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Rabbi Elimelech Biderman shlit"a on Parashat Vaetchanan - Part 1

On Shabbos Nachamu Hashem consoles us on all the suffering that we endure in exile. The haftarah says, Console my nation, says Hashem…” Hashem consoles us in every generation. But how can we be consoled? We go through so much suffering in life and in exile . How can we possibly be consoled? The answer is that we believe that everything happens by Hashem’s decree, and it is all certainly for the good. As Rebbe Moshe of Kobrin (quoted in Yesod HaAvodah) zt’l teaches, “One must believe with complete faith that everything Hashem does…is for man’s benefit. And [when the suffering is great and] and people can’t perceive how it can possibly be good, then the good is certainly even greater…”

Sometimes people think that only they are lacking. “Everyone has sustenance only I don’t,” or “Everyone has children, except for me,” or, “Everyone has satisfaction, except for me,” and so on. One must know that what you lack is for your benefit. Perhaps what you lack is granting you life or some other form of goodness. Don’t be angry or upset with your fate, because everything is for your good.

According to Rabbeinu Tam, up until 72 minutes after sunset it is still day. It is totally dark outside, yet it’s still day (according to this opinion). This reminds us that at times everything appears dark, but believe that it is still day time and everything is good. The Chofetz Chaim zt’l said that a special, G-d fearing Jew is called in Yiddish “a hechere Yid — a higher Yid.” He is so called because when there is a wall, a taller person can see over the wall and further than a short person. Similarly, the hechere Yid is able to see further and recognize how everything is for the good. The Or HaChaim (Bereishis 37:13) asks: Yosef was doing the mitzvah of kibud av when he went to his brothers. How did it happen that Yosef was sold as a slave at that time? Isn’t there a rule, "People traveling to do a mitzvah aren’t injured”? The Or HaChaim replies, “Damage that leads to a greater favor isn’t called damage.” Yosef was sold as a slave, but this led to him becoming the leader of Egypt. It was all for his benefit, and for the benefit of Bnei Yisrael. Therefore, it isn’t considered damage. Similarly, everything that happens to us is ultimately for the good. When we attain this faith we are consoled.

In the Mind

It states in this week’s Torah portion that we should place the tefillin shel rosh, between the eyes. The heretic, the tzedokim, misconstrue this verse, and say the tefillin must be placed on the nose, between the two eyes. Lehavdil, the Sages teach that it is placed on the head, up until the soft spot on top of an infant's head. The difference between the tzedokim and le’havdil the Sages is that the heretics only believe in what they see. They want the tefillin between their eyes because they want to see first and then believe. In contrast, the Sages say to place the tefillin on the head. Because we believe, even when we don’t see with our eyes. The tefillin is placed right below the soft spot, indicating our belief in Hashem is like a child who trusts fully in his parents. We don’t have to see, and we don’t have to understand. We believe that everything is for the good.

Among the recent great roshei yeshivos there was a debate how to delve into the intricacies of the Gemara. One approach was to understand “why.” One should be able to explain why every Torah insight should be that way. Other roshei yeshivos felt that “why” isn’t important, just “what.” One must understand “what” the Torah tells us; it is not our job to think about the reasons. The Brisker Rav zt’l was once learning with the Ponovezher Rav zt’l a very deep Torah subject, and in the heat of their discussion, the Ponovezher Rav said, “We have to understand why!” The Brisker Rav replied, “We don’t have to understand why. We have to know what is written.” Some people want to understand, “Why is Hashem doing this?” But that isn’t as important as “What does Hashem want from me? What should my reaction be to this situation?” A Jew doesn’t have to understand why, just what. We don’t always understand why, but we know that Hashem wants us to accept each situation with faith that it is all for our benefit and good.

Signs that it is for the Good

As we stated, we wear tefillin on the head because we don’t have to see that things are good to believe that it is so. We believe that everything is Hashem’s kindness even when matters appear the opposite. Nevertheless, when we merit seeing Hashem’s Divine Providence, it becomes easier for us to recognize that everything is for the good. I recently spoke to an ill Jew from America. He told me about the Divine Providence he sees, even as he struggles with a grave illness. He expressed it this way: “A doctor carries a knife, but so does a thief. How can one know whether the person carrying the knife is a murderer or a doctor? If he is cautious where he cuts, he is a doctor. But if he doesn’t care so much where he cuts, he is a murderer. Another sign is how he handles the knife after he finished using it. If he is cautious to store it in a place where it won’t get even slightly chipped, he is a doctor who cares about his patients. If he is careless with his knife, and he doesn’t mind if it gets chipped, that means he is a murderer. If a person is seriously ill, and he sees that he is being handled from Above in the best way, and he sees many aspects of Divine Providence to help him within this illness, that convinces him that these hardships are for his good. He becomes aware that Hashem is our passionate Father Who wants to help us and cure us, and not the opposite, chalilah.

Someone complained to the Chazon Ish zt’l that he has several sick children. He said that if the disease would be solely in one child, it would be better. Why do all of his children need to be ill? The Chazon Ish explained that this is actually a kindness. The Chazon Ish explained, “Sometimes a very serious illness is destined for one child. But if that would be unbearable for the child and for the parents. Hashem’s compassionately changes this decree, and instead, several children become ill, but to a lesser degree.” A similar statement can be said about those who suffer from many problems simultaneously: An ill child, harmony with the spouse is rickety; there are financial struggles, nachas problems, and so on. One wonders why he is smitten on so many fronts. Wouldn’t it be better if he had only one problem? But it could be that this is for his benefit. If it weren’t for all these, relatively minor problems, he would have one very severe trouble, which would be too difficult to bear.

A simple, G-d fearing Yerushalmi brought his chicken to a slaughterer. He slaughtered the chicken and said it was kosher. When the simple man began cleaning the chicken, he found its head covered with lice. He quickly brought the chicken back to the slaughterer and asked him whether this was a problem. The shochet assured him that it wasn’t. But this simple man was concerned that perhaps there was a problem, so he brought the chicken to a rav. The rav told him that lice on the feathers aren't a problem. The owner of this chicken was still concerned that there might be some problem, so he asked the Rav of Yerushalayim, the Maharil Diskin zt’l. The Maharil Disken told him to open the head, and they found its head was rotten. The Maharil Diskin explained that this wasn’t ruach hakodesh. All chickens have lice, but the chickens shake their heads to cast off most of the lice. “This chicken was covered with lice. I suspected that this was a sign that it wasn’t shaking its head, and indeed it wasn’t.” Everyone has “lice” in their heads. The “lice” are the foolish thoughts that disturb people’s peace of mind. Each person has their own kind of “lice.” For some it is, “That person insulted me…” Others are worried about their sustenance, or other kinds of worries that disturb their peace of mind. The cure is to fill your head with faith. Because if you believe everything is planned from Hashem, then what other people say or think doesn’t bother you. You won't be worried about your sustenance either, because you believe Hashem will help. If one isn’t able to shake those bad thoughts, it a sign he is a treifah (unkosher).

Divine Providence

The Lebowitz brothers shlita were in the Catskills for the summer, and one day, they had to drive in to the city to meet with a lawyer. Reb Mendel Lebowitz was driving the car. His brother reminded him to take the right lane, because they would soon need to turn right. Reb Mendel said, “I know that,” and he took the right lane. But somehow, when he was supposed to take the right turn, he continued driving straight ahead, and they missed the exit. They feared they may be late for their very important appointment. They wanted to take the next exit to get to the other side of the highway, but there was a deer lying on the road, preventing them from taking that exit. By now the Lebovitz brothers were even more concerned they would miss their very important meeting. Reb Mendel Lebovitz took the next exit, and saw someone waving for them to stop. At first, they couldn’t tell whether he was a Jew or a non-Jew, but as they came closer, they saw it was a Jew. They were in a hurry, but how could they leave this person stranded in the middle of nowhere? Reb Mendel rolled down his windows and asked, “What’s the matter?” “Water!” That’s all he said. He didn’t have strength to speak more. They gave him a bottle of water. He drank almost all of it in one shot. (It was a miracle they had a bottle of water in the car. It was left over from the Lebowitz family’s Chol Hamoed Pesach trip, a few months earlier.) He joined them in the car and told them his story, “I'm a counselor in a camp. Another counselor I and went hiking through the woods; we sought a suitable trail to take the campers on. We decided to split up – he took one trail, and I another – so we could find the best route for the boys. We made up to contact each other with our cell phones. But there were two problems: One is that I got lost and couldn’t find my way out of the forest. Our second mistake was that there is no reception in the forest. We weren’t aware of that. "I finally got to this road, and I'm waiting a long time for a car to stop for me. I’ve been in the sun for hours. As you saw, I was thirsty and exhausted. I was on the verge of collapsing when you arrived. You saved my life.” When the Lebowitz’s finally got to the lawyer’s office, they discovered they erred on the date. The appointment was for the next day! It wasn’t like them to make such a mistake. They are generally very organized people, but that is what happened. See how many things arranged by Hashem so they could save a Jew. (1) They travelled on the wrong date. (2) Reb Mendel forgot to turn off at the exit. (3) A deer prevented them from taking an earlier exit. All of this was pre-planned so they could save a Jewish life.

One Shabbos, not too long ago, I spoke with a young yeshivah student, a G-d fearing Jew and Torah scholar. He told me his difficult life story and the wonderful Divine Providence that happened to him. This is what he told me: "When I became bar mitzvah, my parents left Judaism. I wanted to go to yeshiva, so I had to find one, and pay for it on my own. Most yeshivos didn’t want to accept me — either because I couldn’t afford to pay the tuition or because of my family history "The yeshiva Torah v’Daas in Ramot accepted me. Due to my financial situation, they lowered the tuition from 900 shekels per month to 600 shekels per month. I paid for the first month, but I didn’t have money for the next month. I feared I would be thrown out of yeshiva. "On Tuesday, I took the 402 bus from Yerushalayim to Bnei Brak. (My brother lives in Bnei Brak and recently had twin girls. One of the babies had to remain in the hospital’s incubator, so I was going to Bnei Brak to help my brother in the hospital.) There was an accident, and the traffic on the highway weren’t moving. Some people got out of their cars to pray Minchah. Others stood on the highway, speaking Torah with each other. I went up to the bus driver to speak with him. "After speaking with the bus driver for some time, I returned to my place. I was sitting next to a yungerman from London. He asked me, 'Why did you speak to the non-religious bus driver?' "I told him my life story, and that the bus driver is my father’s friend. I added that I don’t have money to pay the next month's tuition for the yeshiva. He gave me a hundred pounds, and said I should give it as a gift to my brother who just had twins. And he asked me for my rosh yeshiva’s phone number. "This man also told me that he came to Eretz Yisrael, to be at the Viznitzer Rebbe’s shlita’s grandson’s wedding. His plan was to attend the reception and then to quickly return to the airport, because he had an important meeting back in London that same night. But due to the traffic, he wasn’t able to go to the wedding at all. Not even to the reception to say mazal tov. He had to get off the bus near the airport, and go straight to his plane. “The following day my rosh yeshiva told me that when he was giving his lecture, his phone kept ringing, again and again. After he completed his lecture, he called back. It was that Jew from London. He paid for my tuition for the next few years.” This man thought he came to Eretz Yisrael to be at a wedding, but as it turned out, the purpose of his trip was to help a young yeshivah student with tuition. Much Divine Providence took place: (1) There was an accident on the highway. (2) The bus driver was the young yeshivah student's father’s friend. (3) The young yeshivah student sat next to this wealthy person from London. (4) They had a conversation. All this occurred, so he could continue in his yeshiva. Chazal say that after Creation, The Holy One's primary occupation is to make shidduchim. Reb Shmuel Wosner zt’l explained that shidduchim doesn’t solely mean shidduchim for marriages. Hakadosh Baruch Hu brings people together, such as in the story above, so one can help the other.

Hashem’s Divine Providence is Greater for those who have Suffering

Hashem’s Divine Providence is greater for those who have suffering. This is logical, as we will demonstrate: There was a father who loved all his children. He spent the same amount of time with each child. Then one day, one of the children became ill… Now, all his thoughts and time are devoted to that one child. Another example: Once, a father was walking with his son to buy him a present. The father’s mind was fifty percent on the present, because he had immense joy giving presents to his son. But he wasn't thinking only about the present. He had other matters on his mind. But then his son jumped into the busy street. The father’s mind was now 100% focused on saving his son from harm. He had nothing on his mind, other than to save his son. These examples help us understand that Hashem’s Divine Providence and care increases when a person is going through a hard time. He is in great need for Hashem's aid, and therefore Hashem, as it were, is very occupied and focused to help him. This lesson is hinted at in the Torah. The Mabit (Beis Elokim, Shaar HaTefillah 1) proves it from the verse (Exodus 23:25), “You shall serve Hashem your G-d, and He will bless your bread and water, and I will remove illness from within you.” The Mabit notes that when the verse discusses removing illnesses, it states, “I will remove illness” and when it discusses Hashem’s blessings it states, “He will bless your bread.” Hashem is called “I” in this verse in reference to removing illnesses/sufferings, because that is where Hashem’s Divine Providence is most revealed. Similarly, the Tana d’Bei Eliyahu (Rabba 18) on the verse (Isaiah 63:9), writes, “The Holy One says, with every distress that Klal Yisrael goes through, I am with them. [because Hashem suffers together with Bnei Yisrael].”

A Counsel for Anger

There was a young yeshivah student who was having difficulty controlling his anger, so he asked the supervisor of his yeshiva for counsel. The supervisor told him the following parable: 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 so they could go shopping, 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 cabin and within moments the captain and his crew were handcuffed, their mouths sealed. The supervisor asked the young yeshivah student, "In your opinion, were the sailors still angry with each other?" The young yeshivah student said that they weren't angry with each other anymore. "What changed?" The young yeshivah student couldn’t pinpoint the reason, so the supervisor 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 supervisor 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're not running the world; Hashem is. He made the circumstance, so why should you be upset and angry?

Once, Reb Nachum Yasser zt'l (a chassid of the Rebbe of Shtefanesht zt'l) said, "This morning I heard a Heavenly Voice… The Heavenly Voice said, 'Reb Nachum, I want you to look for your shoes!'" He couldn’t find his shoes that morning, so he considered it as though he heard a Heavenly Voice telling him he must look for his shoes. Reb Nachum said, "Then I heard another Heavenly Voice. It said I don’t have to look for the shoes anymore," because he already found his shoes. Something trivial, like misplaced shoes, can cause someone to become angry. However, if one believes that the shoes are lost because that was Hashem's plan, then he won't be upset.

Another minor issue that often rouses people's anger is arriving at the bus stop just in time to see the bus leaving. But if one will remember that everything is planned by Hashem, and this is how it must be, he won't be angry. Reb Yitzchak Dovid Gutfarb zt'l of Yerushalayim said, "I never missed a bus, only sometimes I came early for the next bus." For if it was destined for him to take the next bus; he didn’t miss the bus that was meant for him. By practicing this perspective, you can overcome anger.


Sefer Minhag Tov (first printed in 1929 from an old manuscript written by an Italian gadol) writes, “It is a good custom that one doesn’t take a haircut before erev Shabbos Nachamu, and when erev Shabbos Nachamu arrives, one is obligated to take a haircut, and to be happy, and to welcome Shabbos with joy and a good heart, and he will be consoled with many consolations, and Hashem will console us with the redemption of Yerushalayim.”

Similarly, the Mahari'l states that on Shabbos Nachamu, "The entire nation shall be happy, and trust in the consolations of the redemption."

The Chasam Sofer (Masay) teaches, in the name of the Yerushalmi that after Tisha b'Av, a new month begins. Until the 9th it's Av, afterwards it's Menachem.

Several times, in the Chasam Sofer's answers, he refers to Av as "the month Menachem"

People are repulsed by a hidden wicked person, someone who has evil plans and schemes, only he conceals them and pretends he is a tzaddik. In contrast, they love a hidden tzaddik, a person who conceals his righteousness from others. When Hashem does kindness in a concealed way, it is like a hidden tzaddik and the kindness is even greater.

What should one do if gets stuck in a traffic jam? Should he wait and let his car inch past whatever is causing the trouble, or should he turn off the road, and seek an alternative route? If he owns a GPS, that will help him make a decision. Two cars were traveling to the same destination and hit a traffic jam. Car A turned off the road to take an alternative route; Car B remained in the traffic jam. Car A traveled at a good clip through side streets, while Car B hardly moved. In the end, Car B arrived at their destination first. This is because Car B had GPS, which advised him to remain in the traffic jam. It was just a matter of five or ten minutes until the traffic jam cleared up. The owners of Car A didn’t have a GPS, so they saw solely from below. From below, it looked like it was wiser to take an alternative route. The GPS sees from above, and it can tell which route is quicker. The nimshal is, when one hits a hard life situation, some wish they could escape it. However, if we could have the view from Above, he would see that this may be the preferred situation. Other routes seem rosier, but in the long run, this route, and this struggle, is the ideal way for you to go.

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