Rabbi Elimelech Biderman shlit"a on Parashat Shoftim 2019 - Part 1
Bitachon (Trust in G-d)
One of the themes of this week’s parashah is bitachon. It states (20:1), "When you go to war…and you see horses and chariots, a nation larger than yours, don’t be afraid. Hashem is with you, who took you out of Egypt.” The Rabbeinu Yonah writes, “The Torah is telling us that if one sees trouble approaching, his heart should foresee Hashem’s salvation, and he should trust in that.” Because the verse isn't only discussing wars. The verse is implying that we shouldn’t be afraid of anything at all, because Hashem will help. People wonder how they will support their family. People are worried about finding their soul-mates, health issues, and countless other matters. Life can be frightening. The Torah tells us not to worry. Hashem loves us and He can do anything and everything. Everything will work out. Rashi writes, “[Hashem says] in my eyes, all their horses are like one horse. They are many, in your opinion, but in My eyes, they aren't many.” For Hashem, solving all and any problem is easy.
The Torah's command, "don’t be afraid," also means that we shouldn’t be afraid of the Evil Inclination. With Hashem's help, we can overcome him. People struggle with their Evil Inclination, bad character traits, and negative tendencies, and they think they will never change. For years, despite their many attempts to improve their character, they’ve failed. The Torah tells us that we don’t have to be afraid. If we continue trying and continue praying for help from Above, we will succeed, because Hashem can do everything. The Or HaChaim teaches this lesson from the very same verse (20:1), "When you go to war…and you see horses and chariots, a nation larger than yours, don’t be afraid. Hashem is with you, who took you out of Egypt.” The Or HaChaim explains, “The verse is alluding to the war against the Evil Inclination. The verse is telling a person he shouldn’t be afraid when he confronts this war [against the Evil Inclination], a battle that is stronger than him. There are two aspects that make this war so difficult and cause people to despair: One is that man isn’t trained for warfare, while the Evil Inclination is. The second problem is the body embraces and desires everything the Evil Inclination offers, such as to steal, to be arrogant, to eat whatever one wants… [And] when a person transgressed the Torah many times the Evil Inclination becomes even stronger, as I already explained several times. “Hashem comes and tells us, ‘When you go out to war and in your mind’s eye you see a horse and chariot.’ The horse represents the Evil Inclination, which is trained for warfare, while the person isn’t. The chariot, represents the man’s make up, as he naturally desires matters [that are forbidden, or not productive for the Service of Hashem. Additionally], the Evil Inclination's strength increased, because of your many sins. Nevertheless, Hashem’s comforts us and says, don’t be afraid. Because Hashem is with you.
"Although it is true, if you fight with your own strength, you will lose the war. But since Hashem is with you, His strength is great and He will save you. Because when a person desires to be pure, Hashem’s right hand accepts him, and Hashem will weaken his opposition (the Evil Inclination). The Exodus from Egypt is your sign that you can be strong [because as Hashem saved you from Egypt, He will help you win the war against the Evil Inclination]…” Similarly, the Yismach Yisrael (Vayishlach 5) writes, “Even when according to man’s perception there is no cure to the ills of his soul, he should nonetheless believe and trust in Hashem’s divine kindness and in the Creator’s endless greatness… And with Hashem’s compassion, He will also help me, the lowest person of all…” I heard the following story from a young man who lives in Ashdod: After paying a visit to his father in Bnei Brak, ready to drive back home to Ashdod, he realized that he doesn’t have his cell phone with him. So he returned to his father’s home and looked all over for the phone, but didn’t find it. He got into to his car, and suddenly his phone falls out of his clothes. It was with him all along, and he didn’t realize it. As he began driving home, he saw a young man standing at a bus stop. It was already late at night; there was no bus service at that hour, so he stopped to see if he could help. "Which bus are you waiting for?” “I live in Ashdod. The last bus just left.” “Come with me. I'll take you there.” During the ride, the bachur told his story: “Until recently, I was addicted to bad sites on the IPhone. My parents hired someone from Bnei Brak to speak with me. Every week, I come to Bnei Brak to speak with him. He is a talented person who specializes in overcoming addictions, and he helped me return on the right path. I am just about cured; I threw away my IPhone last week, and have been clean since then. "Tonight, when I got on the bus to return to Ashdod I saw my friends on the bus with their IPhones. I knew that I wouldn’t have the courage to say no to them, and I'd be drawn to watch shows with them. So, I got off the bus at the next stop. I didn’t know where I would be tonight, and whether I would make it back to Ashdod, but I knew that I had to get off the bus. I was standing at the bus stop, contemplating where to go, when you came by and offered me a ride home.” This story reminds us that Hashem helps those who tread on the path of repentance. We are not in the battle alone. Hashem helps us. This young man lost his cell phone (although it was with him all along) so he could be available to help a young man who was embarking on a new path. You will gain immensely from your bitachon (trust in G-d). As the Rabbeinu Yonah (Mishlei 3:6), writes, "In addition to the reward he will receive for his bitachon in the next world, —which is very great — you will succeed in what you do." A perfect level of bitachon is to feel absolutely confident that Hashem will help.
The Sefer Ha'Ikrim teaches that just as one is certain the sun will rise in the morning, he should be certain that Hashem will help him. The Brisker Rav taught, 'trust in Hashem, 'and rejoice with the salvation even before it comes, because you are certain that it will happen. In the merit of your high level of bitachon (trust), Hashem will grant you all your heart’s desires.
Going to War with Bitachon (Trust in G-d)
Before they went to war, the police told the warriors, “Whoever is afraid and he has a soft heart should return home. He shouldn’t cause his brothers to be afraid, as he is afraid” (20:8). Rashi explains, “According to Reb Akiva, [He is afraid of war]. He isn’t able to stand in war, and see drawn swords. According to Reb Yosi HaGlili, he is afraid because he has sins.” The Gemara (Sotah 44.) states, even if someone spoke between tefillin shel yad and tefillin shel rosh, which is relatively a minor transgression, he should return home. The Rebbe of Kotzk zt’l asks: a few verses earlier (20:3) it states that the cohen says to the warriors, “Listen Yisrael. You are about to come to a war today against your enemies…” Rashi teaches that the beginning of his oration implies, “Even if the only merit you have is that you say Shema, that is sufficient merit and Hashem will save you.” We are seeing two opposite ideas. Kriyas Shema alone is enough to be saved, and yet, for the smallest sin one should return home. How do we understand this? The answer is, the main thing is to go to war with bitachon that Hashem will help you. If one says Shema and feels certain that Hashem will save him because of this great mitzvah, it is sufficient. He can go to war and no harm will befall him. But if he doesn’t have that level of bitachon, and he isn't convinced Hashem will save him, then even for the slightest sin he should return home. As the Siach Sarfei Kodesh writes, "If a person is courageous and certain that in the merit of Shema alone Hashem will save him, and he has a lot of bitachon on this, then certainly it is sufficient and he will be saved, because he truly isn't afraid. He trusts that in the merit of Shema, Hashem will save him. However, if someone isn't certain Hashem will save him because of Shema, and he is afraid, he must return home from the war — unless he is pure from all sins."
This week we also study about the mitzvah of simplicity, as it states (18:13), '“Be complete with Hashem your G-d.” The 'ú of íéîú (according to an old custom) is [written] large. The Kotkzer zt'l explains that everyone can have completeness. One should be wholly with completeness, with all his 248 limbs. No part of his body should be without completeness. The Baal HaTurim writes that if you have completeness, it is like you kept the entire Torah. Rashi (18:13) describes the essence of completeness: “Go with Hashem with simplicity, trust in Him, and don’t investigate what the future holds. Whatever happens accept it with simplicity, and then you will be with Him and His portion.” One aspect of completeness is to loyally keep each detail of Jewish law without considering what he will gain.
On this note, the holy Rizhiner zt’l told his chassidim the following story: There was a chassid who was cautious never to work before shacharis. Once, he had many furs in stock, and was having a hard time selling them. A messenger from a minister came to the chassid and said he wants to buy the furs, but the chassid hadn't yet prayed shacharis and he didn't want to sell them before shacharis. He didn’t want to begin explaining to the messenger that he doesn’t do business before shacharis, so he just quoted an exorbitant price for the furs, assuming the messenger would leave. But when he stated the high price, the messenger was prepared to pay it. So, he raised the price even higher. The messenger said, “I see you don’t want to sell them” and left. (Generally, stories like this end with a miracle.) The Rizhiner told his chassidim, “I see you are silent and waiting to hear the end of the story. But that was the end of the story. His self sacrifice to keep Jewish law is the story that I wanted to tell you. He wasn’t thinking about what he will gain from this self sacrifice, and neither should you think about what he gained from his self sacrifice.” This is Rashi’s intention, "don’t investigate to know what the future will be, because that isn’t important. We do Hashem’s will with a simplicity in the present. Another primary aspect of completeness is to believe Hashem is leading us in the best way, even when one is going through hard times. The Chofetz Chaim (Shem Olam, Shemiras HaShabbos 3, hagahah) writes, “Man’s mind is very small [and he can’t understand Hashem’s ways]. Therefore, he shouldn’t ask questions on the way Hashem leads him. One must have completeness and believe that everything Hashem does is for the good, for Hashem never does anything bad. If he will believe, he will certainly merit seeing how everything was for his good.
As in the story of Reb Akiva (Brachos 60:). ”The story of Reb Akiva is renowned. Reb Akiva came to a city, asked the residents for a place to stay overnight, but no one took him in. So he had to sleep in the fields. He had a donkey, a chicken, and a candle. The donkey was for traveling, the chicken was to awaken him early in the morning, and the candle was for light to learn Torah. A wind blew out the candle, a cat ate the chicken, and a lion attacked the donkey. for each loss and hardship Reb Akiva endured, he said “Everything is for the good.” That night, bandits came and took the entire city into captivity. If Reb Akiva was in the city, his candle lit, or if his chicken and donkey made noises, he would also be taken captive. Reb Akiva said, “Didn’t I tell you, everything Hashem does is for the good?” The Chofetz Chaim explains, Reb Akiva believed everything is for the good, therefore he merited to see that it is so.
The Chasam Sofer zt'l explains, when looking back one can see how everything was for the good but as matters occur, the good isn't evident. Only in retrospect does one see how Hashem perfectly arranged matters for his good. We will share some stories on this subject. The purpose in telling these stories is to encourage people to look back at the hard moments they had in life, and to see whether they can recognize the good that came from it. This will help us to accept the hardships of the present with innocence, with belief that they too are for the good. One day, we will look back and recognize the good in them. (Even when we look back and we don’t find the good that came from a situation, we still believe that it was for the good. Perhaps the good is yet to come in Olam HaBa? But it is certainly for the good, because everything Hashem does is good.)
A woman brought her son to the doctor, because of his high fever. The doctor’s face fell when he recognized the deathly illness the child had. He said, “Here is a prescription. Go to the pharmacy and buy the medicine immediately. Your son’s life is in danger.” This story happened around a hundred years ago, in Williamsburg, New York, when there was no Medicaid or other programs to help the poor. This mother had to scrape together every penny she owned to pay for the doctor. Where would she have money to pay for the medicine? But there wasn’t time to waste; her son’s life was in danger. She brought her son home, so her husband could take care of him, and she set out to the pharmacist. She explained to the pharmacist that she desperately needs the medicine to save her son’s life, but she doesn’t have any money to pay for it. “Please have mercy on me and on my son. Give me the medication. I will pay you when I have the money. I promise; it won’t take long. I will do whatever I can to pay you back.” The pharmacist had a different idea. He said, “I need some cleaning help in this pharmacy. If you sign a contract with me to work here for free, that will be my payment for the medicine.” She agreed. The pharmacist immediately wrote out a contract. He took advantage of this poor woman’s desperate need for the medicine, and in the contract he obligated her to work many weeks in the pharmacy, as payment for the medicine. She was so relieved; she didn’t really care so much. At least she got the medicine to heal her son. She was in a rush to get home to give the medication to her son, so she took a short-cut through a crime-ridden neighborhood. One gangster stopped her and demanded all her money. She told him that she doesn’t have anything (which was the truth). He grabbed the bag. She pleaded, “It’s just medicine. It’s worthless for you, but I need it for my son. Please, give it to me.” He didn’t hear her. He just wanted to taste whatever was in the bottle, because he thought it was alcohol (which was what he was after in the first place). He took off the cap, and took a large slurp, and immediately spit out the black liquid on her white clothes. Then he smashed the bottle on the ground and left. She returned to the pharmacist and told him what happened. “Can I see the contract?” she requested. The pharmacist said, “Oh no! A deal is a deal. It isn’t my problem you were robbed. You owe me all the hours of work we agreed on.” She told him, “I wasn’t thinking of ripping up the document. On the contrary, I want to add onto the document more days of work, so you will agree to sell me another bottle of medicine.” The pharmacist's eyes lit up. This was his lucky day. They added some more weeks into the contract, and he gave her another bottle of medicine. She wasn’t happy with the bottle; it didn’t look the same as the bottle the pharmacist gave her before. She opened it, and saw the liquid was red, while the liquid in the first bottle (and now partially on her shirt) was black. The pharmacist realized that he made a grave mistake. He accidentally gave her the wrong medicine. It would have killed her child instead of healing him. The pharmacist grabbed the contract and tore it in half. He told her, “You don’t have to work for me. The debt is forgiven. Just don’t tell anyone that I made this terrible error!” When the criminal smashed the medicine bottle, she thought her world shattered together with it. In retrospect it this was her salvation. It was a miracle, not a tragedy at all.
In 1929, Reb Boruch Frankel z’l and a friend came from Europe to America, and worked hard to make the American dream. Every month they sent money to their wives and children who remained behind in Europe, and the rest they kept in savings accounts. After three years, they had enough money to open their own business in Europe, and decided it was time to return. They were both excited about their future life in Europe, together with their families, and together with their, hopefully, prosperous business. They bought two tickets on a ship that would be leaving to Europe in about a week, and got busy finishing their preparations and closing their business in America. But then Reb Boruch Frankel's father passed away He sat shivah (the 7 day mourning period) in America, knowing he would miss his voyage. Reb Boruch Frankel planned to buy another ticket after the shivah. Many people visited Reb Boruch during the shivah, and in one especially busy moment, his business partner came with many documents. “What are these for?” “They are to close our business. We have to sign some documents before we leave. I brought them here to you, so you can sign them.” Reb Boruch Frankel looked at them briefly, everything seemed right, so he signed on all the documents, without checking each one of them. After the shivah, he discovered that one of those documents was giving his partner permission to take all his money out of his bank account. His partner had tricked him, and stolen all his savings. Now Reb Boruch didn’t even have enough money to pay for his own passage back home. Reb Boruch stayed in America and worked hard for several more years. In 1933 he became a legal American citizen, and that’s when he returned to Europe. Then World War II broke out. As an American citizen, he was able to escape to America together with his family. His business partner was murdered in the Holocaust. That terrible moment when his partner stole all his money was now viewed as one of the most fortunate moments of his life. It saved his entire family. Obviously, this doesn’t exonerate the partner for his terrible deed, but the awareness that "Everything is for the good" is a lesson worth learning.
A recent story is another example of how in retrospect one sees that everything is for the good: The story is about a person who learned a relatively new kind of therapy for children, that includes horseback riding. When he graduated the course, he rented a ranch in the village Aderet, near Beit Shemesh, complete with a barn for the horses, a track for horseback riding, and a small office. He rented the ranch for a year, and invested in all the equipment he needed to do the therapy. At the end of the year, the landowner said that from now on he will be renting the ranch on a three-month basis. Every three months they would draw up another contract. That gave the landowner the opportunity to raise the rent four times a year. In spite of this uncommon arrangement it worked fine for several years. Two months ago, the landowner said that he would be raising the rent very high in the next contract. The renter said, “If I pay that amount, I might as well close my business. All the money I earn will go to the rent.” But the landowner wouldn’t lower the price. He gave his tenant a week to make a decision. The therapist was walking down a street, deep in thought, worried about his future, when he met up with his old teacher who taught him the therapy. The teacher immediately saw his disposition, and asked him about it. The student told him. The teacher said, “There is plenty of room on the ranch where I teach the therapy. You can bring your horses there, free of charge.” The therapist was shocked, but he wasn’t certain the teacher was serious about it. He was still debating what to do. Four o’clock on Thursday morning, just a few hours before he had to decide whether he would be staying or leaving, he was woken up by a phone call. It was the police. “There’s a fire in Aderet. You must leave the village.” He grabbed his horses and took them straight to his teacher's ranch. We see how a problem proved to be part of the salvation. He told his teacher about his problems, this paved a place for him to bring his horses, and continue his practice even after the fire. Because everything is for the good; and when we look back we often merit seeing that it is so.
We say in Shemonah Esrei ולמלשינים, where we pray for the curses of those who seek to harm us. Our first request is that our enemies should lose hope. Afterwards we say harsh curses. But we begin with asking that our enemies should lose hope, because in a way, losing hope is the worst thing, and the origin of all the troubles and disasters that follow.
Someone said to Reb Yisrael Salanter zy’a, “I don’t think I’ll ever do teshuvah (repentance). I'm set in my ways, and I can't change.” Reb Yisrael Salanter rebuked him, “Chazal tell us that when we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah the Satan becomes frightened. He fears that our teshuvah has brought the shofar of Moshiach. Even the Satan believes you have the ability to repent. Why don’t you believe it?”
There were four brothers in a room, each at a different stage in life. The youngest was playing with Legos, and when his tower fell, he began to cry. His older brother by a few years laughed and said to his younger sibling, “When you reach my age, you will know what problems are. I'm in yeshiva, and I got into trouble with the mashgiach (supervisor) today… That’s real trouble. The Legos are nothing, it's child's play.” An even older brother laughed and said, “Having a problem with the mashgiach is small stuff. I'm dating (for marriage), and yesterday another shidduch went down (the date didn't work out). I know what troubles are.” The oldest brother who was married and had a family laughed at all their problems. He said, “Losing a shidduch is also small change. Eventually, your soulmate will come. Do you have any idea how hard it is to raise children and to support a household? That’s a real challenge.” Everyone laughs at those who complain about smaller problems compared to what they are going through. King David says, “Hashem! I have so many troubles!” David knew what troubles were. (People wanted to kill him, he had to flee, to name a few of his hardships.) Nevertheless, David says, "Even when I fall and I think I will never get up again, Your kindness supports me.” Because Hashem’s kindness always prevails. No matter what one is going through, everything will turn out good in the end. Also notice that David says, ”If I say my feet have fallen.” It is only what he says, but he never actually fell. One thinks he has problems, but when everything turns out well he discovers that there was never a problem to begin with.
It states in this week’s parashah (20:19,) "For a man is a tree of the field," The verse seems to compare a person to a tree. The Beis Avraham zt’l explains: A tree isn’t planted in gold and silver. It's planted in the earth. This teaches us that when a person is deep in the earth with many troubles and hardships – either spiritual or material – he shouldn’t worry, because from that place one grows the highest. There was a person who owned a dog; they were always together. When his master suffered a heart attack, and an ambulance came to bring him to the hospital, the dog came along. Even in the hospital room, the dog was at his master's side. They were inseparable. But the doctors refused to let the dog enter the OR. The dog stood near the door and barked and howled, until the doctors felt they have no choice, and they agreed to let the dog in. It sat there next to his master who was put to sleep.. The dog was ok with that, but when they took out a knife and began operating on the patient, the dog became vicious and upset. This is because he doesn’t know that the operation is for his master's good. It states (Psalms 73:22), ”I am a fool. I don’t know. I am like an animal…” We are like animals who don’t know anything, and we don’t realize how everything – even those matters that seem bad, are all for our good.
A staff is used for hitting. A stick is used for support. King David says (Psalms 23:4), ”Your staff and your supporting stick comfort me.” Because even when one is hit with a staff,he should know that it really is a stick,his support. This awareness is his comfort.
It states (Psalms 139:8), ”If I go up to heaven You are there, and if I make a bed in Hell, behold, You are present.” This verse is discussing two very opposite experiences. "If I go up to heaven” hints to very good times. "If I make a bed in Hell" hints to very difficult times. The verse is saying that in all situations, good and bad, Hashem is present. When is Hashem closer? When going through good times, the verse says ”You are there.” When going through hard times the verse says "Behold, You are here.” It seems Hashem is even closer to help him through the hard times.