The Sefer Norah Sehilos explains the penultimate posuk in a very beautiful manner. “Achein shama Elokim hikshiv bekol tefillasi – In truth, G-d has heard, He has hearkened to the sound of my prayer.” Although our prayers are incomplete and lacking in both concentration and meaning, the Almighty listens and hears the essence of our tefillah, the kol. He delineates and discovers the deep-rooted desire we have to come close to Him even if our actions and prayers prove to be lacking.
He believes in us and awaits our return.
– – – – –
Chazal teach us that Chizkiyahu Hamelech was one of the greatest tzaddikim in history. He brought the Jewish people to new, unprecedented heights in Torah learning. Yet, through nevuah,Chizkiyahu saw that he was destined to have a child who would be extremely wicked. Therefore, Chizkiyahu was afraid to produce a child. However, he was advised by Yeshayah not to tamper with destiny or providence (Brachos 10a). And so, he fathered a child, whom he named Menasheh.
Sure enough, Menasheh grew up to be one of the most wicked people in our history. Menasheh was as wicked as his father was righteous. He murdered gedolei Yisroel and forbade Torah learning. In its stead, he promoted the spread of idolatry. Ultimately, Menasheh was captured by opposing forces and thrown into a cauldron of boiling water. As he lay trapped in the scalding water, he began to call out to all of his idols by name, imploring them to save him from his predicament. Of course, none of these idols – whom he had worshipped his entire life – came to help him in his time of need.
Left with no recourse, Menasheh remembered the teachings of his father and called out to the Almighty. Yet, he challenged Hashem to prove Himself by saving him! He said that if Hashem answers him, then all is well and good. But if He doesn’t, then He is just like the rest of the idols (chalilah).
The malachim quickly intervened and closed the windows of Heaven so that the pleas of this rasha would not reach the Almighty. Hashem said that it is true that Menasheh sinned so much and even set up an idol in the Bais Hamikdosh. Still, if Hashem does not accept his teshuvah, then the door will be closed for all those who wish to repent. Therefore, the Ribbono Shel Olam dug a small hole under His Kisei Hakavod and heard his pleas. Menasheh was saved. (Yalkut Shimoni,Melachim II, 21).
Why was Menasheh saved? He was brazen and impudent, even in his most desperate moments. He was truly wicked, through and through.
The answer is that the Almighty wanted to teach the world that there is no such thing as being too late. There is no such thing as having gone too far. We can always return, and He is waiting for us to come back home.
– – – – –
In the era between the two world wars, Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky was the undisputed leader of the Torah world. Problems from across the globe arrived at his doorstep; thousands came to seek his advice. Rav Chaim Ozer was a brilliant man, and he was able to juggle the myriad questions.
He was needed all year long, but even more during the months of Elul and Tishrei, when hundreds would request his advice as they looked for ways to better themselves, aside from the technical details a rov needs to tend to during these months. Toward the end of his life, however, there was one year when he was unable to be in Vilna during the months of Elul and Tishrei. The doctors insisted that he remain in a vacation city called Marienbad. They explained that if the rov wanted to get better, he needed to take his time in doing so. Rushing back would only prolong his weakness and disable him further. Rav Chaim Ozer knew very well that just as one must guard one’s spiritual health, there is also a commandment to guard one’s physical health.
Thus, the rov was willing to accept the obvious Providential interference, and he prepared to recite the special prayers in Marienbad. Vilna would have to wait. Selichos came and went and Rosh Hashanah was fast approaching. The city of Vilna had no shepherd to lead them, since their leader was in a small shul in Marienbad through the days of Rosh Hashanah and the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah. Even so, the rov’s doctors still advised that he remain in Marienbad. When Rav Chaim Ozer heard that the other rabbonim in Vilna were managing without him, he became dejected. Perhaps he was no longer needed there.
During the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, a modern-looking Jew appeared in Marienbad. The leader of the Torah world approached this bareheaded Jew and asked him who he was and why he was there, since most Jews were home with their families at this time of year and new visitors generally did not appear in Marienbad during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah. Although the young man had no idea who this rov was, it was apparent that the rov was a well-meaning individual, who seemed genuinely concerned about why the man was in Marienbad. The man began to tell his tale, one that would reveal why Rav Chaim was in Marienbad during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah.
“I was born in a small town in Poland to poor, sickly parents. As I grew older, I became disgusted with my way of life, since I was jealous of the rich people I was acquainted with. I decided to travel to America, the land of opportunity, to try to make a living there. I hired myself out to a captain of the ship to America in exchange for a free trip to the golden country. Upon arrival, I sought out different opportunities and businesses, and before long I had climbed the ladder of success.
“One day, I received a letter from my brother. He told me that his financial situation was desperate and he needed my help. I agreed to send him a monthly stipend to help him and his large family make ends meet. Month after month, my brother received his check and he expressed his appreciation and gratitude.
“After some time, I received a letter from my brother, in which he wrote that he was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, one which would weaken him and hurt his financial situation even further. Since he was so desperate, he begged me for even more money. I reassured him that it was my pleasure and my honor to help out, since I loved my family and missed them throughout my tenure in America. In a way, supporting my brother and his family reconnected me to them.
“And then, I received a terrible letter, in which I was informed of the passing of my brother. It was written by my sister-in-law, who cried out her heart to me, pleading and begging for further help. My heart was broken in two, and I reassured my sister-in-law that I would never abandon her or my nephews and nieces in their time of need.
“After months of correspondence, it occurred to me that since I was still single, and my sister-in-law, who was now a widow, seemed like a fine woman, perhaps I should marry her. In the next letter, I suggested to her that instead of sending money to her, perhaps it would be better if the two of us married. My sister-in-law warmed to the idea and recommended that I travel to Poland to meet her in person.
“I prepared for my journey from America and booked a first-class ticket to Poland. However, on the ship, I began to feel sick and queasy, since I was not used to traveling. I began to wonder if it was best to meet her in my sickly state. What type of impression would it make if the man she was marrying as a widow was a fellow who did not look or act healthy? And so, I decided to stop in Marienbad, a place that is well-known for its healing properties.”
The Torah giant looked at his bareheaded friend in shock and horror. Clearly, the man did not realize that what he was about to do – marry his sister-in-law – was an explicit transgression in the Torah.
“You are making a terrible mistake,” he said. “You can’t marry your sister-in-law, your brother’s wife. [However, a man is permitted to marry his wife’s sister if his wife is no longer alive.] It is explicitly forbidden in the Torah, except in a case of yibum, which would not apply here, since your brother left children.”
Although Rav Chaim Ozer was sincere in his request, the man simply dismissed what he thought of as a ludicrous plea.
“Who says so?” he cried out.
Again, Rav Chaim Ozer told him that the Torah prohibits such behavior, with severe consequences. “In fact, on Yom Kippur, during the afternoon services, we read from the Torah about the prohibition of marrying one’s brother’s wife (Vayikra 18:16). Tomorrow is Yom Kippur. Come to shul in the afternoon and hear the prohibition for yourself.”
The man still refused to believe that this was indeed the law and insisted that the Torah is written in a language he doesn’t understand. When Rav Chaim Ozer offered to translate for him, he claimed that perhaps Rav Chaim Ozer would trick him and translate the words for his own benefit.
Finally, after trying different tactics, Rav Chaim Ozer asked the younger man what it would take to convince him that indeed it is forbidden by Torah law to marry his brother’s wife and that he is about to make the greatest mistake of his life. If he doesn’t trust him, then which rabbi in the world would he find trustworthy?
The man thought a bit and said, “There is one man in the entire Poland, a genius, someone who everyone turns to for all of their spiritual problems. His name is Grodzensky. The only way I will agree not to marry my sister-in-law is if this Rabbi Grodzensky appears and tells me so. I will only trust his interpretation of the foreign words of the Torah.”
Now the whole situation was clear to Rav Chaim Ozer. He understood why he had to remain in Marienbad for the holiest days of the year. Certain that he was about to end the conversation with this declaration, the rov turned to his friend and declared, “I AM RAV CHAIM OZER GRODZENSKY! And I am telling you that the Torah strictly prohibits one from marrying his brother’s wife. Look at how G-d is looking after you, to make sure you don’t transgress, and that you return to Him. He even brought you to the one rabbi you said you would listen to in this distant city of Marienbad.”
Remarkably, though, the man was still not convinced, “Who says that you’re this rabbi? How am I supposed to believe that? Why would Rav Chaim Ozer be in Marienbad now, and not in Vilna, where he belongs during these days?”
Rav Chaim Ozer called over his shammas, who had not heard the conversation, and asked him, “Who am I?” Although the shammas was confused, he answered, “You are Rav Chaim Ozer, the rov of Vilna.”
The man was sure that the two of them were involved in a conspiracy and remained unconvinced.
After they stopped and asked all the passersby to confirm the identity of Rav Chaim Ozer, the man was finally convinced. He accepted the p’sak and did complete teshuvah. After Yom Kippur, he returned to America and notified his sister-in-law that they were not permitted to marry.
Now it was clear to Rav Chaim Ozer why he had been delayed in Marienbad all this time – in order to bring one soul back to his Creator.
And that was where the shepherd was needed.
– – – – –
The Shepherd awaits for all his children to return.
We cannot keep Him waiting any longer.