Mitzvos: Hard or Easy?

Problems are a source of strength when a person relates to them properly. As the midrash
in Yalkut Malachim points out, the eye looks out from the black, not the
white of the eye. The Baal Haturim notes that the gematria of the
word arafel, which means darkness, is the same as the gematria for the
Shechina. A person finds the Shechina in the darkness. The acceptance of
troubles and suffering is one of the forty-eight things which enable a person to
acquire Torah. Suffering is an intrinsic part of the process of internalizing
the Torah. That is why mitzvos themselves often involve troubles, discomfort and
even pain. Raising children is not easy. Every parent has to expect a certain
amount of םינב לודיג רעצ
(tsar gidol bonim). The Gemara says that there is no ketuba that is
written without strife. But the troubles that are associated with mitzvos
enhance their value and give them a deeper and more enduring place in our lives.

The spiritual benefit of mitzvos is actually related to the
difficulties involved in performing them: ארגא הרצ םופל
(l’foom tsara agra). The tribe of Levi did not suffer as the other
tribes did, but it also remained less numerous. The troubles that afflicted the
tribes had the effect of enlarging their populations. …הברי
ןכ ותוא ונעי
רשאכו (ka’asher ya’ane oso, kain yirbe)
(Shemos
1:12
)

Mitzvos can’t come easy. They have to come with difficulty.
When Naomi was trying to convince Ruth not to convert, she persisted until she
saw that Ruth was making a determined effort to go with her. The Vilna Gaon
comments that as long as doing a mitzvah is easy, it is possible that the yetzer
hora is causing him to do it and that he’s not doing it leshem Shamaim.
But when a person does a mitzvah leshem Shamaim, the yetzer hora works
against him and the mitzva becomes difficult. A person’s determination to
overcome difficulties in performing a mitzvah is a sign that he is doing it leshem
Shamaim
. Once something is done leshem Shamaim it can’t come easy.
When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to join her inspite of all the
difficulties, she was convinced that Ruth’s intentions were leshem Shamaim and
was willing to take her along.

The Dubno Maggid seems to say just the opposite. Commenting
on the verse, “You haven’t called me Yaakov because you have wearied
yourself too much with me,” he tells a parable about a person who is sent to
pick up someone’s bags at the train station. There are a lot of bags, and he
returns exhausted. When he complains about how difficult it was to bring back
all the bags, he is told, “you didn’t bring my bags, you brought someone
else’s. I have only a small attaché case. If you are so exhausted, it’s
only because you didn’t bring back the right bags.” So, too, in this verse,
G-d is telling the Jewish People, if you find it difficult to do the mitzvos,
its because you’re not doing My mitzvos. My mitzvos are easy.

The Vilna Gaon and the Dubno Maggid seem to be contradicting
each other. But I think we can resolve their opinions if we distinguish between
preparation for the mitzvah and the mitzvah itself. The difficulty lies in
making the initial commitment. That involves overcoming the yetzer hora. But
once a person makes the decision, doing a mitzvah should be easy:
ותוא םיכילומ ךליל הצור
םדאש ךרדב (we are helped to go in the direction we choose). It says
םעונ יכרד היכרד, the ways of the Torah are pleasant. That seems to
imply that the actual performance of a mitzvah does not present special
problems. The mitzvah itself has to be an easy thing. The Gemora relies on this
principle to establish that the bitter herbs used on Pesach cannot be an herb
that could cause an upset stomach. A lulav cannot be something with thorns.
Preparing for Pesach can be difficult, but once a person sits down to the Seder
to fulfill the mitzvos of the evening, it goes smoothly. The mitzvah itself does
not cause problems. It’s only the preparation for the mitzvah, things that are
peripheral to the mitzvah, that can be difficult. The mitzvah itself is easy.

Another possibility for resolving the opinions of the Vilna
Gaon and the Dubno Maggid is that even though doing a mitzvah may involve
difficulties, the difficulties do not belong to the mitzvah itself. The mitzvah
itself is not difficult. It just happens to be hard for the person who is doing
it because he is not inwardly prepared to do it. Rav Chaim Vital writes that if
a person doesn’t work on his middos, it will be very difficult for him
to keep any mitzvah because it goes against his grain. Now, that’s not because
mitzvos are difficult, but because his grain is not what it should be. The
difficulties comes from him.

Mitzvos themselves do not present problems. When problems
arise it is in the preparation for the mitzvah, and those difficulties indicate,
according to the Vilna Gaon, that the mitzvah is being done leshem Shamaim.
There will be no difficulty in performing the mitzvah itself as long as the
person performing the mitzvah is inwardly prepared to do it.