Wednesday, December 17, 2008

155 - Vayeishev

In this week's parsha we read how Yosef is falsely accused of improper conduct and as a result is thrown into jail by his master Potiphar. After sitting in jail for ten years, Yosef is presented with an opportunity to be released from bondage. He correctly interpreted the dream of another jail mate, the Sar Hamashkim, - foretelling his imminent release. Yosef felt that this would be an opportune time to bring his case before Pharaoh, and he requested from the Sar Hamashkim to remember him favorably before the king. Rashi (Bereishis 40, 23) tells us that because Yosef placed his trust in an Egyptian, he was punished by having to spend another two years in jail. 

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) notes that the Ramban in the beginning of Parshas Vayishlach writes that tzaddikim do not rely on their righteousness, but rather attempt to save themselves with the resources available to them (as discussed in last week's dvar Torah). If so, he asks, why was Yosef punished for asking the Sar Hamashkim to help him? Wasn't this a normal act of hishtadlus? 

Rav Wolbe quotes the Chazon Ish (Sefer Emunah U'Bitachon) who explains as follows. One definitely has to make a hishtadlus. However, he must calculate if his hishtadlus has a reasonable chance to succeed. As Rashi tells us, the Egyptians are described as "rahavim" - arrogant, and therefore, Yosef should not have placed his trust in an Egyptian. His request was made out of despair - like a drowning man grabbing at a piece of straw - and it was for this reason that he was at fault. On Yosef's high spiritual level, such an attempt could not be considered a reasonable hishtadlus.

The Mashgiach offers another explanation as well. There was nothing wrong with the actual request that Yosef made of the Sar Hamashkim. Yet, as Rashi emphasizes, "Yosef placed his trust in the Sar Hamashkim."  One must be aware that all attempts are merely a fulfillment of his obligation to make a hishtadlus; his trust must be placed completely in Hashem. On Yosef's high spiritual level, he was punished for placing his trust to a small degree in man.

Even when one plants a seed in the ground, he should be cognizant of the fact that it is Hashem Who causes the seed to sprout. The planting is an act of hishtadlus; the actual sprouting happens because Hashem decides to fulfill the farmer's desire and causes the tree to grow. Everything that happens in this world is solely because Hashem so wishes. Therefore, despite our obligation to make a hishtadlus, it is merely a hishtadlus, and it is in Hashem that we must place our complete trust.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

154 - Vayishlach

The Ramban in his introduction to Parshas Vayishlach enumerates a number of lessons to be learned from the stories recounted in the parsha. "This parsha was written to publicize that Hashem saved His servant and redeemed him from a power mightier than him and sent an angel who rescued him. Additionally, it teaches us that Yaakov did not rely on his righteousness but rather attempted to save himself with all his resources ..." Rav Wolbe explains (Shiurei Chumash) that Hashem created the world in a way that it should run in accordance with the laws of nature. The Avos understood that if He so willed that the world operate in such a manner, they must act accordingly. Therefore, all their dealings with others were within the framework of these laws.
Yaakov didn't merely say, "Hashem you're in charge and please save us." He sent presents to his brother in an attempt to appease him, while preparing for war and the possibility that he might be overwhelmed and be forced to flee. He did everything in his power to save himself and his family, because he realized that it was incumbent upon him to do his share, and that this too is an aspect of avodas Hashem.
Toward the beginning of World War II, Rav Leib Malin urged all the bochurim in the Mirrer Yeshiva to flee to Japan despite the fact that there were many great people that were of a different opinion. Rav Yeruchom Levovitz had impressed upon him that one must not rely upon miracles, but rather do all possible to save oneself in a conventional manner. His advice was responsible for the survival of the Mirrer Yeshiva; all those who fled to Japan were saved from the horrors of the Holocaust.
Nevertheless, Yaakov also davened to Hashem to save him from his angry brother. His down to earth attempts to save his family were intertwined with a prayer to Hashem. Likewise, we find in Parshas Miketz, that Yaakov told his sons to prepare a present for the viceroy of Egypt in an attempt to appease him to free Shimon and Binyomin. He also added a prayer on their behalf: "And may Hashem grant you compassion" (Bereishis 43, 11). All one's endeavors must be complimented with a tefillah to Hashem. Even when one must take medication he is supposed to pray, "May it be [Your] will that this endeavor provide a cure for me" (Shulchan Aruch O.C. 230, 4).
Hashem created the world in a way that requires us to abide by the laws of nature. However, there is a danger that he who is successful in his endeavors might begin to think that it was his brains and brawn which brought him success. Although we must do all we can, we should not lose sight of Who really is in charge. We must also pray to Hashem to help us succeed, because hishtadlus and tefillah go hand in hand.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

153 - Vayeitzei

"And Yaakov made a promise saying, 'If Hashem will be with me and watch over me on the path which I will take and give me food to eat and clothing to wear. And if I will return to my father's house in peace and Hashem will be for me a G-d - This stone that I have placed as a monument will be a house for Hashem...'" (Bereishis 28, 20-22).
Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) notes that in effect Yaakov was asking that Hashem watch over him with an extremely high level of Hashgacha Pratis. What justification did Yaakov have to ask for such special treatment from the Almighty? Rav Wolbe explains that Hashgacha Pratis works measure for measure in accordance with the amount of effort that a person puts into his avodas Hashem. The closer one gets to Hashem, the more acute the Divine Providence becomes. Hence, Yaakov wasn't merely asking for a free handout. He realized that he would need to reach a lofty level of spirituality for him to merit the ultimate Hashgacha Pratis - that Hashem dwell in an abode on earth. He was declaring that if he succeeded in reaching a high level of spirituality, Hashem would then reciprocate and "be with him", watch over him and take care of his physical needs. If this would happen, that would be his cue that he was successful in his endeavor. He would then be able to build his monument into a house for G-d, because by perfecting himself, he will have created a proper resting place to accommodate Hashem's Shechina here on earth.
Our forefathers merited constant Hashgacha Pratis in all of their dealings, because they made an effort to serve Hashem with every action. Moreover, they earned the ultimate Hashgacha Pratis when Hashem's Shechina rested upon them. They subjugated themselves entirely to Hashem and thereby merited that thrice daily we refer to Hashem as, "The G-d of Avraham, the G-d of Yitzchok and the G-d of Yaakov."
Nevertheless, this rule of Hashgacha Pratis is not limited to our Avos. It holds true for each and every one of us. As Chazal tell us, Hashem leads a person on the path he wishes to follow. For example, if one is extremely cautious with regard to his speech or his thoughts, Hashem will assist him not to transgress an aveirah in that area. The more of an effort that one makes in his avodah of the Divine, the more Divine Providence he merits.
We say in Tehillim (121), "Hashem is your shadow" - since He mimics our behavior. If we are vigilant in a certain area of avodas Hashem, Hashem helps us in that area. [There was a man who decided to take upon himself to be careful not to miss hearing the haftorah on Shabbos. One week he had to excuse himself and he missed hearing the haftorah. On his way home he was called into a minyan that needed a tenth man, because someone had stepped out in the middle. He entered to find them just about to commence the reading of the haftorah. As they finished, the original tenth man reappeared, and he was free to go home; the Hashgacha Pratis was clear.] Why not try it and see for yourself the special Hashgacha Pratis one merits when he puts in the extra effort in his avodas Hashem.

152 - Toldos

Rashi tells us that during Rivka's pregnancy she felt conflicting movements within her womb. When she passed by a place where Torah was studied, she would feel sensations as if the baby wanted to leave her stomach indicating that he was interested in spending his time learning Torah. On the other hand, when she passed by a house of idol worship, she would feel the very same sensations - implying a dramatically different way of life. Unsure of what to expect, Rivka went to the beis medresh of Sheim to find out what Hashem had in store for her. Hashem told Sheim to relay to Rivka that she is expecting twins, one will be righteous and the other wicked. Hence, the conflicting messages she has been receiving, since some of the movements are by one child while some are by the other.
After this inquiry we find no mention of any concern on Rivka's part. It would seem that she was reassured by Sheim's explanation. Rav Wolbe asks (Shiurei Chumash), shouldn't she have had more reason to be concerned, for now she knew that one of her children was going to grow up to be wicked? He explains that originally Rivka thought she was expecting only one child and she was afraid that he was schizophrenic - vacillating between serving Hashem and idol worship. Once she was informed that in reality she was expecting two children, one righteous and one wicked, she was able to come to terms with this knowledge because it is the normal way of the world - a constant struggle between good and evil.
The Mashgiach elaborates, when good and evil are mixed up into one entity, it is very difficult to overcome the evil. Even if one refrains from sinning for one reason or another, in most instances he has merely pushed the desire into his subconscious, only for it to resurface at a later date. When the evil is defined and isolated, one knows his enemy. It is easier to subdue his negative desires because he has a clear picture of what he is fighting. Hashem created the world in such a way that there is always a balance between the forces of good and evil and it is incumbent upon each person to choose good and overcome evil. However, if one is not sure as to what is really good and what is evil, he doesn't know what is expected of him, and he lacks the assertiveness to truly overcome those things he suspects are bad.
Our fight with the yetzer hara is a continuous and difficult battle. The very first step in this life-long struggle is defining the evil so that we have clarity in our mission. If one isn't sure when it is permissible to become angry and when it is forbidden, and in general has a hard time comprehending what is wrong with getting angry, he will have an even harder time overcoming this negative trait. The same holds true on all fronts of the war against the yetzer hara. The best way to defeat the enemy is to study a sefer that deals with the trait one wishes to rectify, thereby gaining the tools to define the enemy and vanquish him.