19 Oct PARSHAS VAYEIRA
The Value of a Yid
Someone sent his butler to bring a barrel of wine as a gift to the Meor Einayim, Rebbe Nachum of Chernobyl zt’l. (In that era people would commonly send gifts, such as food packages, to tzaddikim, because Chazal compare giving a gift to a talmid chacham to bringing bikurim). The Meor Einayim accepted the gift, and then asked, “Did you wear tefillin today?” “No, I woke up late today and I davened quickly without tefillin. I was planning to put them on immediately after Shacharis, but my boss summoned me to do some errand, and when I finished that errand, I was hungry and tired, so I ate breakfast. Years ago, my rebbes in cheder taught me that tefillin must be worn before eating. Since I already ate today, I realized that I can’t wear tefillin today.” The Meor Einayim explained to him that he can still put on tefillin. Tzaddikim repeated this story and added the following observation: How did the Meor Einayim recognize that the butler hadn’t worn tefillin? The butler was ignorant in Torah, and who knows how kosher his tefillin were. Furthermore, he certainly didn’t have special intentions when he wore tefillin. Nevertheless, the Meor Einayim was able to perceive that he hadn’t worn tefillin that day. We learn from this the value and holiness of a mitzvah of every Yid, regardless of his level. The Divrei Shmuel zt’l (Slonim) was once riding the train, and noticed a commotion in the first class section. The Divrei Shmuel asked his companion to go find out what the commotion is all about. The shaliach reported that Mr. So-and-so, a very wealthy and influential person boarded the train, and everyone was honoring him immensely. The Divrei Shmuel knew that wealthy person. Years earlier, he was still shomer Shabbos, and he was a student in the Slonimer Yeshivah. The test of wealth had affected him negatively, and he strayed from the path of Torah. The Divrei Shmuel sent his chassid to the first-class car, once again, to invite the wealthy person to speak with him. In honor of the Rebbe, the wealthy man came. The Rebbe asked him, “How wealthy are you?” “What difference does it make?” he asked. “I won’t give you anything, anyways.” The Rebbe replied that he would still like to know, and the man replied, “I have two million gold rubles.” The Rebbe said, “Years ago, when you were learning in the yeshivah, I also didn’t give much value to your Yiddishkeit. I didn’t consider it worth more than a shmek tabak (a whiff of tobacco). But I see that it was worth it for the yetzer hara to give you two million rubles so you would abandon that drop of Yiddishkeit you had. I see that even that drop was also extremely precious…” These stories remind us that we are unable to evaluate the value of a Yid, and the worth of his good deeds. He may seem simple and unimportant to us, but to Hashem, each Yid, and every good deed he does, is extremely precious and beloved. As we stated above, it is because Hashem loves every Yid that He calls out to them, and sends them thoughts of teshuvah.
Don’t Look Back
In this week’s Parshah, moments before Sedom would be overturned, the malach said to Lot, “Run for your life. Don’t look behind you and don’t stand in the entire plain. Flee to the mountain, lest you will be smitten… Lot’s wife looked…and she became a pillar of salt” (19: 17, 26). On the words, “Don’t look back,” the Divrei Shmuel zt’l teaches a fundamental concept in avodas Hashem. These words hint that one should always look ahead; he shouldn’t look back and focus on the sins and errors he committed in the past, as this will draw him into yeush. It’s important to clarify, there are thoughts that come into our mind that we think is the yetzer tov speaking to us, or that Hashem Himself is calling us to teshuvah, but really it’s the yetzer hara. How do we know the difference? Thoughts from the yetzer hara lead to feelings of depression and yeush, despair. Tzaddikim taught us that the yetzer hara desires the yeush that follows sins more than the sins itself. Sometimes, the yetzer hara lures a person to sin primarily for the depression that will follow. This lesson is also alluded to by the letter Beis. The Beis is closed on three sides, and its opening faces forward. This indicates that a person’s focus should be on the future, and not on the past. It is important to have set times for reflection and teshuvah; however, this shouldn’t be one’s constant focus. Most of the time one should forget about the past, and concentrate on the present and on the future. The Midrash (39:9) asks, “Lech Lecha is written twice in the Torah. [The first Lech Lecha is when Hashem told Avraham to leave his hometown, to go to Eretz Yisrael. The second Lech Lecha is when Hashem told Avraham to make the akeidah]. We don’t know which is more beloved [to Hashem]; the second or the first…?” The conclusion of the Midrash is that the second test (the akeidah) was a greater and more beloved test to Hashem. (The Midrash proves this from a passuk.) The question is, it seems quite obvious that the akeidah was a greater test than the first Lech Lecha (when Hashem told Avraham to leave his homeland). Without doubt, the first test was also extremely difficult, but how can it possibly compare to the test of sacrificing one’s own child, born to him in his older years? Furthermore, when Hashem told Avraham to leave his hometown, Hashem promised him many brachos (as it states “Ve’asecha Legoy Gadol V’avarchecha V’agdla shimcha V’haya Bracha”) but Hashem didn’t promise Avraham any reward for the akeidah. So the test of the akeidah was definitely greater. Why did the Midrash even consider that perhaps the first test was greater? The answer we offer is that Lech Lecha hints to another—very difficult— test. Lech Lecha means to go forward, and to forget about the past. This is a great test, as the nature of man is to mope on the past (though doing so never seems to help). Hashem commands us Lech Lecha! Go forward! Forget about what happened. What was, was. Applying this counsel is extremely difficult, and therefore the Midrash thought that perhaps this test was even greater than the akeidah. The Midrash concludes, nevertheless, that the test of the akeidah was greater. The Chazon Ish zt’l once asked his sister, the Steipler Rebbetzin, to lock the door and not open it for anyone. Soon afterwards, a girl knocked at their door. When no one answered, the girl began pounding on the door. The Steipler Rebbetzin said, “If I don’t open the door, she will soon break the door down.” The Chazon Ish replied, “Tell her to go to Rav Wolf,” who was then the principal of the girls’ high-school. Soon afterwards, Rav Wolf came to the Chazon Ish and told him the girl’s story. She came from a religious family, but transgressed severe sins when she was in the army. Her sins made her feel extremely low, and she wanted to commit suicide. The Chazon Ish replied, “Tell her to forget about what happened. She shouldn’t think about her sins. Tell her that the Gemara says “Harhurei Aveira Kashin M’Aveira”, thinking and rehashing in your mind the sins you’ve committed in the past is worse than the sin itself.” She followed that counsel and calmed down. Eventually she merited marrying and building a beautiful Jewish family. It is doubtful this would have occurred had she remained stuck with her remorse. This is one of the areas where the yetzer hara tricks us. It’s important to pass this difficult test, to forget about the past faults and just move on. Later you can make time for teshuvah.