While many people enjoy a challenge, few appreciate being told to perform an action which is truly beyond their abilities. Whether it be a seemingly impossible project at school or a long task to accomplish at work, an unattainable goal is never a welcoming task. However, it appears that this is exactly what Hashem asks of us. In Parashat Eikev (Devarim 10:12), Moshe tells Bnei Yisrael, “VeAtah Yisrael Mah Hashem Sho’eil MeiImach Ki Im LeYir’ah Et Hashem Elokecha,” “And now Yisrael, what does Hashem ask of you, but to fear Hashem your God.” The Gemara (Berachot 33b) points out that the phrase “but to fear Hashem” implies that the request is a simple one. The Gemara retorts with the obvious difficulty which is that fearing Hashem is not an easy matter to accomplish. The Gemara responds by explaining that for Moshe, fearing Hashem is a simple command. Nevertheless, this answer is also difficult to understand because Moshe was speaking to all of Bnei Yisrael, not just himself.
The Vilna Gaon explains that the Gemara does not mean that fearing Hashem is easy for Moshe, but it really means that fearing Hashem is easy when in the constant presence of Moshe. The Gemara is explaining that for those who lived next to Moshe, fearing Hashem was a simple manner. Those who lived with Moshe were able to be influenced by him and therefore had a much easier time living the lifestyle that Hashem demanded from them. The message from the Vilna Gaon seems to be that it is important that we surround ourselves with righteous people, because that will enhance our service of Hashem.
The importance of surrounding oneself with righteous people is also stressed in Pirkei Avot (1:4) which teaches us that one should, “Make his house a meeting place for the wise people.” In Rambam’s commentary on Pirkei Avot, he explains that the purpose of being surrounded by Talmidei Chachamim is in order to learn from their actions.
Rav Moshe Feinstein points out that the importance of surrounding oneself with Talmidei Chachamim is found in BeReishit (28:10). We are told that Ya’akov leaves Be’eir Sheva and Rashi (s.v VaYeitzei Ya’akov MiBe’eir Sheva) comments that the departure of a righteous person leaves a profound void in the place where he left. Rashi adds that the glory of the town departs with the righteous person. Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that the glory of a righteous person is the influence that his presence has upon others without any active effort on his part. The mere fact that others observe his ways has a powerful influence upon them. By observing his actions and his wisdom, anyone who sees him develops a desire to emulate him.
As Rosh HaShanah nears, it is important that we keep this message in mind. We must surround ourselves with positive influences who will serve as role models and will allow us to grow as people and as Jews. Let us ensure that the year to come is one in which the people around us push us to greater heights so that we may continue to fulfill the will of Hashem.