Parashat Bo: Constant Growth
Parashat Bo tells us of G-d’s commands to Beneh Yisrael regarding the Korban Pesah – the paschal sacrifice which they offered on the night of the Exodus, before they left Egypt. G-d commanded Moshe to instruct the people to place the blood of the sacrifice on the two sides of the doorposts (“Mezuzot”) and on the top of the doorframe (“Mashkof” – 12:7). Interestingly, however, when Moshe relayed these commands to the people, he reversed the sequence, instructing them to place blood on the top of the doorframe and then on the posts. Why did Moshe deviate from G-d’s instructions, and reverse the sequence?
King Shlomo teaches us in Mishleh (3:16), “Orech Yamim Bi’yminah Bi’smolah Osher Ve’chavod” – “Longevity is to the right [of Torah], and to the left is wealth and honor.” It has been suggested that the doorposts, which stand to the right and to the left of a person as he walks through, symbolize these blessings of longevity, wealth and honor. Sometimes a person involves himself in Torah for ulterior motives, hoping to earn reward. He commits himself not out of a genuine devotion to the Almighty, but rather to receive the rewards promised for involvement in Torah. The Gemara in Masechet Pesahim (50b) famously teaches that although learning “She’lo Li’shmah” – for insincere motives – is less than ideal, it is nevertheless acceptable. The reason is that once a person begins getting involved in Torah out of self-serving motives, he will, with time, reach the level of “Li’shmah” – learning Torah for sincere, altruistic reasons. Accordingly, G-d instructed Beneh Yisrael to begin with the “doorposts” – the rewards for Torah. Before we can rise to the level of “Li’shmah,” where we learn and practice out of a deep-seated and genuine love of G-d, we should first begin with the more modest level of “She’lo Li’shmah,” involving ourselves in Torah in order to reap the practical benefits that it offers us.
The question then becomes, why did Moshe reverse the order? Why did he tell the people to start with the “top,” with the ideal level of “Li’shmah,” and only then to descend to the “doorposts,” to the ulterior motives for learning Torah?
The answer is that growth is an ongoing, lifelong process. Every time we rise to a new level of spiritual achievement, we must look further to the next level. The new level we have achieved should, with time, seem to us unsatisfactory, such that we then set our sights upon a more ambitious level. This is indicated by the Gemara’s formulation in Pesahim: “A person should always engage in Torah and Misvot even not for their sake…” The Gemara teaches us that one should always study and practice “She’lo Li’shmah.” Once a person reaches a level of “Li’shmah,” that level should then seem like “She’lo Li’shmah.” The level of sincerity we achieve now should seem to us later as insincere. We must constantly be striving to raise our standards, to grow in our level of sincerity and purity of motives. And thus Moshe told the people that after they reach the “Mashkof,” the exalted level of “Li’shmah,” they must then descend, so-to-speak, and see themselves back on the level of the “Mezuzot,” the level of “She’lo Li’shmah.” What seems to us as an admirable spiritual achievement now must seem insufficient as we continue to grow and develop in our religious commitment.
This is one of the vital messages that Beneh Yisrael were taught at this moment, as they were about to leave Egypt and become G-d’s sacred nation. They were told that they need to constantly grow and advance, that no achievement is ever sufficient. Every new level we reach should be celebrated, but we mustn’t stop there. We must continue working to progress and reach ever greater heights, each day of our lives, one modest achievement at a time.