Never, Ever Give Up

Emunah and Bitachon. From Rav Saadya Gaon to the Chazon Ish, our sages have written about faith and trust in Hashem. Our gedolim and even the simplest of our nation have lived by these ideals.

We are now reading and listening to the Sedros of the avos and imahos, the patriarchs and matriarchs who created the DNA THAT strengthens these ideals within us to this very day. Even when they seemed to falter somewhat, according to the incredible expectations demanded of them, the Torah teaches us through them how to believe. Let us take a moment to give ourselves a transplant of these middos from our progenitors through these parshiyos, following the ancient teaching (see Ohr Gedalyahu, introduction to Bereishis) that ah Yid darf leben mit dem parsha, a Jew must live with the weekly Torah reading.

In truth, understanding the level of the fathers and mothers of our nation is far beyond us. However, we can attempt to extrapolate from the eternal words of the Torah to our own situations. Chazal (Yevamos 64a-b) tell us that biologically and using any medical criteria, Avrohom and Sarah were totally incapable of having children. When Sarah Imeinu overheard the malach telling Avrohom Avinu that the following year the elderly couple would have a child, she laughed (18:12). Hashem asks Avrohom the pointed question: “Why did Sarah laugh… Is anything beyond Hashem?”

Rav Zelig Reuvein Benges zt”l (Peninim Mishulchan Govoah, page 87) reiterates Hashem’s question with all that we know about the righteous Sarah. “Why indeed did she laugh?”

Hegives a brilliant answer that sheds new light upon the entire scene. Sarah was, of course, a great believer. Indeed, she expected that as soon as the angel’s words were spoken, she would slowly begin to revert to her younger self. However, looking at herself and her husband, she saw no changes whatsoever. She therefore thought that perhaps they were unworthy or that she had misunderstood the promise. Hashem thereupon demanded of Avrohom, “Why is Sarah laughing? Surely I can make this happen without preparation or process. In fact, yeshuas Hashem keheref ayin, the salvation of Hashem happens in a split second.”

In truth, this is what happened, but Sarah did not realize that it would occur in this way.

The Ramban raises another issue about Hashem’s criticism of Sarah. How was she to know that this was a message from the Creator? As far as she was concerned, these were Arab visitors. The Ramban answers that “Hashem’s admonition was that Sarah should have instantly known that Hashem could make it happen with no process at all. Therefore, her response should have been, ‘May so be His will.’”

Rav Yechezkel Levenstein zt”l (Ohr Yechezkel, Emunah, page 14) adds to our understanding of this teaching of the Ramban. “The true believer,” he asserts, “should know full well that Hashem runs the world every single moment of the day and night. Just as G-d recreates the world every second (Hamechadesh betuvo…), so can He change the ways of nature in an instant. The fact that He does not usually do so is because we are generally unworthy of this miraculous intervention. However, once someone – in fact anyone – mentions such a possibility, it is the obligation of the believer to immediately react with the words, ‘May so be His will.’ If someone does not, G-d forbid, believe in Hashem’s ability to change nature at His will, it is a serious gap in his faith. One must therefore conclude that there is never a reason to give up. As Chazal state, “Even if a sharp sword lies upon a person’s neck, he should not despair of receiving divine compassion and rescue” (Brachos 10a).

Although most stories about Hashem’s direct miraculous intervention are told about medical miracles of refuah sheleimah, today many people are in financial distress. They often think that they are beyond help or hope. However, we must always remember that Hashem can help and wants to help us. We need but believe with a full heart and pray to Him with all our heart.

Perhaps the following two stories will help us in this quest to truly believe.

Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein (Borchi Nafshi 3:27) tells the story of Rav Boruch Weill of Strasberg, who arrived at a train station with his large family after his son’s wedding. He had bought tickets for them all before, but he was informed by the officials that they had become obsolete that day and were unacceptable. The tickets had been purchased on a discount but would now cost the astronomical amount – certainly for a yeshiva family — of $500. What does a good Jew do in such a case? He turns, of course, to our Father in heaven. Rav Weill found a wall in the train station and began davening. He poured out his heart and tears flowed freely across the spackled floor of the station. Suddenly, indeed unbelievably, a gentile wearing a railroad uniform ran up to him, threw an envelope in his hands, and ran swiftly away. Rav Weill opened the package with trembling hands to find exactly $500. Attempting to catch up with his benefactor, he chased after him to no avail, for he had disappeared into the crowd. The power of emunah and tefillah joined together is limitless.

The second story is even more poignant but just as true. The Tzaddik of Yerushalyim, as he was later known, Rav Aryeh Levin, and his family, including the daughter who would later marry Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, lived through the harrowing days of World War I in the holy city. Famine was everywhere, no relief agencies functioned successfully, and children and the elderly virtually passed away in the streets. Rav Aryeh and his family had tasted no food in two days and the tzaddik was making his way to a relatively wealthy individual whom he had helped many times in various ways. Indeed, Rav Aryeh had once arrived barefoot at this man’s door, since he had already sold his well-worn shoes for whatever he could obtain for them to feed his starving children for that day. Although the man had given him some money as a gift, Reb Aryeh insisted on considering it a loan. True to form, he returned the money soon thereafter and so Reb Aryeh thought that he had established his credibility. To his shock, his former benefactor turned him down this time. “Rebbe,” the man declared sadly, “I myself have fallen on hard times, so I have extremely little to give away. I must admit, however, that I will help some people but not you. You see, if I did not help them, I know that they will curse me and my family, but I know you, Rav Aryeh. I know that you will never stoop to such thought, let alone words, so I cannot help you. I am so sorry.”

Rav Aryeh trudged home, crying and despondent. When he entered his dilapidated home, he began to weep bitterly, asking his wife between the tears, “Why am I and my family being punished because I will not bear a grudge?” His righteous rebbetzin was not left without a response. “Cannot Hashem always help?” she declared. “Don’t you always remind us that ‘even if a sharp sword…’ Where, my dear husband, is your usual bitachon and emunah? Let us think for a moment. Why didn’t this good man help us? It can’t be because he is unable, for we know that he is capable. It can’t be because he doesn’t trust you, for you have proven your reliability. It must be because Hashem is planning to redeem us in a more honorable fashion.”

Rav Aryeh accepted these words coming from such a noble and pure soul. Moments later, there was a knock at the door. Standing there was a mailman delivering a small package. Rav Aryeh opened it with trembling hands. Thinking that he was dreaming, he held up the contents, eyes sparkling with renewed faith. It was a ten dollar bill, a respectable amount of money in those dire days. Why would anyone send him money from America? With tears of joy now in his eyes, he read the note and remembered. Some years ago he had met someone in Petach Tikvah who inquired, “Aren’t you the grandson of So-and-so?” Rav Aryeh had answered in the affirmative, to which the man had noted, “You are the spitting image of your grandfather.” The letter informed them that this man had just passed away and left the order in his will that 10 dollars be sent to a certain Aryeh Levin in Yerushalayim.” Rav Aryeh repeated his wife’s wise words. Indeed, “even if a sharp sword lies upon one’s neck…”

The Klausenberger Rebbe zt”l was speaking on the first Erev Rosh Hashonoh after liberation to the broken-hearted but grateful survivors. Sobbing before Selichos, he asked, “How can we declare ‘ashamnu – we have become guilty?’ Why are we guilty?” the rebbe demanded. “We walked in the Nazis’ march, yet we maintained our faith in Hashem. How can we declare bagadnu – we have betrayed? After all the slaughters we have endured, after all the tortures we have suffered, how have we betrayed? ‘Gazalnu – we have robbed.’ How can we have robbed when we have nothing? On the death march, a Jew bent down to pick up the head of a dead bird and held it for a week so that he would have something to eat. Is this called robbing? But this was our sin. We did not believe that Hashem can save us. We thought that we will surely die. The only question is whether sooner or later. For this, we must say ashamnu, bagadnu, gazalnu” (Benoam Siach, page 160).

Although we are certainly not on the level of the avos, imahos or Rav Aryeh Levin, his rebbetzin and the survivors who maintained their faith, we can learn from them. Hashem does run the world and wants to help us, but we must strengthen our faith to deserve His positive response. Emunah and bitachon require work, reminders, and exercises in belief. Let us do our part and surely our kind Creator will do His part as well.