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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Vayakhel

Mar 9, 2024Parshat Vayakhel

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

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Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman

Always a Chassid

When life turns dark and our days grow difficult, we turn to Hashem. We know, deep within our soul, that G-d is there at our side and in our corner. When we are faced with seeming inescapable adversity and all the light seems to be dimming and fading away, the one flicker of hope which remains is our burning spark of faith and trust in Hashem. And indeed, Hashem, as our history has shown, has come to our aid and brought us miraculous salvation. Situations that seemed hopeless and hapless turned a page, and beacons of a new beginning arose.

But there is another side to life, or so it seems. The side to which we often don’t want to experience or even consider its possibility. And that is when we yearn and pray, pining and yearning from the depths of our hearts and hopes, and yet life doesn’t turn a corner. The lights continue to dim and darken, until they blink out. And they don’t turn back on, at least not to our eyes. We want something and put in every inch and ounce of effort, and yet, it just doesn’t go. We’d rather not think about these chances, and for understandable reasons.

And yet, with great courage, we must face ourselves with honest reflection. What happens when this occurs? How do we deal with it?

One man, a student of Rav Baruch Ber Leibowitz zt”l, the late Mashgiach in Kaminetz, remembers the time when the yeshiva was forced to flee and take up quiet residence in a small town under Russian occupation. With the Communists on the search for yeshiva students, tension was in the air. One day, the police abruptly entered the town, throwing everyone into a state of panic, including the yeshiva students.

When Rav Baruch Ber learned of his students’ reaction, he was disturbed. “We cannot lose ourselves,” he said. “We need to strengthen our emunah in Hashem.” As such, he established that they should recite each day the Thirteen Ani Maamin. And indeed, the students followed suit. Together, the yeshiva poured out their worried hearts to Hashem, trusting that He would take care of them.

A few days later, the police arrived and arrested the entire yeshiva. It was horrible, the officials taking the students in groups to prison. But while the police may have been able to take away the physical liberty of the students, they had no sway over squelching their spirit. In unison, the students hummed the encouraging words of Yeshaya HaNavi, “Utzu eitzar v’tufar daber davar v’lo yakum ki imanu Kel—They [our enemies] devise a scheme, speak a plan, and it will not be successful, for our G-d is with us.” The quiet energy was palpable between the students, their spirits aflame despite the terrifying circumstances they were walking into.

The next thing they knew—they were transported to Siberia. Yet they sang their way to Siberia, lulling to themselves the same tune. Our enemies will attempt to harm us, but it will be to no avail, for Hashem is on our side.

Three days later, the Germans entered the town and massacred them all.

It is axiomatic that everyone G-d does is for our good. Something obviously good is easily felt as good. But what about something that is not readily apparent to be good? The answer is the same. Everyone G-d does is for our good. Nothing changed, except one thing. We don’t understand how it is good. It is good, and that is a fact. A fact that unto itself we can take comfort in. Our comprehension may be deficient and we cannot wrap our minds and hearts around it, but that doesn’t change the fact. It is good because G-d is good and knows what He’s doing. And do we really know what is for our good? Our understanding or lack thereof doesn’t change that truth. Hashem has a plan and He knows what that is, even if we’re in the dark about it.

A group of Chassidim were once traveling together on a train, each of them recounting the incredible mofsim (miraculous wonders) their Rebbes had done on behalf of others. A Lubavitcher chassid of the Rashab (Rav Sholom Dovber Schneerson) was amongst the group, though he remained sitting silently throughout it all. Finally, he was cornered with the question. “And you, what about your Rebbe?” they inquired. The chassid then began.

“I had a large sum of money and I wanted to invest it. I asked the Rebbe if a particular business was a good idea, and he said yes. Three days later, I went to him and asked the same question again, and he assured me that it was a good idea. So I invested the money. “And so…” eagerly asked the surrounding chassidim, “what happened?” “I lost the whole amount.” The chassidim dropped their jaws. “So where’s the mofes?” wondered the chassidim, confused. “I remained a chassid,” he replied.

When things don’t go our way, our task at that point is to remain a chassid of the Ribono Shel Olam. Whether we see how something is good or not, we know that Hashem is our Father and what He does for us is good.

It’s not always for us to see or understand. But it is always for us to hold steadfast in knowing that it is good because Hashem is good. That alone is our greatest comfort, even amidst the cloudiest and darkest of nights.

Rabbi Yitzchak Sakhai

The Wisdom of Sensitivity

Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l was once in Los Angeles in the 1980s. At the time, there was a young nine-year-old boy who was fascinated with the Chief Rabbi. Hearing that Rav Ovadia would be making a visit to his very own community, the boy was beyond excited to have the opportunity to see the great Torah sage with his very own eyes and attend one of his lectures. The boy’s father, moved by his son’s wish, promised that he would take his son to one of Rav Ovadia’s talks.

But as matters turned out, the week Rav Ovadia was in town, the father needed to be out of town. The boy was broken. “My father told me he’d take me, and now he can’t.” Seeing her son dejected, the boy’s mother decided that she’d take him. After all, she was just as able as her husband was to bring her son some place.

Notably, the family was not religious. By conventional standards, they were traditional in Jewish practice and lifestyle, though they all carried a strong respect for Torah sages, including Rav Ovadia. So it was set. The mother would take her son, and he’d get his hopes fulfilled.

But when they both arrived at the venue, which looked like a yeshiva, they were met with a surprise: Men only. The talk was only catered to boys and men, and not women. The problem was not strictly that in those days—before the advent of cell phones—the mother was concerned about sending her son in alone with so many people. More than that, she’d consider walking her son in if the lecture was catered to a larger spectrum of religious and irreligious Jews, where she’d feel more comfortable entering the way she was dressed.

As mother and son discussed what to do, Rav Ovadia arrived. Exiting the car with a group of others, he noticed the mother and son standing outside the door. “Hello,” he said, acknowledging both the son and his mother. And with that, he entered the building.

The boy began to feel that familiar feeling of gloom. For reasons discussed with his mother, it didn’t seem like he’d be able to make it inside to hear Rav Ovadia. Until the door opened and out walked Rav Ovadia, his presence and aura awe-inspiring. No one was accompanying Rav Ovadia, the boy noticed. He was alone. Motioning to both the mother and son, he told them to follow him inside.

Rav Ovadia cleared out the entire front row and told them both to sit there. Then, he began his lecture, opening with the words of our Sages, “Ashrei yo’ladto,” praiseworthy is the mother who gave birth to a son and brings him to learn Torah. The mother sat there, in the very front, wearing a shirt and jeans as crowds of learned Torah scholars surrounded in their black hats.

Such sensitive perception and wisdom was a hallmark of Rav Ovadia. The contrasting considerations were obvious: how could you bring such a mother and son into a yeshiva, into a crowd of learned yeshiva students, or how could you not inspire a boy and show respect for his mother who supports his desire to study Torah? The insight to know what to do in a situation like this requires wisdom, not cut-and-dry calculated mathematics.

But this was not the only instance when Rav Ovadia demonstrated his profound degree of sensitivity to the small nuances amidst the larger picture.

Once, Rav Ovadia was invited to speak to a group of esteemed Rabbanim, all known for their extraordinary reputation and knowledge in complex Jewish law. Yet Rav Ovadia launched into speaking about mundane and simple laws, the likes of which were elementary to the caliber of rabbis present at the talk. The rabbis listened along, not wanting to interrupt Rav Ovadia or question his judgment and decision to discuss such basic Jewish concepts.

Following the lecture, the host approached Rav Ovadia and politely inquired if there was an unknown reason he chose to discuss the topics he did, which were far below the average knowledge of those in attendance. “I know, I know,” Rav Ovadiah said. “But everything I was about to discuss, you probably all knew already. It would have been a great learning session together. But then I saw the camera man, who was without a kippa, and I figured that he probably didn’t know much. So I figured, who is better for me to teach? The camera man, who knows little, but can walk away having learned something new, or all of the rabbanim who would go on to feel good that they enjoyed some high-level learning. I reasoned that it is more important for the camera man to return home with some Torah.”

Such a story should send shivers down our spine as to what refinement of character means and what it means to be a true Torah giant. When someone saw Rav Ovadia or any of the other great Torah sages of our time or the previous generation, they didn’t just see someone who was capable of rendering halachic queries with precision. They saw someone who was wise not just of the mind, but of character. They wouldn’t be remembered in history solely for their breathtaking and expansive knowledge like a mathematician, but rather for their remarkable sensitivity and understanding of every Jew, of every beloved child of Hashem.

Rabbi Moshe Bamberger

You Never Lose

During my yeshiva years, there was one boy who was known for his exceptional chesed. He would go out of his way to do things for others that were unique and thoughtful. In particular, every Shabbos, he would keep in his locker a brownie cake along with a jar of pickled vegetables. Everyone knew the combination to his locker, and whether you were learning or not, you’d be able to take a few treats to enjoy as the hours of Shabbos passed.

He wasn’t a wealthy boy. He simply wanted to make some small contribution to the yeshiva, and this was it. He did this for four years, from ninth through twelfth grade. At the end of twelfth grade, one Friday afternoon, I accompanied him to the market. We went up and down the aisles until we made it to where the pickled vegetables were shelved. Almost robotically, he stretched his hand forward to grab a jar when he felt something sharp. One of the glass jars had shattered and jagged pieces of glass were strewn across the shelf. His hand was now bleeding. We called over the store manager, who brought him some bandages and helped stop the bleeding. At this point, though, the manager was discernably nervous. My friend could potentially sue the store for having been the cause of such an injury. Knowing this, the manager wrote him a check for a random amount of $1,748.36 and asked him to sign a waiver that he wouldn’t pursue any legal recourse.

Some time later, the boy calculated how much he had spent on the brownie cakes and picked vegetables throughout his four years. And down to the very dollar, he had spent $1,748.36.

Hashem repays you in kind for everything you do. Not even a fraction less of the effort and resources you invested into carrying out a good deed will be missing. No matter what you do in life, if something is hard and you persevere and follow through, Hashem will take care of you in spades.

Perfect spades.

Rabbi Shlomo Landua

A Big World

There was a relatively young man in Israel who had spinal complications which robbed him from the ability to walk. He was barely mobile and was often forced to stay home and bear the extreme challenges life brought him. At some point, through medical referrals, he traveled to Europe to have spinal surgery. But unfortunately, the surgery was not entirely successful and he still experienced the same issues and complications.

Despite his lot in life, he kept his spirits up. Eventually, he received word about a particular doctor in the United States who knew how to administer spinal surgery for individuals suffering from his particular medical condition. The issue was that he’d need to be abroad for at least two months, and someone would need to accompany him. Needing assistance for even the most basic of daily activities, someone very dedicated would need to accompany him and attend to his needs around the clock. But who could leave for two months? His wife needed to stay home with the children, and options with friends and family were nearly obsolete.

The only possibility was his young son who was in his early twenties and sitting and learning in yeshiva. The son’s rebbeim weighed in as to how traveling to the United States—a foreign country and away from the yeshiva—would disrupt his growth in Torah and considered what alternative options were available. But after much back and forth, it was decided that the son would travel alongside his father.

For the next two months, through the difficulties of surgery, the son was extraordinarily helpful and supported his father in every single way possible. He helped bathe him, feed him, dress him, and escort him. After two months, and seeing the relative success of the surgery, the father and son returned home to Israel.

Shortly thereafter, the son got engaged. And as expected, it was a cause for incredible delight for the entire family. Where was the girl from? The same community as the boy. And how did the shidduch come about? The girl’s father was traveling to the United States on business and arrived at a shul. There, he noticed a young man taking care of his father with extreme care and dedication. Taken by such devotion, he began thinking about whether his own daughter would be a good shidduch for the boy. How fantastic would it be for his daughter to marry such a committed young man and raise a family together.

The young couple soon thereafter met and the rest is history.

This young man needed to travel to the other side of the world to find his soulmate, who was living a mere few miles from his own home.

People say that it’s a small world. But it’s not true. It’s a very big world; it’s just very well run.

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