Saturday, Jul 13, 2024

Like the Powerfully Rising Sun

Courage. As defined in Webster's Dictionary, it is the ability to face danger without fear. But there is a broader, more refined definition of courage not limited to the times of peril. According to Ernest Hemingway, it is grace under pressure. In our fast-paced world, we face stressful, pressurized situations daily, and the way we react to them can separate the men from the boys. We can either take the high road by looking at the situation as a nisayon meant to elevate our neshamos and pass the test with flying colors or lose ourselves by reacting in an unbecoming way.

The words “traffic jam” usually elicit heart palpitations and knotted stomachs as people are afraid that they won’t get to their destination on time. There are traffic reports on the radio 24/7 warning us of this nuisance with advice about alternate routes. The later model GPS devices offer salvation from these tie-ups via satellite. During rush hour, all too often, cooler heads do not prevail, and in the haste to get home, one motorist will try to cut off another. This evokes unpleasant words, a heated exchange, and even violence. As mentioned, situations such as these separate the men from the boys or, perhaps more accurately, the angels from those who act in a subhuman manner.


Such was the case at a junction in Bnei Brak, where traffic had come to a near standstill. Sitting at the wheel of his car was Erez, an irreligious Jew. Not known for his calm demeanor in the best of times, at this moment he was barking at the situation, and these weren’t words from Tehillim coming out of his mouth. The traffic was moving at a snail’s pace and his language was getting viler by the second. He was a mass bundle of nerves and had lost control of himself. And then something terrible happened.


“What’s this?!” he thought. “Was that guy trying to cut me off?!” He wasn’t sure, but in his anger, he decided to do something about it anyway. What happened next shocked the other motorists and nearby pedestrians. Erez didn’t think twice. In a fit of rage, he got out of his car and approached the vehicle he thought was trying to cut him off. With fury, he yanked open the door and delivered a blow to the head of the poor driver who, in reality, did not try to cut him off at all.


But he wasn’t finished. One blow wasn’t enough to calm his wrath. He added another blow and then another. Quickly, onlookers rushed to the car to pull the aggressor away from his victim. And then the first responders were eyewitnesses to an astounding kiddush Sheim Shomayim.


The driver was totally innocent. How would most people react in such a situation? They would respond in kind, displaying pugilistic skills of their own. The battle would continue until one of the combatants would fall unconscious. But that was not what happened here. You see, the driver who absorbed the punches was a ben Torah, and a most refined one at that. When the first blow hit his head, he cried, “Thank you, sir! This will atone for my sins!” The second punch was more painful, causing his face to swell. But instead of fighting back, he cried out, “Again, I thank you. Perhaps this pain will atone for any aggravation I caused my wife. This pain is certainly more pleasant than the punishments of gehennom.”


Erez the violent one was so caught up in his rage that he had no idea what the man was saying, so he just continued the pummeling. Again, the yungerman thanked him, for this added punch would cleanse him of any of the sins he committed towards his friends and neighbors. Erez was about to continue the violence when he finally caught on to what the man was saying. Suddenly, he dropped his fists and looked downwards in shame. The person he was attacking was not a human, but rather an angel. Now his own heart was broken to pieces. But the story is not over yet.


The yungerman, who was in total control of himself, wanted to capture the moment and utilize it to the fullest, so he invited his attacker to spend Shabbos at his home. While the onlookers urged him to call for an ambulance to take him to the hospital to test for any internal damage, he ignored them with a wave of his hand and continued with his invitation.


Erez was so shaken and humbled by his angelic victim that he accepted the invitation. He spent a Shabbos with this family in Bnei Brak and eventually became a complete baal teshuvah (Aleinu Leshabei’ach as heard from an esteemed mashgiach in Bnei Brak who was an eyewitness).


We cannot even begin to fathom this yungerman’s portion in Olam Haba. That he did not fight back, thus alleviating a possible tragedy and created a tremendous kiddush Hashem, was in and of itself a great accomplishment. But in addition, he returned a Jewish neshamah to its roots. Any “extra” mitzvos, Krias Shemas, Yehei Shmei Rabbahs, shemiras Shabbos, andwords oflimud haTorah of generations that otherwise would have been lost can now be attributed to this avreich.


It has been said that opportunities only present themselves to those who are prepared for them. Obviously, this yungerman didn’t just happen to chance up this goldmine. He possessed a most refined character and yiras Shomayim, and when faced with a nisayon, he rose to astronomical heights, acquiring great treasures in the process. While most people would have been unable to act in such a manner, we often have opportunities on a smaller scale to emulate this kind of behavior.


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In this week’s sedrah, we learn: “When a man among you brings an offering to Hashem from animals, from the cattle or from the flock you shall bring your offering” (Vayikra 1:2). RabBeinu Bechaye points out that only cattle and sheep are acceptable for korbanos, for they are preyed upon and pursued by other creatures. Not so the chaya. Chayos are unfit for sacrifices because they are predators, chasing down weaker creatures for their food. While this is part of the natural order of creation, it is a middah that is undesirable to Hashem.


From here Chazal learned, “Be from those who are shamed but don’t shame others, from those who are chased but don’t chase others.” The only birds that are acceptable for korbanos are doves and pigeons, for those two are the most preyed upon birds (Bava Kamma 93a).


The sun is the most dynamic force in the briah, our greatest source of energy. Every second, billions of tons of energy pour down upon the earth from the sun. It is our greatest source of light. The seasons revolve around it and its energy is primarily responsible for our food. How did the sun acquire its great importance in our lives?


The Gemara tells us: “Those who suffer insult but don’t insult others, those who listen to their embarrassment but don’t answer, do their avodah out of love and are happy with their suffering, about them the posuk says (Shoftim 5:31), ‘And let those who love Him be like the powerful rising sun’” (Shabbos 88b).


Why is this person compared to the rising of the powerful sun? Because when Hashem first created the world, the sun and the moon were even in size. These two great luminaries ruled at the same time. But the moon complained before Hashem, “Two kings cannot share the same crown,” implying that Hashem should lessen the size of the sun. To this Hashem answered, “Go and decrease yourself” (Chullin 60b).


While the moon was complaining, the sun felt humbled, yet it did not utter a word in response. The result was that now it has the monopoly over the world’s energy, with the entire briah dependent on it. Similarly, Hashem cherishes those who restrain themselves at a time when a response could cause conflagration. And Hashem also loves those who are willing to step back and compromise their own interests in order not to infringe on others.


In his younger years, the Chofetz Chaim would travel from city to city to sell his seforim. However, because of his genteel manner, he wouldn’t openly announce that he had seforim for sale. Rather, he would deliver a drashah on the topics covered by his seforim and some of the listeners would volunteer to sell the seforim. If there was someone else in the shul who wanted to darshan, the Chofetz Chaim would immediately submit to him and leave the premises. This happened even if the Chofetz Chaim was there before the other speaker and had already unpacked his seforim. He would repack the seforim and leave.


We have numerous opportunities daily to emulate the strength of the sun. It could be holding back words that should not be said to a spouse, a neighbor, or a co-worker. It could be giving up an opportunity for gain so that another person can benefit. And it could merely be allowing someone else to get on line ahead of you. All of these earn the admiration of Hashem and bring endless benefits, just as during creation for the powerfully rising sun.




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