Why Does G-d Care About the Little Things?

Dear Mordechai,

You have written about some of the Laws of Sabbath, about little things like carrying a feather across the street, and using a pencil to make a check in a box.

I’m going to ask the same question that got me in a lot of trouble when I was a youngster. Why? Not why these specific rules, but why would G-d care about such things as «using a pencil to make a check in a box on the Sabbath» to begin with? Why are there so many little rules about little things? Why should G-d care about these at all?


Dear Randall

You asked «Why would G-d care?» There is much to say on the matter of these details of Jewish Law, and it shall be my pleasure to answer as best I can.

I will begin with one teaching concerning this matter, but please bear in mind that it is not all there is on this subject — not by a long shot.

The Talmud teaches:

Rabbi Chananyah ben Akashya says, G-d wanted to give merit to Israel, so He gave
them an abundance of Torah and Mitzvos (Commandments).

— Makkos 3:16

The purpose of the Torah is to give merit. But it is more than that. The Hebrew word for
merit is «zachus», which comes from the word «zach», which means «pure». In Judaism,
getting merit means becoming pure. And this is the purpose of Torah. The more we do, the
better we become. If we discipline ourselves to follow G-d’s commands even in matters we
cannot understand, we become pure and «attached» to G-d. That is, we develop our
relationship with G-d.

Think about it: What makes a good marriage? Well obviously, there are a few things that are
very important. If there is a lack of money in the house, the marriage might suffer, in many
cases, anyway. If the two of a couple are so revolted by each other that they cannot even look
at each other, there’s a problem in that family.

But what about the little things? There are couples that stay together though they have long
ago given up enhancing their marriage. She doesn’t bother to ask him how his day went; he
doesn’t consider helping her around the house. This is not a good relationship. In a healthy,
growing marriage each thinks of ways to please the other, and most often with the little
things. He might buy her little gifts every now and then. He might take the kids off her hands
for an hour each week. She might make his favorite dinner once a month. He might take her
out for dinner every so often. He might come home and smile at her instead of being grumpy.

These people are working at improving their marriage. These people really care for each
other, and these people do things for each other. These people have an enhanced, growing
marriage. And why? Because of the little things.

Doesn’t a woman want to hear her husband say that he loves her? Doesn’t she want to see him
prove it, every once in a while? Just saying that he loves is not enough. He has to show it; he
has to show he really cares. He does this with many little things.

Rabbi Shlomoh of Karlin (1738-1892) would tell a parable. There was a king who used to
collect crumbs of food and take them away. Whenever he saw someone eating he would
gather the leftover crumbs of their meal. No one understood why.

One day, a neighboring king came with an army and besieged the capital city. His army
encamped around the walls of the city, and blocked off all food imports. Not long afterwards,
obviously, the people ran out of food, and no one could obtain anything to eat. But help came
from an unexpected source. The king opened his warehouses, and made available all the
crumbs he had collected over the years. There was so much food that the people of the capital
city outlasted the besieging army, and after a while, the enemy army folded camp and
returned to their own country.

What saved them? The collected crumbs. All these crumbs eventually made up enough food
to feed a nation for untold years.

So too, does G-d act with us. Every time someone does some little Mitzvah, some little act:
he refrains, perhaps, from making a check in a box on the Sabbath, he gives a penny to
charity, he smiles at people he knows instead of growling at them, he sticks out his hand behind
him as he goes through a doorway and holds open the door so the person behind him can go
through the door more easily, he teaches a stranger in the synagogue a few passages of Torah; G-d collects those. G-d collects each and every little tiny act of obedience to His Torah. And when the day of reckoning comes, when the Accuser stands before the Heavenly Court and lists the great sins of this man, G-d opens the warehouses. And because G-d has made His Torah so vast, because G-d has made His Torah so full of Mitzvos, this man now stands a much better chance of being acquitted before G-d.

Because G-d made so many Commandments, it is utterly impossible for a person to go
through one day without doing at least one meritorious act. Thus does the Talmud teach that
«The worst Son of Israel is as full of Mitzvos as a pomegranate has pips» (Berachos 57a). And this is the meaning of Rabbi Chananyah ben Akashya’s teaching, that G-d wanted to give merit to
Israel, so he gave them an abundance of Torah and Mitzvos. It is so easy to do a Mitzvah. All
you have to do is not write on the Sabbath. All you have to do is not speak gossip. All you
have to do is not carry a pencil or feather outside your house on the Sabbath. And for this, you get merit! It is the most astounding opportunity you will ever get in your life!

One more parable on this matter: The Maggid of Dubno, Rabbi Yaakov Kranz (17??-1805)
was very famous for his parables. One parable he was known to tell was the one about the
architect and his apprentice. Once, the architect was commissioned to design a very elaborate
building. Since he was a busy man, he drew up the plans and diagrams, and left to work on
some other important commissions. He instructed his new apprentice to copy the plans, and
to render a faithful copy of the blueprints to the foreman of the construction crew. The master
architect then left the job in the hands of his assistant, returning only for the dedication of the
building on the day of its completion.

As the esteemed architect began his dedication speech, standing before Europe’s finest
dignitaries and ambassadors, suddenly the dome of his gorgeous building collapsed, utterly
destroying all floors below! All the attending dignitaries and notables ran away in fright, and
the architect was left to survey the ruin of his masterpiece, his magnum opus. As the crew
cleared away the rubble, the architect and his assistant pored over the blueprints.

«What happened to this section of the blueprint?» the master asked his assistant. «Didn’t you
implement my design here?»

«This section? But all you have there are tiny dots!»

«You idiot! Those dots are the pillars that hold up the entire building!»

We here on this earth see only some little dots. We don’t know G-d’s plans. We can’t read the
blueprints. (Or as others might say today: we don’t have the source code.) We don’t know
what those dots mean. We have to faithfully render the work given us. We have to know that
the plan was drawn up by the Master, that the blueprints are perfect in every painstaking
detail. We cannot, on our own initiative, implement changes or delete items according to our
own understanding. We must follow the plan, because we don’t know what’s big or small.

Who’s to say what’s little and what’s big? How do you indeed know that what you consider
small is small in the eyes of G-d?

The Torah says, «The hidden things pertain to Hashem our G-d, but that which has been
revealed applies to us and our children forever, which is, to keep all the words of this Torah.»
(Deut. 29:28)

We don’t know all the secrets. We don’t know what is big in the eyes of G-d, and what is
small. The Talmud says that the most difficult Commandment to fulfill is that of honoring
your parents (Exodus 20:12). The easiest to fulfill is that of shooing away a mother bird when
taking the eggs or little ones (Deut. 22:6-7). Yet, the Torah promises the same reward for
both — long life. (Actually, it doesn’t really mean long life, but that’s another story.)

The point? That we cannot estimate the value of a Mitzvah. We think one should be bigger
than another, for whatever reason. But only G-d can estimate the value of the Mitzvos.

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