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Weekly Chizuk

Parashas Vayeira

Life Is A Mission

Hashem gave a blessing to Shem the son of Noach: וישכן באהלי שם "And the Shechinah will dwell in the tents of Shem." Where are these tents of Shem? ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם, "Make for Me a Mikdash, a Holy Place, and I will dwell within them" (Shemos 25:8). This, on first reading, is a very difficult verse. One would think it should have read, ושכנתי בתוכו "and I will dwell within it" - that G-d is telling us to make a Holy Place so that He can dwell there. Chazal say that the possuk is hinting at a very profound concept: Make for Him a Holy Place, and He will dwell within them, within each and every one of us. Our job on this lowly earth is to accomplish a holy mission by sanctifying ourselves to the highest possible level while still living our physical existence. Our whole existence must be raised up above the mundane. Our task is to view our lives not as simple means of attaining as much pleasure possible while avoiding pain to our utmost ("Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die"). Rather, we should see our lives as missions, a form of worship, with very high standards and very important goals. Anything which interferes with this job can only be detrimental.

Our mission is to study and go in the path of the Torah, and thereby raise ourselves to a level in which we attach ourselves to the Divine. Therefore, our path cannot be the way of the rest of the world. When calamity strikes, we must not be disheartened and devastated. The Greeks developed the Greek Tragedy, theatrical plays in which the actors were struck by apparently unjust tragedy. They found comfort by saying, "I'm not alone." But for us, just to look at actors suffering in a play and telling ourselves, "That's life" is a dishonor to our holy mission. Just as there is a purpose in our living, so too there is a purpose in our travail.

Avraham Avinu had to pass through עשרה נסיונות, ten tests. Why was Avraham tested so many times? Each one tested a different aspect of his emunah. For example, last week we read about the test of Lech Lecha. Hashem told Avraham to come to Eretz Yisrael, and when he arrived he found a famine in the land and was forced to leave and go to Mitzrayim. As Rashi writes, "The hunger was only in that land [in Eretz Yisrael] to test him, [to see whether] he will have questions against Hashem for having told him to come to Eretz Canaan, and now causing him to leave it" (12:10). Avraham could have asked, "How could this have happened to me? I came to Eretz Yisrael with mesirus nefesh, and now I must leave the land?" But he refused to think these questions, and he trusted in Hashem. [In the end it turned out that this was a great gift for Avraham. Pharaoh showered him with vast wealth as recompense for mistakenly taking his wife.]

This is the greatest test; to believe that there aren't any questions and everything is exactly as Hashem desires it to be. This, and similar tests on Avraham's emunah, were the hardest tests to pass.

In the midst of working through a test we can feel separated from Hashem. The test is: Continue to believe in Hashem even now. Trust that Hashem is with you, and even that which is happening to you at the present is for your benefit.

No Questions

The Gemara (Berachos 7a) relates that one of the three requests Moshe Rabbeinu made of G-d was to understand the suffering of the righteous and the prosperity of the wicked. There is a debate in the Gemara over whether or not he was answered, whether he finally was granted a real understanding. This hints to us that there are two ways to approach the problem: to understand it, or to accept it. Both approaches are necessary. Yes, we must try to understand it. With the tools the Torah has given us to understand the universe, our job is to try to understand as much as we can. By attempting to understand somewhat how we fit into the Divine plan, we develop an acute sense of constant hashgacha pratis. Yet, it is with trepidation that we tread on this holy ground. Relying on our limited intellect may eventually lead us astray when in the final analysis our questions remain unanswered. Ultimately, deep within ourselves we must truly believe, with emuna sheleimah, that as much as we understand, we really don't understand. Ultimately, our answer to the trials of life must be Avraham's answer to the Satan when he came to stop him from the Akeidah: "I simply accept it."

Avraham's Battle

The following Midrash relates the battle that was going on within Avraham Avinu's mind while he was going to the Akeidah. For three days he traveled and the whole time the Satan was working hard to stop him. Based upon the Midrash, we can study some of their conversation.

The Satan came to Avraham Avinu and said to him, "Old man, have you lost your mind? This son was given to you when you were at the age of one hundred, and now you're going to slaughter him?!"

He answered, "I accept that." [על מנת כן, literally, "On such a condition." Perhaps we can infer that it implies, "It was on this condition that I came into the world, to accept this." (See Sefer HaYashar by Rabbenu Tam, chap. 6: "A person has to know and be very careful at these times (of trial), for it was on this condition that he entered a Covenant with his G d.")]

"And if He tests you even more than this [to take your own life - Etz Yosef], will you be able to withstand it?"

He answered, "Even more than this." [Even if He commands me to slaughter myself, I will do it without any second thoughts or excuses - Etz Yosef]

So the Satan tried one more argument. "You know, tomorrow, when you come back without Yitzchak, they're going to find out and accuse you of murder. They will convict you of murdering your son." [This was a very powerful argument. The very mitzvah that he was about to perform might turn around the next day and cause him to be accused of murder, a terrible chillul Hashem (desecration of G d's Name). In addition, perhaps we can understand it one step further. Avraham had spent his entire life dedicated to fighting the idol-worship that was prevalent then. One of the main forms of idol-worship in Canaan was child sacrifice (see Vayikra 18:21 and the commentaries of Ibn Ezra and the Ramban). Avraham fought to teach the concept of the one merciful Father in Heaven Who abhors such actions. Now all his work was to be shattered. His whole life's mission was to be completely demolished, as the preacher of the G d of Mercy would be exposed as having committed the very sin he had fought against - human sacrifice!]

He again answered the same as he had before, "I accept that" [Bereishis Rabbah 56:5].

Accept Hashem's Will

Avraham understood that as great as the power to reason is, as much as he had become who he was because of his great intellect, yet ultimately reason is limited. We cannot understand everything, and we must not try to out think G-d. There comes a time when we reach the limit of our power to reason. Then the answer must simply be, "I accept that." The ultimate answer to everything is simply faith: G-d is right. I accept it.

Avraham was the deepest thinker that ever lived. With the power of his vast intellect, he broke through the iron facade of the false philosophy of an entire generation. Yet even he knew that the ultimate answer is simply to accept: על מנת כן, It was on this condition that I came into the world, to accept. It was for this purpose that he merited the mitzvah of bris milah, התהלך לפני והיה תמים, "Go before Me and be tamim" - pure, innocent, complete. Purity and perfection require being simple and whole. תמימות - learning to accept perfectly, with humility, is the ultimate achievement of the human race. A person that doesn't believe in hashgachah, is always kicking and angry at life because he feels that things should be different. He doesn't know that everything is destined by Hashem, who knows what's best for mankind.

Rebbe Yisrael of Ruzhin zt"l said, "In the generation before Moshiach comes, believing in Hashem will be as hard as climbing a straight wall." But is it really so hard to believe in Hashem? Ask the people you know, and they will tell you that they believe in Hashem. So why did Rebbe Yisrael of Ruzhin say that it will be as hard as climbing a straight wall? The answer is, the Ruzhiner zy"a was referring to belief in hashgachah pratis. Everyone believes in Hashem, but it is challenging to believe that each situation was pre-planned by Hashem, and occurs exactly as Hashem desires it. Maintaining this emunah is as hard as climbing a straight wall.

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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