Thursday, Feb 29, 2024

Our Father, Our Best Friend The Only One Who Really Understands

 

Someone once went to visit the yeshiva in Kfar Chasidim, where Rav Eliyohu Lopian was the mashgiach. When he returned, his friends asked him to share his impressions. He told them that he walked into the bais medrash during Shemoneh Esrei and saw that everyone was davening. But in the front, he said, there was an elderly man who was having a conversation with someone. That’s what Rav Eliyohu Lopian’s davening looked like.

The Chofetz Chaim, in his older years, when he would be ready to put on his shoes, would talk to Hashem and say, “Ribono Shel Olam, please help me put on my shoes.”

My grandfather, R’ Berel Belsky, traveled from the United Stated in 1931 and learned in Radin. This was one year before the Chofetz Chaim was niftar, and he had the great zechus to be included in the group of ten to twenty people who joined the Chofetz Chaim’s private minyan in his house every morning. My grandfather told me that every so often, after davening ended, the Chofetz Chaim would stand at his table and have a conversation with the Ribono Shel Olam. For instance, the Chofetz Chaim would say to Hashem: “You Yourself said, ‘And on that day I will send Eliyohu Hanovi.’ Where is he? What complaints can You have against Your children? What do You want from them? Their poverty is so crushing. ‘Aniyus maavirin osan al da’atan v’al daas Konan – Poverty drives them mad and corrupts them against Your ways’ (Eiruvin 41). You see how desperately poor they are.”

And then the Chofetz Chaim would say out loud, “But nonetheless, poverty – what a treasure-house of discipline and self-improvement!”

Rabbi Yeruchem Silber, who learned in Rav Yisroel Zev Gustman’s yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel for six years, shared with me a story that he heard from Rav Gustman himself. A few years before he opened his yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel, he visited from America and went to the Tchebiner Rov to ask him for guidance about opening a yeshiva. The Tchebiner Rov advised Rav Gustman to indeed open a yeshiva, but surprisingly, he told him to open in the Rechavia neighborhood, where the cost to purchase a building was prohibitively high – significantly higher than in the neighborhood he originally thought to open in. The Tchebiner Rov gave him a brocha that he will be matzliach in this endeavor.

Rav Gustman told Rabbi Silber, “What did I do? When I moved to Eretz Yisroel a few years later to open the yeshiva, I went to the Kosel and spoke to the Ribono Shel Olam. I told Him, ‘Ribono Shel Olam, the gadol hador, the Tchebiner Rov, advised me to buy a building in Rechavia and open a yeshiva there. However, I have no idea where the money for this will come from. Real estate in Rechavia is much more expensive than the other part of the city where I had originally planned on opening. But the truth is, Ribono Shel Olam, the money is all Yours. ‘Li hakesef veli hazohov ne’um Hashem.’ Either way, I don’t have the money to purchase a building, and wherever I would open, it would be You Who would be giving me the means to do so. So please, Hashem, I ask You to help me follow the direction of the Tchebiner Rov.’”

A number of years later, Hashem sent him the funds, and he indeed opened his yeshiva, Netzach Yisroel, in Rechavia.

Rabbi Silber relates that if you watched Rav Gustman davening a regular Shemoneh Esrei, you felt like you were watching a conversation between Rav Gustman and Hashem.

The Chazon Ish told a talmid that in order for a person to stay true to Yiddishkeit, he must regularly strengthen his emunah in Hashem. But how does one do so? The Chazon Ish answered: By behaving in a way that our actions constantly express the belief that everything in our life comes from the Ribono Shel Olam. And he said that the key to this is to ask Hashem for everything you need. If your shoes are torn, stand in the corner and talk to Hashem and ask Him to give you the money to purchase new shoes. This, the Chazon Ish said, is the meaning of “Bechol derochecha do’eihu.” Know Hashem in every single action you take. Talk to Hashem throughout the day.

Rav Yehuda Blum related the following story. Rav Pinchos of Koritz, one of the earliest Chassidishe rebbes, was davening. One of the Chassidim listened closely and overheard the rebbe asking Hashem to ensure that the maid who worked in his house would not leave early. The chossid couldn’t understand how the holy rebbe could daven for such a mundane thing. The cleaning lady? He asked the rebbe about it. The rebbe said, “What do you mean? The maid wants to leave early and my rebbetzin is not feeling well. She is worried that she won’t be able to take care of the house herself. Who else do I go to when I need something? Hashem is everything.”

Every year at the Pesach Seder, my father repeated something that he had heard Rav Yonasan Shteif say in a Shabbos Hagadol drasha. Rav Shteif came to the United States when my father was eight years old, and he passed away twelve years later. My father said that he went to every one of Rav Shteif’s Shabbos Hagadol and Shabbos Shuva drashos during those years.

Rav Shteif quoted a posuk in this week’s parsha: “Vayei’anchu Bnei Yisroel min ha’avodah vayizaku vata’al shavosom el ha’Elokim min ha’avodah.” He said that Klal Yisroel suffered two exiles in Egypt. One was the physical enslavement: the pressure and the torture. But the greater subjugation was the spiritual enslavement that Klal Yisroel suffered by not being able to transmit the Torah and carry on their mesorah that they learned from the avos hakedoshim. It was spiritual horror.

Therefore, explained Rav Shteif, the first part of the posuk says that Klal Yisroel suffered terribly from the abuses. They groaned and cried to Hashem as a result of the pain and anguish. They prayed to Hashem to get them out of this terrible slavery. But then, they grew from their suffering and cried even more because of their spiritual emptiness. “Vata’al shavosom el ha’Elokim min ha’avodah.” Their cry for Elokim, spirituality, rose up even higher than their cries from the suffering.

At the H-3 Business Halacha Summit last week in Chicago, Rav Uren Reich related a story about Rav Yechezkel Abramsky. Rav Reich’s shver, Rav Shneur Kotler, visited Eretz Yisroel soon after the Six Day War. While there, Rav Shneur visited Rav Abramsky’s home. The rebbetzin answered the door and told Rav Shneur that her husband had gone to the Kosel for the first time. Until the Six Day War, the Jordanian army prevented Jews from visiting the Kosel, so Rav Abramsky had never before been there. Rav Shneur waited in the area, and when Rav Abramsky came home, they met. Rav Abramsky shared with Rav Shneur what he did at the Kosel.

Rav Abramsky, who had been persecuted terribly in the 1920s by the Bolsheviks in Russia, said, “I spoke to the Ribono Shel Olam and told Him: You know about all of the suffering I’ve endured in my life. You know how the Bolsheviks tortured me so terribly. And all this time, Hashem, I never asked you for anything other than to understand Torah properly. But now, I ask You to please bring the geulah sheleimah. And why do I ask You to bring the geulah? Noch ah mphl far Torah – again only for Torah. Because when Moshiach comes, we will merit the fulfillment of the promise that the world will be filled with knowledge of Hashem, and our understanding of Torah will be even deeper and greater.”

Rav Shneur said that when Rav Abramsky spoke about Hashem Yisborach, you felt as if he was talking to someone who was standing right there.

It should be obvious that Rav Abramsky was not saying that he never davened for parnassah. That is a chiyuv we all have, as it is one of the brachos in Shemoneh Esrei. As a matter of fact, Rav Moshe Feinstein said that in a certain sense, the brocha for parnassah is the main brocha of all, as the Gemara learns from a posuk that “we must not eat in the morning before we daven for our blood,” meaning for our survival and sustenance. Rather, Rav Abramsky was speaking about his she’ifos, his drive in life, which was only for Torah and avodas Hashem.

I would imagine that every person reading this column has a deep emotional desire for a relationship with Hashem in the manner of these great tzaddikim. However, I can only speak for myself in saying that it usually feels out of reach. What’s the secret?

Perhaps, though, we’re looking for too much at once. Perhaps, we can start by talking to Hashem throughout the day, whenever we’re worried, sad, happy, riding high, fearful or feeling down. And if we feel unworthy of talking to Him, it is a sign that we don’t believe deeply enough that He is our Father.

In the new ArtScroll book, The Ribnitzer, a story is related about one of the Ribnitzer Rebbe’s gabbaim, R’ Moshe Hirsch Berkowitz. Once, while walking with the rebbe, the rebbe suddenly turned to him and said, “Moshe, meine kind – Moshe my child, I want to ask you a question and I want you to consider it well before you answer.”

Filled with curiosity, the gabbai waited for the question.

“Who is your best friend in the world, the one you love most? Think about the question and then give me your answer.”

“The rebbe is a tzaddik and an oveid Hashem,” the gabbai replied. “I think I would have to choose the rebbe.”

“Moshe,” he said, “I want to hear something better from you.”

Moshe Hirsh tried a few different answers, suggesting his father and then his mother.

The rebbe was not impressed.

“I’m going to tell you the answer,” he said at last.

Pointing with his finger up at the sky, the rebbe said to his young gabbai, “Moshe, your best friend in the world, the one who loves you the most, is the One Above!”

He then repeated the message, saying, “Your best friend is the One Above. Your best friend is the One Above!”

I express my thanks to my brothers, Rav Elimelech and Rav Eliyohu, and to Rabbi Avrohom Yaakov Leibowitz for their help with this column.

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