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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Bereishit

Parshat Bereishit

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter                Print Version

Parashat Bereishit 
27th of Tishrei, 5779 | October 6, 2018

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein 
Your Struggle Muscle

Am I my brother’s keeper? (Bereishit 4:9)

Everyone struggles in life. It is not a question of if, but when and how. The list is endless.

Emotional, physical, mental, spiritual. Why it is sent our way is Hashem’s department; what we do with it though is ours.

So what can we do with the struggles we go through in life? Once they have been sent our way, where do they leave us?

A number of years ago, Ohr Naava planned on having a dinner to honor a number of special and dedicated individuals. We booked Prospect Hall, a large Victorian banquet hall in Brooklyn, secured a caterer and prepared all the necessary arrangements. We expected between seven to eight hundred people. But it merely remained an expectation.

Two weeks before the dinner, my secretary came into the office. “We have a problem,” she said panicking. “The dinner is in two weeks and we have seventy reservations. Not seventy couples; seventy people. Thirty-five couples.” She didn’t need to explain why this was the case; I knew why. The dinner was pushed off until the month of June for various reasons, yet there could not have been a worse time to make a dinner. With Shavuos over and the summer months just around the corner, it was prime time for weddings, sheva berachosbar mitzvah celebrations and everything in between to be scheduled every night of the week.

Now I was stuck. What should I do? Were I to cancel the dinner, it would be shameful and embarrassing to the honorees. But, that being said, no dinner could be made with only a handful of people. I was torn as how to proceed.

Heading off to Mincha, I figured that I would ask Hashem to guide and help me. I would daven for insight and direction, and the confidence and conviction to move forward with it.

It was one of the lengthiest Shemonah Esrei I ever had. But nothing crossed my mind. I left exactly where I was when I entered inside. Now walking back to the office, I continued mulling over the different options. All of a sudden, though, I heard my name being called. “Wallerstein! Shalom Aleichem!” That was the last thing I wanted to hear. Looking back, I noticed that it was Rav Simcha Soloveitchik, a well-respected Rav in Brooklyn. “Wallerstein! What’s going on? You always look happy…” “Look,” I said, “I have a major problem. I have a dinner in two weeks with a hall reserved for eight hundred people, but only seventy people are coming as of now. I don’t know if I should cancel the dinner or go ahead with it.” Before I could say anything more, Rav Simcha said, “Let me tell you a story and then you can decide what you want to do.

“Yankel was a peasant farmer who lived a simple yet happy life. Strangely enough, he had a fifteen-ton boulder positioned right in front of his house, the likes of which few people had seen elsewhere. One morning, Yankel headed outside and was met by a booming voice. “Yankel…”

“Who is it?” Yankel asked, his heart fluttering and mind flustered. “It is G-d…” Now even more off kilter, Yankel stood still in his place. “Yankel, push the boulder… push the boulder…! For the next half-hour, push the boulder as hard as you can…”

Yankel, following the given instructions, spent the next half-hour pushing and pushing, after which he tiringly shuffled home to rest for some time. But no later than the very next day, Yankel heard the same echoing voice calling him again. “Yankel, push the boulder…!” Knowing that it was G-d bidding him to this task once again, Yankel complied.

The same scenario played itself out for days, which turned into months, which turned into a year. Without fail, Yaakov was found every day pushing the fifteen-ton boulder which stood in front of his house.

One morning, out walked Yankel as he did every day, though this time he was met by a new face. Leaning against the boulder was none other than the Satan. Yankel was stunned. “Listen Yankel,” began the Satan, “I know I don’t have a good reputation, but let me tell you a little secret.

“Has G-d been telling you to push this boulder every day?” Yankel, confused by the way the conversation was progressing, hesitatingly replied that He had been. “Yankel,” said the Satan, “let me ask you. Has this boulder ever moved?” “No,” Yankel said. “Why then would G-d tell you to push something every day for a year if it doesn’t move?” Yankel was stumped.

“I’ll tell you!” piped up the Satan. “It’s because we angels in Heaven work 24/7. All day and night we are busy working. Every day, though, G-d gives us a half-hour break where we get to enjoy some comedy relief. We look down at earth and see you foolishly trying to push a fifteen-ton boulder. It’s hysterical; you’ve been pushing and pushing every single day for a year, and yet the boulder has not moved an inch…” Yankel was shocked. “You mean G-d has been using me as a joke? I can’t believe it! Just wait until tomorrow…. You’ll see what will happen…”

The next morning, sure enough, as G-d customarily summoned Yankel to push the boulder, Yankel was prepared with a response. “G-d,” Yankel called out, “am I really being used as comedy relief in Heaven? You know that no one can move the boulder! I’ve been wasting my time every day!” A moment of silence settled in between G-d and Yankel.

“Yankel,” G-d said gently, “did I ever tell you to move the boulder? I told you to push the boulder. That has been your job every day, and you have done a marvelous job.”

From one second to the next, Yankel’s perspective and attitude changed. All of a sudden, Yankel never felt so good before in his life. He was in fact the greatest boulder pusher ever, and had been following G-d’s command all this time.

The next morning, as Yankel walked out to the boulder, he straightened himself out, remembering the praise that was directed at him the other day. But, soon enough, he was met by his old friend, Satan. “Yankel, what did I tell you? Why are you here again? I know what G-d told you… but just think about it logically. Why would G-d want you to push a boulder? Nothing happens as a result; all you are doing is wasting your time.”

Now Yankel was even more confused. Why in fact would G-d want him to push something that was unmovable? And so, exasperated and faced with mixed messages, Yankel decided to take a walk into town in an attempt to sort out his thoughts.

No more than a few minutes later, Yankel turned a corner and came across a frantic and panicking woman. “Help! Help!” she yelled. “My husband is stuck underneath a car! Please, run to the town and ask people to help lift the car!” “Ma’am,” replied Yankel, “there’s no time to call people from the town! But this is what we can do. I’ll lift up the car and you pull your husband out from underneath.” “You can’t do that! The truck weighs a ton, and besides, there are five hundred pounds of cement in the back!” But with little time to argue, the woman went along with Yankel who headed off towards the truck.

Yankel stepped up to the truck, positioned his arms and legs and began lifting. Now, all those bulging muscles he gained from pushing the boulder for a year came into play. Muscles in his arms, legs and shoulders strengthened and flexed and, despite all odds, Yankel incredibly lifted the heavy truck. The woman quickly grabbed her husband out from underneath, and Yankel let go.

The woman looked at Yankel, a look of astonishment on her face. “You are superman,” she said, tears now streaming down her face. “You saved my husband. I can’t thank you enough.” “Don’t thank me,” Yankel said, “thank the fifteen-ton boulder in front of my house.”

Now staring back at me was Rav Simcha Soloveitchik. “Your job is to push the boulder; G-d’s job is to move the boulder. Your job is to make the dinner; G-d’s job is to make it successful.” I now had my answer.

It was the biggest dinner Ohr Naava ever had – 980 people. The siyata dishmaya seen over the course of the next two weeks which pulled so many people in was beyond words. Word got out that so few people planned on attending the dinner, prompting hundreds of other couples to rearrange their schedule and find the time to attend the dinner so as not to disappoint the honorees and Ohr Naava. It was simply incredible.

That was one life-changing message Hashem sent me through the words of Rav Simcha Soloveitchik. “You are not required to complete the task, yet you are not free to withdraw from it” (Pirkei Avos 2:21). Our job in life is to push, work hard, and put in effort; G-d’s job is to make it successful. But there was something additional, and perhaps even more empowering, that I learned that day.

While Hashem’s request for Yankel to push the boulder could have been motivated by more than one reason, one purpose it unquestionably accomplished was putting him in perfect position to later help that man stuck under the truck. His tireless efforts of pushing the boulder gave him what could be called “struggle muscle” and enabled him to save the endangered man.

The same is true of us all. Every one of us experience our own package of trials and tribulations. We find ourselves facing a fifteen-ton boulder, a challenge that seems unmovable and insurmountable. We still haven’t found our shidduch and we’ve lost count how many tears we shed and chapters of Tehillim we recited. We’ve been waiting for a child for years and years, beseeching Hashem to have mercy on us and our spouse and entrust us with a beautiful neshama to care for. Our child is failing and floundering, and we’ve been endlessly seeking ways to help him or her. The boulder in our lives, full of pain and suffering, doesn’t seem like it will ever move.

What then happens? It isn’t always happily ever after, but just sometimes, our prayers for Hashem to lift us out of our pit of sadness and sorrow pierce the Heavens. We’ve been pushing, pushing and pushing. We’re sweating, crying, and hoping. “Please Hashem, please… Tatty, Abba, please, please…”

The boulder moves. We find our shidduch, we give birth to a healthy baby and our child realizes it is time to get his or her life back in order. After we have fallen and failed again and again, we get back on our feet. Now finally, we are back in shape. We pushed and pushed the boulder, and Hashem finally moved it.

Where does that now leave us? We can still feel the residual pain, disappointment and deep-seated feelings of frustration and agony. We remember our aching, perhaps even years later.

It leaves us with an unbelievable struggle muscle. We may not realize it, but we are in an incredible position that is so ever powerful and influential. And that is a position to uplift, inspire, guide, mentor and heal others. Take your experience, full of aching and countless tefillos, and change people’s lives. Reach out to those who, just like you once did, are undergoing a hard time finding a shidduch, having a baby, dealing with a child who is not doing well, managing with being bullied, or overcoming a debilitating illness. You have pushed that same boulder, and you know what it feels like.

Those individuals who are now pushing their boulder and cannot move it, help them. Help a friend, a roommate, a sibling or a student. Lend them care, succor and hope. Hashem gave you your own challenging life experiences, however big or small, and you have that struggle muscle. Take it and change the lives around you. Because if you flex that struggle muscle of yours, you can be sure, you can lift the world.

Rabbi Daniel Staum 
Grab Hold, Don’t Fall

“Why are you so angry, and why has your face fallen?” (Bereishit 4:6)

The final words of the Torah conclude, “And by all the strong hand and awesome power that Moshe performed before the eyes of all of Israel” (Devarim 34:12). Rashi explains this verse to be referring to Moshe Rabbeinu smashing the First set of Luchos after descending from Har Sinai and seeing that the Jews had worshipped the Golden Calf. In relation to this, Hashem lent Moshe a “yasher koach” (“may your strength continue”).

The Maharal, in further elucidation, cites the Yerushalmi in Taaniswhich notes that Hashem was angry upon the Jewish people’s worship of the Calf that He in fact wanted to take back the Luchos, but Moshe Rabbeinu, with a “strong hand” as referenced in the Pasuk, grabbed hold of them and kept them in his clutches. Such is the underlying meaning of this final verse in the Torah.

But it seems a bit strange, notes Rav Chaim Shaul Kaufman zt”l of Gateshead. What was so great about Moshe grabbing hold of the Luchos, so to speak, from Hashem, if just moments later he broke them? His effort only lasted for a short time.

With this, explained Rav Kaufman, the Torah means to teach a very valuable lesson. Whatever a person is able to do, even for a few moments, is meaningful. Even if Moshe would only keep the Luchos down on earth for minutes due to his effort, he is still credited, for whatever he could do would be great. Hashem cherishes and credits whatever we can do for however long we can do it.

Dovetailing the closing of the Torah is the story of Kayin and Hevel in the beginning of the Torah. After seeing Kayin upset and saddened that his offering was not accepted, Hashem asked him why that was so. “Why are you so angry, and why has your face fallen?” (Bereishis 4:6).

In explaining these words, the Sforno writes, “When there is a rectification for something wrong, it is not proper to be pained over the past, but rather strive to improve and better it for the future.” Instead of seeing what he could do to fix his error, Kayin obsessively sulked over his predicament and thereby stymied his chances for teshuva. His downfall in the past hampered him so much that he could not see any hope for change. What Hashem wished to advise him otherwise, though, was to focus on the fact that he could rebuild himself. He did make a mistake, but why should that lead him to being so upset and dejected? Kayin, however, did not take these words to heart and went on to kill Hevel.

The contrast between Moshe Rabbeinu at the end of the Torah and Kayin at the beginning of the Torah stands out. Moshe grabbed on to the Luchos for just a few moments, even though they were bound to be broken, because he recognized that whatever positive you can do, do it. Kayin, on the other hand, allowed his mistake to pull him down so low that he was unable to see even the slightest potential of rebuilding, and instead kept on falling down and down.

What is more, notes the Sfas Emes, Moshe Rabbeinu only received a yasher koach from Hashem after he brought down the Second Luchos. Only after rectification had been reached for breaking the First Luchos was Moshe told that he had done well and his strength should continue. The focus in life must always be on what positive steps can be taken now, moving into the future. Don’t dwell on the past to the extent that you cannot move ahead in life. Learn from Moshe Rabbeinu to grab hold of whatever you can and run with that. It will carry you far.

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