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Your Rod and Your Staff, They Shall Comfort Me

"You shall know in your heart, that just as a man reproves his son, so does the Lord, your God, reprove you" (Devorim 8:5).

Excerpted from "Mission Possible!" and "Chizuk!"

Rav Shach, zt"l, frequently quoted the explanation offered by Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, zt"l, on the words in Tehillim, "Even though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me. Your rod and Your staff, they shall comfort me," as follows:

To what can this be compared? To a father who was traveling with his son through a thick forest. Before entering, the father strictly cautioned his son not to wander off for even a moment, lest he endanger his life.

At first the child heeded his father's warning and held on tightly to his father's hand. But after a while, something caught his attention. He let go and went off to explore. Not realizing that his son was absent, the father continued on. Soon the son tired and wished to return to his father, but could not find him. The more he floundered about in the thicket, the more confused he became and the further he strayed from his father. Night fell and darkness swallowed everything up. The night creatures ventured out of their lairs: owls, wolves and bears, each emitting its peculiar and frightening sounds. The boy was terrified.

Suddenly, the boy felt a sharp pain on his cheek. It was a stinging slap. Before screaming his protest, he looked up and saw his father. "Oh, Father! Father!" he cried, forgetting his pain. "How happy I am to have found you!" Indeed, he welcomed his father's punishment, for it meant that his father had been looking for him and still cared.

Similarly, a Jew in distress is not afraid of evil, for he realizes that this is the chastising rod of Hashem, the Father Who is concerned for his welfare. The very punishing rod is his consolation that Hashem still cares.

When the Divrei Chaim returned from Sanz after the funeral of his beloved son, Arye Leibush, who passed away at the age of seven, he said:

"A man is walking innocently along when he suddenly feels a forceful blow on his back. Turning around to identify his attacker, he is surprised to see his best friend thumping him affectionately upon the back. Even if he first meant to scold the striker, he now accepts the blows with a smile and is veritably happy at his friend's exuberant show of affection. I, too, have received a stunning blow. But when I looked around to see who struck it, I said to myself: 'Why, it is none other than Hashem Himself, Whom I love so much! There is no question about my accepting it with love and joy.'"

* * *

I Used To Eat Kosher - No More!

(As told over by Rabbi Avraham Gross, former Rav of Shaarei Hatikva Synagogue in Washington Heights.)

After forty-seven years being the Rav of the Shaarei Hatikva Shul, I moved to Eretz Yisroel. About twelve years before my move, I served as chaplain in Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. Every day I would receive a printout from the hospital's computer of all the Jewish patients. But everyone knows that computers aren't foolproof and many Jewish patients never made it onto the list. So on my rounds through the wards, I would look at the names posted on the doors of the rooms, looking for those that were likely to be Jewish.

One day I passed by a room and perused the names listed. My attention was immediately drawn to one name in particular. It was the family name of a most illustrious talmid chacham of pre-World War I Europe, one of the Gedolei Hador. I knocked and was beckoned inside. The patient, an elderly Jewish man, sat on his bed.

"Good morning," I said as I introduced myself as the chaplain of the hospital. "I couldn't help but wonder about your family name. Are you by any chance related to Rabbi So-and-so?"

"What! So you knew my great grandfather?!"

"I know my beard is gray, but I'm not that old. However, I have studied from his works and he was really a very great scholar."

On his tray were the hospital utensils and the remains of his breakfast. I looked at the tray and his eyes caught my stare. "Rabbi, I guess you're wondering about my breakfast. Well, to tell you the truth. I used to keep kosher. But no more! I used to keep Shabbos… but no more! I used to daven and lay tefillin… NO MORE!"

I looked at him and with a pained voiced I answered, "You must have suffered a terrible tragedy."

For a moment he was silent and looked down, seemingly lost in his thoughts. "I had a son. He was twenty years old when he got sick. My wife and I stayed by his bedside the whole week. Friday afternoon we bid him goodbye and hurried home so my wife could light Shabbos candles before sunset. Right before she lit, we got the phone call. Since then I have had nothing to do with Yiddishkeit."

I looked at him and, after a moment of silence, said, "So you're angry at God."

"You bet I am!" was his reply. He continued talking about this for about ten minutes and I empathized with his pain.

I was struggling within myself, searching for an answer. I prayed silently to the Ribono Shel Olam for help. Then I got an idea.

"What was your profession?"

"Me? Why, I was a justice of the Supreme Court of the Borough of Queens. I sat on the bench for over twenty years. And do you know, that in all of that time the Federal Supreme Court only repealed two of my cases. That says a lot. I researched all my cases, and my ruling was overturned only twice."

He did not realize it, but he had just played into my hands.

"That is a wonderful record. I bet you disappointed a lot of people. Every trial has two sides. You decided against one of them. And the lawyer who lost must have muttered under his breath. Of course, he would not say anything out loud. That would be contempt of court. But outside the court he must have cursed you and your verdict. He probably felt that you were terribly wrong in your judgment, had not sized up the case properly, or had misconstrued the evidence. But you stuck to your guns. You had researched the case thoroughly and you were absolutely convinced that your decision was the law. It did not matter that the other person did not understand. That is the law. The law is often cold. It is harsh. It is difficult to accept. It often hurts and is painful. But that is the law!

"God is the ultimate Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Universe. Many times, He has to hand down decisions that we puny mortals cannot, for the life of us, fathom. It does not make sense. It looks wrong and harsh. But God knows better. He has taken everything into consideration; all the past and future. All the ramifications have been accounted for. In the end, He has made His decision, and we have to accept it. You know why? Because that is the law! It hurts, it is painful. We do not understand. But that is the law.

"You lost a son. It was a very great tragedy. You have suffered overwhelming grief. But you were a justice of the Supreme Court. You understand. That is the law."

He stared at me for a moment, and then dropped his head. He repeated over and over again, "That is the law. That is the law."

He raised his head. "You know, Rabbi, no one ever explained it to me that way. That is the law. I must accept it. Because that is the law."

He looked at me and asked, "Do you think I can get kosher food in this hospital?"

Gut Shabbos!

© Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff

Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff

Rosh Yeshiva

Yeshiva Gedolah Medrash Chaim

Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop ? Lakewood). You can access Rav Parkoff's Chizuk Sheets online:

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