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And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took for his wife a daughter of Levi. And the woman conceived, and bore a son; and when she saw that he was good, she hid him for three months. And when she could no longer hide him, she took for him a wicker basket and smeared it with clay and pitch, and put the child in it; and she laid it in the rushes by the river's brink. And his sister stationed herself at a distance to see what would be done to him. And the daughter of Par’oh came down to bathe by the river; and her maidens walked along by the river's side; and when she saw the basket among the reeds, she sent her maid to fetch it. And when she had opened it, she saw him, the child; and, behold, a youth was crying; and she had compassion on him, and said, “This is one of the Hebrews' children” (Shemos 2:1-6).
Rashi brings an interpretation of the Sages that it was not her maid whom she sent to fetch the basket, but, actually, she stretched forth her own hand which increased in length several cubits (the Hebrew word "ama," literally translated as “maid,” can also mean a cubit) in order that she might more easily reach it.
The simple understanding of this Midrash Chazal (Rabbinical interpretation) is surely that Hashem performed a miracle and the hand of the daughter of Par’oh extended to an extraordinary length in order to save the Savior of Israel.
However, her action defies logic. Since she herself was certainly not expecting a miracle to occur, the obvious question is why did she even extend her hand in the first place? Surely she realized that the basket was nowhere within her reach.
In August of 1971, I brought my father-in-law a”h, to be laid to rest in Eretz Yisrael. It was the first time I had the privilege to visit the Holy Land and I also was merited the opportunity to meet with the outstanding saint, Harav Hatzaddik, Reb Chatskyl Levenstein ztvk”l, the Mashgiach of the Yeshiva of Ponevizsh, who spent an entire fifteen minutes with me. Before I left, I asked him what message he would like to send to the Diaspora with me. Very pensively, he told me to say that it was very late and that people should use all of their resources to the fullest, in order to serve the Almighty properly because, “They don’t give free gifts from Heaven” (meaning, one has to work hard to achieve his goals and not expect “a free ride”).
Then the Mashgiach became engrossed in thought for a moment and added, “Actually, they do give free gifts from Heaven, but that is only after one has used all of his resources to the fullest.”
I later realized that the Mashgiach’s short message was actually one of the basic foundations of Judaism which applies in many situations.
At the beginning of the classic Sha’arei Teshuvah, the Rabbeinu Yonah expounds upon the mitzvah and the opportunity to repent from one’s wrongdoings and begin anew. Among other important points, he says the following: “It is clarified in the Torah that Hashem will help the penitents whose nature cannot achieve it on their own, and He will renew within them a pure spirit able to grasp the virtue of His love” (Sha’arei Teshuvah, the First Gate, 1).
Sometimes one who wants to return to Hashem feels that he just can’t. He has gone so far astray, he feels, that he cannot find his way back. He has become so overwhelmed with impurities, it seems, that he just cannot purify himself. The Rabbeinu Yonah confirms that, indeed, this could be so. However, he explains and encourages, in such a situation, Hashem will help the remorseful one and give him new resources with which he will be able to get close to Him once again.
One might think, therefore, that if he finds himself in that forlorn situation then he should just sit back and wait for Hashem to bail him out. That is one of the times to remember the words of the Mashgiach zt”l. He must first do as much as he can and use all of his current resources to the fullest. Only when he comes to the point that he cannot go any further on his own, will he receives free gifts from Heaven: newer potential to help him finish the job.
At the end of chapter two of the classic Mesillas Yesharim, the Ramchal writes a similar thought. He explains there that the Yetzer Hara (the Evil Inclination) is stronger and shrewder than all of us and no one can defeat him, no matter how hard he tries, without siyata diShemaya (Heavenly Assistance). But if one does not first attempt to do battle with his adversary, then Hashem will not help him either. Only when he tries his best to conquer his foe will he merit the Celestial support he needs.
My Rebby, shlita, once told us a superb analogy. Two friends were once engaged in a long conversation when one suddenly realized that the sun was setting as they spoke. He quickly excused himself explaining that he has to travel fifty miles to meet a business associate and close a big deal. In a moment he was gone. However, ten minutes later, he was back again. His friend, surprised to see him there, asked why he didn’t rush off to his meeting. The dismayed fellow replied that by the time he got to his car he realized that it was already too dark to see the way, since there are no lampposts on that side road.
His friend asked him if he put on his own headlights and, surprisingly, the response was negative. Startled at his ineptitude, he encouraged his friend to simply use his own illumination system and he would get to the meeting in time to finish his affairs profitably. His friend thanked him for the “good advice” and hurried off again. But a few minutes later he had returned once again.
“What happened now?” asked his friend irritably. “Did you put on your lights?” “They won’t help,” replied the dim-witted driver. “Why in the world won’t they?” asked his friend, losing his patience. “Because I told you,” he responded, “that I have to drive fifty miles to my destination. Even after I put on my brightest lights I could only see about six feet ahead of me. How would that ever help me get so far?”
“Dummy!” shouted his friend. “If you can see six feet ahead then step on the gas and travel that distance. Then you will be able to see another six feet and then another until you travel fifty or even five hundred and fifty miles and take care of whatever you have to.”
Before we laugh at this ignoramus, we should think if we are not the same when it comes to spiritual situations. Often we realize that the goal we are expected to reach seems to be much too far from our grasp. Although we readily admit that we can proceed a little bit up the road, we argue that there is no way that we can even imagine ourselves able to go that far.
What is imperative for us to know is that if we will just go as far as we can, we will then be given the capabilities to go further. And then, when we proceed to go as far as we can with the new resources, we will be given the means to go further still. And so on and so forth we will be able to proceed, from strength to strength, until, with Hashem’s help, we will attain that lofty level which was once really out of our grasp.
This is exactly what Bityah, the daughter of Par’oh, did. She stretched out her hand as far as it could go, although there was no way, naturally, that she could reach the basket and save the Messenger of Hashem. But after she had done all that she could, Hashem gave her new means, beyond what she had until then, and her hand extended all the way to its goal and she was able to perform her obligation in her world.
Let’s learn from her not to be afraid of what seems to be an impossible goal, and try to use our resources to the fullest. Then, with Hashem’s help, perhaps we’ll get “gifts from Heaven” to help us reach the unreachable, and we will be extremely happy in this world and in the World-to-Come.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network