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Weekly Chizuk

Parshas Chayei Sarah

The Rowboat, the Tugboat and the Helicopter

There is a famous story: A man swept away by a flood sees two guys approach in a rowboat. "Hop in!" they shout. "No, thanks," he says, "God will save me." Next, a tugboat passes by. "Climb aboard," calls the captain. Again, he refuses. "God will save me," he says. Then the Coast Guard sends a helicopter but he refuses to board, giving the same reason. Finally, he drowns.

Up in Heaven, an angel asks why he refused help. "I wanted to rely on God alone," he replies. "Idiot!" says the angel. "Who do you think sent you the rowboat, the tugboat and the helicopter?"

Bitachon is one of the most primary mitzvos in the Torah. We think that bitachon is a condition for performing the mitzvos and studying the Torah. Someone with bitachon will take time away from his other needs in order to learn, trusting that Hashem will pay him back and take care of his needs. Bitachon, according to this, is a prerequisite enabling a person to concentrate on his spiritual development unfettered by material distractions. The Gra, however, states (Commentary to Mishlei 22:19) just the opposite: The main reason Torah was given to Yisroel was so they should develop bitachon! Bitachon is not the means, it is the goal.

The Alter's Precious Candle of Bitachon

R. Yoseph Yozel of Novahrdok had special love for the remains of a certain candle. He would carry it with him wherever he went. This is the story behind that candle:

R. Yoseph Yozel cherished silence and seclusion, because it helped him to engage in introspection and serve Hashem with true devotion. Accordingly, he often would retreat to an isolated hut that he had in the heart of a thick forest.

One dark night, R. Yoseph Yozel was sitting in the hut studying Torah with a talmid. The hands of the clock steadily moved forward while the two absorbed themselves in Hashem's Torah, not paying the slightest attention to their surroundings. In a corner of the room was a candle that spread its light on the two holy faces. With increasing enthusiasm, the two men swayed back and forth over the page of the Talmud, saturating their souls with the Torah's honeyed nectar, their shadows dancing on the walls of the hut.

At one point, the candle's flame began to flicker and dance as well. The student noted that it was about to go out and asked what they should do, since they did not have another one to replace it. To the young man's surprise, R. Yoseph Yozel dismissed his concerns, and indicated that they should continue studying. With that, they carried on.

A few minutes later, the candle flared for a moment and then quickly flickered out. Absolute darkness reigned in the hut. Not one bit of light penetrated the windows; under the thick forest canopy outside, it was pitch black. R. Yoseph Yozel told his student to wait in the hut while he went out to look for another candle. The boy was absolutely stunned, and cried out, "Rebbe, a candle? Now, at night in the middle of the forest?" But once again, R. Yoseph Yozel dismissed his words. The talmid then heard the hut's door opening and R. Yoseph Yozel's steps as he left the hut. Within moments, the Rav had disappeared into the thick, silent forest.

The talmid sat quietly in the hut, but his thoughts gave him no peace. "How will the Rebbe find a candle out there? Doesn't he understand that there is nothing that can be done?"

Still wrapped in his thoughts, the talmid heard footsteps approaching. A few moments later, R. Yoseph Yozel entered the hut and calmly announced that he had a candle! He inserted it into its holder, lit the wick, and returned to the table as if nothing unusual had happened.

Immediately, the sound of R. Yoseph Yozel's voice filled the hut as he began chanting the line of the gemara where the two had left off. The astounded talmid did not even get a chance to ask the Rav any of the burning questions that filled his head.

The two enthusiastically returned to their studies. Time passed quickly and dawn soon arrived, pushing away the opaque curtain of darkness and heralding a bright new day. As R. Yoseph Yozel and his talmid finished their studies, R. Yoseph Yozel extinguished the candle and put it inside his coat pocket. "Since when does R. Yoseph Yozel hold on to the stubs of candles?" the talmid wondered to himself.

It was not until much later, after he was back in the city and heard an address delivered by R. Yoseph Yozel to the student body of his yeshiva that the talmid finally found out what had happened on that amazing night.

R. Yoseph Yozel explained that a person must have complete trust in Hashem and realize that everything is from Him. When we are about to do anything, we should not think that success depends upon us. Yes, we must plan and act, but whether we will accomplish our intentions is not in our hands. We must realize that Hashem alone directs and leads the world, and everything is up to Him.

In the middle of his speech, R. Yoseph Yozel reached into his coat pocket and took out the remains of the mysterious candle. "Do you see this? This candle showed me what it means to trust in Hashem. We must have complete bitachon in Him. If we do, He will take care of everything."

Then R. Yoseph Yozel told his listeners what had transpired during that night in the forest - how he had left the hut in the middle of the night to search for a candle, not thinking for a moment that anyone would be wandering in the forest with a candle at such a time! That part of the forest was far from any city or settlement, and even if he were to make his way to a village, it would already be sunrise by then.

"I left the hut anyway, knowing only one thing: I needed a candle to study Torah! A few minutes later, I met a farmer who 'for some reason' was passing by in his wagon and 'just happened to have' a spare candle."

The wagon driver wanted to take advantage of the situation and asked an exorbitant price for the invaluable goods he had to offer, but R. Yoseph Yozel knew that Hashem could provide him a reasonably priced candle so that the yeshiva's money would not be wasted. Accordingly, R. Yoseph Yozel simply started walking away from him. When the farmer saw that he could not make his desired profit, he immediately sold him the candle at a fair price.

Now the talmid understood why his Rav was not at all excited when he returned to the hut with the candle. To the talmid it seemed as if a miracle had happened, but R. Yoseph Yozel viewed the episode from an entirely different perspective: A Jew needs a candle to study Torah! If he lives with simple emuna, why shouldn't Hashem provide him his needs?

Years later, a fire broke out in R. Yoseph Yozel's house and destroyed most of his possessions - not that he owned much anyway. His talmidim knew what little importance their Rav attached to material possessions and Olam Hazeh. Therefore, they were certain that the destruction would not bother him at all. For some reason, though, R. Yoseph Yozel was consumed with worry. To everyone's astonishment, he began to dig through the rubble with a fearful expression on his face.

"My candle, my precious candle is missing!" R. Yoseph Yozel lamented. When he spoke in public about emuna and trust in Hashem, he would always show the candle and tell the story behind it. The loss of this concrete example of the rewards of emuna tormented him, and his pious face was etched with grief.

One day, however, R. Yoseph Yozel suddenly appeared much different. His face was lit up with its old glow, and there was no trace of the sorrow that had taken hold of him after the fire.

"You probably know," said R. Yoseph Yozel to his talmidim, "that for a long time I was very disturbed that my little candle stub was lost. For me, that candle signified emuna and bitachon in the Creator. Touching it would awaken in me the feeling that everything is from Hashem. This morning, though, I realized that we do not need such a candle, or any other physical means of strengthening our faith and trust in Hashem. It is obvious that everything is dependent on Him! How is it possible for a Jew to think differently?"

Wishing everyone a Gut Shabbos!

Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
4 Panim Meirot, Jerusalem 94423 Israel
Tel: 732-858-1257
Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop Lakewood).
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