17 Nov VAYISHLACH: DON’T TRY TO CHANGE – DECIDE TO CHANGE
Parashat Vayishlah opens with Yaakov Avinu facing a vexing and frightening problem. His brother, Esav, who despised him for stealing the berachah which their father intended to give Esav, was coming, with an army of 400 men. Yaakov is scared.
How does Yaakov respond?
Like every G-d-fearing Jew, Yaakov prays. He prays from the depths of his heart. He pleads to Hashem to help him.
But that’s not all. He does absolutely everything in his power to solve the problem. He mobilizes for a possible military confrontation. And he sends a very large, expensive gift to Esav as a bribe. And when he is approaching Esav, he bows seven times. He bows repeatedly until he actually reached Esav.
Think about a problem in your life that you’ve been struggling with for at least three years. Chances are that you’ve tried to solve it. You’ve made some effort, maybe you’ve gotten some advice, and you’ve prayed to Hashem for help. But you still have the problem.
Why does this happen to us? Why do we still have problems even after trying and praying for several years to solve it?
The answer is that we still have the problem because we’ve tried to solve it, instead of deciding to solve it.
Imagine a person needs a job, hears of an opening in a company, sends his resume, and is called for an interview. If he is just trying to get the job, then he will make sure to wear a nice tie, look presentable, and get there a few minutes early. If he has decided to get the job, he would spend several days before the interview researching and finding out everything he can about the company. He would check out the company online, spend hours in all its stores making a list of his impressions, and spend hours in the competitors’ stores. He would prepare a detailed, well-written assessment of the company’s strengths and weaknesses, and his ideas for moving the company forward, and then come to the interview.
People who try to lose weight but don’t are only trying. Once they decide to lose weight, they’ll do what it takes to make it happen. They won’t even think about taking a piece of cake. They won’t just plan on exercising regularly; they’ll do it.
People who are struggling with a child and can’t solve the problem are only trying to solve the problem. Once they decide to solve the problem, they’ll do whatever it takes, investing as much time and as much money as is needed to consult with professionals, and to take the child by himself on trips so they could bond together.
This is what we learn from Yaakov Avinu. He did not just pray and try to help himself. He decided to do everything humanly possible to help himself, and he prayed to Hashem for the success of his efforts.
We all hear as very young children the story of Hillel, who one day did not make enough money to pay the entrance fee to the yeshiva, and he was not allowed in. Although it was a freezing, stormy day, he climbed up to the rooftop where there was a skylight so he could hear the lectures. Snow began to fall, and Hillel froze on top of the skylight. The next morning, the Rabbis noticed him, brought him inside and revived him. This is an example of somebody who decided to learn, instead of just trying to learn. He made a decision that no matter what, he was going to learn Torah.
Of course, we must pray to Hashem from the depths of our hearts for His help. But alongside our sincere, heartfelt prayers, we must firmly decide to do what it takes to solve the problems in our lives.
Let us all choose one problem – whether it’s with marriage, children, finances, health, or our religious observance – and make the firm decision to solve it. Let’s once and for all stop trying, and decide that we are going to do everything that needs to be done – including, of course, beseeching Hashem for His help.