Parashat Vayehi- Precision
In Parashat Vayehi, we read about the passing of Yaakob Abinu and the large funeral that was held for him in Eretz Yisrael. A very large group of Egyptian officials joined Yaakob’s sons in bringing his remains to the Machpela Cave for burial. Before the burial, the procession stopped in a place called Goren Ha’atad, where a seven-day mourning period was held (50:10). The Torah then tells us that the Caaanites in the area saw the large gathering, and inquired about what was happening (50:11).
The Midrash adds that when the Canaanites heard that the large group was mourning the death of Yaakob, a righteous man, they paid their respects. According to one view, they undid the buckles on their belts around their robes. Another view says that they opened their buttons. A third view claims that they did nothing more than just point at the coffin and observe that this was Yaakob. The Midrash, remarkably, teaches that these Canaanites were very sinful and were worthy of being annihilated, but they were spared because of the respect their showed to Yaakob. Although they simply made a very slight gesture, this slight gesture was deemed so significant that it provided merit through which they were spared destruction.
The Midrash’s comments bring to mind the famous story told about the wife of the Vilna Gaon, who had a friend with whom she would collect money for the poor. These two righteous women made an agreement with one another that whichever one of them died first would come to the other in a dream to tell her what the next world is like. The Vilna Gaon’s wife passed away first, and she indeed appeared to her friend in a dream, as she had promised.
“I cannot tell you what the next world is like,” she said, “but there is one thing I can tell you. You might remember one bitterly cold night when we were going around collecting charity, and we were looking for a certain house. When you saw the house, you pointed to it to show it to me. You cannot begin to imagine what an effect that pointing had in the heavens, and how much you are going to be rewarded just for pointing!”
Even the slightest Misva act is immensely valuable. Even something as simple as pointing with one’s finger, if done for a Misva, yields unimaginable rewards.
This is why we must be so careful and precise with our Misva performance. Since each minuscule Misva act is precious, it must be done properly, with care and precision.
This concept is elaborated upon in the first chapter of Mesilat Yesharim (by Rav Moshe Haim Luzzato, Italy, 1707-1746), which explains that the more precious something is, the more precision it demands. When vegetables are weighed in a grocery store, the measurement does not have to be precise to the tiniest fraction. But when a goldsmith is weighing gold for a piece of jewelry, the amount has to be precise. When two friends agree to meet for lunch at 1pm, neither of them would be terribly upset if the other arrives at 1:05. But in an Olympic race, a fraction of millisecond can make the difference between lifelong glory and heart-wrenching disappointment. If a person’s desk is a couple of inches larger or smaller than what he wanted, he could probably manage. But in brain surgery, a fraction of an inch is the difference, literally, between life and death.
I occasionally hear people who ask why Halacha is so exact, why it is that Halachic observance demands close, careful attention to the most minuscule details. Nobody asks why umpires in a baseball game insist that the runner who beats the throw by a fraction of a second is safe. Nobody asks their accountant why he is so precise in calculating their tax refund. But people ask this question about Misvot – because they do not properly appreciate the inestimable value of Misvot. The Mesilat Yesharim teaches us that the world to come is infinitely more precious than anything in this world – and so naturally, the Misvot must be performed with delicate precision, and with attention to the finest details. This is what we need to do in order to earn the great rewards that await us.