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Weekly Chizuk



From my sefer Chizuk!

Your Rod and Staff Shall Console Me

A Psalm of Dovid. The Lord is My shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake. Even though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely, goodness and loving kindness shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (Tehillim 23)

"Hashem is my shepherd, I shall not want" (Tehillim 23:1). The expression shepherd indicates perfect and true bitachon. One who trusts is comparable to a sheep led by the shepherd whose job is to provide all his needs. Since he has a shepherd who worries for him, he is tranquil with no worry. One should throw his entire burden on Hashem and trust in Him. Then God will take over and care for all one's needs. This is what Dovid Hamelech is saying at the beginning of this psalm, "Hashem is my shepherd." He acts to me like a shepherd who feeds and takes care of his flock. Therefore, "I shall not want."

In the relationship between the shepherd and his flock disagreements occasionally occur. Sometimes one sheep wants to wander away from the rest of the flock, desiring to go and find some new and better pasture. The shepherd, however, does not let him go. He certainly has the utmost benefit of the sheep in mind. He is only concerned about the welfare of the sheep, to provide all their needs in order that they should grow big and fat. But that one sheep doesn't understand this. In his naivet?, he thinks that the grass in that distant field is more plentiful and better tasting.

The possuk expresses this "clash" between the shepherd and his flock as, "he laid me down in pleasant pasture." HaKadosh Baruch Hu is the trustworthy shepherd Who puts me down here, because He knows that this is the best place for me. We have to believe this with all our heart, even when it appears to us that some other place or some other situation would be better for us.

Sometimes it is the reverse. The sheep wants to rest and lay down right here, but the shepherd does not let him. Instead, he forces the sheep to travel far away against his will. Still, we are sure that the intent of the shepherd is the benefit of the sheep, to bring him to "tranquil waters."

So too is it with HaKadosh Baruch Hu, our Trustworthy Shepherd. When He sees us in an unhealthy or harmful situation, He forces us to move from one place to another. We do not realize or understand why He is doing this because we aren't able to discern the good He has in store for us. Instead, we suffer and we complain. In the end, however, we eventually will come to realize and see the great favor Hashem did for us. This is the meaning of the end of the verse, "On tranquil waters He leads me."

But the individual isn't always able to discern the good in Hashem's actions toward him. Sometimes they appear bad, as if Hashem wants him to suffer. Moreover, he never sees how the outcome had any benefit for him. Dovid Hamelech, however, wrote, "Even when I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death..." even so, "I will fear no evil." Why? Because he knows that sometimes, suffering is the purification which will remove the wall between himself and his Maker. This is the connotation of the end of the verse, "For You are with me." I am not afraid of walking the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I am not afraid of all the troubles and torments, because the result will be that "You are with me," more than previously, before my suffering.

We see that both measures, Divine Mercy and Strict Judgment, carry with them messages of consolation for the individual. These two facets are compared to two staffs - - a rod that smites and a staff of pleasantness. The staff of pleasantness helps the person from stumbling as he walks and serves as a support. The rod that smites refers to when God disciplines and punishes. This is what Dovid said, "Your rod and Your staff, they will console me." When I know that the rod that afflicts me is the same as the staff sent to support me - they both are for my benefit - then I am consoled and accept it all with love.

I Used To Eat Kosher - No More!

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 decision. 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
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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