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Weekly Chizuk


Olam Ha-Zeh: A Test

Hashem took Man and placed him in the Garden of Eden, to work it and to guard it. (Bereishis 2:15)

What work was there to do in Gan Eden? The ground didn't have to be cultivated, and all the trees grew by themselves. The garden didn't need any watering. Wasn't there a river going out from Eden that took care of that? It was a perfect environment. If so, what is the meaning of "to work it and to guard it"? The Pirkei d'Rabbi Eliezer (ch. 11) answers these questions that this verse isn't' referring to physical maintenance; rather, it means to work the garden through studying Torah, and to guard it by refraining from forbidden activities.

Man has been put into a fierce battle. Everything in the world, whether good or bad, is a test. (Mesillas Yesharim, ch. 1)

In his work Sefer Ha-Yashar (ch. 6), Rabbeinu Tam characterizes this world as nothing more than a path strewn with obstacles:

Our job is to traverse this path and overcome the problems we encounter along the way. In order to do this successfully, we must prepare for any difficulties that we might face. Only then will we succeed in our purpose. One who expects to be comfortable and secure in this world is destined to be rudely disappointed. When beset by troubles, he will become upset and disoriented, and perhaps even devastated over his "unfair" lot. Our covenant with G-d obligates us to never lose our faith, no matter how bleak things may seem.

There are uncountable things which can interfere with a person's service to G-d. Some are apparent successes, such as promotion to a position of great responsibility, or sudden acquisition of wealth. Conversely, one may suffer reverses, such as a sudden loss of one's fortune, or being imprisoned or made to suffer exile, falling ill, or losing a loved one. Events such as these can easily disturb one's peace of mind and cause him to forget his job in this world. It is therefore crucial to remember that these times are tests of one's conviction. If a person's faith is strong, nothing will divert him from his purpose, just as the fiercest wind cannot uproot a mountain. If a person has a firm mind and a solid basic faith, he will not waver in the face of anything that happens to him.

A person must be aware that these critical junctures will inevitably arise, and he must be especially careful when they occur. He must gird himself with courage to accept anything that might occur, and prepare himself while things are still tranquil. He must expect that something might occur at literally any moment of his life, and say to himself, "If something doesn't come today, it will come tomorrow, and if not tomorrow, then surely the next day." By readying himself in this fashion, he won't be disturbed nor forget his purpose in this world when finally something does happen, for he has been prepared to accept everything all along.

This is the practice of the tzaddik. He understands that this world is merely a road of troubles, and by anticipating them, he gains control over them, and they lose their power to disturb and frighten him when they appear.

On the other hand, one who ignores this reality or is unaware of it will quickly become disillusioned and overwhelmed by life's "unfairness." Blithely going through existence thinking that trouble will never befall him, he expects his serenity to last forever. Ultimately, however, misfortune will materialize and dash this unrealistic expectation. In his dismay, he will lose his bearings and his faith, and he will sink into a life without purpose or meaning. Therefore, it is incumbent upon an intelligent person to guard himself constantly, and to consider the transience of his well-being in this world. By knowing that troubles are bound to come, he will succeed in his purpose.

It's All a Matter of Priorities

We must subordinate our entire being to the Torah's scale of values. Although this may seem hard at times, we must have faith that this is the Creator's will and that we will only gain from carrying it out. Everyone agrees that the Torah obligates us to do everything in our power to improve the world, and not simply to do something because we find it enjoyable or monetarily lucrative. Sometimes the decision regarding which course of action to take is obvious. At other times it can be quite difficult. For example, almost every profession presents one with the opportunity to do good. But one must also make the right choice from a Torah perspective. A doctor heals people and saves lives; this is definitely something positive from the Torah's point of view. Being a Rosh Yeshivah is also an admirable occupation - teaching Torah helps support the very foundation of the world's continued existence. The quandary comes when one has the capacity to be either a Rosh Yeshivah or a doctor, but feels that by being a doctor he might attain greater fulfillment. In this situation, the former might be the correct choice. The reason is not because one is better than the other; objective arguments can be made for the merits of both choices. Rather, a person must realize that it's not enough merely to do something positive. One has to do the best positive thing he possibly can and realize that this is what the Almighty wants from him.

This dichotomy between good and better is not only associated with questions concerning which occupation a person will choose. Rather, it relates to almost every aspect of our existence. I once heard a statement attributed to R. Simchah Wasserman zt"l - that most of our trials and tests are not matters of black and white / right or wrong. Rather, they revolve around doing good or better. Everything is a matter of priorities. Sometimes the choice is obvious and sometimes it is subtle. A person may find himself being pulled in ten different directions at once, all of them mitzvos. In deciding which course to pursue, one must determine which mitzvah is the most important one for this moment.

(R. David Gottleib (of the Ohr Somayach Yeshivah) once told over the following story:

A pauper once approached a certain Chassidic Rebbe and tearfully related his plight. He desperately needed 400 rubles to marry off his daughter and had nowhere to turn. Perhaps the Rebbe could give him a donation? Unfortunately, the Rebbe, a well-known dispenser of charity, saw that his fund was currently empty. Although he deeply sympathized with the pauper's situation, there was nothing practical he could do for him. Nevertheless, he promised to pray to Hashem to send the man the sum he needed. Right after the pauper left, another Chassid came in for an audience. He joyfully told the Rebbe that he had just recuperated from a serious illness and he wanted to donate 400 rubles to aid the needy. The Rebbe immediately called the pauper back, and he intended to give him the 400 rubles. However, as he was about to hand over the money to him, he paused and asked the man to wait outside for a short time. Two hours later the Rebbe called the pauper back in and handed him the entire donation.

The Rebbe's gabbai had witnessed the entire episode and his curiosity was piqued. He humbly queried the Rebbe about the strange turn of events that had unfolded: Why did the Rebbe wait for two hours before giving the pauper the donation? Wasn't it obvious that the Rebbe had been designated a shaliach min ha-Shamayim (a messenger sent from Heaven) to provide the man with the dowry money?

The Rebbe answered that it was indeed obvious, but just as he was about to hand the man the money, a thought occurred to him: Why give the entire sum to one person? Perhaps it would be better to divide it into 20 portions; that way, 20 people could be helped instead of one. Contemplating the two choices before him, the Rebbe realized that one of them emanated from the yetzer haŹ tov and the other from the yetzer ha ra. It was his test to figure out which was which and act accordingly.

(This is the devious power of the yetzer ha ra: when it realizes that it can't make one commit an outright sin, it attempts to attack one's observance of mitzvos instead. When the person is presented with the opportunity to fulfill a mitzvah, the yetzer ha ra places another mitzvah before him which is subtly inferior or less important than the first one. It then tries to convince him that the second mitzvah is actually the superior one.)

The Rebbe explained that he decided to give all the money to the pauper due to the manner in which the alternative was proposed. The second mitzvah presented itself to him like this: "Don't give all the money to the first person; rather, divide it up among several people." The Rebbe determined that such a mitzvah, presented in the negative, and in a way that would directly benefit some people at the expense of another, was certainly a suggestion of the yetzer ha-ra - for even its good acts are blemished. He therefore decided to give the entire sum to the first person.

Wishing Everyone A Gut Shabbos!

© Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
4 Panim Meirot, Jerusalem 94423 Israel
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Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop Lakewood).
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