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Parshas Vayeitzei

Vos Machst Du?

And Ya'akov took a vow saying, If Hashem will be with me… And I shall return in peace to my father's house and Hashem should be a God to me.?(Bereishis 28:20-21)

"In peace": peace from sin, that I shall not learn from Lavan's ways.?(Rashi)

This is excerpted from "Trust Me!"

In his sefer Mekor Boruch (vol. 4, p. 463) Rav Boruch Epstein zt"l (author of Torah Temimah), recalls the night he spent in the presence of the Beis Ha-Levi, R. Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, in a hotel in Minsk.

When word got around Minsk that the Beis Ha-Levi had arrived in the city, a large number of townsfolk went to greet the great Torah scholar at the hotel where he was staying. The welcomers were of all stripes, including the rabbis and the notables of the city, as well as plain folk. One member of the crowd was a young man who had recently gotten married and was new to Minsk. This fellow had studied under R. Yosef Dov in Slutzk, and had been one of the Rav's most prized disciples. The Beis Ha-Levi was happy to see his former student, and asked him, "Vos machst du?" (a Yiddish greeting loosely translated as "How are you?" but meaning literally, "What are you doing?")

The young man answered, "Boruch Hashem, I'm successful in my business. About a year ago, my brother-in-law and I opened a store where we sell sugar wholesale. Hashem has helped us and our efforts have been blessed."

Upon hearing this, the Beis Ha-Levi turned to converse with the other visitors. A few minutes later, he again turned to his former student and repeated his question, "Vos machst du?" The young man once more related to his rebbe that he had a successful business selling sugar, thinking that perhaps the Rav had not heard him the first time. However, when a short while later the rebbe asked him for the third time, "Vos machst du?" he, and everyone around him, was confused and perplexed. With great respect he asked the Rav, "Why is the rebbe taking the trouble to repeat his question over and over when I have already given the same answer twice?"

R. Yosef Dov understood that his disciple's question was bothering everyone present, so he raised his voice so that they could all hear his reply. "Yes. I heard you the first time, and I understood everything you said. However, it was clear to me that you didn't understand what I had asked. I therefore repeated myself, hoping that you would then fathom my real intent. But now that I've repeated myself three times, I have no other choice but to explain myself.

"It is well-known that a person's fortune in this world - his personal situation, financial standing, social status, etc. - is under the direct supervision of Hashem. The Almighty observes people's actions and He provides them with the ability and the wisdom to make their fortunes. In his material dealings, man is basically an intermediary discharging the Almighty's will. This is what Chazal meant when they said: 'Everything is in the hands of Heaven, except for the fear of Heaven' (Berachos 33b).

"Hashem left only one detail out of His control and entrusted it entirely to man: the fear of Heaven. In all of Creation, this is the only domain where man has free will, where he can do whatever he wishes, not as an agent, but as his own independent master. Everything material in the world falls within Hashem's province, while everything spiritual is under man's control. Now, 'fear of Heaven' is a general term covering all spiritual endeavors, which contain numerous specifics, such as love of Torah, acts of kindness, good character, etc. It thus turns out that every move a person makes on the spiritual plane is called his own action. Nobody else, not even the Almighty, has a part in it.

"According to this," concluded R. Yosef Dov, as he turned to his student, "If I had intended to take interest in your financial situation, I would have asked, 'How is Hashem treating you?' In that case your reply would have been appropriate. However, I asked 'What are you doing?' because I was interested in knowing about those things over which you have control. Are you setting aside a set time to learn Torah? Are you giving tzedakah and doing chesed? Now you understand why your answer was totally inappropriate to the question."

With this incident in mind, R. Boruch Epstein explained the difference between Ya'akov's first statement - "If Hashem will be with me" - and his second statement: "And I shall return in peace to my father's house." Guarding against misfortune and providing life's necessities are part of Hashem's realm. On the other hand, returning to his father's house with the same purity as when he left was Ya'akov's responsibility alone. The provision of protection, food, and clothing are material matters, and so Ya'akov acknowledged that he was depending on the Almighty for them. But purity from sin was different. That concerns the fear of Heaven, and that depended entirely upon himself.

Wishing everyone a Gut Shabbos!

© Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Rosh Yeshiva
Yeshiva Shaare Chaim.

Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop ? Lakewood).

If you would like to correspond with Rabbi Parkoff please contact him: or 732-325-1257

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