The Greater the Talent the Greater the Responsibility

In the year 5733 (1973), Maran zt”l served as the Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv. On Shabbat Shuva (the Shabbat preceding Yom Kippur), many Yeshiva students gathered in the central Bet Midrash where Maran zt”l delivered the following address which we shall paraphrase:

When one stands in judgment before the Heavenly Court, especially during the Days of Judgment we currently find ourselves in the midst of, not all individuals are judged in the same manner, for the more talented an individual is, the responsibility for his actions becomes greater as well. Indeed, not all souls are equal among all people, for some people retain a soul which comes from a much higher and loftier level than others while others have souls originating from much lower places. Every individual is expected and held accountable to perform his deeds according to one’s individual strengths and level.

Indeed, Maran zt”l would wail and shed bitter tears every year when reciting the words “We have been idle from your Torah day and night” during the Viduy (confessional prayer) of Yom Kippur. Upon seeing this, the entire congregation would be astounded, for there was no one who studied Torah with greater devotion, vigor, and persistence than Maran. Why then was he crying? However, Maran zt”l answered this wonder himself and said the following:

It is recounted that the great Gaon, Rabbeinu Eliyahu of Vilna, would shed copious tears on Yom Kippur when reciting the words “We have been idle from your Torah day and night” although the time he spent not delving in Torah amounted only to one hour! The great Gaon of Vilna would nevertheless cry about being idle from Torah. The reason for this was because the Gaon had such an exemplary mind and possessed such utter genius that as a child, he was able to study and master the Talmudic tractates of Zevachim and Menachot (two of the most complex tractates of the Talmud) in one night! Upon being tested, people were amazed by the fact that he had left no stone unturned as he skillfully mastered these tractates so quickly. Thus, every second of the Gaon of Vilna was equivalent to long days and nights of other individuals. The Gaon therefore was required to cry for one hour of being idle of Torah (according to his level), for the greater the talent, the greater the responsibility. As the Sefer Ma’aseh Rav states, “One cannot compare the slacking off the servant who cleans the barn to the slacking off of the servant who repairs the king’s crown.”

We too can derive from here that one who possesses talents must utilize them by investing effort in areas where one can truly be an asset. For instance, if one is a gifted orator, one must share words of Torah with others. Similarly, if one possesses great wealth, one should donate as much as possible for the furtherance of Torah and fear of Heaven. The list continues but, “Give to the wise man and he shall become even wiser.”