By the Grace of G‑d
August 26, 1948

Mr, Benjamin Horowitz,
Brooklyn, N.Y,

My dear Mr. Horowitz:

I am referring to the two questions which you raised in connection with the "Talks & Tales" of the current month (Menachem Av), and which have been conveyed to me for reply.

Question No. 1 concerns the interpretation of "Eikev" in the featured series "The Names of the Sidrahs," in the sense of "minor" precepts which one is apt to treat too lightly and "tread upon." It was pointed out that the significance of the first verse of the Sidrah was to make us mindful of the so-called "minor" Mitzvoth which often present the real test of our faithfulness to our Torah, and "that is why G‑d promises special rewards for these precepts."

You referred to the last statement and pointed out that it seemed in contradiction to Mishnah 1. ch. 2 of Pirkei Avoth, where Rabbi taught that "thou knowest not the grant of reward for Mitzvoth."

In reply: The reward for Mitzvoth is of two kinds: a) The reward for the very nature of the precept performed, where we do not account for the relative importance of the various Mitzvoth, and b) Special reward - cited in the Talks - dependent upon certain conditions as to the nature of the person performing the precept, the kind of performance, and the circumstances of time and place involved.

To illustrate point b): Two persons buy the same kind of Ethrog, pay the same amount of money, make the same blessing. But one of them could less afford to pay the price. He is performing the Mitzvah at greater sacrifice. He is deserving of greater reward.

Or take the case of a heavy smoker who stops smoking before Sabbath and abstains from smoking throughout the Sabbath. He is deserving of a greater reward than the one who is less addicted to smoking.

Or the case of a "self-made" man, who never had occasion to take orders from anybody, and grew up with the idea of exceptional self-reliance. When such a person puts his own strong will aside and accepts the guidance and leadership of a spiritual leader in Israel, he is deserving of a greater reward than the person who has been brought up since his very youth in the spirit of self-abrogation and submission to the wishes and guidance of the Rabbi.

This is what our Sages meant by saying "According to the (painstaking) labor is the reward." (Aboth, end of ch. 5).

Your question No. 2 concerns the story of Jabneh ('Let's Visit Jabneh,' T.&T. of current month), particularly the plea of Rabbi Jochanan ben Zakkai, "Give me Jabneh and its scholars." You asked, why did not Rabbi Jochanan plead for Jerusalem instead? Your own suggestion was that since Rabbi Jochanan knew that G‑d had decreed the destruction of Jerusalem, he did not want to act against G‑d's wish.

While your suggestion is an interesting one, it cannot, however, be applied to this case. Any Divine decree concerning the fate of an individual, and especially that of a community, can be rescinded by Teshuvah, prayer, and good deeds. Consequently, the idea you suggested could not have served as a basis for Rabbi Jochanan's request.

The Talmud, dwelling upon the same question, gives two explanations of Rabbi Jochanan's apparent failure to plead for Jerusalem: a) It was a case of temporary beclouding by G‑d of the intellect, and b) Rabbi Jochanan was afraid that if he asked for too much, he would get nothing.

The first explanation itself requires elaboration. Why should his intellect have failed him at such a crucial moment, which was so abnormal for such a great man? Here is where your suggestion can be fitted in: Because the decree was already in force, G‑d caused Rabbi Jochanan's intellect to fail him.

I trust that the above will satisfactorily answer your questions, but should you have any further remarks concerning the above, or any other questions, do not hesitate to write to me.

With kind regards and best wishes to you and yours.

Very sincerely.
Rabbi Mendel Schneerson