OU Torah Insights Project
At the conclusion of this weeks parshah the Torah describes the mitzvah of tefillin. The tefillin, worn daily except on Shabbos and Yom Tov, are second in sanctity to a Torah scroll. One might think that the tefillin should be placed on the stronger arm, as the desire for strength, for the ability to utilize ones potency to fulfill a task, is a typical human urge. But in fact they are worn on the weaker arm.
This arrangement indicates that the fulfillment of the commandments is not predicated on the thickness of ones muscle, but rather upon a willingness to fulfill the commandments. If a person lacks this basic desire and commitment, then even the fulfillment of an easy mitzvah becomes a burden. Conversely, a person with strong motivation will lovingly and eagerly fulfill the most difficult mitzvah.
The Torah records a story that describes this "can do" approach. Yaakov fled from his brother, Eisav, and went to the home of his uncle, Lavan. Upon entering his uncles village, he saw the shepherds milling about the local well. Asking what the problem was, he was told that the rock on top of the well was too heavy to move and they were waiting for other shepherds to arrive and assist them.
Immediately, Yaakov, removed the rock from the well by himself. Although Yaakov was not known as a physically strong person, he had an unbending desire to move the rock. Yaakov emphatically demonstrated that he is a "can do" person.
Physical strength is not always the decisive factor; determination and perseverance are often the crucial factors. Observe the industriousness of the ant. It accomplishes so much even though it is not a physically imposing specimen. The measly ant is a master of the "can do" approach.
During the Second World War, many of our brethren perished due to the brutality of the Nazis. The Germans did everything they could to physically destroy the Jewish people. They failed, however, to annihilate the spiritual Jew. Even in concentration camps Jews would find ways to sneak in tefillin in order to wear them for a moment, simply to feel G-ds Divine presence. Some would smuggle in matzah for Pesach because they felt a tremendous need to taste it and celebrate the holiday. On Succos, some would manage to build a succah and experience a few moments of the Succos spirit. Some managed to blow a shofar on Rosh Hashanah to proclaim the Kingship of Hashem.
Imagine blowing a shofar in Treblinka or eating matzah in Dachau! Why would anyone attempt to fulfill these mitzvos under such adverse and miserable conditions?
The answer is obviousthey were "can do" Jews. Nothing could deter their desire and willingness to fulfill G-ds commandments. They might not have possessed physical muscle but they certainly exhibited spiritual muscle.
The Jewish people have continually internalized and embodied the "can do" motto. This determination has been their badge of honor throughout history.
Rabbi David Gorelik
Rabbi Gorelik is a Rabbinic Coordinator at the Kashruth Division of the Orthodox Union.