Years ago, when the country was run by the Turks, a printer in Jerusalem ordered machinery from another country, which was to be delivered to the port in Haifa. In those days, receiving a shipment was a complicated ordeal, as the travel time from Jerusalem to Haifa was very unpredictable – there was no Kvish 6 or highways of any type and the port itself was sometimes chaotic. The printer therefore commissioned an agent to get this machinery, and sent him to the port with plenty of time to spare. “Being that you are going to be in Haifa for an unpredictable amount of time” said the printer, “when you get there, go visit my brother and give him my regards. I am sure he will treat you well.” The agent travelled to Haifa, saw that the port was indeed chaotic and realized it would be several days until the machinery was going to be released. He therefore went to the printer’s brother, who did indeed treat him royally. The agent enjoyed his stay there so much that he actually forgot the purpose of his mission! When he had his fill of hospitality, he returned to Jerusalem – sans the machinery. When the printer saw his wagon arriving, he ran to greet the agent, and before he could ask him about the machinery, the agent began telling him about how wonderfully his brother had treated him. The printer stopped him mid-sentence and asked “Where is my machinery?” The messenger realized his error and exclaimed “I forgot all about it!” “There is no excuse to forgetting the main purpose of your trip” scolded the printer “and the fact that you did remember to visit my brother is irrelevant – that was only a ‘side-point’! I will not pay you for your travel expenses, and you will be demoted in your position because you have acted irresponsibly.”
This well-known story is an allegory for our purpose in this world, which is to serve Hashem. However, He also gave us side benefits and perks to enjoy our stay here in this world. When we return our soul to its Maker after 120 years, Hashem will not be interested in hearing the details of the perks, but rather will want to know if we accomplished our true mission in this world.
This week I saw someone use this story to explain a concept that many people find difficult to understand. “A person is as guilty, whether he commits a Chillul Hashem inadvertently or with forethought.” (Avos 4:4)
Many people wonder why Hashem does not leave leeway for accidental “chillul Hashem”. Why is the person who committed this sin inadvertently punished in the same manner as the one who did so purposely? The answer is given in the printer’s allegory: The purpose in this world is to bring about a Kiddush Hashem, and so there is no room for any excuses for not accomplishing this task. Rabbi Sholom Schwadron takes this further and says when a person says “I didn’t realize that this was my purpose in this world” he has actually added insult to injury.
Many times, we find ourselves out of focus because of side issues. This week I was asked if it is a worthy idea to fast on BeHaB. The person wanted to know, being that it is brought down in Holy books as a very important idea, maybe I should take it on. I told him that it definitely is a worthy deed, however you first need to answer an essential question: Is it at the expense of a greater obligation that you have (will it affect your learning, davening, etc.)?
Many times, we feel motivated to do something extra in our Service of Hashem, and it may actually be the yetzer hara trying to side-track us from our real purpose and goal in this world. We pray to Hashem to have the ability to judge clearly what will bring us closer in the long run to the service of Hashem.