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When I was a young boy, my grandfather, alav hashalom, used to take me for long walks and tell me stories of Tanach, Talmud and the Midrash. With these stories, he built the foundation of my Yiddishkeit and prepared me for life. There were certain storied he repeated often. I don’t know whether this was intentional or he simply didn’t remember that he had told me them already. The one he told me most often was the story in this week’s parashah.
Balak, the King of Moav, hired Bil’am, the evil prophet of the Nations, to curse the Children of Israel. Although Bil’am hated the Jews even more than Balak did, he knew that his mission would fail unless he could get approval from his “Boss,” the Almighty. But Hashem, who loves His children even when they misbehave, told him to stay at home and not even attempt to curse them. However, Bil’am, who was obsessed with Jew-hatred, was persistent and asked again. Finally, he received the following instruction, “Go with the men, but only the word that I shall speak to you -- that shall you speak” (Bemidbar 22:35). Rashi brings the poignant comment of the Sages, “On that road which a man wants to go, he is led!”
My grandfather would encourage and reprimand me at the same time by reminding me that Hashem would lead me on whatever road I would want. Bil’am wanted to go down the evil road; so he was led to his own self-destruction. But, so much more so, one who wants to go down the road of Righteousness, will be led and even helped in that direction. “Therefore,” Zaidie would conclude, “Your job is to develop your desires and aspirations to want the right things; Hashem will do the rest. If you want to be religious, He will help you be religious. If you want to be a rabbi, He will help you become a rabbi. If you want to teach Torah to others, He will always help you find the way to do so. Just see to it to want the right things.”
My Zaidie’s words made a deep impression upon my young soul and they always stood before me, guiding me along the way. I knew that, whatever situation I found myself in, ultimately, my success or failure rested primarily in my hands. If I would have the proper ratzon (desire), I could rely on Hashem to help me succeed. With the wrong ratzon, I was doomed to fail.
In 1977, when Hashem helped me implement my desire to come and live in the Holy Land, I saw a live demonstration of what ratzon really means. The lift of belongings we had sent by boat to Israel finally arrived and we had to go to the Haifa port and claim them. I was then Mashgiach of the American students in the ITRI Yeshiva of Chadera, and the Administrator asked two Israeli boys to take the yeshiva’s van and drive me to and from Haifa and help me free the goods.
In Israeli yeshivas, the restrictions in the dormitories are quite limiting. One of the items forbidden, in order to protect the students from the bad influences of “the street,” is a radio. A student found with a radio in his room can be expelled immediately. However, these two boys who accompanied me knew that Americans are more liberal and, sensing that they could trust me, asked if, by any chance, there was a transistor radio among the belongings we were going to receive. I assured them that there were not one, but two radios in the container. Excitedly, they asked me if I would mind if they listened to it on the hour-and-something drive back to the yeshiva. I told them that I wouldn’t mind at all, but that we were releasing a large container of household items and I doubted that they would be able to find any of the radios that easily. They replied in Hebrew, “Al tid’ag, Harav, anachnu nistader – Don’t worry, Rabbi, we’ll manage! We just had to be sure that we have your permission. We’ll take care of the rest.”
Then I added that the container itself is probably sealed tightly, and would be very difficult to open. Once again they assured me, “Al tid’ag, Harav, anachnu nistader.” I assumed that they had brought with them some tools to accomplish their feat, and I didn’t give it a second thought.
Finally, we arrived in Haifa and I was introduced to the infamous Israeli bureaucracy. Eventually, we found ourselves back outside, with a large crate sealed not only with big nails, but wrapped with strong metal straps too. Now the boys began to tackle the challenge of opening the container; a feat which usually requires special tools. To my amazement, not only didn’t they have the special tools required, but, since they only hatched the idea once we were on the way, they hadn’t even brought along any conventional ones like a hammer, a screwdriver and some sort of cutting tool. Excitedly, they began to search the van for any tools the regular driver might have stored away. However, the only thing they could find was the four headed wrench used to change flat tires. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry as the duo grabbed this tool and, unhesitatingly, prepared to open the crate with it. When I asked them how in the world they expected to get in to the container with that pathetic tool, they smiled confidently and said, for the third time, “Al tid’ag, Harav, anachnu nistader.”
I couldn’t bear to watch this exercise in futility, so I sat in the van, studying the sefer I had brought along, while the guys tried, seemingly in vain, to fulfill their desire. As time went on, and I wanted to get back to yeshiva, I suggested to them that they just forget it, since it was obviously impossible to open a container with only a wrench. But they were amazed at the suggestion; since they had absolutely no doubt that they would succeed. It was only a matter of time, they explained, and if I would be a little bit more patient we would soon be on our way to Chadera, while listening to one of the radios I had brought. Seeing how much this meant to them, I agreed to give them some more time, although I was equally convinced that there was no way their scenario would become reality.
To make a long story a little shorter, they did it! I have no idea how, but they got that container open; they went through it like mice looking for cheese and found the radio; they ran to the store and bought batteries and, although they usually enjoyed speeding, this time they drove very slowly back to Chadera, cherishing every moment they could listen to the sweet, forbidden waters, of the then-modern means of communication.
When we finally arrived at yeshiva, I delivered a shmooze (lecture) to my American students whom, I knew, I could share the secret with without getting the Israeli fellows into trouble. In this shmooze I described what had just happened and I concluded by saying that now I understood, much better, what my grandfather had taught me. For some may argue that they, too, sometimes wanted to be successful; yet they didn’t find that Hashem helped them succeed. One of the reasons is, I explained, that we don’t really understand what it means to want. These two fellows really wanted that radio; they felt that they couldn’t live without it; and they had absolutely no doubts that they would achieve their goal. That’s what “wanting” really means. If we have that same ratzon to succeed in our quest to serve Hashem, we will be equally triumphant.
Let’s work on developing a strong, proper ratzon, and may Hashem help us achieve our goals and be truly happy in this world and the world-to-come.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network