By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
At times, people feel that they are stuck in a rut. They are lacking money or something else they feel they need and deserve. They are unable to overcome the gaping feeling that life has wronged them and therefore become anxious and depressed. They are overwhelmed by feelings of emptiness and suffering.
Rav Elimelech Biderman recently told the story of Reb Nisson Shtitzberg. One of his daughters married a fine young man. In the middle of sheva brachos, tragedy struck and the chosson suddenly died. Imagine the sadness that gripped the kallah and both families. The great simcha was turned into tremendous sadness.
Not only that, but they found out that the new wife would be an agunah for the next eight years, as the chosson’s only brother was but a five-year-old lad. He wouldn’t be able to partake in chalitzah, which would enable the poor kallah to remarry, for another eight years, when he would become a bar mitzvah.
Reb Nisson was a chossid of the Yesod Ha’avodah. In utter dejection, he turned to the rebbe to find out what they had done to deserve such a tragic situation.
The rebbe said to him, “Look at what is happening and you will realize that it was decreed in Heaven that your daughter wouldn’t have children until eight years from now. Now, if this would not have happened, she would not have gotten engaged until now. You would have spent your days and nights trying to find a shidduch for her, and rightfully so. As time went on, without success, you would have undertaken various segulos, davened like you never had before, and begged any rusty shadchan to come up with someone normal for your daughter.
“And what would people say? They’d no doubt say that your daughter hasn’t found a shidduch yet because there must be something wrong with her. You would have been going through torture until finally finding her zivug after eight aggravating years.
“Hashem had mercy on you and saved you from all that. In eight years, the brother will come of age and she will perform chalitzah. She will then immediately marry and give birth to a beautiful family, all in the preordained time.”
One who trusts in Hashem knows that whatever happens to him is for the good and is brought on by Hashem. We don’t always understand what has befallen us or why. Sometimes it can take years until the reason becomes evident. Sometimes it becomes clear sooner and other times we never figure it out.
We read in this week’s parsha (18:10) how Hashem appeared to Avrohom and told him that he and his wife would be giving birth to a son who would be their heir and carry their mission forward. Why did Avrohom Avinu not rush to tell his wife that Hashem promised that they would have a son? The elderly couple had unsuccessfully sought a child for many years. How could Avrohom not share the great news with his wife?
Avrohom and Sorah had worked to bring Hashem’s message of G-dliness to the world. They set out on their path alone, and were successful in drawing many followers, until they had a wave of maaminim following them.
They were blessed with much wealth and fame, and had everything a couple could desire, except for a child. When Avrohom Avinu found out that he and Sorah would soon have a son, he kept the promise from his wife. Wouldn’t you imagine that this was the happiest moment in his life? How could he not tell her that their prayers have been answered and she would soon be a mother?
The Ramban (Bereishis 18:15) writes that Avrohom waited for Hashem to let Sorah know the good news. Sorah actually found out the wonderful news from the malachim.
He suggests, as well, that Avrohom was preoccupied with performing the mitzvah of milah on himself and his household as he had been commanded and didn’t have the time to tell Sorah. When he finished fulfilling Hashem’s commandment regarding milah, he was weak and sat at the entrance of his tent to recuperate. Before he had a chance to get back to himself and tell Sorah, the malochim came and told her themselves.
Even after studying the words of the Ramban, the question still bothered me. How can it be that Avrohom didn’t run to tell his wife that the one thing they were lacking in their lives would be granted to them? Wouldn’t doing so bring much happiness to his wife? How could he postpone bringing her that joy?
Perhaps the question is based on a mistaken premise. A believer knows that everything that happens to him in life is for the good. A person who lives with bitachon understands that Hashem’s purpose in creation is to bring about goodness and kindness.
We don’t always understand what is going on, but we know that there is a greater purpose for what is happening. Nothing that happens is haphazard and nothing happens by itself.
People want children because they have been conditioned to expect to give birth to a child. Children bring joy, enrichment, and meaning into your life.
But, in fact, we are all here because Hashem willed it so. Everything we have – or don’t have – is because Hashem willed it to be that way. We all have a mission in life. We are given what we need to be able to fulfill our mission.
Some people need a large home in order to accomplish their shlichus, while some don’t. Some need a nice car, while for others a small jalopy suffices. Some people need a lot of money in order to carry out their mission, while some can be most successful in their shlichus without a dime in their pockets.
A maamin and baal bitachon doesn’t look at what other people have and complain about why he is lacking in those blessings. He knows that Hashem chose this situation for him. He is not jealous of others and does not view himself as lacking in anything. He is happy with what he has, because he knows that his loving Father provides for him what he needs.
He is never jealous of other people, asking, “How come they have what I don’t have?” A familiar refrain is that life is unfair. Why don’t I have all that I want, just like the person across the street? Why is he so smart, yet as hard as I try, I can’t remember a thing I learn? Why does he always find the bargains, while I pay full price for everything? Why do their kids dress in designer clothes, while mine make do with end-of-season sale items?
So many of our complaints are brought on by jealousy.
Rav Yecheskel Sarna, the Chevron rosh yeshiva told the Chazon Ish that during the Second World War some rabbis had a debate. A certain tyrant who persecuted Jews died. The question was, should they celebrate his demise, or should they worry that perhaps his replacement would be even worse.
The Chazon Ish told him that “they could have simultaneously celebrated his departure and worried about the future. It is possible to be happy and apprehensive at the same time.”
He proved his point. “Yirmiyohu Hanovi wrote Megillas Eicha, a mournful dirge of tragedy. We know that he wrote it with ruach hakodesh, and we also know that in order to merit ruach hakodesh, you have to be besimcha.
“You see that it is possible to mourn and weep over the destroyed beis hamikdosh and to be besimcha at the same time.”
The depth of his message is that while a person is suffering from a calamity or loss, the knowledge that it did not happen by itself, but rather was orchestrated by the Creator for a higher purpose, is comforting and allows the person to be content.
People who trust in Hashem know that He oversees all. As the Gemara states (Chulin 7b), “a person doesn’t even get a small wound on a finger without it being decided so by Heaven.” If a person receives a setback of any kind, he should know that it didn’t happen by itself, but was decreed by Hashem.
The Ribnitzer Rebbe was walking with Rav Eliyohu Tabak, when the elderly rebbe tripped and fell. Rav Eliyohu rushed to lift the rebbe off the ground. The Ribnitzer told him to wait. “Eliyohu, before I get up, I have to make a cheshbon hanefesh. If I don’t know why I fell, I will fall again.” The rebbe remained on the floor for a minute before allowing Rabbi Tabak to raise him.
People who live with emunah are that way. When something doesn’t go their way, they try to figure out why. They search their souls to find what is lacking and they seek to rectify it. Otherwise, they understand that Hashem brought it upon them for reasons they do not know. They accept it and move on.
Avrohom and Sorah were maaminim. They understood that Hashem did what was best for them. Before they had a child, they were not overcome with grief. They didn’t view their lives as lacking. They viewed their lives as full and blessed. They perceived their mission to be bringing the knowledge of Hashem to the world. If they didn’t have a child, then apparently Hashem felt they didn’t need one. Their good acts would live on some other way. They would attain joy, happiness and fulfillment without giving birth to children together.
Since they didn’t view the lack of a child as a tragedy, when Avrohom heard from Hashem that he and his wife would be giving birth to a son who would be their heir and carry on their mission, he didn’t feel the need to rush and tell his wife.
In last week’s parsha (15:4-5), Hashem told Avrohom, “Ki im asher yeitzei mimei’echa hu yiroshecha – The one you give birth to will be your heir.” The posuk says that Hashem took Avrohom outside and told him, “Look up to the sky and count the stars. If you are able to count them, so will you be able to count your children,” for they will be so plentiful that it will be impossible to count them.
The posuk then states (ibid. 6), “Vehe’emin baHashem vayachsheveha lo tzedakah,” Avrohom trusted Hashem and Hashem looked upon Avrohom’s faith favorably.
What was the big deal about the fact that Avrohom trusted the promise of Hashem? And why did Hashem consider it a major act? If Hashem appeared to anyone, wouldn’t that person trust Him to keep His word?
If we continue with our line of reasoning, we can answer that the big deal was that Avrohom was the paradigm believer in Hashem. He believed in Hashem when he didn’t have a son as much as he believed after he was promised the son and multitudes of offspring.
As such, when Hashem promised that he and Sorah would give birth to a child who would continue their mission, Avrohom was not so overjoyed as to interrupt the mitzvah he was doing in order to tell Sorah.
This is what the Ramban means when he says that Avrohom was occupied with carrying out Hashem’s commandment regarding milah. Avrohom was fulfilling his mission of following Hashem’s word. That is what his life was all about. He was the consummate servant of Hashem, whether he had a child or not, so his first obligation was to finish doing what Hashem asked him to do. Sorah wouldn’t expect anything different.
We tend to plug our emotions, perspectives and reactions into stories of the avos. Thus, we have questions. We understand the burning desire for a child, the ache of loneliness, and the frustration of unanswered tefillos.
But there is a level beyond ours, the level of tzaddikim. Yes, a child is a hemshech, a continuation of all man’s accomplishments, and a means of ensuring that the chain goes on. A child affords us the mitzvah of chinuch, the joy and fulfillment of seeing a new generation growing in Torah and avodah, and the nachas of transmitting eternal values. But there is a backdrop to all this: The only reality that counts and exists is that which Hashem desires.
To us, a husband and wife longing and yearning for something for so many years and then receiving it is a happy story. To tzaddikim, before they are answered, it is viewed as the ratzon Hashem, and after they are answered, it remains the same ratzon Hashem.
To Avrohom Avinu and Sorah Imeinu, the desire for a child was in the context of that reality. Since Hashem hadn’t blessed them with a child, they were content. They existed serenely within that reality. The news that they would have a child meant, in their terms, that the ratzon Hashem now was different than it had been before.
Their lives had been in concert with Hashem’s will all along, and so would it continue.
Similarly, the nisayon of the Akeidah was a test of Avrohom’s bitachon. Now that he had been blessed with a son, were he to learn that it was the will of Hashem for him to return that gift, would he happily comply with Hashem’s wish or would he question the command?
The posuk (Bereishis 22:3) relates that Avrohom passed the test. “Vayashkeim Avrohom baboker.” Without delay, he hurried to fulfill Hashem’s wish. He had wanted a son in order to perform his shlichus in this world. If Hashem wanted him to have a son, he was thrilled, and if Hashem did not wish for him to have a son any longer, then he would rush to fulfill the will of Hashem, fully accepting the decision.
The Chazon Ish wrote poetically, “Ein kol etzev ba’olam lemi shemakir ohr ha’oros shel ha’emes. There is no despair in the world for one who perceives the light of lights of the truth.” Rav Yitzchok Hutner pointed out that the Chazon Ish, who was childless and experienced the same struggle as the avos, was expressing that there exists an “ohr,” a light, of ratzon Hashem that is more obvious. There is also an “ohr ha’oros,” a less obvious but deeper light, that of amitas retzono Yisborach. For those who perceive the deep light of Hashem, there is no depression, for they recognize the truth that all that transpires is for the greater good.
On Shabbos, we do not wish a sick person refuah sheleimah. Instead, Chazal tells us, we say, “Shabbos hi milizok.” On Shabbos, we don’t cry out in pain.
Perhaps we can understand that pain and pity are appropriate when one is somewhat removed from the ohr ha’oros. On Shabbos Kodesh, our proximity to the Borei Olam makes such reactions inappropriate. Shabbos is the day when the ohr of sheishes yemei bereishes shines through and we appreciate that if things are a certain way, it is because that is what Hashem wants. During the yemei hama’aseh, things are less clear, and we cry, but on Shabbos, when the light is evident, we refrain from sadness.
On Shabbos, as well, we do not engage in obvious acts of mourning. On the six days of the week, we cry over the passing of loved ones. When Shabbos arrives, there is no sadness. On Shabbos, we proclaim that the world was created by the Creator. We receive a neshomah yeseirah, which allows us to comprehend concepts that we can’t understand during the week. On this day, we do not mourn or engage in sadness, for we recognize that Hashem created the world to do good and all that transpires is for the good.
It’s all ratzon Hashem.
Such is the way of the avos, tzaddikim and maaminim, and that is the way we should try to live our lives.
We see treachery and evil rising. We see morality under attack, as laws that promote deviancy are enacted. We see dishonest people prosper and corruption entrench itself.
Our personal lives are tumultuous. Life is not going as planned. Everyone has a share of heartache and problems. We wonder why we have to work so hard and why we can’t attain our goals with less aggravation. It takes so much money to make ends meet. We can’t take the constant pressure to stay above water. There are so many things we wish were different. Should we be overcome with sadness? Should we give up? Should we feel alone and forlorn?
We have to do our best to live besimcha. We have to recognize that what happens is His will and ratzon hatov leheitiv. We should have no doubt that what happens is good and is the right thing for us, whether or not we easily understand it. We must know that those who see the ohr ha’oros recognize the good nature of everything that transpires. We have to do our best to rise to that level.
The connection to the Ribbono Shel Olam means that we know that He who created us and gives us life also knows what we need. At times, we wish for things to be different, for a lack to be filled, or for a situation to be changed.
So we daven and hope, but always with the confidence that He knows how things ought to be. Avrohom Avinu prayed for the people of Sedom, pleading for Heavenly mercy on their behalf. He was turned down. How did he respond? The posuk says that Avrohom returned the next morning “el hamakom asher omad shom es pnei Hashem” (Bereishis 19:27). He went back to the same “place,” with the very same submission, humility and faith with which he had offered his tefillos and been turned down the day before.
“Yes” and “no” are but two expressions of the same ratzon. They are thus not different. As Hashem’s children, we have the ability and unique attitude to recognize that everything is from Hashem. So ein kol etzev. We don’t become dejected. We continue to hope, certain that one day, may it be very soon, we will rejoice when it all becomes clear just how good it has been all along.
What seems to us as reality is only a façade. One who seems blessed may in fact be cursed. One who seems poor may actually be blessed.
Let us learn from Avrohom and Sorah to look at the world properly, envisioning things as maaminim and baalei bitachon.
Let us live with faith and confidence, recognizing that we have a calling and mission in life. Let us do what can to accomplish our goals without jealousy or sadness. Let us concentrate on our own lives, on our own improvement, on what we must do to achieve happiness and wholesomeness. Let us take the steps which will enable us to attain the peaceful tranquility we all yearn for.