In this week’s Haftorah for the Torah portion of Ekev, Yeshayahu proclaims: “Who among you is God-fearing, that obey to the voice of His servant, and now walks in darkness and has no light, let him trust in the name of the Lord and lean on his God” (Yeshayahu 50:10).
The Gemara in Berachos learns a profound incite from this posuk. “Rabin son of Rebbe Adda in the name of Rebbe Yitzchok says [further]: If a man is accustomed to attend Synagogue [daily] and one day does not go, the Holy One, blessed be He, makes inquiry about him. For it is said: ‘Who among you is God-fearing, that obey to the voice of His servant, and now walks in darkness and has no light?’ [And still] if he absented himself on account of some religious purpose, he shall have light. But if he absented himself on account of a worldly purpose, he shall have no light. ‘Let him trust in the name of the Lord.’ Why? Because he ought to have trusted in the name of the Lord and he did not trust” (Gemara Berachos 6b). (Click here and here for complete Hebrew text.)
Rashi explaining the gemara says that Hashem asks this person who regularly comes to minyan why he didn’t come today. The pasuk refers to him as a G-D fearing Jew because he regularly comes and davens before Hashem. However, today, it is considered as if he went to a dark place and not a light place, because he did not get up early to go to shul.
The Maharsha delves into more detail, and points out that the gemara is trying to rectify how the beginning of the pasuk says: “‘Who among you is God-fearing’ and then calls them “and now walks in darkness.” Meaning, who among you is G-D fearing, to come to shul to listen to the servant of Hashem, referring to the sheliach tzibor (leader of the prayers) because the service of the heart is called prayer, which he is now walking in darkness from since he did not go to minyan. He is now doing something which does not give off light for him which is something mundane, excluding if he didn’t go to shul because he was going to do a mitzvah which he would then be going with light, “for a mitzvah is a candle and the Torah is light” and then he would be involved in one mitzvah and exempt from praying with a minyan. And because there are people who think that earning a living to support their family is also a mitzvah, it therefore says: “let him trust in the name of the Lord;” meaning, he should trust in Hashem that he will give him parnasa (livelihood) and he should not have prevented himself from going to shul.
The Iyun Yaakov explains why the gemara is referring to specifically someone who goes to minyan all the time and not everyone. Since this individual habitually fulfills this mitzvah, he definitely should trust in Hashem that nothing bad will happen when going to shul, for one who strictly observes a mitzvah will not have anything bad happen to him. But if he is not regularly doing this mitzvah, he doesn’t have as great of sense of security, since he does not receive reward in this world for the mitzvah at the time it is completed.
Who are we talking about? The pasuk and gemara is talking about a Yirah Shamayim, a G-D fearing Jew, which means this is a person assumingly already imbued with emunah and bitachon, belief and trust in Hashem, who is consistently going to davening with a minyan every day. He might skip a minyan every once in a while when involved with another mitzvah, which is fine. But now he is faced with a business meeting, which he knows will take him away from minyan, but he thinks it is all right because it is a mitzvah to support ones family, which we learn from the gemara in Kesubos 47b. We see there that a kesuba, a marriage document, which includes inside it is the obligation to feed and clothe one’s wife, is all based on pesukim in the Torah. Yet what he overlooks is that the effort (hishtadlus) he is supposed to put into taking care of his family is commensurate with the amount of trust (bitachon) he has in Hashem “for since he habitually fulfills this mitzvah of going to minyan he definitely should trust in Hashem that nothing bad will happen when going to shul for one who strictly observes a mitzvah will not have anything bad happen to him,” as the iyun Yaakov said. But the issue is how he could be receptive to this fact if he thinks he is doing a mitzvah by supporting his family and since he is involved in one mitzvah he thinks he is exempt from praying. So how is it possible for him to realize he is doing something wrong?
A person who develops a habit is transformed by it into a whole new status. For example, a person who always speaks loshon hara, slander, is known as a “baal lashon hara,” and this has very grave consequences. He is treated by Hashem much more severely than one who slanders another only once in a while. So too the opposite is true. If one habitually fulfills a certain mitzvah, for example going to minyan every time, he is transformed into a whole new realm and gets club benefits like rewards in this world and the next. If this person truly valued his status symbol he would have realized that he could go to minyan and Hashem assures him He will take care of his family. This realization comes through a constant focus which can be best met through a consistent regiment of mussar study specifically on the topics of bitachon, as well as reward and punishment.
Staying on top of your game is not easy, even for the best of best. However continuous qualitative reinforcement can keep you on your toes.