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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Just as a father will chastise his son, so Hashem, your G-d, chastises you. (8:5)

The whole idea of yissurim, troubles, is spelled out in the above pasuk: Yissurim symbolize a loving Father's chastisement. Considered in that light, they are no longer troubles; they are an act of love - tough love, perhaps, but love nonetheless. Yissurim are axioms of those actions that come from Hashem which defy human rationale. I think, however, that the mere thought that one is cognizant that his troubles are Heaven-sent render them that much more palatable, easier to accept. We also forget that yissurim not only expiate our sins, but they also generate s'char, reward, for us. The Ramban notes that Shevet Levi, comprised of 22,000 souls, was the smallest in number of all the tribes. He explains that this was due to the fact that Shevet Levi was not enslaved in Egypt, as were the other tribes. The other tribes suffered thus, they were rewarded with fertile childbearing, while the tribe of Levi did not enjoy this blessing. We see from here, explains the Ramban, that blessing is often commensurate with the ordeal one sustains.

"For six travails He will save you, and in the seventh no harm will reach you." In this pasuk, Sefer Iyov (5:19) expresses the concept that Hashem limits suffering. The numbers six and seven are symbolic. The Ramban explains that the number seven denotes totality, which alludes to the fact that Hashem will not permit us to be overwhelmed by evil. Six refers to limited punishment. Hashem punishes a person, at times even severely, but, if he is worthy, he will not receive a "seven," full measure of punishment.

The Metzudas David adds that Hashem often sends a small amount of suffering to people as an expiation for their sins, so that when a great calamity strikes the world, these people will not have to suffer along with others. An example of this would be someone who, due to illness or car trouble, misses being in a place where tragedy suddenly strikes. Here Iyov is reflecting that he is now receiving retribution for his sins, but this punishment will save him from the "seven," a more serious catastrophe later on.

Horav Moshe Cordovero, zl, writes that Hashem gives us the necessary strength to withstand the troubles which we experience. He substantiates this from the fact that Sarah Imeinu died when the Satan told her that Yitzchak had "almost" died. Had Yitzchak actually died, then Sarah would not have died. Hashem would have strengthened her and granted her the ability overcome the tragedy. Since Yitzchak did not die, her reaction exceeded the decree.

Likewise, we find that Yaakov Avinu "refused" to be comforted concerning his loss of Yosef. Chazal teach us that there is a decree from Heaven that, after awhile, one forgets the deceased. What about Yosef? Why was Yaakov inconsolable? He explains that since Yosef was still alive, Hashem did not grant Yaakov the ability to withstand this trial.

There are those who will say, "We can do without the reward generated by yissurim, as long as we do not have to experience the yissurim. In other words, we do not want the pain or the gain. For some, this actually works, while most of us do not seem to have a choice in the matter. Why? Horav Nochum, zl, m'Horadna, relates the following story as means of an explanation. The Russian President once decided to visit the state prison to see how it was being run. Lo and behold, he was arriving at a time when no one was incarcerated! The jail was empty. In an effort to "alleviate" this problem, the warden approached a poor man and asked him if he would be willing to serve as "prisoner for a day." The poor man had a strong distaste for prisons, and, therefore, he refused to "accept" the offer. One year later, the poor man was regrettably caught in an act of petty theft. The judge was in the process of sending him to prison, when he turned to the warden and said, "I do not want to go. Imagine, just one year ago, I refused to go to the prison. Then, you were willing to pay me. Now, I will certainly not go." The warden listened to him and laughed. "My friend, you do not have much of a choice in the matter. Now, you must go. You have 'earned' your sentence."

Likewise, those who are able to say we will do without the pain are individuals who are expiating the sins of the greater community. They themselves were so holy that they have extra "funds" in their account. Those of us who are receiving our due punishment, however, really do not have much of a choice. We receive what we have unfortunately "earned." There are instances when the troubles one experiences are not simply to pay for his past sins, but rather serve as a buffer for future generations when there will be a situation that a z'chus, merit, is needed. No pain is for naught. Hashem saves it all; He puts it away in an account to be used at a later date. The commentators compare this to the young son of a wealthy man who became ill. While the illness was not of a serious nature, the man, possessing great wealth, sought the finest and most talented physician to treat his son. After all, what else is money for? Surprisingly, however, while this distinguished doctor had been treating the boy for a short while, he became increasingly more ill. The father approached the doctor, "I do not understand. Just a few weeks ago, my son was diagnosed with a minor illness, and now his life is in danger. What has happened?"

"I am sorry to say that your son does have a serious life-threatening illness," the doctor replied. "During my initial checkup, I noticed early signs of a deadly disease that would probably have taken about five years to surface. At that time, it will be almost impossible to cure your son. In addition, I do not know if I will be available then. I, therefore, caused the illness to incubate more quickly, so that your son would become ill now. At this point, the illness is treatable. It might be painful, but your son will survive and live a full life. To have waited would have been to invite certain disaster."

Likewise, the yissurim sustained by individuals may quite possibly serve as a deposit to be placed in a spiritual bank, with one's descendants -- children, grandchildren, or even great-grandchildren - as the beneficiaries. The travails suffered by parents can mitigate some of the harsh decree that is to be issued to later generations, who do not have the necessary merits, to survive its painful consequences.

In conclusion, as the pasuk states, yissurim are a G-d-given manifestation of fatherly love. When one takes this into consideration, it makes the pain that much more bearable. Many stories relate how great men and women came to terms with their suffering. There is one incident that I recently came across that fascinated me. It indicates a woman's pragmatic attitude toward her suffering, and it is an incident from which we can all learn.

There is a woman in Yerushalayim who exemplifies chesed, acts of lovingkindness, at its zenith. In fact, the girls' schools often bring their students to her to take note of her incredible and successful efforts on behalf of Yerushalayim's less fortunate. She has organized campaigns that have sustained thousands. How did it all begin?

Apparently, a while ago, she was seriously ill, almost at death's door. The medical community had given up hope of a recovery from her dread disease. The situation was very bleak. It was close to what should have been the "end." The doctors had just notified her to "put her affairs in order," because they could no longer offer her any hope. She gathered her strength and cried out to Hashem: "Ribono Shel Olam, who will benefit from my lying in the grave? You will derive nothing, because I will not be able to perform mitzvos. I will certainly gain nothing. I promise You that if You permit me to live, I will devote every minute of my time towards sanctifying Your Holy Name by performing acts of lovingkindness. I will dedicate my life, my entire being, towards the fulfillment of this mitzvah. Please Hashem, allow me to live!"

She continued to weep bitterly until she no longer had any more strength. Hashem listened, and she left the hospital cured of her disease. She kept her word and has devoted her life to carrying out acts of chesed, thereby sanctifying the Name of Hashem. She asked - Hashem listened - she acted. Our prayers are never wasted. We may never despair of hope.

Just as a father will chastise his son, so Hashem, your G-d, chastises you. (8:5)

We translate the word, ish, as "a father," but it actually means "a man." The Torah should have used the word, av, father. Why does the Torah alter the wording? Horav Yosef Chaim, zl, the Ben Ish Chai, distinguishes between the love manifest by a biological father and that shown by a man who raises a child as a surrogate. The father certainly loves his child, and the discipline and punishment that he must mete out is rooted in love. However subtle it may be, there is a hidden agenda - one that the father may not even be aware of: He has a personal stake in his son's success, because it is a reflection on him.

The individual, who, out of the goodness of his heart, has raised someone else's son, is certainly proud of his son's achievements, but the failures are not necessarily attributed to him. This is why the Torah changes the text. Hashem chastises us as "a man" chastises his "son." It is purely for the sake of the child . Success and failure are not the result of his biological relationship. It is totally out of objective love for Klal Yisrael - a love that endures and will continue to do so for all time.

Take care of yourself…lest you eat to satiety…and your cattle and sheep grow many…and your heart become haughty, and you forget Hashem Your G-d, Who took you out of the land of Egypt. (8:11, 12, 13, 14)

Chazal consider haughtiness to be a deplorable character trait from which one should distance himself to the extreme. The trait of self-conceit is one of the worst qualities one can possess. As Rabbeinu Yonah writes in Pirkei Avos 4:4, "It is a sin that makes one's heart forget his Creator, as the Torah says, 'Lest you become haughty and forget Hashem your G-d'" (Devarim 8:14.)

"Be very humble-spirited, for the hope of man is but worms" (Pirkei Avos 4:4). The Tanna could not paint a much clearer picture. We have nothing about which to be arrogant, because we all are destined to the same conclusion to our lives. When we keep this in mind, what do we have to be haughty about? In the Talmud Sanhedrin 88b, the statement is perhaps a bit more extreme: "Who is worthy of entering the World to Come? Whoever is humble, with bent knee, who comes and goes with bowed head, who regularly studies Torah and does not make much of himself (over it)."

The above is a powerful statement, but, it seems to contradict another well-known statement of Chazal: "All Yisrael have a share in the World to Come (Sanhedrin 90A)." Clearly, the statement that restricts entrance to the humble is referring to another point. Horav Meir Bergman, Shlita, explains that Chazal are saying: Who, while still in this world, is worthy right now to enter the World to Come? Who is so completely divorced from sin that he stands pure and clean in the midst of a world filled with moral and spiritual pollution, with materialism and physicality, with the mundane, secular and profane, all prevailing over sanctity, purity and morality? The answer is: the individual who is self-effacing, who is unassuming, who thinks little of himself. Because of his infinitesimal self-view, he has risen above his peers and is worthy of entrance through the gates of Gan Eden.

Chazal are meticulous in informing us of the definition of unassuming: he who is with "bent knee, who comes with bowed head, who regularly studies Torah and does not call attention to himself over it." Do a "bent knee" and "bowed head" make such a difference in an individual's character? Is this "position" something physical, or is it meant in a spiritual sense?

Rav Bergman explains that in day-to-day life, one bends his knee or bows his head in order to avoid collision with the ceiling or doorway. It is pure practicality. Likewise, in the spiritual life, one "bends his knee" or "bows his head" to avoid "knocking his head" against the Shechinah. One who has a palpable sense of Hashem's Presence, who has a tactile feeling that Hashem is Master of the world, will "bow mentally" effacing himself before the Almighty. After all, Hashem is everywhere! He feels that by mentally raising himself up, he is shtupping, pushing up, against Hashem. Just as when the ceiling of a house is sagging, the tenant understands that for practical purposes, he must maintain a "low profile" and keep his head down, so, too, should every "tenant" in Hashem's world feel His all-present glory hovering all over and bow himself internally as a matter of course.

This constant feeling of Hashem's Presence is the greatest safeguard against sin. In contrast, the individual who is filled with himself, who is so wrapped up in his own glory, has a difficult time finding Hashem in his life. He simply has no room, because life is all about him - not Hashem. His arrogance and the consequence of forgetting about Hashem will surely lead him to sin.

That it is not your children who did not know and who did not see the chastisement of Hashem, your G-d. (11:2)

As Moshe Rabbeinu continues his admonishment of the Jewish People, he stresses their singular responsibility to maintain a strong fidelity to Hashem. They were the ones who saw firsthand Hashem's wonders and miracles. They were sustained through His mercy. While the Torah's commandments are no less obligatory to the future generations, they nonetheless do not have the personal experience of seeing what their parents saw. Their personal involvement was stronger. Hence, their commitment should be likewise. The Torah uses the word mussar, which is here translated as chastisement. The people should take a lesson from the punishment meted out to those who have angered Hashem. Targum Onkeles defines mussar as ulpana, which means teaching. Hashem inflicts suffering for the constructive purpose of rectifying one's inappropriate behavior.

In any event, mussar is a lesson one should derive by taking note of what happens to him and around him. When one ignores his Heavenly messages, he makes a serious mistake, one that can - and usually does - lead to much more serious sins. A sobering example of this notion can be gleaned from the incident of the meraglim, the spies, all distinguished Jewish leaders, who, upon returning from their reconnaissance of Eretz Yisrael, relayed a negative report about the Land. The Mirrer Mashgiach, Horav Yeruchem Levovitz, zl, notes that when we read through the passages describing the episode and we view the entire incident through the spectrum provided and elucidated by Chazal, we see that they committed a number of grievous sins. When they said, "The people of Canaan are stronger than we are, they were actually implying that the pagans were stronger than Hashem. This statement is at least heretical and certainly indicative of other fundamental problems in emunah, belief, in Hashem.

Rav Yeruchem wonders why after a thorough study of the parshah and a critical evaluation of the behavior of Klal Yisrael, which indicates a serious deficiency in their belief in G-d, all Chazal can "pin" on them is the sin of not taking the appropriate mussar lesson from the earlier incident in which Miriam spoke against Moshe. Such a statement is mind-boggling! Imagine someone steals a car, commits a homicide, and is finally caught with a trunk stuffed with hard drugs. Seems pretty bad! Would it not be ludicrous if he is only prosecuted for speeding through a school zone in the course of fleeing from the police? It might sound comical, but this seems to be the case concerning the spies. The Mashgiach explains that it is essentially the sin of not listening, not acknowledging that there is a problem, which leads to-- and is the catalyst for-- all of the other sins. We go through life hearing messages. If we take note of the message and acknowledge that we are its focus, we have the possibility of changing the negative course of our lives. If, however, we ignore the messages, we are likely to pay dearly.

The incident that occurred concerning Miriam was a defining moment in Jewish history, which should have had a definitive impact on the Jewish People. The nation should have derived the overriding significance of positive speech, as well as the damaging effects of negative, inappropriate speech. If the meraglim would only have taken a critical look at the lesson implied from the episode of Miriam, they would not have sinned, and today we would probably not be celebrating Tishah B'Av as our national day of mourning.

We must wake up and listen to our messages. There are occurrences every day of which we are aware, that take place for a reason. We must search for that reason, but this can occur only if we acknowledge the G-d factor in every incident. If we fail to react to the inferred messages, the next communication might not be quite as subtle.

Va'ani Tefillah

Zeichar rav tuvecha yabiu
The remembrance of Your goodness they shall utter.

All too often, we pay gratitude to the Almighty for His wonderful beneficence which we receive in the present, while simultaneously ignoring His gifts from the past. It is important that we not forget the past favors that we have received, and therefore, must constantly and repeatedly remember everything that Hashem has done for us. Remembering is not sufficient. The good fortune from which we have benefited must be reiterated, articulated and delved into, so that we learn to appreciate every direct and even indirect consequence of that favor. The voicing of our gratitude must be two-fold: to ourselves and to others. Indeed, when one is truly excited about something, he does not keep it to himself. He wants to share it with others, to "shout it from the rooftops." This should be our attitude concerning the gratitude we owe Hashem. Remember, delve into it, focus on every aspect of it, articulate it to oneself and to others. Only then has one truly recognized Hashem's favor.

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