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A Flash of Lightning To Tell You That You're Not AloneAnd behold! A caravan of Yishmaelites passed... carrying spices, balsam, and lotus...?(Bereishis 37:25)
Why did the verse mention the merchandise the caravan was carrying? To inform about the reward of the righteous, for Arab caravans normally carried only foul-smelling goods, such as kerosene and tar, but this caravan carried fragrant spices so that Yosef would be spared from having to endure offensive odors.?(Rashi)
The following is adapted from a lecture given by Mori v'Rabi, R. Zeidel Epstein, shlita, Mashgiach of Yeshivah Torah Ore. On a simple level, we understand that the spices were there merely to spare Yosef from having to endure disagreeable odors. But perhaps there is a deeper meaning to this occurrence as well. In those bleak moments when he was being sold, and he felt that he would never see his family again, Yosef was given a sign by the Almighty to remind him that he was not alone. Often, when we find ourselves in difficult situations, everything seems dark and bleak, with no way out. Then, we suddenly see a brilliant flash of light, which lasts for only an instant. This abrupt flash reminds us that the Almighty is with us and that somehow things will eventually work out.
When the Shidduch Falls Through
When young people begin the search to find a marriage partner, the process often seems fraught with difficulties. You invest so much time and energy, yet nothing works out the way you want it to. After numerous false alarms, you finally think you've found the "right one" - and then, as if fate were mocking you, the shidduch you put your heart and soul into falls through. You had invested so much effort into it, and everything just collapsed. Your world turns black, and it seems like the bleakest time of your life. Then, from out of the blue, someone approaches you and proposes a new match, and - bingo! - everything falls into place. "Baruch Hashem the last one didn't work out," you think. "It would have been a disastrous marriage. But this time everything's perfect. A hundred times better than the other one!"
The Almighty has many ways to help us, some of which don't always seem so pleasant. To understand why this is so, it is instructive to consider a visit to the dentist. You go to the dentist and ask him to relieve a toothache. As you recline defenselessly in the infamous chair, he takes out some ominous-looking instruments and starts poking and picking around inside your mouth - and it hurts! But that's not all - soon you hear a high-pitched whine, and before you know it, he's merrily drilling away. Would it ever occur to you to scream out, "Hey! Stop! I asked you to fix my teeth, not ruin them!"? Of course not. That's how a dentist takes care of a cavity. First he drills a hole and cleans out all the decay. Only then does he fill it and smooth everything out - and as uncomfortable as this process may be, it is the way things have to be done to insure optimal oral health. This is a parable for all of life. Before anything else, the Almighty has to clean things up - even if it is painful to us. Whatever His reason, this must be done first. Only after this has been accomplished will everything work out. Hashem knows much better than we do what is good for us. Trust Him!
I remember my dear friend from the Grodno Yeshivah, R. Ephraim Tzvi Bilastotzki zt"l (murdered in the Holocaust - may Hashem avenge his blood). When he was a young man, R. Tzvi contracted a mild case of tuberculosis. Today this disease is treatable with medication and is not so serious. In those times, however, there was basically no cure and it could be quite dangerous. Tzvi went to Warsaw, where specialists did what they could for him. The doctors recommended that he slow down his pace and rest for the entire winter, and so he went to Lautvutzk, a Polish health resort. And baruch Hashem, he slowly began to recuperate. However, he realized that he had to watch his health very carefully in order to recover completely and remain healthy.
It so happened that in the Grodno Yeshivah there was a custom that, at the end of every summer, those students who could afford it traveled to the nearby city of Luna for a relaxing change of scenery. If there was a student who couldn't afford the trip, the yeshivah endeavored to assist him. This was especially true regarding those young men who were outstanding in their studies but were physically frail and in delicate health. The yeshivah felt it was vital that these boys have a vacation so that they could renew their flagging energies and return to their studies refreshed and invigorated. Sometimes, however, funds were simply not available, and these young men were forced to remain in the yeshivah during the vacation at the end of the summer.
R. Shraga Feivel Hindes zt"l, (the son-in-law of R. Shimon Schkop zt"l, the Rosh Yeshivah) served as the yeshivah's administrative director. He was responsible for running the institution on a day-to-day basis, and was in charge of the yeshivah's finances. That year, several students approached R. Hindes on Tzvi's behalf. They explained that the young man would really benefit from a trip to Luna, but that he just couldn't afford to go; perhaps the yeshivah could help out with his expenses, so that he would have a better chance for a full recovery. R. Feivel answered that unfortunately the yeshivah's financial situation was very bad that year, and subsidizing a trip for Tzvi was out of the question.
The students were not so easily deterred by his refusal. "How can you say there's no money?" they argued. "This is a case of pikuach nefesh! Tzvi has to rest so that he won't suffer a relapse, and the yeshivah has an obligation to help him even if there is no money. Isn't he one of the best students in the yeshivah?"
R. Feivel, however, was not to be dissuaded. "I'm sorry boys, but the yeshivah is over its head in debt, and there's just no extra money! We don't even have enough to cover our operating expenses, like various bills and food and salaries. I've already borrowed as much as possible, and I've even managed to defer payment on some of our outstanding loans. There's simply nothing else I can do. How do you expect me to come up with the funds? By stealing?"
Although it was hard for the students to accept the situation, there was nothing more they could do to help their friend, and Tzvi remained in the yeshivah that summer.
This scene repeated itself the next year as well. The students tried to convince R. Feivel to help pay for Tzvi's trip to Luna, but the harried administrator refused to budge. Again, Tzvi was forced to remain in the yeshivah over the summer break.
That same year, Tzvi was suggested as a potential match for a very special girl: a niece of R. Chaim Ozer Grodzinski zt"l. Investigating the young man's background, the girl's family heard suitably impressive reports and were very interested in pursuing the shidduch. However, when they found out that Tzvi had contracted tuberculosis several years earlier, they began having doubts about the whole idea, even though he seemed to have recuperated. They decided to consult R. Chaim Ozer, and he advised them to find out what had happened since the boy's ostensible recovery, and to see if he displayed any signs of weakness due to the illness.
They made inquires of some of Tzvi's fellow students and heard that he had indeed experienced a full recovery. When they asked if he had gone to a rest resort, they were told that he hadn't been to one for the last two years. With this information, the family's doubts were laid to rest and the shidduch was soon finalized. Tzvi became a member of one of the most distinguished rabbinical families, and eventually he became the Rosh Yeshivah of Ramailles in Vilna. (See also He'aros, Shemos, p. 45.)
This was the story of Yosef. He dreamt that he was going to be king - and then he was sold into slavery. What did he think of his dreams during this dark period? There is no question that he continued to believe they would come true. And this alone was a remarkable feat. Yosef was in Egypt, a land from which no slave had ever managed to escape. He was held as a slave by Potiphar and then, even worse, was thrown into prison. For thirteen years he suffered under the ignoble bonds of servitude. Did he have any realistic hope of becoming a king?! How can anyone hold onto one's dream, much less one's sanity, under such harsh and despairing conditions? And yet Yosef never lost his unswerving faith in the Almighty. (See Midrash Rabbah 82:9.) And he was right! After suffering for thirteen years, he was suddenly and unexpectedly catapulted into greatness. Overnight, within a split second, the slave became a king - like a flash of lightning!
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