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Last week, I wrote about the Novahrdok Musser movement and their extreme dedication to absolute Bitachon - trust and confidence in Hashem. I explained that this approach only works if one is absolutely convinced that it will and has no doubts before nor is he surprised after he sees Hashem's salvation.
On Chanukah, a small group of Chashmonaim went out to fight the tremendous and powerful Greek-Syrian army. They were confident that Hashem would help them and He did, as King Dovid writes (Tehillim 22:5-6), "Our fathers trusted in You; they were confident, and You saved them. They cried to You, and were saved; they trusted in You, and were not disappointed."
Even today, it is possible to experience Hashem's salvation if one has complete confidence in Him. This is illustrated clearly in the following, moving story.
A long time ago, when I was a young man living in Monsey, NY, I taught a Beis Ya'akov Seminary's group of girls in Boro Park, Brooklyn, once a week. One week, while driving to Brooklyn, I offered a ride to a prominent looking Rabbi. As we chatted on the way, I learned that he was indeed a very distinguished Rav, a great Torah scholar, who had a shul in the basement of his home in Boro Park. Our group was looking for a new location, and, through Divine Providence, they arranged with this rabbi to use his shul.
The classes were in Jewish Philosophy and one of the topics we discussed most was Bitachon - faith in the Almighty. I often spoke about the Novahrdoker school which followed in the footsteps of Rabbi Shim'on bar Yochai who taught that one may and should have absolute faith in Hashem and await His salvation passively without even lifting a finger to help Him. This view was opposed by Rabbi Yishmael who taught that one should do what is needed according to the rules of Nature and believe that it is Hashem Who blesses his endeavors rather than his efforts themselves which bring him his needs.
From time to time I would point out that we certainly are not on the level of those who have absolute faith in Hashem, and, consequently, we certainly have to subscribe to the second camp which attempts to help itself and prays to Hashem for success. Nevertheless, I would explain, we study the views of the first group because when we hear amazing stories about how they received salvation directly from Hashem, due to their unquestioning faith, it strengthens us, on our level, to believe in Him too and not to exert too much time and effort on our own behalf; which even Rabbi Yishmael does not sanction.
One day, one of the students approached me and informed me that another student's life was ruined and it was my fault! Naturally I was shocked to hear such and accusation thrown at me and I asked for an explanation. She told me that there was a very poor girl in our class who had no means of parental support. On the contrary, since her father was sick, she had to share the small amount she earned with her parents. Nevertheless, she insisted that she wanted to marry only a Torah scholar who would just sit and learn Torah in a kolel, without even teaching in a yeshiva. Everyone knows that a boy who wants to continue learning looks for a father-in-law who is able and willing to support him. Therefore, a boy like that would not even consider her for a match; only one who is willing to work. However, she repeatedly rejects such a boy; much to the matchmakers' frustration. When asked the logic of her ways she would always respond, "Rabbi Sobel taught us that one may and should have absolute confidence in Hashem and look only to Him for help; and I do. I am sure that He will provide me with the boy I want; in spite of the fact that I cannot support him. "
I felt very bad about what I heard and I asked to speak to the girl right away in a corner of the shul we studied in. She confirmed everything her friend had told me. I argued that I had made it clear many times that we were not nearly on that high a level but she responded that she feels absolutely confident in Hashem and has no doubt in the world that He will fulfill her wishes just as we learned that He fulfills the wishes of all who trust in Him one hundred per cent. No matter how much I tried to dissuade her, she was obstinate and would not budge from her position.
Time went by and I was informed that the Rabbi of the shul we were using wanted to meet with me. I promptly went to visit him and, much to my surprise, he told me that he was upset with me. I asked what I had done wrong and he told me a startling story. His son, a talmid chacham of note, was introduced to a girl who learns in my group. Somehow, he cannot understand how, they didn't check out the financial status of the girl's family; although his son wants to learn for many years to come. Now, after meeting several times, the young man is so impressed with the girl's hashkafos (Jewish views) that he insists on marrying her, even though he recently learned that there is absolutely no monetary help available from her family. After further investigation, the Rabbi discovered that the girl is my student and she is constantly quoting statements and stories she heard from me about Bitachon. The father thinks that they are both out of their minds for thinking that they, in our lowly generation, have reached the level of the giants in Bitachon of yesteryear. In short, he blames me for teaching them something which is way above their level and he wants me to knock some sense into her head immediately.
Upon hearing the girl's name, I explained to the boy's father that I had already tried speaking to her, but with no success. The father said that he similarly argued with his son that marrying her is against his interests, if his interests are learning Torah, but he refuses to understand. It's as if they are both in some Fantasyland and no one can get them out of it.
Well, eventually they got married, with absolutely no practical plan - just pure Bitachon. They settled in Lakewood where he joined a kolel and she got a job. Since they were both more interested in spirituality than materialism, they lived modestly and were able to make it on their meager incomes. Everything seemed fine then, but what would they do when they had a family to support? Years later, in 1977, I was privileged to move to Eretz Yisroel with my family. Several years after that, upon completing my prayers at the Kosel HaMa'aravi (the Western Wall), I was pleasantly surprised to see the Rabbi from Boro Park. I ran over to him and asked how he was, but mostly I wanted to know how the young couple was getting along. He beamed with pride as he told me what a wonderful pair they are and how much nachas he has from them. His son is learning well and his precious wife gives him financial and emotional support, encouraging him to study more and more and grow to be a Torah giant. However, he said, there is just one thing wrong. They were not yet blessed with children and he does not know what to do to help them. At first, I was taken aback. I thought to myself, how could this be? Two amazing young people, who love Hashem and His Torah so much, and serve Him so sincerely; how could they not be privileged to bring children into this world to follow in their ways? But immediately after, I remembered an incident which had taken place in Monsey many years before. Rabbi Muttel Waldman was a great talmid chacham and he and his wife were fabulous people. Everyone knew that their house was always open for guests. Anyone who had to spend time in Monsey, whether a day or a month, was welcome to be their guest. Fund raisers from around the world took it for granted that during their stay in Monsey they would eat and sleep by the Waldmans. Everyone loved them and they loved everyone. But there was one thing which put a damper on the joy which permeated their home: they had no children. After being married for ten years, Mrs. Waldman finally gave birth to a healthy baby girl and the town was ecstatic. Everyone came to the kiddush on Shabbos and everyone shared in the simcha. While there, I overheard someone say that a while after their wedding, Rabbi Waldman had mentioned to his father that he's concerned that his wife is not pregnant yet. The father, this person said, reprimanded him and told him to bite his tongue. "Halevei (I wish) that you would be blessed with ten quiet years to learn Torah without the burden of supporting a family," he had said. And today, ten years later, Rabbi Waldman and his wife had their first of several children! As soon as I remembered this story, which I cannot be certain was true or not, I thought to myself that I am quite sure that this is what's happening to this special couple. Hashem would surely bless them with children eventually but first He was helping them fulfill their desires by enabling the husband to learn for a while without the yoke of sustenance around his neck. Nevertheless, it was our obligation to try to help them according to our simple understanding and not figure in Hashem's deeper calculations. Therefore, we had to think of a way to help them achieve every couple's goal: to have children. When I moved to Israel, my dear wife Rivky was suffering from acute rheumatoid arthritis which the biggest doctors in the USA were not able to heal her of. The most they could do was to give her a heavy dosage of aspirin daily; something we were very uncomfortable with. Before making Aliyah, someone told me about a great Tzaddik, Rabbi Shnitzler ztvk"l, who lived in Meah Shearim, and had helped many people with various problems. Upon arriving in the Holy Land, Rivky and I went to visit him and, baruch Hashem, he healed her completely. When we visited the USA a few months later, the doctor could not believe what he saw and ordered us to have blood tests taken which confirmed that a miracle had indeed taken place.
While we were by the Rebbe, I learned that he had given Rabbi Waldman and his wife his blessing, as he had done for many other childless couples, and they all had received Hashem's salvation through him. However, he had a very strict condition: no one was to know about the miracle until it was obvious. In other words, once the couple was informed that the wife had conceived, they were not to share that information with anyone until they realized it themselves from her appearance. This included parents of the husband and his wife.
I took the Rabbi from Boro Park to visit the Tzaddik and we told him the story of the young couple. He gave them his blessing but told us that he couldn't assure us that it would help, since we already knew about it and the cardinal rule was that it be their secret alone at the beginning. Sure enough, it did not work.
A year or two later, I prepared to visit the States and I visited my Rebby, shlita, to say goodbye. While there, I noticed a letter from the Rabbi in Boro Park to my Rebby (who had learned Kabala from him). I asked my Rebby, if, by any chance, he had any news about the Rabbi's son and daughter in law in Lakewood. The Rebby's face beamed and he said that he had forgotten to tell me that baruch Hashem they had just had a son and that the bris would be tomorrow. I got very excited and I said that I would love to be able to attend, but we calculated the difference in hours and realized that I would just miss it. I was very disappointed but there was obviously nothing I could do. As soon as I arrived in New York, I called the Rabbi and extended my deepest mazal tov to him and his family on the occasion of the birth and the bris. He was very happy to hear from me and told me that the bris had actually been postponed because the baby was a bit yellow and that I would be able to attend it, in his shul, in a few days.
Several days later, I stood in the same shul where I had taught so many years before, and my head swooned with emotion. I looked at the spot where I had spoken to the mother of this child and tried to convince her that she should be "practical" and lower her aspirations for a big Torah scholar as her husband, since she had not the means to make it happen. But she had insisted adamantly that she has absolute confidence in Hashem and was convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that she would be privileged to achieve her goals. And through the amazing Hands of Providence she had married the son of the Rabbi of the shul, and here we were now, celebrating the bris of their son in this very same shul where she had dedicated her life to serve Hashem on the highest levels. She had not allowed anyone to dissuade her from her Bitachon in Hashem and she had seen His miracles performed on her behalf. I felt a feeling which I cannot really describe as I contemplated the revelation of Hashem we had been privileged to witness.
A few months ago, the Rabbi from Boro Park passed away and one of his sons sat shiv'ah for him in Jerusalem. I went to visit him and asked about his brother in Lakewood. He told me that he and his tzaddeikis wife had some more children since then and that he is still learning in the Lakewood Kolel!
Who says that in our days we don't see miracles performed any more?
P.S. With great gratitude to Hashem for all of His blessings, I wish to inform my dear friends that tomorrow, Shabbos Chanukah (the first), my daughter Shevy and her husband Yisroel will i.y.H. be bringing their first son into the bris of Avraham Avinu. May we always share simchas together.
Years ago, in the year 2001, I recorded in these pages the answer of Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv zt"l, known as the Alter of Kelem to the question of the Beis Yosef (Rabbi Yosef Karo, author of the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law, in his commentary on the Tur Shulchan Aruch). Why is Chanukah celebrated for eight days? In the Gemara (Shabbos 21b), the story of the miracle of the oil which burned for eight days is related. There we are told that the flask of pure oil, which was found after the war, contained enough to burn for one evening. Accordingly, there was no miracle on the first day, but only on the succeeding seven days, when the oil continued to burn all night. Why then should we celebrate the holiday for more than seven days? The Alter answers according to the teaching of the Ramban (Shemos 13:16) that the very rules of nature are themselves miracles. However, since Hashem decreed that they should occur on a regular, predictable basis, we call them "nature," as opposed to those miracles which are rare occurrences and not part of the normal order of the world. Therefore, the proper attitude, says the Ramban, is that common, everyday experiences should be considered "hidden miracles," since their marvelous essence is not readily visible to all, while unusual, rare events should be called "revealed miracles," since any honest observer can immediately recognize them for what they are.
The Ramban continues to teach us that the purpose of the rare occurrence of "revealed" miracles is to make us aware that the "natural" events are also miracles, albeit "hidden" ones. When we see that Hashem has the power to change the normal course of things, we are expected to realize that the way things were running until then was also nothing less than His Will. And so it was at the time of the holy Chashmona'im. True, there was enough oil to burn for one evening, and it was only "unnatural" for the small amount of oil to burn for another seven days. However, when the kohanim and all of Yisrael saw the "revealed miracle," they realized that the fact that the oil "naturally" burned even the first evening was also nothing less than a "hidden miracle" - the only difference being that this was a common event which they were used to observing.
Therefore, as we sing in the fifth stanza of the hymn ma oz tzur: "binei vinah, yimei shemonah, kav'u shir urinanim" - the "children of understanding" declared eight days for celebrating the event of Chanukah. They understood that even the everyday doings were all works of Hashem, no less a miracle than the splitting of the Red Sea.
Chanukah is a time for all of us to contemplate this important lesson and relate stories about "natural coincidences," which occurred to us and to others, and to internalize that they are really nothing less than Divine Providence.
In Aleynu Lishabeach, Rabbi Yitzchak Zilberstein shlita tells a story of a Torah scholar, whom he knows, who wanted very much that his daughter should marry a talmid chacham (Torah scholar) too. However, much to his chagrin, it just didn't seem to happen. Every time his daughter met with an excellent yeshiva bachur, something went wrong and the shidduch did not materialize. He was especially upset about one particular boy, who was considered to be someone really special, who met with his daughter several times and everyone was sure that this was The One. Yet, for some unknown reason, at the very last moment, the boy decided that this girl was not for him.
A few days later, the girl's father went to pray in a certain synagogue. After the services were over, the gabbai (officer) of the synagogue approached him and asked if it were possible for him to begin teaching the worshippers every evening. The fellow reviewed his daily schedule in his mind and concluded that he simply did not have the time to accept upon himself another obligation. And so he refused the offer.
After he had left the synagogue, however, he reconsidered his decision and thought that perhaps he had made a mistake. If there was a group of people who wanted to learn Torah, perhaps he should make a special effort on their behalf and find the time to teach them. He returned to the shul and told the gabbai that he had thought about it and had decided that he would say the daily shiur (lesson).
While teaching the very first night, the Torah scholar realized how right he had been by agreeing to do it. He felt a special siyata diShemaya (Heavenly assistance) in explaining the content and he noticed that those attending were enjoying it immensely. What he did not notice was that one of those listening to his shiur intently was the boy who had broken up with his daughter several days ago. The young man was not a regular worshipper in this synagogue but was looking for a place to pray and "just happened" to choose this shul. Hearing someone teaching and explaining the content in a most interesting way, the fellow decided he would go over and listen to the man who was delivering a truly fascinating shiur. Only a little while later, did the boy realize that the one whose Torah he was marveling at was none other than the father of the girl he had just rejected as his lifelong partner. On the spot he decided that it would be an honor to be the son-in-law of such a prestigious talmid chacham and a few nights later he became engaged to his daughter.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network