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“And the man bowed low and prostrated himself to Hashem. And he said, ‘Blessed is Hashem, G-d of my master Avraham, Who has not withheld His kindness and truth from my master. As for me, Hashem has guided me on the way to the house of my master's brothers’” (Bereishis 24:26-27).
Eliezer, the servant of Avraham, was sent to bring a fitting bride for Yitzchak, son of Avraham. Being the loyal servant, he wanted Hashem to help him choose the right one so he made a sign with which he would be able to recognize her. When the sign worked, Eliezer thanked Hashem for helping him be successful in his difficult mission. Surely he must have felt encouraged that things went exactly according to his plan.
But in many life situations, things don’t go exactly as we had hoped they would.
Last week, I wrote about my first bikkur cholim call to Rabbi Nevenansky z”l during which I mistakenly overstayed my visit. That was before the summer of that year. After the summer vacation, I visited him again. This time I was careful to make it short. However, in this brief stay I learned one of the most important foundations of Judaism from him.
As a bachur (unmarried boy), studying in R.J.J. (Rabbi Jacob Josef School) in Manhattan, I organized a group of students and learned Mussar (Jewish Ethics) with them. It was something that, normally, one of the rabbis should have done. However, in the unique situation in our yeshiva, no one did it and so, not wanting to lose out, we took things into our own hands, under the guidance of my Rebby, shlita. Baruch Hashem, from this chaburah (group; really it should be pronounced “chavurah,” however, this mistake is accepted in the Yeshiva World) emerged many rabbis and community leaders around the world. One of its members was Rabbi Nevenansky’s own son, Chaim.
On my first visit, Rabbi Nevenansky asked me what is doing with the chaburah, which had been created earlier that year. I began to speak with rapture about how successful it is, baruch Hashem, and how we are seeing so much siyata DiShemaya (Heavenly assistance). I told him that when I established it I expected opposition from the staff of the yeshiva, from the parents, and from the students themselves, since, after all, I was only a student myself. But, baruch Hashem, almost miraculously, things were going very smoothly.
I had expected Rabbi Nevenansky to show his appreciation and offer me words of encouragement. Strangely enough, though, he did not comment at all.
After the summer, when I visited him a second time, he asked me again how the chaburah was doing. This time I let out a sigh as I explained that there are so many problems; emanating from the yeshiva staff, the parents and the students themselves. I was amazed to see his face light up with satisfaction. Then he told me that when he had heard me tell him, before the summer, how smoothly things are going, he was frightened and had considered taking Chaim out of the chaburah. He had thought to himself, how could it be that the Satan is allowing such a good thing to progress without his opposition? Perhaps that is a sign that it is not really such a good thing after all, although it certainly appears to be a wonderful thing.
“Now, Ben Zion,” he said to me, “that I hear that there are, indeed, hardships, hindering the success of the chaburah, and even threatening its very existence, my mind is at ease. If the Satan is fighting you, it is a very good sign that you are doing a worthy thing which is intimidating him, and he wants to hinder you in your holy work. Therefore, I encourage you today to continue in your mission, and do not be afraid of the Forces of Evil who will surely fight you. Never surrender to them. Just continue to learn and teach and the Almighty will help you be victorious in the end!”
Later in life, this all-important lesson was reinforced when I heard a story about a messenger who came to the town of Volozhin to collect funds for a very worthy cause. As was his custom, the rabbi of the town, Reb Chaim of Volozhin, accompanied the man as they went door to door soliciting funds. Suddenly, Reb Chaim (according to one version of the story) took the fellow into a dark alley, picked up a stick and threatened to beat the man if he would not reveal his true identity to him immediately. The fellow then confessed that he was really a missionary, and was collecting money to use for his unholy purposes. (According to another version, Reb Chaim abandoned him in the middle and refused to continue collecting with him. The man went on, on his own, and Reb Chaim proceeded to the fellow’s lodging room and searched his belongings where he found a copy of the so-called “New Testament).
When asked how he knew that something was wrong, Reb Chaim replied that he often went with emissaries to collect funds. But people usually hesitated and found it difficult to part with their money and needed a bit of persuasion to contribute to the worthy cause. This is only natural since the Satan dissuades people from doing mitzvahs. This time, however, it was quite strange that everyone they approached dug deeply into his pocket, and, without hesitation, gave a handsome sum. “I realized.” Reb Chaim said, that there was something wrong if the Satan was not fighting us, and I knew that I had to investigate to find out if our mission was really holy or not.”
I once approached my Rebby, shlita, and asked him to accompany me to the Menahel (the principal of the Jewish department) of R.J.J. to try to persuade him to do something positive for the yeshiva. My Rebby was hesitant and I tried to convince him. As I stood there, a student came to my Rebby with a message that the Menahel wants to see him immediately. My face lit up and I argued, “What unbelievable Hashgachah! It is a sign from Heaven that I am right and that we should go speak to him about that matter.” The Rebby seemed to agree and began heading towards the Office, with me at his side. As we approached the staircase, though, another student appeared and told my Rebby that the Menahel had sent him to apologize and say that he had to go away and could not speak to him now. My Rebby looked at me, as if to say, “Nu, what do you say now about your signs from Heaven?’” My face lit up and I immediately told him what Rabbi Nevenansky had told me concluding, “Wow, now I am sure that my idea is right. If the Satan is fighting to prevent us from discussing it with the Menahel, it proves that he is afraid of something which may weaken him!”
My Rebby smiled and said to me, “I am jealous of you. Most people get encouragement when things go the way they want them too; and get discouraged when they meet up with obstacles along the way. But you get encouragement even from the things that would normally break someone else’s spirits.” He then blessed me to be successful in all of my endeavors to strengthen Yiddishkeit (Judaism).
May Hashem bless all of us with constant encouragement to go in His ways and help others to do so too. Then we will all be happy in this world and in the World-to-Come, Amen.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network