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Olam Ha-Zeh: To Grow from the DarknessAnd the earth was astonishingly empty, with darkness upon the surface of the deep, and the Divine Presence hovered upon the surface of the waters.?(Bereishis 1:2)
The following is an excerpt from an essay in Derech Emunah u'Bitachon, vol. 2, pp. 128-133 by Moreinu v'Rabbein Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, ztvk"l.
Chazal relate (Shabbos 31a) that when man is judged in the Heavenly court he is asked, "Did you await the Redemption?" Rabbeinu Nissim, in his Derashos Ha-Ran, is puzzled by the need to ask everyone this question. He writes: "We know that one who doesn't believe in the coming of the Mashiach is a heretic. Yet it appears that even the righteous are confronted with this question in the World to Come! Why should a holy and saintly person be challenged like a common heretic?" Rabbeinu Nissim answers that the question asked by the court is really this: "Did you await the Redemption today?" This query truly applies to each and every individual, for even the most righteous person's faith is potentially subject to the vicissitudes of daily existence. One's bitachon has to be so firmly entrenched that he awaits the Redemption at every moment, even under the most difficult circumstances. In addition, a person should be aware that adopting this attitude is not merely a way to reduce his problems. Successfully passing a test of faith is the key to achieving spiritual greatness and acquiring olam ha-ba. When things get difficult, a person must realize that Hashem is testing him and wants him to be victorious in the trial. When one finds himself penniless and with no source of income, he should increase his bitachon and rely upon Hashem. This is where salvation lies, and it is the only way to grow.
Exile Created Greatness
We all know that there are two Talmuds, the Talmud Bavli, written in Babylonia while the Jews were in exile there, and the Talmud Yerushalmi, written in the Land of Israel. Over the course of time, it is the Bavli that has emerged as the major source of Halachah. While the Yerushalmi is certainly consulted, it is universally accepted that when the two Talmuds disagree, halachic decisions are based on the Bavli's ruling. Yet Chazal interpret the verse "They put me in darkness" (Eichah 3:6) as referring to the Talmud Bavli. In light of the Bavli's preeminence, this assertion seems astonishing. How could such a colossal work of genius be associated with darkness?
Logically, the Talmud Yerushalmi should have been the cornerstone of the Jewish People, and its rulings would have determined the Halachah. The greatest of the Tannaim lived in Eretz-Yisrael. The Talmud Bavli itself states that the very air of Eretz-Yisrael generates wisdom (Bava Basra 158b). In contrast, the Bavli was written in the bitter exile of Babylonia, often under harsh Gentile rule It thus emerges that Torah studied in "darkness" - during troubles and oppression - is qualitatively different from Torah studied under tranquil conditions. Exile caused the talmidei chachamim to grow in stature. They became so great that their halachic opinions are binding until today.
Don't Ask To Be Tested
In light of the above, it would seem that tests and trials are actually a good thing. Although they may be perceived as undesireable, they ultimately help one acquire his portion in the World to Come. If so, it would seem logical to want as many tests as possible. Why, then, do Chazal tell us (Berachos 60b) that a person shouldn't ask to be tested - an idea which has even been formalized in the morning blessings, אל תביאנו...לא לידי נסיון ("and don't bring us to a trial or ordeal")?
In reality, there are two types of tests: one that can be passed, although perhaps with difficulty, and one that is intrinsically too difficult to overcome. It is the latter type we pray not to be confronted with. When the Almighty presents us with an unbidden test it is always the type we will be able to overcome. Hashem delves into the inner resources of a person and into the deep recesses of his heart. He knows each person's true essence and only presents him with tests which he is able to handle, so that he may grow and elevate himself through them. However, when one actively seeks out a test and assumes a risk, the danger exists that he might bite off more than he can chew. This was the lesson God sought to teach David Ha-Melech when he asked to be tested and subsequently failed. If a person feels that he has fallen into difficulties, he should know that he is being tested. This is the only path through which he can become a true servant of the Almighty.
Greatness Because of Exile
We read in the Torah (Vayikra 11:4-6): "But this is what you shall not eat from among those that chew the cud or that have split hooves: the camel, for it chews its cud, but its hoof is unsplit - it is unclean to you; and the rabbit, for it chews its cud, but its hoof is unsplit - it is unclean to you; and the hare, for it chews its cud, but its hoof is unsplit - it is unclean to you." Commenting on the seeming repetition in these verses, the Midrash Rabbah (Shemini 13:5) states: "'The camel' refers to Babylonia, 'because it brings up its cud,' for (Babylonia) produced Daniel, as the verse says: 'And Daniel was in the gate of the king' (Daniel 2:49). 'And the rabbit' refers to the Medes, 'because it brings up its cud,' for (the Medes) produced Mordechai, as the verse says: 'and Mordechai was sitting in the gate of the king' (Esther 2:21). 'And the hare' is a reference to Greece, 'for she brings up her cud,' because (Greece) produced tzaddikim."
Not only did the difficulties of exile not break the spirit of the great men of our nation, but just the opposite occurred: all of their greatness was specifically due to exile and its inherent hardships. Without the Babylonian exile Daniel would never have attained his lofty stature. Without the Median exile Mordechai would never have risen to such an exalted spiritual plateau. Overcoming numerous trials and ordeals is precisely what uplifts a person and makes him great.
R. Chizkiyahu Medini was the author of the brilliant and massive work S'deh Chemed. He once related that he didn't show any outstanding aptitude for scholarship in his youth. Only when he was older did the fountain of wisdom open for him, and this came about as the result of a certain incident in which he was involved. He relates:
I was a young man, married, and was learning in a kollel that was supported by a very wealthy philanthropist. The kollel was located in the philanthropist's house and was funded totally by him. I was not the most gifted student in the kollel, but I studied diligently and was known as an upright person.
There was one member of the kollel who was insanely jealous of me. Wanting to disgrace me, he made a deal with the Arab cleaning woman who came daily to the kollel - and paid her to accuse me of making indecent advances to her.
And so it was. Early one morning, while I was sitting alone in the beis midrash studying, she came in as if to do her cleaning. Instead, she immediately began screaming and accusing me of lewd behavior. A crowd quickly gathered around us and started berating me for my hypocritical conduct, cursing and assailing me. It was a terrible scene. I couldn't stand the horrible embarrassment and fled from the beis midrash. Fortunately, rosh kollel believed in my innocence. I was allowed to stay in the kollel and the cleaning lady was summarily fired.
Shortly thereafter, the woman's bribe money ran out and she found herself penniless and without a job. Broken in spirit and downcast, she approached me and begged forgiveness for the terrible crime she had committed, explaining that she had never harbored any ill will toward me. Rather, so-and-so had offered her money to falsely accuse me, and she had been blinded by the large sum involved. She then promised to publicly confess that she had been hired to slander me and pleaded with me to convince the rosh kollel to rehire her.
Her revelation and request put me in a tremendous quandary. Until that moment I had had no hope of removing the terrible smear on my name, and suddenly I was presented with an opportunity to see justice done. I was on the verge of agreeing to help her when another consideration crossed my mind. One tremendous chilul Hashem had already happened. If the true story were to come out, another chilul Hashem would occur when the abhorrent actions of the jealous scholar became known. Perhaps it would be better for me to continue suffering in silence. Hopefully, the episode would eventually recede from peoples' minds, and in the meantime I would prevent a new commotion from arising.
My bewilderment over which course to take was agonizing. Arguments and counter-arguments flew through my mind, and I wavered from one side to the other. I finally decided to go to the rosh kollel and ask him to take the woman back. However, I forbade her to ever reveal the truth about what had happened. That decision was the most difficult one of my life. I realized that I was possibly endangering my entire future in the world of Torah. Wondrously, however, I felt the fountains of wisdom open before me as soon as I had chosen my path of action. Instead of the tremendous damage to my reputation which I had expected, I gained an unusual measure of Heavenly assistance which made me what I am today.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network