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PARSHAS SHOFTIMYou shall be whole-hearted with Hashem your G-d. (18:13)
Bitachon, trust in Hashem, is a complex concept in the realm of avodas Hashem, serving the Almighty. Much has been written and even more has been said regarding this subject, leaving very little for this writer to add. The purpose of the following thesis is to clarify the basic meaning of bitachon and the role it plays in our daily endeavor. There are two basic approaches to understanding the concept of trust in Hashem. Rabbeinu Yonah and the Chovas Halevavos contend that if one trusts in Hashem with his full heart, Hashem will fulfill his request. This is true even if the individual is not deserving of Hashem's positive response. If his bitachon is absolute and filled with integrity, if he really believes - Hashem will do His part. Thus, if one is calm due to his consummate trust in Hashem, it is an indication that his bitachon is real.
The other opinion is that of Rashi, who posits based upon the above pasuk, "You shall be whole-hearted with Hashem, your G-d," walk with Him with whole-heartedness. Look ahead to Him, i.e. trust in what He has planned for you. Do not delve into the future; rather, accept with wholeheartedness whatever comes upon you, and then you will be with Him. In other words, bitachon is an awareness that everything that occurs comes from Hashem. It does not mean that having bitachon will catalyze any changes in the life of the faithful. Having bitachon means that the individual believes that Hashem is the Source of all that happens in his life - regardless of his comfort level with what takes place.
Let us briefly analyze these two opinions. According to the first opinion, one's bitachon can transform reality. How are we to understand this? Does faith bring about the impossible? Should an undeserving person be the beneficiary of an unwarranted gift from Hashem simply because he trusts in Hashem? Is that our understanding of bitachon? This is true only of one who is sincere in his trust and whose faith is the essence of integrity. Yet, how does this bitachon guarantee the future if, for all intents and purposes, it is not "in the cards"? Horav Eliezer Tauber, Shlita, explains this with an analogy. An extremely energetic young child had an overwhelming desire to jump off high places. Once, it was the kitchen table; then it became the bedroom dresser until he finally decided that he would jump off his father's bookcase. As daring as he was, the bookcase was slightly higher than anything he had previously attempted. His father, of course, told him emphatically that he should not even think about doing it. Boys will be boys, however, and who can say that he never thought he was not smarter than his father? The boy also knew that if worse came to worse, his father would never let him hurt himself.
The child climbed to the top of the bookcase and announced to his father that he was going to jump. His father reiterated his earlier warning. The boy did not listen, knowing full well that his father was watching and would not allow him to fall. He jumped, and his father ran to catch him before he hit the floor and hurt himself. For forcing his hand, his father punished him. Likewise, one who trusts in Hashem knows that the Almighty loves him and will not let him down. If his trust is absolute, Hashem will respond in a positive manner. He must remember, however, that he has "forced" Hashem's hand. He might have to pay for that by losing some of the merits he had stored away for a "rainy day." Now, when that rainy day rolls around, he will not have any z'chusim, merits, to protect him.
Rashi teaches us not to ask questions, but to be accepting and trusting that whatever Hashem bestows upon us is good. Hashem has His reasons, and they are beyond our ability to grasp in our present physical state. Rav Tauber writes that his parents survived the Holocaust imbued with this type of trust in Hashem. Prior to World War II, his family had lived in Pressburg. When the Nazi war machine overran Hungary, his parents escaped to Czechoslovakia and remained there amid misery and deprivation for three years until 1944, when the Germans arrived. During this time, his mother gave birth to his three brothers. His family trusted in Hashem and continued to live as normal a life as they could under such trying conditions.
One Friday night, the family was arrested and sent to Auschwitz. His mother was not yet noticeably pregnant with his sister. Those who were aware of her condition wondered how she could think of bearing children during the war years. Her response was unequivocal, "We are Jews, and, as such, we must do what Hashem commands us to do. Hashem will do what He desires." It was this type of attitude that fortified her throughout the ordeal. Miraculously, they all survived: father, mother and five children, four of whom were born during the war years.
How did she do it? How did she take it upon herself to bring children into a world that was destroying every semblance of Judaism? What made her think that these infants would survive a war that was destroying so many others? Her reply is something we should all remember. "We are Jews who believe in Techiyas HaMeisim, the Resurrection of the Dead. My child is not my child only in this temporary world. My child is mine forever, in Olam Hazeh, this world, and in Olam Habah, the World to Come. He will always be mine, regardless of what happens to him. I must do my share. The rest is up to Hashem!" This is trust in Hashem, believing that whatever is to be, will be. It is determined by Hashem and, therefore, inherently good. It is not for us to agree or disagree, but rather to believe and accept.
Once we have arrived at the position that bitachon in Hashem demands that we follow Hashem with wholehearted conviction and not worry about the future, we wonder what purpose is served by the medium of hishtadlus, endeavoring. We should all sit back and believe! Why bother doing anything to promote a livelihood, seek medical intervention, or do anything that affects our future? Is hishtadlus necessary, or is it even appropriate? Is not taking action counter to the concept of bitachon? The Chovas HaLevavos writes: "Hishtadlus does not help; it is, however, necessary." This means that a person will obtain his objective without the medium of hishtadlus. However, since Hashem decreed to Adam HaRishon, B'zeias apecha tochal lechem, "By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread" (Bereishis 3:19) as part of the curse for eating of the Eitz HaDaas, Tree of Knowledge, one has to "go through the motions" and work. Regrettably, many of us throw our entire lives into this hishtadlus, not recognizing it for what it is - a curse!
The effectiveness of hishtadlus can be derived from the manna which we received every day. Regardless of how much one gathered, he ended up with only what he and his family needed to subsist. Gathering extra manna was of no avail. Ultimately, it was always the same.
Whether hishtadlus is necessary as part of a life strategy or it is something we must do because we are not all on the spiritual plateau that clearly recognizes that everything comes from Above, it is something that can and should be used to elevate kavod Shomayim, the honor of Heaven. We are all agents of Hashem, sent on a mission to increase kavod Shomayim. The opportunities arise constantly. We do not always recognize them for what they are and, thus, do not always take advantage of these circumstances. Rav Tauber relates an inspirational incident that occurred concerning Rebbetzin Sorah Miriam Sorotzkin, ah, wife of the Luktzker Rav and daughter of Horav Eliezer Gordon, zl. Towards the end of her life, she became very ill. At one point, she was in critical need of surgery. Despite the severity of the illness and the emergency nature of the pending surgery, she insisted on waiting to obtain the services of a specific surgeon who was highly skilled and noted for being the "top man" in his field. It took much maneuvering and the help of a number of influential public figures, but the Rebbetzin was availed of his services.
Shortly before the surgery, the Rebbetzin asked to speak with the doctor. The surgeon acquiesced to meet with her prior to surgery. She said to him, "My dear physician, you know how hard I tried to secure your services. Nothing mattered; I had to have you, but I must ask something of you. If it is Heaven's decree that I not survive this procedure, I implore you not to feel bad. It is not your fault in any way. It is what Hashem has decided, and I accept His decision with complete equanimity. I just want to be sure that you will not have any feelings of guilt."
The physician was as pompous as he was brilliant. While the Rebbetzin's words had little effect on his over-inflated ego, he nonetheless told her, "I appreciate your concern for my emotional well-being, despite your own grave condition." The Rebbetzin, however, was not finished. She continued, "By the way, in the event that you do succeed and I survive the surgery, I want you to know that it is not as a result of your expertise. It is because this is what Hashem desires."
The opportunity to increase kavod Shomayim presented itself. She had performed her hishtadlus by seeking out the best available practitioner but,ultimately, she knew and conveyed her belief to the physician that success - or failure - is all in the hands of Hashem.
You shall be whole-hearted with Hashem, your G-d. (18:13)
Tamim has the same meaning as shalem, whole, complete, perfect. To be shalem means not to have any blemishes. There are two aspects to this shleimus, wholesomeness, one from an ethical perspective and one from a philosophical position. In other words, to be a tamim demands that the individual be ethically intact and philosophically faultless. Horav Eliyahu Schlessinger, Shlita, develops this idea in the following manner. In order to be a shaleim, one must be tocho k'baro, his inner self must coincide with his external actions, and also be baro k'tocho, his external actions must be in sync with his inner feelings and thoughts. Let me explain. There are people who are outwardly very observant. They never miss tefillah b'tzibur, praying with a minyan, attend Torah study classes, basically perform all that is demanded of them as Jews, but their heart is not in it: they lack passion; their enthusiasm is insipid, at best; their feelings about observance do not resonate with joy. In other words, they serve Hashem, but it is a sterile, cold, complacent service. This is not tocho k'baro - their external actions do not reflect their inner emotions. They daven, but the davening is about someone else, because there is no personal connection between themselves and their prayer service.
There is also the individual who is not baro k'tochu. He declares that he has a Jewish heart, Jewish feelings, Jewish belief, but he does not feel it is necessary to express in action what he feels in his heart. I have always considered this person a non-practicing Orthodox Jew. His heart is affiliated with the Orthodox point of view. He believes in it as the way a person should live. He is just not prepared to take that step himself, being comfortable with maintaining his Orthodoxy in his heart. He is an incomplete Jew. He lacks temimus.
This is the role tamim plays concerning the individual's ethical integrity. Regarding the area of belief in Hashem, tamim plays a very demanding role. In fact, this is underscored by the pasuk: Be wholehearted with Hashem; be straight; be consistent; be absolute in your emunah, belief. Rav Schlessinger makes an important point. Chazal state, Kol yeser k'natul dami. "Whatever is extra is considered as if it is missing." This means, say Chazal in the Talmud Chullin 58b, that if an animal has an extra leg, it is viewed as missing a leg, so that it is deemed treifah, unkosher.
We find a similar halachah that, if by error, the shliach Bais Din, agent of the court, gave an individual one extra makah, lash, with a whip, it nullifies the first thirty-nine. He is liable for each time he whipped the guilty person. The Rogatchaver Gaon, zl, explains that once he gives an extra lash, it is no longer considered makkos. It is undue punishment, and the individual who whipped him is punished for wounding another Jew.
A similar concept applies in the area of emunah in Hashem. Faith in the Almighty must be pure, without any additives. When people supplement their faith with philosophies that do not necessarily coincide with Torah hashkafah, outlook, they detract and ultimately subtract from their Torah hashkafah, leaving them impaired and corrupted. The Torah admonishes us not to inquire of soothsayers, fortunetellers, diviners and other such flawed individuals. It then follows with the pasuk demanding wholeheartedness in our belief. This implies that one who believes in Hashem, but supplements his belief with such extras as inquiring of people who are sustained by the forces of spiritual impurity, undermines his emunah in Hashem. In this case, too much is too little.
A prophet from your midst, from your brethren, like me, shall Hashem, Your G-d, establish for you - to him you shall listen. (18:15)
Moshe Rabbeinu tells the people that Hashem would designate other leaders from among the people. They would transmit dvar Hashem, the word of G-d, to the members of that generation. The concept of eilav tishme'un, "to him you shall listen," is an accepted axiom among the observant. Individuals, who have achieved greatness in the areas of scholarship, piety and ethics, evolve into gedolei Yisrael, the Torah leaders of our nation. They are endowed with a special ability to see, to perceive, to listen, and to instruct and guide. Indeed, having been invested with a unique inspiration from Above, their ability is beyond the grasp of the average human being. Every generation has its gedolim who tower above the common man. At times, it is something that can neither be seen nor measured. It must be experienced.
It is related that the saintly Chasam Sofer, rav of Hungarian Jewry at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the individual who set the tone and guided these communities during some of their most turbulent times, was "comfortable" in the presence of miracles. In other words, people would experience his transcendent powers in such a manner that it was obvious that he functioned above and beyond the physical constraints of the average human being. Simply put, he was a holy man. When he was rav in Mattesdorf, he was asked to adjudicate a halachic query concerning an agunah, abandoned wife, whose husband was missing and presumed dead. This same question was posed to a number of other Torah scholars, who all permitted her to remarry. The Chasam Sofer read through all of their responsa and replied, "According to halachah, I find nothing wrong with the position taken by so many scholars. Indeed, I concur with their analysis of the halachah. However, I personally cannot permit this woman to remarry, because in my heart I feel that this woman's husband is still alive."
Sensitive to the Chasam Sofer's premonition, the woman did not remarry. A short while later, her husband returned home. It was not in the area of halachah that there arose any dispute. It is just that the gadol hador, preeminent Torah leader of the generation, had a bad feeling. That "feeling" was divinely inspired.
There was another case, however, in which the circumstances were reversed. In this situation, the agunah was permitted to remarry. The Chasam Sofer, together with the other Torah scholars of the day, all agreed in this matter. There was absolutely no question. She remarried, and the couple moved to another town which was under the leadership of a different rav. This rav, who was a distinguished talmid chacham, Torah scholar, studied the case and determined he was not in agreement with the other rabbanim. He, therefore, did not permit the couple to establish residence in his community.
When the Chasam Sofer heard about this, he sent a sharp letter to the rav. He wrote the following: "What prompted you to drive out the women of my nation from their comfortable abode, and to abandon the daughters of Yisrael with a strong arm?"
The Chasam Sofer added that if the rav disputed the halachic analysis rendered by the other rabbonim who had signed off on the dispensation, he was welcome to present his queries and opinion. If he had no issues regarding the halachah, however, the Chasam Sofer "hoped" that he would rescind his decision and permit the couple to live in his community.
Studying the two similar circumstances, we wonder why the Chasam Sofer was rigid in his Ruach HaKodesh, Divine Inspiration, and did not permit the woman to remarry, but he was not inclined to respect the other rav's "inspirational" feelings. Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, explains that the Chasam Sofer saw a great danger arising from a situation in which every rav would build his own little altar and dispute the halachah as rendered by the gedolei ha'dor. Ruach HaKodesh is a lofty form of guidance, but it does not override halachah as expressed by the gadol ha'dor. If the preeminent Torah leader of the generation permits an endeavor, or sees reason to render a dispensation concerning a given situation, it is wrong to disagree and act in discord. This approach undermines the entire process of halachah.
Hoshiah es amecha,u'varech es nachalasecha
Klal Yisrael is referred to here both as Hashem's nation and as His inheritance. What is the significance of these terms? Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, explains that the citizens of a province that does not furnish their king/leader with revenue still has a right to expect him to come to their aid. They are his people, a connection that transcends revenue. It is a relationship. The word am, people, is derived from the word im, with. Even if we are not an inheritance, an estate of the king, which engenders profit, and we are so low that we possess no redeemable value or meritorious virtue other than our allegiance to Hashem as His People, He bears responsibility for us and is obligated to save us. Despite a lack of achievement on our part for His service and glory He still stands by us in our moment of need, because we believe and express Hashem Elokeinu Hashem echad. "Hashem our G-d, is one." Thus, we are "Your People." Regarding our status as an inheritance, we implore Hashem to invest and improve His estate. The profitability of an estate is commensurate with the investment one makes in it. We invoke Hashem's blessings so that we, His inheritance, are able to produce the satisfying fruits via the scholars, the righteous, and the G-d fearing individuals that elevate the nation.
Rabbi and Mrs. Sroy Levitansky
in memory of
Mr. Sol Rosenfeld
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