Online Torah

Back to Shiurim List

Having Your Heart in The Right Place

By: Rav Yonny Sack

Sometimes it’s the good things that we so wish we could do but can not that show our true greatness.

In this week’s parasha (Israel), Behaalotcha, the Torah tells how it was Pesach time again and the Jewish People brought the Pesach offering as commanded in all its details. However, there was a group of people who had been unable to bring the offering for they had been in contact with a dead body and thus were not allowed to partake of the offering[1]. They approached Moshe and Aharon and said: “We are impure through a human corpse; why should we be left out by not offering Hashem’s offering in the appointed time among the children of Israel? Moshe said to them “Stand and I will hear what Hashem will command you”[2]. And indeed, Hashem responds with a law known as ‘Pesach Sheni’ which is a second chance to bring the Pesach offering the month later for those who were unable to bring it on Pesach because of impurity.  But it is only one who was impure that gets this second chance. One who was pure and didn’t bother to bring the Pesach offering in its correct time in Nisan is not afforded this opportunity.

Being impure during Pesach, these people had every excuse to say to themselves – “Oh well, what can we do, we are not able to participate, it is beyond our control” - and that would have been that. In Jewish law, when someone is unable to perform a mitzvah (or they are forced to do a transgression) because of circumstances beyond their control they are exempt. This is termed ‘Ones rachmana patrei[3]” –  The Merciful One exempts for that which is out of our control.  For example, you have every intention of waking up and going to Shul on Rosh Hashana morning, but during the night you have a fever and your sickness prevents you from going anywhere. In such a case there is no reason to feel any guilt, for it was simply beyond your control.  Furthermore, the Gemara in Kidushin 40a teaches a principle in the Torah that if a person thinks to do a good deed, and yet is held back for reasons beyond his control, Hashem considers as though he has indeed done the act[4].

We can therefore ask, why were these people so concerned? After all, they were exempt, off the hook; they had every excuse to just relax and wait for next year.  But this episode teaches us a penetrating insight into the workings of the human heart and what it really means to have your heart in the right place. Let’s try and explain.

The great Rav Shlomo Wolbe, zt”l, once said that you can often tell more about a person’s appreciation for a mitzvah when he cannot perform it, than when he performs it[5].  When we are in a situation where some good deed is held back from us for whatever reason, we are indeed excused, but it is our inner response to being ‘let off’ that is the real test of our true yearnings. Do we feel the pain of a thirst for doing good which has not been quenched? Do we desire good so much as to not simply accept being excused from its realization? Will we look for other openings for good when doors are closed in our face?  And most importantly, even if there is no other opening, do we yearn for more or are we relieved, enjoying the comfort of exemption?  This is a true test of devotion.

Amazingly, it is when we are unable to do good, that we get a glimpse of our true desire or lack thereof to be good.

What we really desire tells us who we are and where we are at. The word for desire in Hebrew is Ratzon, and the numerical value of the word is 346, the same as the word Makor – meaning root or source. The direction of our yearnings gives great insight into where we truly stand. Our deeper desires are a window into our inner core.  In Mishlei (Proverbs) 27:21, Shlomo HaMelech writes “…Ve Ish Lefi Mehalelo “- and man according to his praises”. The simple meaning is that one can tell a lot about a person through how others praise him, but the great Medieval sage,  Rabbeinu Yona of Gerundi, explained the verse to mean that if you want a true test of a person’s heart, listen to what he praises[6]. That which we applaud gives great insight into our aspirations.

So where do you really want to be? What do you really want to do?   If a person is sitting somewhere abroad but yearns with all her heart and soul to be in Yerushalayim but the Corona virus has made that impossible, then in a sense she is in Yerushalayim. And conversely, one could be in the holiest place, while in her heart she is elsewhere for she wishes she was doing something less than holy.  As the Baal Shem Tov taught, “the place where a person’s thoughts are, that is where he is entirely”.   

We should strive to not only do good, but to want good. Not only to shine light, but to want light to shine. The gemara in Shabbos tells us that one of the questions we will be asked when we leave this world after 120, is “Tzipita LeYeshua?” – “Did you yearn for the redemption?”  Did you hope for and want the world to shine with the light of true Good? Or did you just accept the world for what it was? This is a question we need to ask ourselves every day, and especially during these times where so many of us have been placed in a situation where so much of our normal paths of Yiddishkeit have been closed before us (minyanim, shule, hachnasat orchim etc). Are we yearning for light?  This parasha teaches us the power of wanting good, being good and thus being a part of bringing the ultimate good.

Shabbat Shalom


[1] According to an opinion in the midrash and Gemara, they were tamei from carrying the coffin of Yosef.

[2] Bamidbar 9:7-8

[3] The source for this concept is in parashat Re-eh. There the Torah is speaking about circumstances beyond your control which force you to do a prohibition. Thus in Judaism, if someone is forced to do something wrong, one is not considered to have transgressed anything.

[4] Kidushin 40a based on the pasuk in Malachi, 3:16

[5] I saw this in Rav Ephraim Nisenbaum’s Power Points, pg 268, where he tells the following story:

The Chofetz Chaim, was once seen on a bitter winter night walking up and down the streets. When asked what he was doing, he explained that he had not yet been able to recite the Kiddush Levana (blessing over the new moon) because of the cloudy nights. Running out of time he was walking through the streets trying to find an angle from which he could glimpse the moon between the clouds to say the prayer before it was too late.

[6] Here are a few of Rabbeinu Yona’s powerful words: 

כי בזה הדבר תוכל להבחין לבות האדם, ופסוק שלם יש לנו על זה ששלמה ע"ה אמרו, מצרף לכסף וכור לזהב ואיש לפי מהללו. כלומר לפי מה שהוא מהלל


Midreshet HaRova

Location: 50 Chabad Street, Old City, Jerusalem

Mailing Address: P. O. Box 1109, Jerusalem 9101001, Israel

Telephone: 972-2-626-5970    Fax: 972-2-628-4690    Email:

© 2016 All rights reserved.  Design by Studio Bat Amit, Development by Coda