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Weekly Chizuk



Adapted from "Ha'aros" by Moreinu v'Rabbeinu HaGaon HaTzaddik Rav Zeidel Epstein, zt"l.

"Korach the son of Yitzhar, the son of Kohas, the son of Levi took [himself to one side] along with Dasan and Aviram, the sons of Eliav, and On the son of Peles, descendants of Reuven." (Bamidbar 16:1)

Rashi: Now what made Korach decide to quarrel with Moshe? He envied the high office given to Elitzafan the son of Uzziel whom Moshe appointed as head over the sons of Kohas by the [Divine] word. Korach claimed, "My father and his brothers were four [in number]" . Amram was the first, and his two sons received greatness - one a king and one a kohen gadol. Who is entitled to receive the second [position]? Is it not I, who am the son of Yitzhar, who is the second brother to Amram? And yet, he [Moshe] appointed the son of the youngest brother to be head! I hereby oppose him and will invalidate his word (Midrash Tanchuma Korach 1, Bamidbar Rabba 18:2).

What did he do? He went and assembled two hundred and fifty men, heads of Sanhedrin, most of them from the tribe of Reuven, his neighbors. He dressed them with cloaks made entirely of blue wool (techeles). They came and stood before Moshe and asked him, "Does a cloak made entirely of techeles require tzitzis, or is it exempt?" He replied, "It does require [tzitzis]." They began laughing at him [saying], "Is it possible that a cloak of another [colored] material, and one string of blue wool exempts it [from the obligation of techeles], while this one, which is made entirely of blue wool, should not exempt itself? - [Midrash Tanchuma Korach 2, Bamidbar Rabba 18:3]

We have explained in the previous weeks that the Ribono Shel Olam created this world full of tests (nisyonos) for a person. The purpose of nisyonos is, as the Ramban explained, to uplift the person, to give him a challenge and an opportunity to grow in his spiritual stature. Often, these nisyonos are in the form of "room to make a mistake." A person has to struggle for clarity and not be misled by the camouflage and disguises the yetzer hara puts in front of him. He is given room to err.

Two weeks ago, in parshas Beha'aloscha we discussed that even simple things, like garlic and onions, can be nisyonos. A person can err regarding the most straightforward and obvious things.

Last week, when Moshe Rabbeinu sent out the Meraglim he said: . Normally we translate: "You shall be courageous and take from the fruit of the land." But the word ve'hischazaktem can also mean "strengthen yourself." Moshe Rabbeinu was telling the meraglim, "When you take the fruit of the land, be sure to strengthen yourself and don't be misled." It takes tremendous strength and effort to see properly and not make mistakes. Remember, and remember, and remember again that right in front of you there lurks room to make a mistake. And you have the ability to avoid it.

This week, in Korach we see that even the most exalted heights, Ruach Hakodesh and prophecy, can be nisyonos. Korach teaches us that even the greatest people are apt to err also.

But what did Korach, who was so exceptionally astute, see [to commit] this folly? His vision deceived him. He saw [prophetically] a chain of great people descended from him: Shmuel, who would be equal [in importance] to Moshe and Aaron. He [Korach] said, "For his sake I will be spared. [He also saw] twenty-four watches [of Levi'im] emanating from his grandsons, all prophesying through ruach hakodesh He said, "Is it possible that all this greatness is destined to emanate from me, and I should remain silent?" Therefore, he participated [in the rebellion] to attain what was due him, for he had heard from Moshe that all would perish except for one who would escape [death]: "the one whom the Lord chooses - he is the holy one." He erred in thinking that it referred to him. He, however, did not "see" properly, for his sons repented [and thus did not die at that time]. Moshe, however, saw this. - [Midrash Tanchuma, Korach 5, and Bamidbar Rabba 18:8]

Korach had a prophecy. He saw clearly a great future for his descendants. He was invincible. He wasn't going to perish in his battle against Moshe Rabbeinu. So he must be right! Why didn't he think that maybe things would turn out differently? That never occurred to him. He had a brilliant mind and figured out all the angles. With his genius he had it all worked out. Why didn't he think of the possibility that his children would do teshuvah and move over to Moshe Rabbeinu's side? Or Moshe Rabbeinu with all his merits would somehow succeed in spite of the prophecy?

Rashi hints at this. Rashi adds the words: Moshe, however, saw." What does Rashi mean by this? Of course Moshe Rabbeinu saw. He was the greatest of navi'im and could see everything. We however, can't see. Isn't that simple? Why did Rashi have to add this in? The answer is that you might think that the truth was so hidden from Korach he really couldn't see. It wasn't his fault. He was misled by his prophecy. No! Moshe, however, saw. This is a sign that Korach too could see, if only he had tried. So why didn't he see? It didn't occur to him that there was room to make a mistake. And because he didn't take the mistake factor into account he was lost forever.

Everything in the world can be this "room to err." It can be a prophecy, it can be Ruach Hakodesh.

Elisha ben Avuya was a great tanna. The gemara (Chagiga 15a and Yerushalmi Chap. 2 p. 76): relates that he, together with R. Akiva and 2 other t'naim were of such an elevated stature that they were able to enter a spiritual realm call "The Garden." There they were given visions of the mystical secrets of Creation. Rabbi Akiva came out unscathed, but Elisha ben Avuya saw things which shook his faith to the core. He heard a heavenly voice proclaimed: "Repent, you backsliding children [Yirmiyah 3:14] - except for 'the Other One' (referring to Elisha)." Elisha ben Avuya reasoned: "Now that I am banished from the Next World, I might as well enjoy the here and now." He gave himself over to evil ways. He no longer considered himself the great tanna but looked at himself as a different person and from then on he was referred to as "the Other One."

Our rabbis taught: It once happened that "the Other One" (Elisha ben Avuya) was riding his horse on Shabbos, while Rabbi Meir followed on foot in order to learn Torah from him.

"That's enough, Meir," he said. "We have now reached the Shabbos limit (techum)."

"How do you know?"

"I calculated from the paces of my horse that we have gone 2000 amos [cubits]."

"You have all this wisdom," said Rabbi Meir, "and yet you do not repent?"

"I can't."

"Why not?"

"Once I was riding my horse in front of the Holy of Holies, on Yom Kippur, which happened to fall on a Shabbos. I heard the divine voice issue from the Holy of Holies: 'Repent, you backsliding children' - except for Elisha ben Avuyah, who knew my power and rebelled against me.'"

Anyone in Elisha's place, who heard Heaven declare, "There's no hope. You can't do teshuvah," would most likely also have his faith shattered. He would just give up. Even Heaven has given up on him.

But, if we look in the perush of Rabbeinu Chananel we find that this was a tragic error! There's hope for everyone. Even the worst wicked, evil, rosha can do teshuvah. If Elisha would have davened, and davened again and pounded on the gates of Shomayim, they have to open up for him. If that's the case, why was he privileged to hear this Divine message of doom? Why should Heaven itself mislead him and tell him there's no hope? Because even a Divine Voice can be the "room to err." A Divine Voice called out and said, "Everyone can do teshuva except for Elisha!" That should have been the shock that woke him up. He should have sat down and cried. "Ribono Shel Olam! Oy! I'm so low I can't even do teshuva? Have mercy! Turn the world upside down, inside out, but let me do teshuva!" And that would have worked. That was the real message of the Divine Voice. He shouldn't have been taken in by it.

Even If You See Him Pushing You Away, Don't Believe It!

This scenario repeats itself over and over again. A bochur finds himself in the yeshiva and he's not learning anything. He's there 2 years, 3 years. He's all broken. What's the result? It's not for me. I give up. But it doesn't enter his mind that maybe all this merely a "room to err." Shomayim is demanding him to exert himself more and trust that he will succeed in the end.

This is what he has to realize. Difficulties are nothing more that "room to make a mistake." That's the secret of the entire universe. Our only problem is to figure out what are we supposed to do. But that's the hard part. We're in a quandary to do or not do. If everything is "room for error" we're stuck. The single thing we can do is to daven. Last week in parshas Shelach, what did Calev do? He ran off to Chevron to daven. What did Moshe Rabbeinu do? He davened. It can be the greatest "room for error," but there is nothing greater than tefilla. "Ribono Shel Olam. I see You're giving me tremendous nisyonos. I know what You are doing, but I can't anymore. It's too much for me. Help!"

Even when it looks impossible, and you are lost, realize it's merely a nisayon. And the Ribono Shel Olam won't reject anyone in the world. He doesn't give up on anyone. Even if we see Him pushing us away, don't believe it. He wants to give you an opportunity for greatness, to develop yourself and grow. He wants you realize that it's merely a nisayon, and to believe in the Ribono Shel Olam in spite of the difficulties, and thus you can make a breakthrough. This is the true Hatzlocha of a person.

* * *

The Child Came Back

The door slammed open from the force of the wind. Her husband entered the house, his face fallen. "There is no one to talk to," he muttered in dejection. Just two months ago their son had been one of the geniuses that warmed up the benches of the yeshiva. "Your son will eventually become a Gadol baTorah," the Rosh Yeshiva said to them on several occasions. He had been their pride and joy.

"He was our oldest son," Devorah began as she began to unload the burden of her story, to peel away one layer after the other. She would reach the heart of the episode only when she felt strong enough to again confront the terrible feeling that had threatened to sweep away everything she had built up over all those years. It was very difficult for her to go back to it all again. She retold the story only in order to give hope to other parents who found themselves in similar situations.

"Aryeh, our first son, had given us tremendous nachas already when he was young. He had always been amongst the most outstanding students in class. Always one of the best. Right after his Bar Mitzvah it was obvious to everyone that he would be accepted to one of the finest yeshiva ketanos (Yeshiva High School). And our expectations were soon realized. He was accepted to several yeshivos. All that was left for us to do was to decide. After proper deliberation, we made our decision and chose a very fine yeshiva. The first day of the z'man we accompanied Aryeh with tremendous emotion. We knew that here too, like in his cheider (primary school), he would quickly stand out."

The quiet of the morning hung now over the community where Devorah now lived, close to Yerushalayim. Pictures of her married children and grandchildren were hanging on the walls. Devorah rose from her seat and offered me coffee and cake. I didn't refuse. I felt she needed a little break to be by herself.

"Aryeh didn't disappoint us. He learned wonderfully," she continued after a few minutes. "He was always surrounded with good friends. Once a month he came home for his out-Shabbos and then I made sure to pamper him and serve him the foods he loved. I thanked the Almighty that our oldest son was such a wonderful example to his little brothers."

Aryeh continued to fulfill all the expectations, even in Yeshiva Gedola. Everyone knew that here was a genius and a tremendous masmid. But one day, at four in the morning, the telephone rang.

Devorah initially thought that it was a wrong number. But in spite of this, she answered.

"Is this the Mann family?" the voice on the other end of the line asked.

"Yes?" answered Devorah.

"Your son has been involved in an accident and was injured. He is being treated in the hospital. You really should come over."

"I almost fainted," Devorah related. "My son was in an accident? At this hour? Where was he? Why didn't he tell me he was going?" My heart was pounding madly. I woke up my husband and told the other children that we had to go out for an emergency.

"The details only became clear after several days, as the police were also involved in the investigation. Unfortunately, the driver was killed. We were lucky that our son was still alive. It soon came out that several bochurim had decided to take a little trip during the night and return by morning. In order to keep the trip a secret from the yeshiva one of the bochurim "borrowed" his parents' car, without telling them about it. None of the bochurim had a license. They were all underage. We were in shock. How could our son, Aryeh the masmid, always so responsible, have been involved in such an episode?! "In the days following the accident, we decided not to continue probing and asking questions. He had indeed been spared, but he was suffering from terrible pain: physical, and emotional. He had sat next to his friend, the driver who had been killed. He was in shock. The look in his eyes was not what it used to be.

"The visitors kept flowing. The yeshiva itself was in shock and mourning over the death of one of the talmidim. The Rosh Yeshiva approached us to try to encourage us. He too, found it difficult to understand how Aryeh had gotten involved. "A tzaddik falls seven times and then gets up" (Mishlei 24:16), he told us in encouragement. We thirstily drank in his words.

"'Aryeh will soon get over his wounds.' At least that was what we thought. However, the breakdown soon started. Even before we could swallow the first blow, an avalanche of boulders began to rain down on us. He stopped learning, sat for hours and stared at the open gemara. The Rosh Yeshiva advised him to stay home for a while. 'The accident has affected him very badly. He was sitting next to his friend who found his death.'

"Aryeh returned home. He wandered around with nothing to do. Nothing interested him, until the worst of all happened. He started becoming distant. He retreated within himself. He would go out and return only after many hours, without reporting on what he had been doing. Our hearts sank within us. I would cry for hours on end. I felt that time was running out, and soon I would lose my son."

"Unfortunately the coming weeks proved that I was not wrong. We watched in terrible pain how our son became more and more distant not only from the family, but from his Yiddishkeit. We didn't know where to bury ourselves from all the embarrassment. How would we explain it to our close relatives? How could we look Aryeh's grandparents in the face? How should we respond to the stares that were surrounding us from all sides? It is hard to describe in words the sinking feeling, the emotional torture. I started to hide in my house. The other children suffered no less. The atmosphere in the house was of extreme torment.

"Then Aryeh left home. 'I do not want to cause you so much aggravation. I've chosen a different path in life,' he said. In one slice, he cut the deep and beloved connection between us. And with that he left our world. Within me, I mourned him as if he were dead, in spite of the fact that I knew he was living on some kibbutz by an adopted family. The pain was excruciating.

"Two months after Aryeh left home my husband Dovid came home with a suggestion: 'A new Kollel that is opening up in Hong Kong and I've been offered a position there. They want me to give shiurim and they even have a job for you. I think it is worthwhile to take them up on the offer. We will go for a few years and come back renewed.'"

"Dovid wanted to leave his pain behind him and try, at least for the sake of the remaining children, to open a new page in life.

"'And Aryeh? What is going to be with him?' I asked.

"'Aryeh's already left us anyway. All we can do is to daven. We can continue to hope and daven for a miracle.'"

The Mann family accepted the offer. "I never dreamed that I, the daughter of a family that had lived for generations in Yerushalayim, would be forced to pack my bags, to leave my home, my family, Eretz Yisroel, when the real reason motivating us wasn't parnossah, but the terrible anguish and the shame that was pursuing us like a shadow."

Many of the first Jewish inhabitants of Hong Kong were Sefardi businessmen, mostly from Bombay and Calcutta. Several of the families had become quite wealthy. Others settled there after the Second World War, having managed to escape from Poland and Lithuania into China. Today there are four Orthodox communities in Hong Kong. But back then, when Dovid and Devorah arrived about twenty-five years ago, there was barely a spark of Judaism. "You understand, we arrived on an island, we were just about the first Orthodox Jews in the city," Devorah related. In spite of the fact that they were basically unknown there, and the span of their short stay was to be recorded solely in the family history, still Devorah felt that they were among the layers of the cornerstone of the Jewish life that is thriving there today.

"The change was immense," Devorah related, "and the life-style completely different. In the Jewish community there, I met many wonderful and lovely families. Many of them were quite traditional. Shuls were filled mainly on Shabbos. My husband learned in the lone Kollel, and gave shiurim."

There were no Orthodox schools available for the young children The Mann's older daughters remained in Eretz Yisroel to attend seminary. However, they had children of kindergarten age. Therefore, Devorah decided to take action and open a private kindergarten herself. "Besides the parnossah that it would bring in, I wanted to ensure a proper surrounding and education for the young children." Devorah never dreamed that her Gan (kindergarten) would turn into a success story. Even non-religious women started sending their little children there. Thus Devorah quieted all the terrible grief in her heart by throwing herself into the chinuch of the children in her Gan.

She started making friends with some of the mothers, and they in turn started showing interest in the Orthodox way of life. The project of inviting families for Shabbos started by accident. One Friday one of the mothers came to pick up her son from the Gan. "What a wonderful smell," she exclaimed.

"That is the smell of Shabbos," Devorah answered.

"We do not have such a smell in our house."

Before she knew it, Devorah had invited her to come and eat with them on Shabbos. It was quite an experience. Devorah watched from the side while her husband spent hours with the guests and explained about Shabbos, and Judaism in general. Thus, one invitation was followed by another, and Devorah was flung into a new mission: Kiruv Rechokim.

"We heard that a group of yeshiva bochurim had arrived from Israel in order to strengthen the community and we quickly invited them to visit us. They found a second home, and the door was always open for them. My husband invited any Israeli boy he bumped into. Young soldiers who had just finished their army service and had come touring were invited for Shabbos meals. We knew that every sentence, every word, had the power to influence."

Devorah and Dovid accepted every request that was posed to them. "I didn't want to stop and think. And so the whole day I was busy, either with the Gan, or with visits to the women in the community. I even started giving classes."

It was a Sunday, when Devorah had gone to do some shopping in the local market. Her eyes were drawn to a girl standing behind one of the counters selling something quite fascinating. "Art in Hong Kong is quite unique. They form very magnificent items out of paper, carved soap, and colored fans. All the artistic creations are handmade, a combination of talent with diligence. The young girl seemed familiar to me. As I approached, I realized that I recognized her and her brother from the Jewish community. "What are you doing here?" I asked them. "Money," her fifteen-year-old brother responded. "If that is the case, then you've struck it rich. I'm going to buy a large amount of your merchandise, and you are coming to us for Shabbos. Is it a deal?"

If only Devorah had known that at that very moment she had struck the deal of her life, she would have paid double if asked.

"The two immediately agreed and Friday night they appeared at their front door to fulfill their part of the deal. The fifteen-year-old brother was very inspired by the stay. His sister, however, politely thanked me for the meal, but we never saw her again. Her brother, Yitzchak, however, developed a very strong connection with us."

During the following Shabbosim Yitzchak became a regular at their table. The weekly meeting turned into daily meetings. "My husband invested a lot of time into Yitzchak. Perhaps he felt that being occupied with Yitzchak was strengthening him, healing a bit the wounds that had not yet healed."

Yitzchak's parents asked to meet them. The change transpiring in their son appealed to them. They were happy that their son preferred to sit and study with Rabbi Mann rather than waste his time with bad friends.

The Manns stayed in Hong Kong for two years. The contract they had signed was over, and they felt sufficiently strong to return to Israel. "During those two years we had heard nothing from our son Aryeh," Devorah recounted. "We bid an emotional farewell from all the families we had come to know. But Yitzchak refused to part from us. He asked if he could come along, to learn in a yeshiva in Jerusalem. At first, we didn't know what to answer. But Yitzchak was adamant and his parents agreed. They relied on us to watch over him. I wanted to laugh. How ironic. They're relying on me to take care of their son, but where is mine?

"As I was standing for the last time in front of the Shabbos candles in Hong Kong, I davened to the Ribono Shel Olam to bring my son back to me."

The return to Eretz Yisroel was very difficult. "The fact that we came back forced us to again confront the very situation that had chased us from here. "Yitzchak, who accompanied us, was integrated into a Ba'al Teshuva yeshiva."

"I tried to locate Aryeh, but even when I arrived at the address given, he refused to meet us. 'Maybe it is time for us to realize that we have lost our son?' I repeated over and over to my husband, as if in this way I might quiet my anguish."

Suddenly Devorah raised herself up. She had become very emotional. "Until today I do not believe it. I lost a son, and received in return two."

I lifted up my glance at the cryptic remark, but was silent.

She continued. "Two years passed. Yitzchak had already become part of the family. He had picked up Hebrew quite fluently. We drank in the nachas from this young man. He had been transformed into a truly God-fearing individual. He was studious and quite an accomplished scholar. He fit in so well that he impressed the entire yeshiva. As the Succos holiday approached Yitzchak informed us that he was going on a little tour of the north. Erev Simchas Torah he arrived home, but something was strange about his look. We tried to talk to him, but he remained quiet. However, his face revealed that something was burning inside. Only three months later did we discover the real meaning behind the glances he sent us the whole Yom Tov."

Devorah will never forget that evening, three months later. There was a knock on the front door. Devorah went to open it, and almost fainted. There was Aryeh standing in the entrance. Aryeh?! With a yarmulke perched on his head!

That night Heaven didn't cry. But Devorah cried - from joy. Yitzchak appeared two hours later and gave Aryeh a long hug. Now the puzzle was solved. "He was our tour guide," Yitzchak started relating the story. Then Aryeh took over, "Talking to him during the trip I found out that he was from Hong Kong. He was a ba'al teshuva living with the Mann family. At that moment I saw black."

Aryeh probably was shaken up by the thought that another bochur had taken his place. The shock pulled him out of the state of mind into which he had sunk the last few years, since the accident. Yitzchak also was stunned when he heard that this non-religious boy standing in front of him was the son of his adopted family.

"I didn't know how to react. After a little while, I decided to return the favor and try to return their lost son to them," Yitzchak smiled. "I had no inkling that Aryeh existed."

During the next three months after that initial meeting, they spent a lot of time together. Yitzchak, already a regular yeshiva bochur, supported Aryeh, and helped him conquer the hurdle that was blocking him until he was able to bring himself to return home.

It has been many years. Devorah opened an album. "Here I am dancing at Yitzchak's Chasuna. And here I am dancing at Aryeh's Chasuna. Yitzchak today had seven children and is considered our son in every way. He and Aryeh are blood brothers, heart and soul. If you will ask me why I bothered you to come here to hear my story that happened so many years ago, the answer is simple: the story is alive for me each day anew. I want to send a message of hope to all parents who find themselves suddenly, one clear day, in shock over their child who has left home. Continue hoping. Never slam the door shut. Do not give up. Daven. Your child will one day come home."

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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