An impoverished rabbi in the olden days was known to take extreme care in preparing matzos for Pesach. It was his special mitzvah, and he invested every possible effort to fulfil it properly. He took no shortcuts.
Many months before the chag, he would plant seeds and constantly make sure they were never exposed to water. Then, a few days before the chag, with tremendous satisfaction, he would store his precious bag of flour in his cellar and wait for erev Pesach after chatzos at which time he would begin baking three matzos for leil haSeder.
One year, a day before Erev Yom Tov, while he was in his study reviewing Hilchos Pesach, a commotion reached the rabbi’s ears. An agitated conversation was taking place at the entrance to his house, and he detected frustration in his rebbetzin’s voice.
He heard her telling a poor man at the door – first apologetically but then more firmly – that the house was empty and she had no food to serve him. The man, however, pleaded that he was on the verge of collapse and needed something to eat.
The rabbi emerged from his study and said to his wife, “Let’s quickly prepare a meal. After all, we have flour in our cellar.”
She stared at him in disbelief. “The flour in the cellar?” she stammered. “Have you forgotten how much toil you invested to…”
“Time is of the essence. There is no time to waste,” her husband replied. “Let us not forego a mitzvah that has presented itself to us.”
Sometime later, after the man had left the house satisfied by a full meal, the rabbi was asked by some of his followers from where he had drawn the strength to give away flour that he had amassed by the sweat of his brow.
The rabbi dismissed the question with a wave of his hand. “Doesn’t Rashi teach us,” he replied, “on the very passuk of ‘ushmartem es hamatzos’ (to ‘watch the matzos’) that ‘mitzvah haba’a leyadcha al tachmitzenu’ – that we should grab any mitzvah that crosses our path?”
We often have a choice between fulfilling different mitzvos. We tend naturally to gravitate to one mitzvah over another, but are we always making the right choice? Do we really know which mitzvah is “better”? Doesn’t the Mishnah say that we should be “zahir b’mitzvah kala kevachamura she’ein ata yodea secharan shel mitzvos” (that we should fulfil an easy mitzvah like a difficult one since we don’t know the rewards of mitzvos)?
To have mehudar matzos on leil haSeder is very important, but so is feeding the poor. Davening at the amud during the year in memory of a loved one is important, but so is stepping aside in favor of someone else in a similar situation to whom davening at the amud clearly means a lot. Time is precious, but so is giving up that time for the sake of another. How does one decide what to do?
The answer is that we must adhere to Torah values, which are “ego-free” and give us standards that set us straight. As a general rule, though, it’s important to keep in mind that the Asseres HaDibros were written on two tablets. The first tablet featured bein adam laMakom (between man and G-d) directives, and the second tablet featured bein adam lechaveiro (between man and man) directives. Both tablets were the same size and of equal importance. Hurting a fellow Jew is just as bad as violating a rule about Pesach.
How does the above connect to current events? In Hebrew, the word for choices and elections is the same: bechirot. This week is a week of votes and a time to think of our choices in life.