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Parshas BeHaalotcha (5777)

Your Ticket to Heaven

The very last Mishnah in Tractate Makkos – which is traditionally recited after the public study of certain portions of the Torah including Pirkei Avos (Ethics of the Fathers) etc. – states as follows:

Rabbi Chanania ben Akashia says: The Holy One, Blessed is He, desired to confer merit upon Israel; therefore He gave them an abundance of Torah and Mitzvos, as it is said: “G-d desired for the sake of [Israel’s] righteousness, to make the Torah great and glorious.”

The simple understanding of this teaching of our Sages is that while G-d could easily have given us a shorter Torah with only a few mitzvos (commandments) in it, He made the Torah “great and glorious”, packed with 613 commandments, so as to confer merit upon us by allowing us so many more opportunities to do mitzvos in Olam HaZeh (“This World”) and gain merit for them in Olam Ha’Ba (“The World to Come” or “Heaven”).

If you think about it, though, Rabbi Chanania’s logic is difficult to understand. After all, now that G-d gave us an abundance of Torah and mitzvos, we also have so many more opportunities to sin in life as well! Why, with 248 positive commandments and 365 negative commandments in the Torah, how can we ever hope to end up on top?

Maimonides, in his Commentary to the Mishnah on Makkos 3:16, offers a unique and fascinating interpretation of this Mishnah which also answers our question.

He writes that it is a fundamental tenet of the Torah to believe when a person properly fulfills just one of the 613 commandments with no ulterior motives but entirely for the sake of Heaven and out of love for G-d, he will merit entry into Olam HaBa. And this was Rabbi Chanania’s intension that by giving us an abundance of mitzvos it is impossible that a person won’t do at least one mitzvah perfectly in his lifetime, and thereby get a ticket into Heaven.

Now I don’t know about you folks, but when I first read this interpretation of the Mishnah by Maimonides, I jumped for joy! After all, we are being taught here that as much as we should be keeping all 613 mitzvos of the Torah as commanded by G-d, we only need to choose one of those mitzvos and to do it really well and perfect it, in order to receive merit and gain entry into the Next World.

My friends, there is no need to despair, the odds are in our favor. All that each of us has to do is to choose just one mitzvah in the Torah, and make it our own. Whether you choose the mitzvah of Tzedakah (charity), or the mitzvah to avoid Lashon Hara (slander), or whatever other commandment you choose – it’s all good. Just take that one mitzvah, learn all about how to do it properly, and make it your “pet project” (or your “family project”) that you try to do as perfectly as you can. This way you are guaranteed a ticket to Heaven.

[The truth is that not all 613 commandments are applicable today for various reasons. The Chafetz Chaim compiled a list of mitzvos that do apply in our times – there are 77 positive and 194 negative commandments – and you can find this list of applicable mitzvos from which you can choose one online at: http://www.hakhel.info/SeferMitzvosHaKatzar.html ]

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