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Weekly Chizuk


Your Rod and Your Staff, They Comfort Me

"You shall know in your heart, that just as a man rebukes his son, so does the Lord, your G-d, rebuke you" (Devorim 8:5).

Excerpted from "Trust Me!" and "Chizuk!"

A Psalm to David, the Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green meadows; He leads me beside refreshing streams. He restores my life; He guides me by righteous paths for His own sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no harm; for You are with me. Your rod and Your staff - they comfort me. (Tehillim 23:1-4)

(The following is from Ruach Chaim by R. Chaim Volozhin, commenting on Pirkei Avos 2:4.)

David Ha-Melech has used the metaphor of sheep to illustrate true bitachon. The shepherd takes care of all of the sheep's needs, and they are not even aware of what he is doing. So too should a person throw all his burdens on Hashem, with total faith that He will take care of him. This is the intent of David Ha-Melech in writing, "the Lord is my shepherd." He, my Lord, is like a shepherd tending his flock. He makes sure that they always have plenty of pasture, and therefore, "I shall not want."

Even what appears contrary to my desires is in reality for my benefit, as we learn from the flock of sheep. Sometimes a sheep wants to stray from the pastureland and the shepherd prevents it from wandering off. The poor sheep can't figure out why. But the shepherd knows better; and he looks out for the best interests of the flock. They are grazing now at the best and most lush pasture. "He makes me lie down in green meadows." When he makes me stay here, in this place, it is to enjoy the wonderful meadow that is here.

Sometimes the opposite happens. A sheep wants to rest here, but the shepherd won't let it. He leads it further on against its will. This too is for its own good. There is a wonderful stream over there and it has to drink after eating. "He leads me beside refreshing streams." When he leads the sheep away from its comfortable place, the purpose is to bring it to a refreshing stream over there.

So too does the Almighty "pasture" us. When He sees us in an adverse situation, He picks us up and puts us down somewhere else. And when we don't understand what is happening, when we don't understand the hidden good in this, we suffer and complain. But eventually we will look back and see that all of this was done with G-d's wonderful graciousness.

Sometimes, however, even in hindsight, we can see no good that came out of our situation. It appears totally bad, and seems as if Hashem is just causing us pain. "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death," it looks as if only the darkness of death surrounds us. Still, "I will fear no harm." We are probably in need of some atonement. Hashem merely wants to purify our physical beings which hinder our connection to Him. Therefore, "Your rod and Your staff - they comfort me."

We can also explain this last phrase as referring to two types of sticks - one of pleasantness and one of harshness. The pleasant staff is the stick that supports a person as he walks about. The harsh rod is the one with which he punishes his disobedient child. Thus, we can understand David Ha-Melech's statement as meaning "Your rod and Your staff - they [both] comfort me," for I know that both of them are for my benefit.

* * *

I Used To Eat Kosher - No More!

(As told over by Rabbi Avraham Gross z"l, 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 G-d."

"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 unequivocally 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!

"G-d 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 G-d 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?"

© 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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