Wednesday, Feb 1, 2023

Gratefulness and Geulah

Ten minutes. Ten full minutes is what it took. The mashgiach, Rav Chatzkel Levenstein, would relate this with great nostalgia and admiration. He was referring to the amount of time it took in the yeshiva of Kelm to say Ezras Avoseinu, the tefillah between Krias Shema and Shemoneh Esrei.

Ten full minutes.

This designated time was not meant to allow latecomers to davening to catch up to the tzibbur. The purpose was solely so that the bnei hayeshiva would be able to say the words slowly and calmly, with contemplation and clarity of mind.

They concentrated on the wonderful yesodos that are mentioned there that entail the fundamentals of emunah. “The Helper of our forefathers are You alone, forever, shield and Savior for their children after them in every generation… It is true…from Mitzrayim You redeemed us, Hashem, our God, and from the house of slavery You liberated us. All of their firstborn You slew, but Your firstborn You redeemed.”

In Kelm, they didn’t merely say these words. They absorbed them like hungry people devouring a tasty meal.

Rav Chatzkel once reminisced, “When the shliach tzibbur banged on the amud to signal that the time for saying Ezras Avoseinu was over and that we must move on, I felt like they were taking away from me a great delight. In physical terms, I would describe it like someone pulling a tasty piece of meat out of my mouth.”

The pleasure of saying Ezras Avoseinu was so great that it caused him to leap and be elevated to high levels of emunah.

A former talmid of Rav Chatzkel arrived to Eretz Yisroel for a visit and wanted to meet his rebbi. He brought along a couple of his relatives. They knocked on Rav Chatzkel’s door, but there was no answer. They knocked again and again, and when there was still no answer, one of them tried opening the door. When Rav Chatzkel noticed this, he called out, “Please close the door and wait outside.”

The one who opened the door quickly closed it. But what his eyes saw during those few seconds that the door was open astounded him. He said that that memory would remain with him for the rest of his life. In the main room of the house, there were two rows of shtenders arranged parallel to each other. The elderly mashgiach walked between the rows, exclaiming with emotion, “Yes, this is the way the splitting of the Yam Suf was. This is the way the Yidden passed on dry land within the sea!”

After a few minutes, they heard the voice of the mashgiach asking them to come in. When they entered, there was no sign of the rows of shtenders; everything was back in place as if it never happened.

This scene revealed just a little bit of the strenuous avodah that the mashgiach invested in his emunah. Despite the fact that he was a mashgiach for many years and had reached old age, he was still striving to deepen his emunah, where he could literally feel the miracles of Yetzias Mitzrayim and the lessons they brought with them (Otzroseihem Amalei, Rav Eliezer Turk).

The seforim say that just like Pesach, the time of Yetzias Mitzrayim, is the season for acquiring emunah, so too, these parshiyos of Sefer Shemos that describe Yetzias Mitzrayim with its every detail are a source of clarity to us to imbibe emunah. If so, it behooves us to study these chapters diligently so that we may elevate our level of emunah as well.

There is one theme that we find over and over again, and that is the middah of hakoras hatov, to be grateful to someone who has done you a favor. Regarding the plague of blood, we learn, “Hashem said to Moshe, ‘Say to Aharon, take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Mitzrayim…and they shall become blood’” (Shemos 7:11). Why was Aharon given this task and not Moshe? Because the river had protected the infant Moshe when he was placed there in a basket. In gratitude to the river, it would not be proper for him to strike it (Rashi).

The same applied to the second plague, that of frogs. The job of bringing forth the frogs from the river belonged to Aharon, for Moshe had to be grateful to the river. Again, this was true with the plague of lice, when Aharon, and not Moshe, was told to strike the dust of the land, because when Moshe killed the Mitzri, the earth protected him by hiding the corpse as he was buried in the dust.

But the idea of hakoras hatov starts even before that, and is responsible for Moshe being the savior of the Jews in the first place. When Moshe first arrived in Midyan and saved the daughters of Yisro from shepherds who chased them away, they came home and reported this to their father. Yisro asked them, “And where is he? Why did you leave the man there? Invite him to our home to eat bread” (Shemos 2:19).

If not for the fact that Yisro wanted to express his gratitude to Moshe, he never would have made his acquaintance. Moshe would not have married his daughter Tziporah, would not have tended his sheep, and wouldn’t have been in the Sinai desert where Hashem called to him at Har Sinai and appointed him as the “moshian shel Yisroel.” This all came about because of an act of hakoras hatov.

Why does the Torah stress this middah of showing gratitude, particularly in Yetzias Mitzrayim? Why did the first three plagues have to begin with the striking of the water and sand, when Hashem could have brought these makkos in other ways, where hakoras hatov or the lack thereof would not be an issue?

Rav Matisyahu Salomon, mashgiach of Bais Medrash Govoah, explains that here in particular, when Hashem was teaching the Yidden lessons in emunah, it was necessary to also convey to them that in order to reach the desired level of total subjugation to Hashem’s will, one must first possess the feeling of gratitude. As long as we don’t develop this middah of appreciating every person and everything good in the briah, we cannot properly accept upon ourselves the yoke of Malchus Shomayim. And since the ultimate goal of Yetzias Mitzrayim is, “When you take out the people from Mitzrayim, you will serve Elokim on this mountain” (Shemos 3:12), Hashem, in His infinite wisdom, devised the makkos in such a way that the Yidden would learn the fundamental middah of gratitude.

When the Yidden ask, “Isn’t it strange that Moshe, who spoke to Hashem, didn’t get to bring the first three makkos?” they will hear the answers and their profound lesson. Because one must show gratitude even to an inanimate object that he gained any benefit from. If this is true about inanimate objects that have no feelings and cannot sense your gratitude, then surely one must express thanks to a person who did him a favor. And if that is true with people, then surely we must be grateful to Hashem, Who does everything for us.

Rav Yitzchok Zeleznik, one of the renowned marbitzei Torah in Eretz Yisroel, once saw Rav Elazar Menachem Shach, the rosh yeshiva of Ponovezh, walking on the outskirts of Bnei Brak, and it was obvious that he was hurrying to get to a particular place. He asked the rosh yeshiva where he was going. Rav Shach answered that he was on the way to Givatayim, to the levayah of a dear Yid whom he knew when he was still a bochur in the yeshiva of Slabodka. Apparently, because he was very poor at the time, he couldn’t afford to pay for transportation, so he walked all the way there by foot.

Rav Zeleznik asked why the rosh yeshiva had to go through the trouble to attend the levayah of a man he knew so long ago.

Rav Shach answered, “When I learned in Slabodka, my sleeping arrangements were to board in Kovna. Every night, I had to walk across the bridge from Slabodka to Kovna in the freezing cold weather. The man whose levayah I am attending lent me his coat so that I could make the trek to Kovna every day. Is hakoras hatov a small thing in your eyes?”

It was probably close to 50 years after Rav Shach had received this favor, yet he never forgot it and went out of his way to pay the man his last respects.

Lofty madreigos are built on little things. In order to develop a closeness to Hashem, appreciating all that He does for us, we first must ingrain in ourselves the need to appreciate those immediately around us. A thank you to our spouse, to our parents, to our rabbonim and teachers, and to our fellow coworkers. These will all go a long way in developing an appreciation of Hashem and all that He does for us.

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