Rabbi Elimelech Biderman - Torah Wellsprings - Vaetchanan
There was a bachur who was having difficulty controlling his anger, so he asked the mashgiach of his yeshiva for counsel. The mashgiach told him the following mashal: A band of robbers boarded a ship, pretending to be regular passengers. When the ship was deep at sea, they eavesdropped on the captain’s cabin, to determine whether it was a good time to hijack the ship. The ship’s officers were debating whether they should make a short stop at a nearby island or continue on to their primary destination. They disagreed noisily and even angrily, as some sailors desired the stopover, while others were in a hurry to get back home. The thieves considered this a good time to take over the ship. They entered the office, and within moments the captain and his crew were handcuffed, their mouths sealed. The mashgiach asked the bachur, "In your opinion, were the sailors still angry with each other?" The bachur said that they weren't angry with each other anymore. "What changed?" The bachur couldn’t pinpoint the reason, so the mashgiach explained: At first, they thought they run the ship, and each one felt that he should have the final word. But now, they understood that the ship isn't in their hands, and there opinions aren't significant anymore… The mashgiach concluded, "Similarly, when you know that Hashem is running the world and not you, there's never a reason to be angry. Perhaps you wish matters were different, but you aren't in charge. You are not running the world; Hashem is. He made the situation, so why should you be upset and angry?
The Yismach Yisrael zt'l considered himself the worst Yid in Alexander. "So why did they choose me to be the Rebbe?” he asked. “It's because they knew that I wouldn’t become a baal gaavah, for what do I have to be a baal gaavah about? I don’t have even one good middah. Therefore,” he told his chassidim, “please, don’t learn from my ways, because there is nothing to learn from. But one thing you can learn from me: Although I lack Torah and mitzvos, I keep myself happy, all the time. You can learn that from me, for if the lowest person can be happy, you can surely be happy, too!"
There's a parable of someone who was throwing coins and bills off a high building because he wanted attention. But everyone was looking down to collect the money, and no one was looking up at him. So he began throwing stones, and finally everyone looked up to see who was throwing the stones. This is people's nature to recognize Hashem when there are hardships, but not when everything is good.
The Baal HaTurim writes, "[Moshe] said shirah, praises to Hashem, so his prayer would be answered." How does shirah help prayer to be answered? The Imrei Shaul of Modzitz zt'l explains that the praises imply that he is certain that Hashem will help him. So he sings and he praises Hashem even before the salvation actually occurs. That trust and attitude is mesugal for his prayers to be answered. As it states (Tehillim 106:44), Hashem checks to see whether when people are going through hard times, they are already praising Hashem, and thanking Him for the salvation that will certainly come.
There was a man who lived in one the southern cities of Eretz Yisrael who was having a hard time marrying off his children. His oldest child was twenty-eight, and there were another four children over twenty. For some reason, they weren't finding their bashert, and the father was very heartbroken about it. He also had financial problems. He mortgaged his house to help his chavrusah marry off his children, but his chavrusah didn’t pay the monthly dues, and the bank put up the house for foreclosure. Once, this man came to Yerushalayim for a wedding, and a relative asked him why he looks so down. He told him about his older children and his financial problems. The relative replied, "There’s a great tzaddik here, in Yerushalayim. He's called the Rebbe of Gur. Tell him your problems, he will certainly help you." This man wasn't a chassid, and he didn’t want to go to the chassidic Rebbe, but his relative convinced him to go. So he went and poured his bitter heart out before the Rebbe. The Beis Yisrael asked him, "Do you ever praise Hashem? Praise should be 60% and requests should be 40%." This man told his relative the counsel he received. The relative said, "You have a lot to thank Hashem for. You have health, a wife and children. You always have food on your table… Focus on the good. Get into the practice of praising Hashem as the Rebbe recommended: 60% praise and 40% prayer." Two months later, the oldest daughter was engaged. Within a half year, three of his children were married and two more were engaged to be married shortly. Thinking about the wonders and praising Hashem had brought him, he realized that in Hallel, we say Hodu laHashem Ki Tov six times (the final verse is repeated twice…) while Ana Hashem is said four times. It is as the Beis Yisrael advised: sixty percent praise and forty percent requests. That ratio brings salvations.
The Rebbe of Ruzhin zt'l once heard his daughter complaining about something. The Rebbe told her, "One groan brings on more suffering, and one praise brings more goodness." The Rebbe told his daughter the following story: There was once a wealthy man who was always complaining about his lot. Heaven said, "If you think your situation is bad, you will be shown what's truly bad," and he lost all his money. He complained even more. Heaven said, "If you think your situation is bad, you will be shown what's truly bad," and he became a metzora. Now he wasn’t even able to go to people’s homes to ask for handouts, because people were afraid to catch his disease. He complained some more, and once again, Heaven showed him that matters could be even worse. He became hunchbacked, and it was hard for him to eat. When he hit this very low level, he said, "At least I'm alive. Baruch Hashem, I’m alive!" Heaven said, "If you think this is good, you will be shown what's truly good," and his hunched back straightened out. He praised Hashem for this, and he was healed from his leprosy. Now he could speak with people, and ask them for help. He praised Hashem for Hashem's kindness. Heaven said, "If you think this is good, you will be shown what's truly good," and someone loaned him money so he could restart his business again, and he became wealthy again. Because a moan brings on sufffering, and praise brings on goodness.
"And you who are attached with Hashem your G-d you are all alive today" (4:4). The Rebbe of Bohush zt'l said people have three misconceptions when it comes to deveikus. (1) They think that this takes place after one leaves this world, and not while still living in this world. (2) If it is possible to have deveikus in this world, it is only the tzaddikim that reach that level. (3) And even if you will claim that deveikus is for everyone, it will only be when one is already old, but not when one is young. To disprove these thoughts the verse says 'you can connect with Hashem even today, when you are alive. All of you, and not only the tzaddikim. And you reach this level "today." You don’t have to wait until you are older. Rebbe Henoch of Alexander zt'l explained the verse in the following way: you can become attached to Hashem, today, by focusing on "today." When one thinks that he must be attached to Hashem always, the feat seems impossible, even daunting, and it scares people. Instead, one should think, "I only have to be connected to Hashem today." With this mindset, the objective doesn’t seem daunting, and one can achieve it.
Notice that a bar mitzvah bachur isn't called bar mitzvot, although when he turns thirteen he is obligated in doing many mitzvos. This is because if he will think about the many mitzvos he must do, he may give up before he begins. We tell the thirteen-year-old bachur, you are a bar mitzvah, you are obligated in one mitzvah. With this mindset, you will keep the entire Torah.
Emunah should be spoken about constantly. It should always be on our lips. As it states, "You shall know today, and you shall review it to your heart that Hashem is G-d in heaven above and on the earth below…" (4:39).
The Zohar (Shmos 26:) states, "Why is it necessary to [constantly] review emunah? Moshe told them, if you want to know clearly that Hashem is G-d, then you must review it. The heart is a mixture of the yetzer hara and the yetzer tov. You can therefore forget Hashem, since the yetzer hara is so intertwined with the yetzer tov. The solution is emunah.
The Chidushei HaRim writes, "Chassidim know a lot of concepts, but they must review them. As it states, ìà úåáùäå êááì… One must review that there is none other than Hashem. It seems that everyone knows this; however, the truth is that acquiring emunah isn't so simple. One should repeat ten times, twenty times… a thousand times, until he knows there's no one other than Hashem."
When reviewing emunah, do so with words, because speech is very powerful and influential. Emunah gets engraved onto one's heart by speech. The Yesod HaAvodah zt'l (letter 16) writes, "One should say the Ani Maamins every day. Even if he still doesn’t believe them, it is important to recite them… Saying the Ani Maamins will surely make him a believer, because holy speech is a great segulah for this."
Why do we say the Ani Maamins after Shacharis? The Shefa Chaim of Klausenberg zt'l explains that one has to pray for emunah. Therefore, we say the Ani Maamins after the tefilah, because that's when we can attain emunah.
Moshe Rabbeinu prayed 515 prayers to enter Eretz Yisrael. Had Moshe Rabbeinu prayed just one more prayer, Hashem would have let him go into Eretz Yisrael. But Hashem warned him, "Don’t speak to Me about this matter anymore." Had the nation prayed for Moshe's sake, it would have been counted as that one extra prayer, and Moshe would be permitted to enter Eretz Yisrael. Indeed, the Midrash (Devarim Rabba:10) teaches that Moshe complained to the nation that they should have helped him go into Eretz Yisrael. The Midrash states, "Before Moshe's demise he gathered the nation and he rebuked them. He said, 'One person redeemed six hundred thousand [because Moshe's prayers saved the entire nation from the egel] and six-hundred-thousand people can't redeem one person…? Don’t you remember how I led you [for forty years] in the desert...?'" But they didn’t consider praying for Moshe. The Sfas Emes explains that they thought, "If Moshe Rabbeinu prayed so many prayers, and his prayers weren't effective, what can our prayers accomplish?" They didn’t realize that they also have the power of prayer, and if they would pray just one more prayer, Moshe would have been allowed entry to Eretz Yisrael, and the course of history would have been changed.
The Sefer HaIkrim (4:16) proves that prayer is applicable for every Jew from Menasheh ben Chizkiyah, king of Yehudah. He was a very corrupt king, worse than all kings before and after him. Nevertheless, "When things were bad for him, he prayed to Hashem, and he was very humble before Hashem when he prayed to Hashem, and Hashem answered him, and he returned to Yerushalayim and to his kingdom" (I Divrei HaYamim 32). If Menasheh can pray, everyone can pray too, and Hashem will listen and answer your pleas.
In a letter, the Sfas Emes zt'l writes, "One shouldn’t think that Chazal established prayer solely for tzaddikim, because everything Chazal established is for every Jew. If prayer is only meant for tzaddikim, what right does one have to say Hashem's name in vain? Rather, everyone must pray to Hashem and to pour his heart out before Him, because Hashem's compassion doesn’t have a limit, and it is certain that Hashem will answer the prayers..."
Rebbe Naftali of Ropshitz zt'l explains that there are times when a person thinks, "In my situation, after committing so many sins, what right do I have to pray." The Torah says, "I prayed to Hashem at that time saying." Every moment is a good time for prayer.
Yaakov Avinu compared prayer to a sword and arrow (Genesis 48:22). It doesn’t make a difference who shot the arrow. Even if a fool shot the arrow it can have the same results. Prayer is compared to an arrow to imply that regardless of who you are, your prayer can be effective.
There are people who think if they would be in a different yeshivah, beis medresh, town, generation, they would be able to study more Torah and serve Hashem better. They think, "This place isn't conducive for davening, learning, for serving Hashem, etc. If only I were elsewhere…" When circumstances prevent them from doing, they must know that they can serve Hashem in that place. Since Hashem placed you there, this is the best place for you to serve Hashem.
Regarding parnassah, people also complain about the place. They think they are in a place (or situation) that isn't conducive for parnassah. But that isn't so, because parnassah is from Hashem, and Hashem can give you parnassah in abundance exactly where you are. Don't complain about the place, because you are in an ideal place for parnassah and for all your needs.
Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Vorke zt'l taught that the ignorant are called Am Haaretz, literally translated, "the people of the land," because they say that it is the land and the place which makes them wealthy or poor. People say "Location, location, location," as if that’s the key to success or to failure. Let’s not forget that everything is by Hashem's decree.
Tana d'Bei Eliyahu Rabba (31) which states, "I testify by heaven and earth that Hakadosh Baruch Hu sits and waits for Yisrael to do teshuvah, more than a father waits for his son, so He can redeem them and build the beis Hamikdash, so that it will never be destroyed. May this happen speedily, in our days, amen.