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Parshas Lech Lecha
To Overcome the OrdealsAnd I will make you a great nation and I will bless you and I will make your name great... (Bereishis 12:2)
There were ten generations from Noach to Avraham... Avraham Avinu was tested with ten trials. (Pirkei Avos 5:2 3)
Adapted from Derech Emunah u'Bitachon, vol. 2, by Moreinu v'Rabbeinu Ha-Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, ztzuk"l.
An essential fact we have to grasp is that we are in this world to overcome tests and to grow. This is our task, and it is crucial for us to be aware of it. Like a soldier who realizes that his duty is to display courage on the battlefield, so must we be aware that this is our duty. Every Jew must know that he has come into this world in order to pass through a series of tests. His job is to excel in them, until he becomes a spiritual giant. One who doesn't understand this - who complains that life is unfair and who becomes overwhelmed when faced with life's difficulties - is to be pitied. The secret to fulfilling one's potential and achieving greatness lies in overcoming life's trials. Avraham was born Avram. He only became Avraham Avinu after he passed ten tests. They were not random, unconnected occurrences which occasionally intruded on his life and which he overcame and subsequently ignored. Rather, all the tests formed a progressive chain of development. With each test passed, he ascended to a loftier level, and thus attained greatness.
Through trials one toughens his heart and strengthens his emunah. This is how a person builds and perfects himself. One should not complain that his lot is more difficult than other people's. On the contrary, a person must feel that perhaps things are harder for him because he has more potential. Chazal tell us that God tests the one He loves (see Bereishis Rabbah, parashas Vayeira 55:2, based on Tehillim 11:7). Can we fathom the ways of Divine Providence? This is not our job, nor is it within our grasp to do so. When a person feels overwhelmed and asks himself, "Why is it so hard for me in particular," that is when he must fortify himself and struggle to view things in a different light. The fact one faces so many trials proves that he has found favor in God's eyes; it is the path to greatness.
Yehuda'le was such a sweet little boy when he was in cheider. He was blessed with outstanding intelligence, deep understanding and a superb memory. His manners were genial and pleasant as was proper for a Ben Torah. In short, he was the kind of boy every teacher hoped to have in his class.
This all changed, though, in one day. It was the middle of seventh grade. That is when tragedy struck. Yehuda'le's father, who had always been for him a revered image and model, passed away after a difficult and short illness. Yehuda'le was left without his father image, without a guiding hand, without a supporting shoulder.
The change wasn't obvious at first. But after a short while it was impossible not to notice. Yehuda'le, who had always been a calm and studious boy, lost all serenity. He had no patience to sit in his place even for one minute. It was evident that he was trying to recover something which had been lost forever. One didn't have to be an expert to realize that Yehuda'le desperately needed warmth and stability.
Yehuda'le's mother, a fresh widow, was unable to come to terms with her loss. She now struggled from morning until night trying just to exist - a heavy burden for her young shoulders. Until her husband's death, he had been the sole breadwinner. Now that he was gone she had no inkling how to feed her children.
If that weren't enough, she was also collapsing under the load of paying back all the loans she had taken out. The medical treatments had been overwhelmingly expensive, but she had to attempt everything possible to save her husband's life. Unfortunately, the treatments did not succeed.
At the time she didn't dream that such a burden would fall on her shoulders; or perhaps it is more accurate to say that at that time she was unable to think at all. During those long days and weeks she almost never left her sefer Tehillim; tears streamed down her cheeks nonstop. The rest of the day she wandered around as if in a daze, unable to focus her thoughts or do anything useful.
During the illness, a group of neighbors got together and tried to take matters into their hands. They collected funds and secured loans, hoping that the beloved father and husband would eventually recuperate and go back to leading a normal life. However, such was not the will of Heaven. Now she was left alone, immersed in her sorrow, the entire burden weighing on her frail shoulders.
Of course, all her family, near and distant, gathered their resources to help. Different Chesed organizations sent monetary stipends and food supplies. But the burden, the heavy burden, remained on her shoulders. There was not even one small corner of her heart from which to draw some strength for even the most minimal warmth of a relationship with her dear son Yehuda'le. He was left to deal with the heaviest difficulties - far beyond what could be expected of a boy his age - alone.
Thus started Yehuda'le's slide. His marks started dropping drastically. His attention during class was minimal, if at all. His class participation - well, there was nothing to talk about. At the end of the semester the rebbe painfully summed it all up - the flower that everyone had expected to blossom and radiate its sweet fragrance had almost totally wilted and withered away.
A year passed and Yehuda'le entered eighth grade. The teaching staff gathered to discuss which yeshiva to send him to, but they could not reach any decision. On one hand, no honorable yeshiva would accept Yehuda'le in his current state. However, on the other hand, it would be an unforgivable crime to send such a potential blossom to a weak yeshiva and completely close the door on any possibility of his returning to his former self.
Finally the decision was agreed upon to try to send Yehuda'le to a good yeshiva, but to hide his present sorry state from them. Instead, they would emphasize the tremendous potential hidden within him, and the marvelous achievements he could reach if only someone would help him overcome his problem. The plan went from theory to action. That night the rebbe started contacting the heads of the best yeshivos, hoping that one of them would agree to accept upon himself this important life-saving project.
But their worst expectations materialized. It just was not that simple at all. Each rosh yeshiva explained politely that even though they fully understood the need and the obvious importance of accepting Yehuda'le to their yeshiva, and even though they really wanted with all their heart and soul to take on this worthy project - they just couldn't respond positively to the request because…. Each rosh yeshiva gave reasons upon reasons.
The rebbe had known from the beginning that the job that he had taken upon himself would not be an easy one. He refused to give up. He tried to convince, to plead, to force, to beg. He even tried to use his very influential connections to put pressure. But nothing worked.
One day, he happened to hear about a new yeshiva opening up for excellent bochurim. The rosh yeshiva was Reb Mordechai, a known educator with a warm heart, who had a reputation for his tremendous efforts on behalf of his students.
Truthfully, the rebbe did not believe that a new yeshiva in the midst of its birth pangs would agree to accept a bochur who would not contribute much to its good name. But he decided that Heaven only required him to try, and try he did to his utmost.
He called up Reb Mordechai and made an appointment to come over to his house to discuss the matter that very evening. As soon as he knocked on the door, his hands started trembling. He could not push out of his mind his trepidation of the expected outcome. If Reb Mordechai would send him away empty-handed, he would be forced to admit defeat and enroll Yehuda'le in one of the weaker yeshivos that would take him in with open arms.
Reb Mordechai himself opened the door. He was a young avreich around thirty. He invited the rebbe to come in. After sitting down at the table, the rebbe unrolled Yehuda'le's entire history before Reb Mordechai: his outstanding talents, his past success; even the recent decline that plagued him since his father's life had been snuffed out in its prime.
He described the painful efforts trying to find an appropriate yeshiva for Yehuda'le. "Reb Mordechai," he said, "if you take in this child and help him overcome the crisis he is going through, you will have saved a Yiddishe neshama and you'll have gained Olam Haba!"
Reb Mordechai leaned his head on his two hands. He sat deep in thought for a few minutes, absorbing everything he had just heard. Then he turned to the rebbe and said, "What I am willing to do is to meet with Yehudah, talk to him and try to help him pull out of his crisis. If I can detect a ray of hope that I can influence him, then I will gladly accept him into my yeshiva despite the negative image he has built for himself this last year. But I must warn you from the start: if I see my words falling on deaf ears, if there does not appear any prospect on the horizon for substantial change on his part, I will not accept him under any circumstances!"
The rebbe, not expecting more than this even in his most rosy dreams, emotionally clasped Reb Mordechai's hand. "I thank you from the depths of my heart." Reb Mordechai refused to hear any thanks. "This boy is the child of HaKadosh Baruch Hu. If I can just succeed to pull the diamond out of the dirt, that will be my reward."
They set up a meeting immediately. It was arranged that Yehuda'le should come to the Rosh Yeshiva's house after Maariv the very next day. With the whole evening before them, they could chat without pressure.
At the appointed hour, hesitant knocks were heard at the door. Reb Mordechai opened the door himself, and before him he saw a young boy who appeared embarrassed and confused. "You're Yehudah?" he asked with a warm smile on his face. When the boy nodded in the affirmative, he invited his young guest to come in to his study and have a seat.
The Rosh Yeshiva went to the kitchen to bring some cold drinks and some nosh. Then, with a full tray in his hands, he entered the room, closed the door behind him, and sat down opposite Yehuda'le.
"I heard a lot about you," he started. "Your rebbes praised you and extolled your wonderful merits. They told me about your many successes in the past. But I heard that since your father's tragic passing, you started declining in your studies. Presently you are not using even a fraction of your potential.
"Look, Yehudah, I want with all my being to help you cope with and overcome your turmoil so you can come back to yourself with all of your previous glory. However, I cannot do anything if you will not open your heart to me and tell me your thoughts and your problems. So please, try to look at me as a friend and speak openly. Help me help you!"
Yehuda'le was very impressed from Reb Mordechai's sincerity. His young senses detected that this adult sitting in front of him genuinely and sincerely wanted to help him. He felt that the burden that he had been carrying deep within his heart for the past year was about to burst open to the outside. First came the tears… they flowed one after the other… pouring out onto his cheeks. Afterwards came the words, painful and difficult. As he choked over his story, Yehuda'le told Reb Mordechai how hard it had been to be alone, the pain that had tortured him at night, the tears he had buried in his pillow, etc. Once the dam broke, there was no way to stop it. The words flowed like a fast river. By the end, Reb Mordechai found his own cheeks wet from tears: tears of pain and sorrow at the difficulties that were the lot of such a young little boy; tears of sharing his grief and a willingness to help; tears of yearning to lighten the burden.
For a few minutes, Reb Mordechai was left speechless. He sat quietly as he wrestled in his mind how to encourage a boy whose entire secure world had suddenly collapsed around him. He davened to HaKadosh Baruch Hu to put the right words in his mouth. Then, he suddenly had an inspiration, like a light from above, and he knew exactly what he was about to say to the child sitting before him.
He rose from his chair, put his hand on Yehuda'le's shoulder and led him to the window. "Do you see the building over there?" asked Reb Mordechai, pointing toward a twenty-story building across the street. Yehuda'le nodded, yes.
"A group of contractors got together and bought that building for a huge sum of money. The company's lawyers are presently working on getting all the tenants to move out. Once the building is empty they will bring in bulldozers and demolish the whole building, with all its twenty stories. Then they will start digging deep into the ground.
"Now, you're probably surprised at this and are wondering why should they destroy such a perfectly good building? The contractors will answer you that they are destroying a twenty-story building in order to build a building with eighty stories!
"The logic is obvious to any intelligent person. Still, we are nagged by the question, 'Fine, but why rip the building down? Just add another sixty stories on top of the old building, and then you'll have your eighty stories with less cost and less work!'
"The answer is simple. An eighty-story building requires deeper, wider and stronger foundations than those of a twenty-story house! If they would build another sixty stories on top of that old building, it would crumble and collapse.
"The same is true about a person," Reb Mordechai continued, turning to Yehuda'le. "The more you tear down in order to dig deeper and deeper, the higher and sturdier you can now build.
"Hashem Yisborach has sent you a burden, a terribly heavy burden. It was very painful as He ripped down the building. Nevertheless, this was the necessary preparation in order to lay the foundations of your unique and remarkable personality. There was a purpose to the pain you experienced: it was to enable you to build yourself up firmly and strongly.
"If you accept upon yourself right now to put together the Yiddishe neshama you have within yourself, then it will be a great and strong edifice, with solid foundations, a building that will last for generations. No winds will be able to knock that building down. No crisis will overpower such a structure! "How can you build yourself, you're probably asking. Simple. Through mitzvos and good deeds, learning with hasmoda, davening with kavanah; these are the spiritual bricks with which you can build your spiritual world. Step after step, brick after brick - keep on building until it is standing firm - a wonderful edifice."
Yehuda'le stood listening quietly. It was evident on his face that he was struggling not to miss one word. The remarks pierced the very deepest recesses of his soul; they shook all his hidden fibers. However, at one point Yehuda'le felt that he couldn't hold himself back anymore.
"Fine, I understand that I have to build a tall building, and that in order to do that one needs deep foundations. And specifically because of the difficulties put in my way I can go even further and higher. But…. why me?! Why do I have to be so tall? Why is it that only I have to have all these hard nisyonos and struggle with them in order to lay my spiritual foundations? Why can't I grow up like everyone else, without having to ascend the heights, and without having to come on to such deep foundations that hurt so much??"
Reb Mordechai stared into Yehuda'le's eyes and asked him, "Tell me, why don't you asked that company of contractors across the street the same question? Go ask them, 'Why did you pick this plot of land, right in the middle of the city? Why did you decide to rip down this twenty-story building and evict all of its tenants? At the outskirts of the city there are empty lots - there you could have built your eighty stories for a fraction of the price! There you could even go up to 120 stories if you wanted.'
"Do you know what the contractors would answer?" Reb Mordechai asked Yehuda'le and lightly flicked his cheek. "They would answer in surprise, 'Why, don't you know? We want this piece of land particularly because it is in the center of town. This is a flourishing business section and will bring in ten times the profits we could make, if at all, from the same building on the outskirts of the city!'
"The same is true about you, Yehuda'le. If Shomayim has put you into such a difficult nisayon, it is a sign that you, and only you, with your unique abilities and superior qualities, are able to be a suitable base for a spiritual building of enormous potential!"
Reb Mordechai finished and left Yehuda'le to digest the new concepts he had just heard. Yes, Yehuda'le digested them, he internalized them, and when he left Reb Mordechai's house that evening, he was not the same Yehuda'le that had walked in just a few hours before.
The new Yehuda'le was strong and firm. He was prepared to deal with any obstacle, knowing clearly that a skyscraper would be built above the foundations that were being laid; a skyscraper whose top would reach the heavens, a building that would justify the terrible sacrifice required to lay such foundations. Yehuda'le became a new person. That year he learned in Reb Mordechai's yeshiva and became one of the most outstanding talmidim. He was Reb Mordechai's talmid, although not because of the shiurim he heard from him, even though those of course lent tremendously to raise his standard. He was Reb Mordechai's talmid from that auspicious evening and onwards for the rest of his life. It was due to Reb Mordechai that he was able to raise up the spiritual structure that he eventually built.
Eventually Yehuda'le - now Harav Hagaon R' Yehudah - went on to become a truly great talmid chachom, a gadol b'Yisroel. On the firm foundation acquired through so much toil and sweat, he built a towering edifice that was the pride of Klal Yisroel.
Always remember this important lesson: it is the hard nisyonos that have the particular quality that builds a firm and solid foundation upon which can be erected a spiritual skyscraper of such great heights. These nisyonos, and only these, are able to prepare the ground for greatness, and only in this way can one reach the top.
However, there is another lesson to be derived from this story. The ability of a person to succeed in dealing with all the difficulties and distractions in his way depends primarily on the way he looks at them. If he looks at difficulties negatively, if he sees them as nuisances bothering him, certainly he will find them very difficult to deal with. They will seem like towering mountains impossible to scale.
But if he looks at nisyonos in the proper perspective, as tools whose purpose is to help him grow and develop - then they will be easier to overcome and won't be a hindrance. On the contrary, they will turn into a solid positive catalyst.
If you contemplate Yehuda'le's story, you will find that technically absolutely nothing changed in his situation. His father remained in the next world; his mother remained in this world with all her hardships as a widow. The only change that occurred was inside him. His perspective of life's difficulties made a 180 degree turn. This is what gave him renewed energy to successfully conquer his problems.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network