This week we learn the laws of “Chovel Umazik – The Laws of Injury and Damages” in the Rambam. In the final halacha of this section the Rambam writes (8:15): “When a ship is about to sink because it is heavily loaded, and one traveler gets up and makes it lighter by throwing into the sea some of its cargo, he is not liable to pay for it, because the cargo is considered like a Rodef who is pursuing them to kill the passengers. On the contrary, by jettisoning the cargo and saving them, he performed a great mitzvah.”
The Rebbe (Shoftim 5749) teaches us a tremendous lesson from this halacha in our Avoda in preparation for the Geulah.
Sailing the High Seas
The journey of the Neshama into this physical world is compared to a person’s journey on a sea-bound ship. The ship transports a person from one part of the world to the other. While it is always difficult to travel for business as one must separate from friends and family and must accustom himself with a new environment, the goal of the travelling is to bring benefit to the person who is travelling on the business trip.
The same is true of the Neshama. Its natural place of residence and comfort is in Gan Eden where it basks in the glory of Hashem. Yet, Hashem sends it on a journey to this physical world with the goal of elevating the world through physical Mitzvos and the learning of Torah in order to bring about the ultimate elevation: the building of the dwelling place for Hashem — and the revelation of the essence of Hashem — which can only take place in this physical world.
The Calm and the Storm
In the journey of the Neshama, there are times when the “waters of the ocean” are especially calm like in the times of the Beis Hamikdash, when Hashem’s presence was felt. There are, however, times when the “sea” is especially “stormy” and dangerous, like the times of galus.
The Torah has many mitzvos and serving Hashem properly requires much inspiration which in times of galus, unfortunately, is very lacking. Hashem, therefore, “reduced the cargo.”
What does this mean?
From the start, Hashem designated a large portion of the mitzvos as mitzvos that can only be performed in the times of the Beis Hamikdash and in Eretz Yisrael. Thereby, when we went into galus, He removed from us the ability to perform many of the Mitzvos, making it easier to serve Hashem properly by investing the fewer spiritual “resources” now available into fewer mitzvos.
It is not a punishment, rather an act of kindness from Hashem, as he loves and wants to “rescue” His beloved children just like the person who threw off the cargo from the ship.
Not Gone Forever; Preserved For Later
Hashem knows that the Jewish people need inspiration in time of exile, and the knowledge that we have less opportunities to connect in time of galus may be quite disheartening (just like the traveler whose cargo was thrown into the sea, despite the knowledge that it in fact saved his life…)
Therefore, Hashem does not remove the Mitzvos, rather He “throws it into the sea”. When an object is thrown into the sea, it can remain intact for hundreds of years and can be retrieved at a later date. We are always hearing about special diving exhibitions where the divers are returning with buried treasures of hundreds of years ago.
The same is true with the mitzvos that Hashem has “thrown into the sea” in the time of exile: they remain complete and ready to be retrieved with the coming of Moshiach. When our ship of our Avodas Hashem stabilizes finally and reaches its port of destination, we will return to Eretz Yisroel with Moshiach and have the opportunity to fulfill all the MItzvos of Hashem with even stronger focus and vigor than the time of the previous Batei Mikdash.
Deprived of Jewish Amenities
The same applies to our responsibility to reach out to our fellow Jew. There are times that this responsibility demands travelling away from our natural environment and our natural spiritual comforts (easily available minyanim, chinuch, kashrus, etc) need to be “thrown into the sea.” One may feel that they are being deprived of spiritual perfection by doing this holy work, and they must internalize that this is the ultimate service of Hashem and that it also brings the ultimate benefit and perfection to the one that performs it.
Whoever Saves a Jewish Soul…
This week, we celebrate 11 Nissan, the birthday of our beloved Rebbe Melech HaMoshiach. The Rebbe is the one that brought about the paradigm-shift in the thinking of Bnei Yisroel in regards to reaching out to our fellow Jew.
While today “Kiruv” is mainstream, it is the Rebbe that pushed his Chassidim to “travel on the stormy seas” to reach every Jew and bring the Geulah. How appropriate it is, that in the portion of the Rambam for 11 Nissan, we learn the following halacha (Hilchos Rotzeach 1:15): “Whoever causes the loss of a Jewish soul is considered as if he destroyed the entire world, and whoever saves a Jewish soul is considered as if he saved the entire world.”