July 17, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
July 17, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Spiritual Opportunity Costs and Gains

The pasuk in our parsha states, “…the poets (‘Moshelim’) would say: ‘Come to Cheshbon—let it be built and established…’” (21:27). The Gemara (Bava Batra 78) teaches that the “Moshelim” in the pasuk refers to those who rule (“moshel”) over their desires, who say: “‘Come to Cheshbon’—come let us make an accounting (‘chechbon’) of this world, [weighing] a mitzvah’s loss against its gain, and a sin’s gain against its loss. ‘Let it be built and established’—if you do this [accounting, which will prevent you from being led astray by your desires], you will be built [up] in this world and you will be [well] established in the world to come….”

We can suggest that while at times it may seem like one gains from sin, the loss incurred from it greatly outweighs its “gain.” Likewise, while at times it may seem like one is gaining in whatever respect from refraining from doing a given mitzvah, that which one could have gained from doing the mitzvah drastically outweighs the “gain” from abstaining. These calculations are crucial “opportunity costs” that can make a profound difference in one’s life in this world and in the world to come.

Perhaps knowing on some scale the tremendous reward for doing a mitzvah, as well as the unfortunate loss from sin, can equip one better, and provide more of a motivation, when it comes to such calculations and decisions. Expanding on the aforementioned Gemara, Rav Leib Chasman (see Ohr Yahel, Chukat) proceeds to reveal two episodes in our parsha which can show how much can be gained from a good deed and how much can be lost from a transgression, and thus may help one better relate to this idea of calculating these potential gains and losses.

Our parsha (ch. 20) relates that after Miriam’s death, there was no water. Hashem told Moshe to speak to the rock in front of the people, and the rock will give forth water. Instead of speaking to it like Hashem had told him, Moshe hit the rock, and water came forth from it. Then, Hashem said to Moshe, “Because you did not believe in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of Bnei Yisrael, therefore you will not bring this congregation to the Land that I have given them.” Apparently, Moshe did something improper and so he was punished, losing the great privilege of entering Eretz Yisrael with the nation.

Yet, it seems difficult to pinpoint exactly what Moshe did wrong, and indeed, it’s a discussion which the commentators grapple with. Rav Chasman further observes that this is Moshe Rabbeinu we are talking about—the person about whom Hashem declared, “In My entire house, he is the faithful one.” The act of hitting the rock was an extremely holy and pure act, with just a mere, tiny and miniscule sliver of something improper mixed into it! And yet, for this he was punished so severely, being denied entry to Eretz Yisrael, the place Moshe so, so desired to enter, and which 515 prayers to enter did not help! This might help us better appreciate the importance of weighing “a sin’s gain against its loss.” Look how much someone on the level of Moshe lost out on even when the misdeed was one of this sort.

Our parsha relates that when Moshe was about to go to war against Og, Hashem told Moshe, “Do not fear him.” What exactly was Moshe fearful of? Rashi explains that Moshe was afraid of the merit that Og attained from reporting to Avraham about Lot’s capture by the four kings.

However, the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah, 42:8) informs us what Og’s true motives were in this matter: Og said to himself, “This Avraham is a zealous man. I will tell him now, ‘Your nephew has been taken captive,’ and he will go out to war [to rescue his nephew] and get killed [in battle]; then, I will take Sarai, his wife, [for myself]!” The midrash then teaches that Og’s reward was a long life (and, in fact, Og was still alive in the times of Moshe which was more than 400 years after this incident)!

Rav Chasman makes the following observation: This midrash teaches us that Og’s entire intention was for Avraham to get killed so he can take Avraham’s wife. Now, wasn’t this such a low and corrupt scheme?! Externally, Og made believe that he was empathizing with Avraham’s distress, while internally, in his heart, lay intentions of murder, theft and illicit relations! Yet, despite such an impure and abominable act, he was still rewarded, since, at the end of the day, Avraham benefited from it. And from this deed, he was rewarded with such a lengthy life! Not only that, but even someone like the great Moshe Rabbeinu was afraid of Og because of this merit Og had! This might help us appreciate the importance of weighing “a mitzvah’s loss against its gain.” Look at the gain of even a deed like Og’s, how it was rewarded and viewed so greatly.


Binyamin Benji is a graduate of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan, and Wurzweiler School of Social Work.

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles