Mission (Im)possible

It is a glorious day as I take my morning walk, my regular route around some of the streets of Monsey. You can literally see the briah awakening from its slumber of the cold grey winter. The greenery on the trees is filling in nicely. Pretty soon, the fully-grown leaves will be weighing down the branches hanging out from both sides of the street, forming natural arches to walk under. The smell of grass emanates from the freshly mowed lawns and the birds elicit a symphony of happy spring song. Sunlight, which has been scarce for months, bathes the surroundings with an aura that illuminates the various colors of the flowers and the trees in the vicinity.

On this beautiful day, one can witness an awakening of a different sort, one that’s been in progress for quite a while now. One by one, the yellow school buses pass by, carrying very precious cargo: our future, boys and girls of all ages. Emblazoned on each one of the vehicles is the name of the mosad to which it is delivering the children. Most of them are names of Jewish communities of the past: Bobov, Belz, Satmar, Klausenberg, Pupa, Skver, Nikolsberg, and others. These Yiddishe commonwealths that once flourished in Europe were left by the Nazis ym”sh and the rest of the world for dead just about seventy years ago. And now the communities are very much alive, growing and getting stronger, their symphonic songs of Torah and tefillah bringing much nachas ruach to Hakadosh Boruch Hu. As a child of Holocaust survivors and a talmid of Telshe, where Churban Europe was very much spoken about, this writer appreciates this resurrection, and on this lovely morning it brings tears to his eyes.

What astounding courage it took for the surviving leaders of these various kehillos and yeshivos to even attempt to rebuild that which was destroyed. One cannot even begin to imagine their deep sadness and pain, having lost not only their immediate loved ones, but their entire flocks. What were they thinking when they emerged from the inferno of World War II? What was in the mind of Rav Aharon Kotler as he stepped off a train in New York, greeted by a small group of representatives from Agudas Yisroel and the Agudas Harabbonim? How could he possibly be successful in a strange land whose language he did not speak to Americanized Jews with whom his ideas did not resonate? Could he possibly have foreseen the astonishing spread of Torah here in America, in Eretz Yisroel, and throughout the world?

What was the Satmar Rebbe thinking when he arrived on these shores with barely a handful of followers, his kehillah in Europe decimated by evil? Could he envision at the time the empire of chassidus that he would eventually have both here and around the world, despite the fact that most of the Jews refused to accept his hashkafos on Eretz Yisroel? What was the mindset of the Ponovezher Rov, who tragically lost his family and kehillah in the churban, when he so confidently declared that he would rebuild the Ponovezher Yeshiva, where hundreds of talmidim would learn in unison? This was at a time of war, when Bnei Brak was a wilderness. People thought that the torments of war had gotten to him and that he was removed from reality.

What about the Klausenberger Rebbe, who lost his family and experienced the seven branches of gehennom during the war? He was beaten and tortured by his oppressors. Yet, long after they were gone, he was building – kehillos here in America, kehillos in Eretz Yisroel, yeshivos, a hospital – and writing many seforim. From where did he get the strength to do this?

Think of the Telshe roshei yeshiva, Rav Elya Meir Bloch and Rav Mottel Katz, here in America, far from home. How did they have the nerve to rebuild a full-fledged Litvishe yeshiva in the Midwest, the center of the Reform movement? Could they have possibly envisioned the thousands of talmidim who would cross their threshold and emerge as bnei Torah? What gave these great luminaries and others the impetus to continue building after such a terrible downfall? How could they be successful against such staggering odds?

It all lies in the secret of kabbolas haTorah.

“Rebbi Elazar said, ‘When the Bnei Yisroel said naaseh before nishma, a Heavenly voice rang out and said, ‘Who revealed to My children this secret that the Malachei Hashoreis utilize?’” (Shabbos 88a). How were the Bnei Yisroel able to accept the responsibility of fulfilling all of Hashem’s commandments when they had no idea what He required of them? Doesn’t it seem foolhardy to agree to do something when you have no idea what the request will be? Indeed, the Gemara there quotes a Tzedoki who said to Rava mockingly, “Our hasty nation’s mouth spoke before its ears heard. First you should have listened to hear if you are able to accept the commandments upon yourselves and only then agree to do it.” What, indeed, were the Yidden thinking?

They Sheim MiShmuel explains as follows: What is this secret that the malachei hashoreis utilize and how do they accept any mission that Hashem sends them on even if it is seemingly impossible? It is because they realize that without the strength that Hashem endows them with, they are incapable of accomplishing anything. And if Hashem commands them to fulfill a mission, that very command infuses them with the ability to accomplish anything. Through Hashem’s command, the impossible becomes possible.

When the meraglim returned from their scouting of Eretz Yisroel and they brought back a report that caused hysteria amongst the Yidden, Kaleiv ben Yefuneh silenced the people toward Moshe and said: “We shall surely ascend and conquer it, for we can surely do it” (Bamidbar 13:30). Rashi explains: “Even if it were up in the heavens and Hashem would say to construct ladders and go up there, we would be successful in His commands.”

Is it really possible to climb up to the heavens on ladders? The Sheim MiShmuel says that yes, it is. For if Hashem would command us to do it, we would gain the strength from the directive itself and the impossible would become possible. Like the malachim who can travel from one end of the world to the other in one leap, we could make it up to heaven on ladders.

Similarly, Moshe Rabbeinu said to the Bnei Yisroel shortly before he was niftar, “[The Torah] is not in heaven for you to say, ‘Who can ascend for us and take it for us so that we can listen to it and perform it’” (Devorim 30:12). Rashi quotes the Gemara (Eiruvin 55a) which says that if the Torah were in heaven, we would be required to go up after it and learn it. How can Hashem require the impossible of us? Here, too, says the Shem MiShmuel, if this would be Hashem’s command, then the impossible would become possible. The directive itself would enable us to go up there.

This explains what the Bnei Yisroel were thinking when they said naaseh before nishma. They were not being impetuous at all. Rather, they recognized this fundamental concept that if we are commanded by Hashem to do something, then it becomes possible for us to do it. And this is why when they said naaseh before nishma, the heavenly voice declared that they had utilized the secret of the malachim.

History has proven this to be so true. After so many generations of facing the harshest nisyonos imaginable, we are thriving as a people. This is testimony to the fact that for those who carry on the word of Hashem, no obstacles are too difficult to overcome. This is undoubtedly what our gedolim were thinking when they embarked on the tough mission of rebuilding Klal Yisroel from amidst the ashes. They persevered and their efforts paid off in a way that perhaps even they didn’t imagine.

As we approach another Shavuos, the day of kabbolas haTorah, we must remember this yesod. Often, we are afraid to set goals for ourselves in Torah for fear of failure. But if we remember that we are messengers of Hashem to fulfill His command and that He infuses us with the ability of accomplishment, then there is nothing beyond our reach. Of course, with our kabbolah, we must expend much effort to attain those goals. In addition, as the seforim say, our goals must be set with seichel, according to what is realistic at the time. For if we try to leap too high at one time and don’t see immediate success, we can easily get discouraged. If we persevere and take continuous steps upwards, Hashem will give us the siyata diShmaya to eventually reach great heights, far and beyond what we could have imagined initially.

Many reasons have been given for why we read Megillas Rus on Shavuos. In light of what the Sheim MiShmuel says, we can offer another reason. It is well-known that the odds of Dovid Hamelech making his appearance on this world, let alone becoming the melech Yisroel, were infinitesimal. The Medrash says that he was destined to die at birth had not Adam Harishon given him seventy years of his life. His lineage goes all the way back to Lot living with his daughter after having been miraculously saved from the destruction of Sedom. Furthermore, the great tzaddik Yehuda had to live with Tamar, who appeared to him on the road. Both of these unions were highly improbable.

The actual story of Rus has many unlikely incidents that brought Rus to eventually marry Boaz. That Elimelech, one of the gedolei hador, would abandon his people at a time of need and leave Eretz Yisroel for a foreign land was highly unlikely. And that Machlon and Kilyon would wed Moabite women was very strange. That Na’ami and Rus arrive at Bais Lechem just as Boaz was burying his first wife was improbable. That Rus, when searching for a field to gather leket, shikcha and pei’ah, just happened to stumble upon the field of Boaz while Boaz by chance just happened to visit this field at the time that Rus made her appearance there is also curious. That Boaz would notice Rus and inquire about her was also not a normal happening. As the Medrash asks, “Was it the way of the holy Boaz to ask about a woman?”

And what were the odds of the halacha that one may marry a Moabite woman having been revealed right at the time that Rus joined Klal Yisroel? And how out of the norm was it for Rus, a woman, to propose marriage to Boaz? She was from Moav, unaware that Boaz was permitted to marry her. Boaz was forty years her senior and a shofet in Yisroel, yet Rus had the temerity to suggest matrimony…and he accepted.

When Dovid, her great-grandson, was finally born, Yishai, his father, who had separated from his wife, considered him an illegitimate child and he was cast off to tend to the sheep, disrespected by his family. It was only when Shmuel Hanovi attempted to anoint one of Yishai’s sons as king and Hashem told him that none of them were destined for the throne that Shmuel asked, “Are these all the boys?” (Shmuel I, 16:11). Only then did Yishai send for Dovid, who was with the sheep. That is when he was anointed as king.

After this anointing, Dovid faced so many hardships, impeding his ascension to the throne. But because he was the Moshiach Hashem, the ultimate messenger, fulfilling Hashem’s bidding, he was able to overcome the most insurmountable odds and accomplish great things for Klal Yisroel.

This should be a tremendous chizuk to each and every one of us. We all face our own personal nisyonos that impede our progress in serving Hashem, and it can easily dishearten us. I am trying to do the right thing. I want to walk on the proper path, but I find it so difficult. If we remember that we are on a mission for Hashem and that this directive gives us the strength and ability to succeed, we can persevere and become emboldened to move further.

And if one ever wonders how Moshiach will ever be able to get the world out of the complicated mess that it finds itself in, remember that for the Moshiach Hashem, the ultimate messenger, and for Hashem’s chosen people who have fulfilled His word throughout history against all odds, the impossible becomes possible. May we merit to witness it soon.