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Weekly Chizuk

Parshas Mikeitz - Chanukah

When You Rely on Nature, You Are Answered with Nature

Yet the wine steward did not remember Yosef, and forgot him. (Bereishis 40:23)

The following is from Derech Emunah u'Bitachon, vol. 2, by Moreinu v'Rabbeinu R. Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, zt"l.

Commenting on the seeming redundancy in this verse, Rashi explains that the wine steward failed to remember Yosef on the day he was restored to his post, and subsequently forgot all about him. The Midrash delves a little deeper into the dynamics of what happened:

That whole day the wine steward made plans to mention Yosef - but an angel came and upset them all. The steward tied knots (to serve as a reminder) and an angel came and untied them. The Almighty then declared, "You will forget him, but I will remember him." This is the meaning of the verse "Yet the wine steward did not remember him." (Bereishis Rabbah 88:7)

We see from this Midrash that Chazal considered it a miracle that Yosef had been forgotten. It was God the Almighty who caused the wine steward to forget. However, the steward's subsequent recollection of Yosef after hearing about Pharaoh's dreams seems quite natural: if before he had forgotten because his knots had been undone, now, when the king required an interpretation of his own troubling dream, his memory was refreshed. Yet the Rashbam, in his commentary on the Torah, has a different view: The Almighty had to perform miracles in order to get the wine steward to remember. Thus, if Hashem had not performed a miracle, the steward would never have remembered Yosef.

We learn a very important lesson from the Rashbam's comment: when a person relies on natural means, Heaven responds by acting toward him in a natural way. This is true even if the person is on a high enough level so that Divine Providence deals with him in a manner outside the normal course of nature. Since he chooses to exert effort on the natural plane, he will likewise receive a response that appears natural, and will not witness the obvious Divine intervention that his good deeds deserve.

Thus it was with Yosef. Since he relied upon natural efforts, the Almighty responded by dealing with him from within nature even though such efforts were unnecessary in view of his exalted level. As a result, he was forced to remain incarcerated for two more long, dreary years, dependent upon the wine steward to mention his plight to Pharaoh. (Of course, even this ultimately came from the Almighty's great mercy and compassion.)

This principle is the key to a proper understanding of bitachon. The Chovos Ha-Levavos (in the Introduction to Sha'ar Ha-Bitachon) states it quite clearly: When a person trusts in anything outside of God, God removes His direct supervision from him and leaves him in the hands of whatever it is that he trusts in.

According to this, a person may be worthy of direct supervision from Heaven to such an extent that he deserves miraculous intervention in his affairs. Yet, because of his behavior, he is dealt with from within the realm of nature, in a framework of hester panim. Moreover, even when he is finally granted the redemption that he so justly deserves, it does not come about in a straightforward and evident fashion, but rather in an oblique and roundabout one. The reason this occurs is because the person attempts to act and work things out naturally, without relying on the Almighty in the way that his exalted level of bitachon would properly dictate. Thus, Hashem responds to him in kind, answering him from within the framework of nature, and not from a higher "supernatural" plane, even though objectively he may be deserving of such.

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You delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the defiled into the hands of the pure, and the wicked into the hands of the righteous. (Al Ha-Nissim prayer for Chanukah)

This is taken from Ma'archei Lev, by R. Moshe Schwab zt"l (formerly mashgiach of the Gateshead Yeshivah).

In general, we regard the accolades offered to the Almighty in this prayer as emphasizing three points: that He is benevolent, that He controls nature, and that He is above nature and relates to His people from beyond natural law.

However, there is another important lesson concealed in this prayer: what is it that causes God to relate to us in a positive fashion? It must be the merit of the weak, the few, the pure, and the righteous. Because of their sacrifice, a miracle was performed for Klal Yisrael. It is our job to understand what specifically brought about the miracle.

One of the innate qualities of man, and one of the foundations of bitachon, is an ability to implant within himself the understanding that if the Almighty desires something to come about, it will surely materialize. It makes no difference whether the objective is within the bounds of nature or not. When this knowledge becomes so clear that a person nullifies his will because of it, he will be entitled to a special measure of Divine Providence. There is a famous statement by our Sages: "Nothing can stand in the way of a person's will." How much more is this the case when a person's will is dedicated to the service of Hashem.

It was this quality which enabled the Chashmona'im to successfully fight against the mighty Greek Empire. Common sense dictates that this rebellion was futile from the outset. Even today, two thousand years later, we still don't understand what motivated a small, weak band of yeshivah students to embark on such a seemingly doomed venture. They knew they couldn't count on the support of the masses, for almost everyone had been influenced by the dazzling and perfidious allure of Greek culture. However, since they knew that this war was an expression of God's will, they didn't view it as a lost cause. They had perfect faith in the righteousness of their undertaking.

Nakdimon's Bitachon

We find a shining example of this quality in an incident cited by the Gemara (Ta'anis 19b-20a):

During the holiday of Succos, a larger number of Jews than usual ascended to Jerusalem to celebrate the festival. The country had experienced a drought that year, and there was not enough water in the city for all the pilgrims. One of the residents of Jerusalem at that time was a wealthy, God-fearing man by the name of Nakdimon ben Gurion. Nakdimon was upset over the plight of his brethren, and he had an idea how he might help them. There was a rich Roman nobleman who lived in the city, and he owned 12 gigantic cisterns of clean, pure water. Nakdimon made the following proposal to him: Lend me your 12 cisterns of water, and I will later replenish them for you. If I am unable to do so, I will give you 12 talents of silver [an astronomical sum of money] - one for each cistern. The Roman agreed to this proposal, and the two men fixed a date for payment should Nakdimon fail to replenish the cisterns.

Finally, the grateful Jews were able to quench their thirst. And drink they did. In a very short time, the cisterns were emptied. Everybody prayed for rain to fall so that the cisterns would be refilled, but the drought continued. All too soon, the day arrived when payment was due, and the azure skies hadn't released a drop of water.

The nobleman sent a message to Nakdimon: "Hand over my water or my money!" Nakdimon sent back his reply: "I still have time. Payment isn't due until the end of the day." At noontime, the Roman sent him the same message: "Hand over my water or my money." The reply was the same: "I still have time." Late in the day, the nobleman sent his message a third time: "Hand over my water or my money!" Once again, Nakdimon answered, "I still have time!" The nobleman sneered when he heard this. "It hasn't rained the whole year, and he thinks that all of a sudden it's going to rain now?" He then commanded his servants to prepare a lavish feast, and happily went off to the bathhouse in preparation for his celebration.

Not for My Glory

At the very same time, an anxious Nakdimon went up to the Beis Ha-Mikdash. He wrapped himself in his tallis and prayed: "Ribbono Shel Olam, You know that I didn't make a deal with the Roman for my personal honor, or for that of my family. I acted solely out of consideration for Your glory, so that the Jewish People would have water when they came to the Beis Ha-Mikdash during the holiday."

Suddenly, dark, thick clouds appeared on the horizon and immediately covered the sky. A torrential downpour started, and the 12 empty cisterns were soon filled to overflow - with even more water than they had had in them originally. The dismayed nobleman was returning from the bathhouse just as Nakdimon ben Gurion left the Beis Ha-Mikdash. They met each other on the street, and Nakdimon demanded the value of the additional water! The nobleman, however, was not willing to admit defeat so readily. "I know that your God has wrought a miracle for you. However, it was too late to do you any good! The sun has already set and the rainwater is all mine. I demand that you give me my money!"

Nakdimon hurried back to the Beis Ha-Mikdash, donned his tallis and stood in supplication. "Ribbono Shel Olam! Prove to the world that You love Your people!" Suddenly the clouds separated and rays of sunlight pierced the damp sky a second before sunset! The enraged nobleman was left glowering in the street, and Nakdimon went joyfully on his way.

The Alter of Novardok highlights a very interesting aspect of this incident. Not only do we see that Nakdimon had miracles performed for him, we also observe how he was worthy to have them take place. Everything happened due to the power of his bitachon. When Nakdimon originally approached the nobleman, he had no intention of handing over any money. Rather, he had perfect faith that the rains would come and refill the cisterns. He was so sure of this that he was even willing to promise the nobleman it would happen. The Roman, however, had no such bitachon and wasn't willing to provide the water on such an "empty" promise. In order to gain his agreement, Nakdimon promised him something he understood better: 12 talents of silver.

Where did Nakdimon's tremendous bitachon derive from? How could he be so sure that rain would come and refill the cisterns?

Nakdimon ben Gurion knew that the Jewish pilgrims needed water, for otherwise they wouldn't be able to remain in Jerusalem for the holiday. The obvious corollary of this was that rain was necessary at that time. With the certainty of this knowledge, Nakdimon had perfect bitachon that rain would come! The idea that this might not happen never even entered his consciousness. Even after a year of drought, it was impossible for him to imagine that it wouldn't rain. So sure was he in his faith that he never even considered entering the Beis Ha-Mikdash to pray for rainfall - not before the payment was due and not on the last day (in the morning or at noon). The Almighty's will was that the Jewish People ascend to Jerusalem for the holiday, and in order for them to do so they needed water, therefore it would rain - period. No additional prayer was necessary, and moreover, it wasn't even an issue. As long as there was still time left when it might rain, he was certain that it would - just as a person knows without a doubt that the sun will rise the next day.

The obvious question is, if Nakdimon was so positive and certain, what happened in the late afternoon that suddenly caused him to pray?

Even at that late hour, Nakdimon retained his trust. However, he began to suspect that perhaps his bitachon was slightly blemished. He thought, "Perhaps I feel that it is I who am responsible for the impending rain; that everything will happen because of my faith. Maybe my "perfect" bitachon has a minuscule amount of my own self-confidence mixed in with it." Therefore, he went to the Beis Ha-Mikdash in order to uproot any suspicion of such a thought. His prayer was: "Not for my personal honor, nor for that of my family, but for the sake of Your glory."

Do Whatever You Can

There is another lesson to be derived from the Chashmona'im, who lit the menorah with enough oil to last only one day.

The resolution they displayed should encourage us to emulate such behavior in our own individual lives. Even if it appears that nothing substantial will result from one's actions one should still do whatever he is able.

Sometimes a Torah student feels that since he will eventually have to leave the confines of the beis midrash, there is no purpose in his studying now. The lighting of the menorah by the Chashmona'im, however, should inspire him to abandon this line of thought. These stalwart warriors of Hashem lit the menorah with the little bit of oil they had available to them, without considering what the next day would bring. Only afterwards were they rewarded by having a miracle performed for them. Likewise, a Torah student should utilize whatever time he has to advance his learning. Then he will be worthy to receive the Heavenly assistance that will help him succeed in his studies.

This is true of everything in life. A person should not be deterred from performing an action he regards as necessary even though it appears certain that it will not accomplish anything. If onlookers ridicule him, he should ignore their taunts and do what he knows he has to do. If such considerations prevent one from doing what is right, this is a sign that he will never prevail against the myriad tests that life places before us. One must do whatever is within his ability to do, while disregarding all the seeming obstacles. That way he will win special favor in the Heavenly realm and his actions will certainly bear fruit.

A Freilichen Chanukah!

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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