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Va'eschanan - Shabbos Nachamu
Happy With HashemWe just finished Tisha b'Av - commemorating terrible tragedies and calamities that befell Klal Yisroel: 2 destructions of the Temple and the exile of the Jewish Nation into Golus. The possuk (Devorim 28:47) informs us that the reason for the Churban was because we didn't serve Hashem with joy: úÌÇçÇú àÂùÑÆø ìÉà òÈáÇãÀúÌÈ àÆú ä' àÁìÉ÷éêÈ áÌÀùÒÄîÀçÈä åÌáÀèåÌá ìÅáÈá îÅøÉá ëÌÉì: Because you served not the Lord your G-d with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, when you had an abundance of all things.
Rashi writes: îøá ëì - áòåã ùäéä ìê ëì èåáwhen [you had an] abundance of everything: when you still had all good things.
When things are going good, we need to have appreciation. We have to serve Hashem with Simcha and èåá ìáá a joyful heart.
We live in one of the most affluent times in the history of mankind. Never mind the economic recession. Just look around you. Are you eating 3 square meals a day, driving your car, turning on the lights in the house, cooking on a stove? We have indoor plumbing, a full refrigerator, a freezer, a shower.
Even the most impoverished person in America (except the few homeless) has most of these items. He even has a radio, or even a TV! He lives on a standard way above that of the royal families of Europe. Go into an English castle from the 16th Century in the middle of February. If you stand more than 2 feet away from the fireplace you are freeeeeezzzzzzing. They had no indoor plumbing. They bathed maybe once a month. One of the habits of the women of Nobility was to carry in their hand a handkerchief doused with perfume to cover their noses when near other members of the royal family.
If you would go to the outskirts of a city in Africa or Afghanistan, you would be shocked. Most people there are below even the lowest levels of poverty you could imagine. They have almost NOTHING!
Remember when you went away to Yeshiva or Sem.? In the American Yeshivos and Seminaries they have to have an entire storage room for all the luggage. Suitcases and duffle bags filled with everything a person needs for a whole year of learning in away from home. How many pairs of pants and shoes did you bring? How many cans of tuna and bottles of ketchup?
A former talmid of mine worked in a Jewish school in the Ukraine. On his way to Eretz Yisrael, his father stopped off to visit to see the school where his son worked. It was the beginning of a semester and the children were arriving from home. The father observed the new students and noticed something very strange. None of them were carrying any luggage, only brown paper bags. He asked his son to explain. The answer was simple. Their parents had nothing. They were sending the children to the school, not so much as to get a Jewish education, but to get them fed and dressed properly. All they had was maybe one change of underwear. Everything they owned fit into 1 brown paper bag.
And you are complaining?
Love Hashem With All Your Ma'od
Nothing is a coincidence. This week, Shabbos Nachamu, we read in parshas Va'eschanan the parsha of Kirias Shema.
Every day we recite Shema twice. What do we say?
"And you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your means."
With all your heart (in Hebrew is ìááëí implying both your hearts). This means we have to love Hashem even with our second heart, our Yetzer Hora.
With all your soul, means, even if Hashem takes your soul. (This is another heavy shmuez for coping with terminal illness. This will have to wait for another opportunity.)
Thirdly we are instructed to love Hashem with all our Ma'od. The Torah is unusually vague with this term. Rashi gives us 2 explanations. First he writes it means money. There are some people who love themselves more than their money and some who love their money more than themselves. For the first, the possuk says to Love Hashem with the thing dearest to you, yourself. For the second type of person, it writes to Love Hashem with the thing dearest to you, your money.
Then Rashi brings a second pshat: "You shall love God with whatever measure (îàã = îÄãÌÈä) He metes out to you, whether it be the measure of good or the measure of Divine justice." Whatever Hashem gives you, love Him.
Loving Hashem when the going gets rough is tough enough. Just about all of us struggle with that. But Rashi in the gemara Brachos (54a) takes it one step further: áëì îàãê - áëì îãä åîãä ùäåà îåãã ìê äåé îåãä ìå. "With all your Ma'od means with each measure that Hashem metes out to you, thank Him!" The word Ma'od, implies the word Modeh, to thank. Therefore pshat in the possuk is that we must thank Him for whatever He gives us, good or bad.
The normal reaction is: Thank him? It's not enough that I am struggling to accept, but you want me to thank Him also?
The answer is that everything that Hashem does is for the good. Not only will it work out well, but right now it is good. This is a very important lesson taught to us by the Rebbe of Klal Yisroel, Rabi Akiva, and his rebbe, Nachum Ish Gam Zu:
Berachos 60b: We learned in the name of R. Akiva, "A person should always be in the habit of saying, 'Everything that the Merciful One does is for the good.'" For instance, when R. Akiva was traveling on the road, he came to a certain town and decided to spend the night there. When no one would take him in, he said to himself, "Everything that the Merciful One does is for the good." He went and slept in the forest. He had with him a rooster, a donkey, and a candle. The wind came and blew out the candle, a wildcat came and ate the rooster, and a lion came and ate the donkey. He said, "Everything that the Merciful One does is for the good." That night soldiers came and took the whole town into captivity. He said to his talmidim, "Didn't I tell you, everything that HaKadosh Baruch Hu does is for the good?" (If the candle had been lit, the soldiers would have seen me, and if the donkey had brayed or the rooster crowed, the soldiers would have come and captured me - Rashi.)
Ta'anis 21a: Why was Nachum Ish Gamzu called by this name? Because on everything that happened to him, he said, "Gam zu I'tovah" (âí æå ìèåáä), "This too is for the good" (therefore he was called Nachum, the man of "This too"). Once, the Jews wanted to send a present to the Caesar. They asked themselves who should go to deliver it for them. They decided to send Nachum Ish Gamzu, because he was always involved in miracles. (They obviously suspected some foul play to occur during the trip.) They sent him with a chest full of precious jewels and pearls. As he was traveling, he stayed at a certain inn. That night the innkeepers got up, emptied out the chest, and filled it up with dirt. The next day, when he saw this, he said, "This too is for the good." When he arrived at the palace of the Caesar, he opened the chest. Seeing that it was filled with dirt, the Caesar wanted to kill all the Jews. He said, "The Jews are making fun of me." (The whole plan backfired! Now we see why they sent a miracle man.) Nachum said, "This too is for the good." Eliyahu HaNavi came disguised as one of the courtiers. He said to the Caesar, "Perhaps this is the dirt that Avraham their father used. When he threw it, the dirt turned into swords and the straw turned into arrows." There was one country that the Caesar was unable to conquer. He went and tried out the dirt there and it enabled him to conquer them. He came back to the palace and went into his treasure-house and filled the chest with precious jewels and pearls and sent Nachum back home with great honor. On the way back he again stayed over in that inn. They asked him, "What happened to you, that they honored you so much?" He answered them, "What I took from here I brought to them." Consequently, the innkeepers tore down their whole inn and brought the dirt to the Caesar. They said, "That dirt that Nachum brought you was from us." They tried it out and it didn't work, so they executed the innkeeper.*
2 Levels of Bitachon
The Shomer Emunim explains that these stories are really very profound lessons. They express two levels of bitachon. "You should know [that it is cited in the name of the Ba'al Shem Tov that bitachon has two levels, that of "This too is for the good," and that of "Everything that the Merciful One does is for the good." And there is a fundamental difference between them. "Everything that the Merciful One does is for the good" implies that evil cannot come from G¬ d, but only love and goodness. However, as the good travels down to reach our lowly world, many impure forces come with their accusations caused by our many sins, and the good is overturned. However, they are really waiting in Heaven to observe this person's faith. If he remains strong in bitachon and emunah that G d would not send him anything bad, then definitely this evil will bring forth good and it eventually will turn around. It's just that the good hasn't been demonstrated yet. Through emunah and bitachon, the strict judgment is sweetened and turned to mercy, and the person merits having it turned into good. Then the good and the salvation are revealed to him. However, if he doesn't accept it.... (This was the lesson the gemara was demonstrating with the story of Rabbi Akiva. He said, Everything the Merciful One does is for the good. Now it looks bad. But with bitachon, it will turn good. Because of the calamities that befell him that night, he was saved from being taken into captivity and sold as a slave.)
The category of "This too is for the good" is deeper. It is when one believes with such great faith that all his suffering is in reality a wonderful benefit and is not bad at all." (This was the level of R. Akiva's rebbe, Nachum Ish Gam Zu. Nothing bad ever happened to him. When the gold and jewels were stolen and replaced with dirt, the dirt itself must be good! One doesn't have to wait to get the good. The bad incident doesn't have to turn into a happy ending. It's good now!)
I recently had a conversation with someone and the topic arose as to my profession. I mentioned that I had previously been actively teaching, but now my life was in a state of flux, and I don't know which direction it's going.
This person wished me well and that everything should turn out for the good. I responded it is already good. The person responded, "Well, I hope that the good should be revealed soon."
Ribono Shel Olam! He didn't get the message. It's good now! We have to see the good in every situation, and grow from it. Everything is an opportunity to work on ourselves and do avodas Hashem. We don't have to wait for the good to be revealed to us. It's good now!
Rav Ezriel Tauber gives many lectures and additionally counsels people. An individual once came to him for chizuk.
"Rabbi Tauber, I haven't had a good day in my life. My father was mentally unbalanced; my mother wasn't all there either. Every year I was thrown out of yeshiva. My childhood was a disaster. But I thought to myself, one day I'll get married and start life new, and then things will look brighter. So I got married. And my wife outdid both my mother and my father. Every year we had another baby, and each one brought its own problems. What does Hashem want from me!? I davened, I went to Kivrei Tzaddikim, I went to Rebbes to get brachos. I went to Babas. I even went to autistic children. But nothing worked. What does Hashem want from me?"
Rabbi Tauber looked at him and asked, "Listen. I'm not a Navi, I'm not a Rebbe, I'm not a Baba, and I'm not an autist. But I'm an intelligent person. I have one question for you. Did you ever thank Hashem for your crazy father? Did you thank Hashem for your crazy mother? Did you ever thank Hashem for your crazy wife?"
"What? It's not enough that you tell me to accept my misery, but I have to thank Him for it also?"
Rav Tauber relates that he uses this as a basis for marriage counseling, and it has amazing results. Many people come to him with problems in marriage, and who doesn't have them. Hakadosh Baruch makes life difficult. But he can't bear it anymore and he comes complaining. He complains about her, and she complains about him. "Can you help us?" So he answers, "I can help you if you want to be helped." "Of course we want to be helped, that's why we're here." "No. You don't understand. Are you ready to accept each other the way he/she is? Are you thanking Hashem that He gave you this difficult wife? Are you thanking him for this difficult husband?" "What? What are you talking about?"
"If you would be single, and you wanted to get married, and got to know each other, would you marry each other? Of course not. But if Hashem would come to you and tell you to marry each other, would you get married? Think! Hashem got you married to each other. Now accept each other and start working things out. If you're not willing to accept each other, I can't help you; get someone else to help you. You're going to struggle and suffer all your life. First accept each other."
Before we say the Shema every morning and evening, we say a bracha: äáåçø áòîå éùøàì áàäáä or àåäá òîå éùøàì. Our job is to work on ourselves (and it's very very hard work) to internalize within ourselves the message of these brachos: Hashem loves us. He's a loving father and when he sees that his kinderlach are misbehaving or must grow in certain ways, he sends us troubles and pain. If we learn to see the love in these difficult times, we can use every situation to gain something. Every situation is an opportunity for avodas Hashem.
Wishing everyone a Gut Shabbos!
*This Gemara taken literally is quite extraordinary. Moreover, it is difficult to understand how Nachum was permitted to rely on a miracle and bring the dirt to the Caesar, thus putting the entire Jewish nation in jeopardy. The Maharal (Nesivos Olam, Nesiv HaBitachon, perek 1) explains it in simpler terms. The purpose of the story was to show Nachum Ish Gamzu's towering level of bitachon in God. He was so steeped in bitachon that nothing appeared bad to him; rather, everything that happened was good. When they stole the gift that had been prepared for the Caesar, he said that this too was good, and left the dirt alone, with the intention of showing the Caesar that they had stolen the Jews' gift. Therefore, when he came, he made believe that he still had the jewels. He then proceeded to open the chest as if he didn't know anything, and intended to tell them there was a robbery.
But the Caesar became furious, in total disbelief that anyone had stolen the present. That was when one of his counselors (Eliyahu in disguise) advised the Caesar that perhaps this was a good sign. The ancient nations were very well-versed in sorcery and especially regarding the art of war. He said that it wasn't likely that a nation under the rule of the Caesar would do such a thing as ridicule him by sending him a present of dirt. It was more likely that this was some sort of witchcraft which could be used as weapons.
They listened to his advice and took the dirt to melt it down to make iron for their swords and arrows, and it was very successful. From that moment on the tide of victory turned in their favor, and the Caesar was able to conquer his enemies wherever he turned. Really it was the Holy One, blessed be He, performing miracles for those who trust in Him. God made it seem as if Nachum Ish Gamzu was the source of all the miracles, for from the moment he appeared on the scene, the Caesar saw only victory. Certainly the Jews must have sent him specifically for this purpose, that he should bring his special good fortune with him into the Caesar's court. Therefore, he was sent home with great honor and esteem.
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