Rabbi Elimelech Biderman - Torah Wellsprings - Eikev
"Torah Wellsprings" often discuss that we must believe that everything that happens is from Hashem, and for our good. This week's parashah tells us that this awareness is a mitzvas asei, a positive command. As it states, "Know in your heart that as a father chastises his son [so does] Hashem afflict you" (8:5). The Sma'g (mitzvah 17) writes, "This is a positive commandment to say that Hashem is correct and just in his judgment with everything that happens to you… Even when [it seem that] matters aren't good for you…it's a mitzvah to know that it's for your benefit." One who has this awareness, will always be happy with his fate.
As the Chozeh of Lublin zt'l teaches, "Someone who desires for the Shechinah to be with him constantly, should always be happy." This happiness is attained when one believes that everything that happens is from Hashem, and for his good. Perhaps you wanted a better financial standing, nevertheless, you are happy with your lot because you know that this is what Hashem chose for you. About you it will be said, "Who is a wealthy man? The man who rejoices with his portion" (Avos 4:1).
Once, when Rebbe Yosef Meir of Machnovka zt'l was six-years-old, he came to his grandfather, Rebbe Yitzchak of Skver zt'l, and his grandfather asked him, "What did you do today?" The boy replied, "I heard that Eliyahu HaNavi was in the marketplace, so I went there to find him. I searched all over. I even climbed up a high post but I didn’t see him. However, I did gain something. I was watching the cattle merchants beat and bind the wild cattle, while the tame, passive animals were left to pasture in peace. I realized that in life, when going through hard times, it’s better to accept life serenely, than to fight back. Fighting back just makes life more miserable." The Rebbe told him, "You didn’t see Eliyahu HaNavi today, but I'm certain that Eliyahu HaNavi saw you because of your good thoughts.”
Life is much more fulfilling when one trains himself to be happy with his portion. Maharit'z Dushinsky zt'l explains, for everything that happens to you, if you will know that it is Hashem's decree, this will grant you: life, vigor, and joy.
There was a deer whose antlers were constantly getting caught in the branches and in the foliage; it had to struggle free each time. One day it began bucking the trees with its antlers and with its hind feet, in an attempt to clear the forest from all deterrents, so it could run freely. A wise animal stood by and watched, and said to the deer, "Even if you will work your entire life, you can't knock down all the trees. Cut off your antlers, and then you can run through the forest unimpeded. Baalei Mussar would tell this parable. The nimshal is, instead of trying to improve others, change yourself. You can teach people how to behave so they won't bother you, but the toil is very great, and you ultimately won't succeed. Therefore, a better approach is to train yourself to not let matters bother you. Lower your horns and pride, and accept life as it comes. Eliyahu HaNavi z'l said to Rebbe Dovid of Lelov z'l: "When trying to place two planks side by side, and one of them has a knob jutting out, instead of cutting off the knob, make an indention in the other plank, to make room for the knob." This means, don’t try changing others, rather become a person who has a heart that can accept other people's idiosyncrasies. Or, as the Belzer Rav expressed it, bend down, let the other person have his way, and you can run through life unhindered.
Reb Menachem Langer shlita of Bnei Brak was once travelling with his wife (a'h) and they weren't home for Shabbbos. That Shabbos their home was robbed. Among the items stolen were checks Reb Menachem received from his customers, their daughter's jewelry (she was a kallah), and the greatest loss was the one hundred thousand shekels that was borrowed to pay for their daughter's wedding. On Motzei Shabbos, one of the children had to get something from his parent's home, and he was the first one to see what occurred. He called up his father, to tell him what happened. He thought it would be easier for his parents to know beforehand, than to enter the home and see everything topsy-turvy. Reb Menachem Langer stopped his car on the side of the road. For a few minutes, he wasn't able to continue driving, because of his distress. When they got home, Mrs. Langer said, "Ribono shel Olam, only you know my broken heart, but I believe that everything is from You and for the good, although we don’t understand why. Therefore, I request that in the merit of my emunah, let my two children beget children [one child was nine years after the wedding, and the doctors gave up hope, and the other was six years after the wedding] and furthermore, let our divorced son find a shidduch…" Before a year was over, the two children had children and the divorced child was married. We learn from this story that when one keeps this mitzvah of believing that everything is for the good, he will be awarded immensely.
Whenever a tragedy occurs, chalilah, there are two responses that one can take: one is to cry and to moan, but that would be crying for nothing, because everything is ultimately for the good. The other approach is to recognize that hidden under the difficulties is a concealed treasure. If he will accept the situation with love, he will receive those blessings — goodness that's beyond the rules of nature.
With some thought one may be able to accept difficulties with love, but to do so one has to think a little, and people find it easier to cry than to activate the mind to think things through.
One Rosh Hashanah, Reb Asher of Stolin zt'l (son of the Beis Aharon zt'l) was about to say Kiddush. (This was his first Rosh Hashanah as Rebbe.) Before saying Kiddush, he asked a yungerman who was near the window on the other side of the beis medresh to come forward. He whispered something in his ear, and then made Kiddush. Sometime afterwards, this yungerman explained, "A foolish yetzer got into me at that time. I was having doubts in the belief that Hashem leads the world with hashgachah pratis. The Rebbe called me over and said, 'You see that I know what you're thinking. If a human being can know your thoughts, then Hashem, who created the world, surely knows what you think and what you do, and He leads the world with hashgachah pratis.'" We must strengthen our belief in hashgachah pratis, with the realization that everything is from Hashem, and for our best. And as we explained, when one has this emunah, he will be happy with his fate.
Tzaddikim teach that one should be happy with his spiritual level too. The Mishnah states, "Who is rich? The one who is happy with his portion,' and the Sfas Emes zt'l (Avos) explains that the Mishnah is referring to being happy with one's spiritual level too. Recognize that your Torah, your prayer is special to Hashem, you should rejoice with them, and then you will go to higher levels.
When Rebbe Mendel of Vitebsk zt'l moved to Teveria, Eretz Yisrael, he wrote letters to his chassidim in Europe. In one letter (Pri HaAretz, letter #22) he writes, "Many are complaining that they have foreign thoughts [when they study Torah and when they daven]. The reason is because…they aren't happy with their avodas Hashem… For there is a great rule: one must be happy with his portion, even with regards to Torah and prayer — whether it’s a lot or a little — and one must derive pleasure from what he has. But when one doesn’t derive pleasure and joy from his service, then he will seek joy and pleasures elsewhere. This is the source behind the bad thoughts, since they aren't happy with their service, and they want levels that are beyond them… My beloved friends, everyone knows the [low] level he is on, why are you seeking levels beyond your abilities? … Of course, one should say, when will my service resemble the service of the avos, but nevertheless, be happy with your avodah as you do it now. And when you are happy with your avodas Hashem, you will get to the higher levels. And don’t claim that you don’t have any Torah or tefillah at all, because Chazal tell us, 'even the empty Jews are filled with mitzvos like a pomegranate.' The problem is that they aren't happy, and they don’t derive pleasure, with what they have…"
Rebbe Shlomo Karliner zt'l said, "The reason people aren't succeeding in their avodas Hashem is because they don’t value their good deeds." They don’t realize the preciousness of each good deed they do, and how much pleasure they bring to Hashem.
The Chinuch (433) writes, "The Creator, who created them, wants them to have goodness…therefore, He opened a window for them so they could get all their needs, and that is to ask their needs from Hashem, because He has the ability to fill all their needs, and He will answer those who call to Him truthfully." We ask from Hashem all our needs, even for the small, trivial matters, because we can't accomplish anything, without His aid.
Rebbe Dovid of Tolna zt'l explained, Hashem, You are very holy and awesome. Therefore, it doesn’t seem proper that we should ask from You material things. How can we turn to the holy and great King of the world and request trivial matters?! One wouldn’t go to a human king and ask for small things, so how do we before Hashem? But, behold, there is no other G-d than You, so where else should we go to get our needs, other than to You?"
The Zohar states, "There is nothing closer to Hashem than the heart. Hashem prefers the heart more than the sacrifices." If we rouse the heart to prayer, all our requests can be answered.
People are ready to do many segulos to get their requests, but the primary solution is in your heart, with your prayers. It can be compared to someone who is ready to travel around the world in search of a precious diamond. He has already bought plane tickets and is packing up to go. Someone tells him, "Why do you search for the diamond all over the world? Look down and you will see the diamond is right in front of you." Similarly, we have the power of prayer, and anything we want can be attained through prayer.
It is certain that Hashem listens to all prayers, nevertheless, it is also certain that the more effort and concentration one places into prayer, the greater impact the prayer will have.
The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 18.) states, "Two people were equally ill…one became well the other one died. Similarly, two different people went to court with the same court case: one was acquitted, the other wasn't. Why did one become well while the other one didn’t? Why was one cleared in court, while the other was punished? The answer is, one prayed, and he was answered, and one prayed and he wasn't answered. Why was this one answered and not the other one? The answer is, the one who prayed with concentration was answered, the one who prayed without concentration wasn't answered." So although Hashem listens even to the prayers that seem very weak, nevertheless, it is essential to do the best you can and to pray with concentration, because the power of prayer is far greater when one places all his might into the prayer. Therefore begin your prayer with the focus on the Beis Aharon's lesson, that one should pray with the pintella hartz, but if you didn’t succeed, you can encourage yourself with Rebbe Boruch'ls lesson, that every prayer is precious to Hashem and has potential to be answered.
Let's go back to the Gemara we just mentioned: The Gemara discusses two serious scenarios: One is about two people who are ill, the other is about two people who are on trial, and their life was at stake. The Gemara says that the person whose prayers weren't answered was the one who didn’t pray with concentration. But how could it be that he didn’t pray with concentration? He obviously believes in prayer, since he prayed to Hashem, so how could he possibly not have concentration? His life was at stake! The answer is, concentration has several levels. When one knows that only Hashem can help him, he will pray with complete concentration. But when one thinks that doctors or lawyers might also help him, he won't place his full concentration in the prayer. He isn't totally reliant on Hashem; he thinks he might get his salvation other ways. And therefore, his prayers weren't answered.
The Mahar'i Abuhav (quoted in Beis Yosef 95) explains that we pray with our feet together to show that we can't go anywhere (like someone who has only one foot) and we can't do anything without Hashem. This awareness helps us recognizes how dependent we are on Hashem, and that helps us pray properly. The Mahar"i Abuhav writes, "[The feet together] hints that he doesn’t have the ability to run and to get anything without Hashem."
The Mishnah states, "Look at three things and you won't come to sin…" (Avos 3:1). The Rav of Biksad zt'l explained that shlosha devarim hints to the third parashah of sefer Devarim, which is parashas Ekev. Study parashas Ekev and you won't sin, because this parashah elaborates on the importance of having yiras Shamayim.
The Mishnah states, "Look at three things and you won't come to sin…" (Avos 3:1). The Rav of Biksad zt'l explained that three things (devarim) hints to the third parashah of sefer Devarim, which is parashas Ekev. Study parashas Ekev, and you won't sin, because this parashah elaborates on the importance of having yiras Shamayim. Just as there is a segulah for parnassah, to read parashas haMan on the Tuesday of parashas Beshalach (since parashas Beshalach discusses the manna) so too, I heard, there's a segulah for yiras Shamayim to read parashas haYirah (printed in siddurim next to parashas haMan) on the Tuesday of parashas Ekev. Parashas haYirah (and stated in this week's parashah) begins with the following words: "Now Yisrael, what does Hashem request from you? Only to fear Hashem…" (10:12).2 The Gemara derives from this, everything is in Hashem's hand except for yiras Shamayim. Hashem does everything, but fear of Heaven is each individual's obligation to acquire on his own. The Chasam Sofer zt'l clarifies that actually, even fear of Hashem is in Hashem's hand. What's in our hand is to desire to fear Hashem and to pray for it. And when one desires and prays for yiras Shamayim, Hashem will give it to him. The Chasam Sofer writes, "It is certain that yiras Shamayim is also in Hashem's hands, because without Hashem's help one wouldn’t attain a 1/1000th of the fear he has. (Except for the very great tzaddikim, like the avos and Moshe Rabbeinu, who didn’t need support to attain their fear)… [If so, why does the Gemara say that fear of Heaven is in man's hands? The answer is]… man has free will to yearn and to desire to fear Hashem, and to say prayers to request that Hashem help him fear Hashem. These matters are up to man. The yearning and the desires aren't given from Above; a person has to attain that on his own. [And when one desires, Hashem will help him.] Therefore, the verse says, 'if only they would always have such a heart to fear Me' (Devarim 5:26). It doesn’t say, 'if only they would fear Me,' because it’s the heart and the desire that's up to mankind, but the fear is given by Hashem to those who desire it." So Hashem does everything, and even fearing Hashem is also from Hashem. Without Hashem's help, one wouldn’t have 1/1000th of the fear that he has now. But man's obligation is to desire to fear Hashem, and to pray to fear Hashem, and we'll add, man's obligation is to avoid all matters that can destroy his fear of Heaven.
Reb Shmuel Wosner zt'l writes, "I heard from someone who heard it directly from the Chofetz Chaim zt'l, “To hold back, even just once, from walking on the streets of a big city, is a keren (investment fund) for Olam HaBa."
People are very cautious with their health, and therefore they don’t go to dangerous places and they take other necessary precautions to remain healthy and well. Do the same with regards to yiras Shamayim. If there’s a place that isn't good for your yiras Shamayim, or if there’s something else that can hurt your yiras Shamayim, fear Hashem and avoid them.
A father complained to Rebbe Aharon of Belz zt'l that his son was having a spiritual decline. "He used to learn very well, but lately when I test him on what he's learning, he doesn’t know much. He also used to have yiras shamayim, but there are signs of his disinterest in that, too." The Bezler Rav replied, "Check out who his friends are." The father called the rosh yeshiva, the mashgiach, and the magid shiur, who all told him that his son only has good friends. "There are nobad bachurim in the yeshiva" they added. The father returned to the Belzer Rav and told him what he heard. Once again, the Rav replied, "Check out who his friends are." The father obliged, and this time he dug deeper. There was one boy in yeshiva who appeared to have yirei Shamayim, but was rotten inside. He revealed his bad intentions only to his close friends. The father advised his son to keep away from that boy, which he did. Soon afterwards, his son's learning and yiras Shamayim returned to be as before. The father told the Belzer Rav about the improvement. The Rav replied, "This isn't surprising; a bad friend is hazardous. Twice in birchas hashachar we pray for a good friend. This shows us just how dangerous a bad friend can be."
People are distressed when they fall into the yetzer hara’s trap. The Avodas Yisrael opens our eyes to realize that the yetzer hara is for our benefit, for that is what makes us beloved to Hashem. In Tehillim (82:7) it states, "I said that you are like Elokim, exalted people, but you will die like humans…" The Avodas Yisrael explains that Hashem says, "I said that you are very exalted people, and the reason you are so exalted is because you have a yetzer hara, which causes you to be ensnared into the temptations of this world, matters that are called, death (for when one falls from his level, it is called death)…, when the Jewish nation, who are called Elokim, serve Hashem, they rule over the earth, because a tzaddik decrees and Hakadosh Baruch Hu maintains [the tzaddik’s word] and He bestows children, health, and parnassah amen."
The Gemara (Succah 52) states that in the future Hakadosh Baruch Hu will slaughter the yetzer hara and everyone, including tzaddikim, will cry. The Maharashah asks, why will the tzaddikim cry? They should be happy that the yetzer hara is destroyed. The Maharasha replies, "It is written [by Creation] 'Hashem saw everything that he made, and it was טוב מאוד ,very good.' Chazal say that טוב מאוד ,refers to the yetzer hara. The yetzer hara is good for the tzaddikim, because by conquering the yetzer hara, they earn Olam HaBa. Therefore, tzaddikim will grieve when the yetzer hara will be slaughtered, because they won't be able to earn Olam HaBa anymore through it…"
The Chidushei HaRim zt'l taught: Jews are begging me to free them from their temptations, but without temptations, they will be like animals. For the greatness of a human being is his ability to rule over his temptations. Whatever they do in that realm is very precious in heaven — even when they control their lusts just a little bit.
Avos (5:2) states that a person should be קל כנשר ,light like an eagle. An eagle is a heavy bird; it isn't light. Baalei mussar (Alei Shur) explain that a person is also heavy, since he was created from earth, and has a nature of heaviness and laziness. But see how the heavy eagle raises its large powerful wings and sours as though it were light. That is how you should serve Hashem. Pick yourself up, and overcome your tendency for heaviness.
You should be light especially when it comes to learning Torah. You shouldn’t feel heavy. Open up the Gemara, and learn with joy.
When one becomes wealthy, one is liable to think that he earned the money on his own. The Torah elaborates that one must recognize that his wealth came from Hashem. “Lest you eat and are satisfied... Your cattle and your sheep increase, and also your silver and gold and everything you have, and you might become haughty and forget Hashem… and you will say ‘my strength and the power of my hand brought me this wealth…’ (Devarim 8:12-17). The Torah warns that we must remember that wealth comes from Hashem.
In honor of the Belzer Rav's yahrzeit, (Thursday, the 21st of Av) we will relate a few stories about this great tzaddik. An outstanding feature of the Belzer Rebbe zy’a was that he couldn’t bear to listen, speak, or think bad on another Yid. Similar to the ways of Rebbe Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev, who sought to always praise Klal Yisrael, and to rouse Hashem's love and admiration to them. Someone's son joined the Mizrachi movement, and the father was distressed by his son's affiliation. The son said to his father, "Let's go to the Belzer Rav. The Rebbe always sees good in Yidden and I am certain that he will tell you that it isn't so bad that I joined the Mizrachi movement." They went to the Belzer Rav, but the Rav didn't support the boy's affiliation. The boy said, "But Rebbe, the Mizrachi people are also Yidden." The Rebbe replied, "Yes. The Mizrachi are also Yidden. But Chazal say that the Shechinah is in Maariv…" (in the west, and Mizrachi means the east. A pun implying that the Shechinah isn't there.) Chazal tell us that for the sake of kedushah, a man mustn’t lie on his back. The Rebbe once needed to undergo surgery on his eyes and told the doctor that he doesn’t want to lie on his back. He wants the operation to be performed while he's sitting up. The doctor told him that he doesn’t have experience performing the operation in a sitting position and he cannot guarantee success. But the Rebbe insisted, and this is how the operation was performed.
Before the chasunah of the Rachmestrivka Rebbe shlita (of America) he went to the Belzer Rav for a brachah and for hadrachah (counsel). The Belzer Rav told him, "In this generation, people are weak, emotionally, and therefore one must be cautious not to disregard another person's opinion." The Belzer Rav also told him that at the chasunah he should be kind to the broken-hearted guests and give them cake…
The Belzer Rav would say that one shouldn’t speak about how good his children are, because sometimes someone listening may not have such good children, and it will hurt him to hear you talk about your good children.
The Belzer Rav would never wake up another Yid except for kriyas Shema. He would waken them even before the final minute, so they wouldn’t chas veshalom miss out on this mitzvah, which the Zohar states that if one misses saying the Shema, he is in niduy (ban) by heaven for the entire day. The gaba'im also tell that if one of the gaba'im accidentally missed saying the Shema, he would be afraid to come in to the Rebbe the entire day. May the Belzer Rav’s merit protect us and all of Klal Yisrael, amen.