitzva, the real reward for that Mitzva cannot be in this World8. However, the Torah states that: “He pays the ones that He hates, in front of him, to destroy him.9” This is interpreted to mean that wicked people receive reward for the Mitzvot that they do in this world, so that they will not receive any reward in the Next World. The obvious question is, how can they receive reward in this world for Mitzvot, based on the principle of there is no reward for Mitzvot in this World?

Rabbi Shmuelevitz answers that evidently, this concept only applies when a person appreciates the spiritual value of a Mitzva. However, if he only relates to the this-worldly benefits of Mitzvot, such as receiving honor or money, then the reward he will get will be based on how much he values it. So, for example, if a person will observe Shabbot unless it will result in a loss of $100, then when he does keep Shabbot, he is not rewarded more than the equivalent of $100. Consequently, wicked people, whom we assume only do Mitzvot for this-worldly gain, can only receive reward in this world for their Mitzvot.

However, Rabbi Shmuelevitz posits that this principle only applies to the Mitzva a person does himself. But if one causes another person to do a Mitzva, then the reward that the one who caused the Mitzva, receives is not limited by the value ascribed to it by the person who did the Mitzva, rather he receives the reward for the full value of the Mitzva. He bases this idea on the verse in Daniel that extolls the value of a one who influences others – “The matzdikei harabim (those who cause righteousness to the many) are like stars forever10.” He explains that this means that their reward is eternal, and without any limits. The reason for this is because it is not bound by the value ascribed to it by the one who performed the Mitzva.

May we all merit to emulate Yehuda and positively influence others to perform Mitzvot.

  1. Bereishis, 43:32.
  2. Sotah, 7b
  3. Bereishi, Chapter 43.
  4. Sifsei Chachamim, Devarim, 33:7.
  5. Based on Tosefos, Bava Kamma, 92a, Dh: Mi garam.
  6. Sichos Mussar, Maamar 94.
  7. Kiddushin, 39b.
  8. There are examples where the Torah or Chazal explicitly state that there are benefits for Mitzvos in this world, but these are for side reasons, such as to enable a person to do more Mitzvos.
  9. Devarim, 7:10.
  10. Daniel, 12:3.
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