It began in town this morning by the light rail. Around 20 soldiers were milling about. You know the feeling you get when you see soldiers in Israel milling about, smiling and laughing? You get a lump in your throat. How much do you love these soldiers? There are no words that even come close. Still, you walk up to them and say תודה רבה על השרות, תודה רבה על השמירה. Thank you for your service, thank you for watching over us. And they say “bekef” which means “with pleasure." But here was an opportunity to do something more since they were standing next to a store with an “everything for 5 shekel” section. And you see these nice Kinder chocolate confections and you look in your wallet and you see a 100 shekel note and you realize that you could get 20 of them, just about the number of soldiers milling about. But now the train is coming, if you stop to buy the chocolate bars, you will miss your train. So you have an excuse not to buy the chocolate bars and it is even written that when a Jew intends to do a mitzvah and for some reason does not do it, God considers it as if the Jew had done the mitzvah. So you can catch your train, save 100 shekel, and still get credit from God as if you had given every soldier some chocolate!
But today is different, you have a greater than usual Israel soldier love welling up inside, and after this incident is many hours in the past, and you are sitting in a night kollel with the Maharal in front of you, you will understand the meaning of wealth and feel rich for doing what you did since, in the end, you gathered up 20 kinder confections, paid your 100 shekel, and presented them in a bag to one of the soldiers with the instructions to pass them around.
The Maharal says if you were rich and gave little to building the משכן (desert tabernacle), you were actually poor while if you were poor and gave much for its construction you were rich. The Maharal was saying that if you do not use the 100 shekels in your wallet for a holy purpose (and there is no holier purpose than buying chocolate for Israeli soldiers), it’s as though your wallet lacks that 100 shekels and your relationship to holiness is impoverished and strictly limited.
When you do a mitzvah for someone, the custom is for that person to tell you תזכה למצוות
meaning “may you merit to do more mitzvahs.” What a remarkable and uniquely Jewish response! Instead of saying how wonderful of you, you are so special, the person is instead saying, “Now that you have sacrificed something and given of yourself, may you merit to sacrifice more of yourself and keep on giving!” Because the essence of any Jew is to give and the highest high a Jew can experience -- attachment to the Holy One Himself -- comes by way of self-sacrifice.
The climactic mitzvah of this same day, a reward for giving the chocolate in the morning, would come at mincha time. In my neighborhood there is a residence for teenage boys and girls with serious problems. They come from broken homes with every sort of horror story in their backgrounds. Often, we did not have ten men to pray when the time for mincha prayers arrived and, on this particular day, we only had six. Over the years, all I ever got when entering the home and asking some of the boys to join in afternoon minyan were sneers and mocking laughter. But now, with a group of them gathered on a porch adjacent to the entrance of the residential home, and a major minyan deficit and nothing to lose, I asked again, never envisioning what would happen next. “Can a few of you come to pray now?” I asked plaintively. “We really need you for a minyan.” “How many do you need?” one of the boys asked. “Four,” I answered. Unexpectedly, there was some mumbling among the group and then, four of the boys began to make their way to the synagogue just a few doors down from the home. And one of the four insisted on leading the prayer service himself.
The chocolate for the soldiers made the boys’ prayers possible. There is no dichotomy in Israel between doing something for another Jew and doing something for God. And when you give to God by giving to a fellow Jew, God gives back by allowing you another opportunity to pray in a minyan and to draw ever closer to Him.