Vayetzei – It’s Not Easy Doing the Right Thing

This week’s Haftorah for the Torah Portion of Vayetzei is comprised of the final perakim of Hoshea. The very last pasuk states: “Who is wise and will understand these, discerning and will know them; for the ways of Hashem are straight, and the righteous shall walk in them, and the rebellious shall stumble on them” (Hoshea 14:10).
There are many commentaries that explain the lesson of this pasuk. I would like to focus on the Radak’s father’s explanation found in the Radak: “My master, my father of blessed memory explained that ‘and the rebellious shall stumble on them’ refers to when the rebellious will return to the path of Hashem and they will not be used to it like the righteous, then they would stumble in it like a person that does not know his way. This is only referring to the rebellious whose heart is still in there rebellious path. But those that return with a complete heart, Hashem will help them to not stumble. As for the righteous, in what they are accustomed to they walk on a paved, straight path.” (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)
According to the Radak’s father, the entire pasuk is referring to people who want to fulfill the will of Hashem. The pasuk specifically refers to two categories: those that want to serve Hashem and fulfill his Torah and mitzvos but are not 100% committed. They are still somewhat attached to their old ways, so it is not easy to change and do the right thing; they are stumbling. On the other hand there are those who are righteous; they grew up always following the Torah and doing its mitzvos and it is simple for them to  “live the life of Torah.” The Radak adds  a third category of people: those who were  initially rebellious but  later chose to wholeheartedly  walk in the ways of Hashem; it is  not easy for them and they need Hashem’s help to properly do His will. There seems to be a major dichotomy: is it easy to follow Hashem’s Torah and mitzvos or is it hard?

Truthfully, it seems that it is not easy to follow the ways of Hashem, which is why those who are not fully committed will stumble, even if they truly desire to succeed. (Now, it should be pointed out that they will only stumble; it is difficult, but it is not impossible). And that is why those who are fully committed, but were once off the beaten path, need Hashem’s help to get back  and stay on the straight path. But even the righteous only have it easy because they developed, from an early age, a habit to accustom themselves to this way of life. It is not natural.

We see from here how powerful a positive habit could be. It can take something totally unnatural and quite difficulty and make it easy for those that stick to it. But why didn’t Hashem just let us serve him naturally, and give us reward on a silver platter? Why did he make life so hard for us?

I recently heard in the name of the Chofetz Chaim that Hashem wants to make things difficult because if everything came served on a silver platter, as a free handout, then people would be embarrassed to take them, and even if they  took them, they would feel embarrassed on some level for having them. So Hashem, who is all kind and only good, understood that if we were just given our reward and did not earn it there would be something majorly lacking. It would be mighty uncomfortable for us. That is why Hashem, out of his pure love and kindness, makes us work hard for our reward – so that we will feel proud of what we earn.

May we all have much success and blessing in our service of Hashem!