The G-d of My Fathers

Something incredible happened in Yerushalayim in the year 1953, something that could bring great chizuk in emunah. A child was born to a young couple, and from the moment he was able to speak, it was clear to all that he knew the entire Torah by heart. He was able to recite from memory anything from both Torah Shebiksav and Torah Shebaal Peh. He was even able to repeat words of the Rishonim and Acharonim. It was clear that he did not forget any of the Torah that the malach taught him before he was born. Chazal tell us that a malach teaches a child Torah while he is in his mother’s womb, and right before he is born the malach taps him on the mouth and he forgets it all.

The friends and neighbors of this family were all astounded by this phenomenon. They said that apparently the malach forgot to tap this child to make him forget. However, this was not the way things were meant to be. Torah cannot come to us without immense toil and constant review. Through the tefillos of the Belzer Rebbe, Rav Aharon Rokeach, the child eventually forgot it all. But the story did cause a great sensation in its time.

Rav Leib Bakst, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Ateres Mordechai in Detroit, sent a letter to his rebbi, the mashgiach, Rav Yechezkel Levenstein, who at the time resided in Yerushalayim. In it, he wrote that it is hard for him to believe this story that it is possible for a malach to forget to tap a child to make him forget. But if indeed it is true, it would be worthwhile to show the child to everyone possible, maybe even bringing him to America to publicize to the entire world the truth of our beliefs, because this is a clear proof to the words of Chazal that a child is taught the Torah before entering this world.

The mashgiach answered the letter and his words are quite enlightening: “The story is true. My daughter and son-in-law, Rav Reuven Ginsburg, live two houses away from that family, and my daughter saw the child reciting Torah and related it to me. I thought about going to see the child myself to witness this wonder, but I changed my mind, for even though the child lives not so far from me, I heard about it already from my daughter and I believe her. And that which entered my heart to see it for myself is nothing more than the advice of the yeitzer hara to ruin the foundation of our mesorah that’s built on ‘our father told us.’

“That is, something that is related to us by a truthful person, someone who is reliable, that is enough to trust him and accept his word. And if I am so brazen to say that I have doubts about what I heard from my daughter and I would still like to investigate and see with my own eyes if it is true, that will show that emunah is not yet clear to me in an absolute way. And if we go out to find proofs to the truthfulness of our kabbolah, then that is raising our heads with impudence against the mesorah of our fathers. It is as if there is doubt about the perpetuation of our mesorah, as if our ancestors who were mekabel the Torah were perhaps fools and tricked us to accept all of this, chas veshalom, and therefore we wanted to investigate on our own. Because of this, the idea of inquiring about the matter on my own is strange to me. This is why I refrained from witnessing it myself” (Lesitcha Elyon, Parshas Noach).

This yesod that we must believe what we hear without having to see it is found in the Gemara. Rav Yochanan was sitting and darshening, “In the future, Hashem will bring precious stones that are 30 amos tall and 30 amos wide. He will chisel out of them an entrance 20 amos tall and 30 amos wide and place them at the gates of Yerushalayim.” Sitting there was a talmid who scoffed at these words, saying, “One cannot even find a diamond as large as the egg of a small bird. How, then, is it possible that such massive precious stones exist? A while later, this talmid was traveling by boat far out into the sea, and he saw malachim carving massive precious stones that were 30 amos by 30 amos. He asked them what they were doing and they answered, “In the future, Hashem will place them as an entrance by the gates of Yerushalayim.”

When he returned home, the talmid said to Rav Yochanan, “Rebbi, your drashos are wonderful, for what you said about the precious stones I saw with my very own eyes.” To this Rav Yochanan said, “Empty one! And if you wouldn’t have seen it, you wouldn’t have believed it? You are a scoffer at the words of the chachomim.” Rav Yochanan stared at him and he turned into a pile of bones (Bava Basra 75a). Of course, we must be careful about the sources from which we hear something, but if they are truly trustworthy, then by hearing it alone, we should believe it without having to see it with our own eyes.

But there is another aspect of believing that which we hear from our fathers and rabbeim. The Chossid Yaavetz writes that during the period of the Spanish Inquisition, the ones who were moser nefesh, who gave up their lives and died al kiddush Hashem, were the simple people who had emunah peshutah in Hashem. They were not deep thinkers or people who delved into philosophy, which was popular at the time. They served Hashem based on what they heard from their fathers and grandfathers. However, many who served Hashem based on their own thinking were not able to withstand the nisayon that faced them. When faced with the choice of accepting baptism to the Christian faith or losing their lives, they yielded and gave up their religion.

The reason for this difference is because as great and deep as human logic is, it is still limited. And when the pressure is just too overwhelming, man can begin to see things differently. Not so one who believes in Hashem because of the mesorah from his progenitors. His parents are connected to the generation that preceded them, and they are linked to the generation before them all the way back to the avos and imahos hakedoshim who were literally a base for the Shechinah to rest on. Their level of emunah and bitachon in Hashem was infinite. Therefore, if one is connected to Hashem because of his mesorah, he is linked to the belief that our ancestors had. That level of emunah is rock-solid and cannot be jolted by the greatest forces in the world. This is how the simple Yidden, not only in Spain but throughout all of the tribulations and all of the goluyos, were able to strengthen themselves in their emunah.

In this week’s sedrah, we learn of the miraculous yeshuah of the Yidden from the hands of the Mitzriyim at Krias Yam Suf. In addition to being a salvation, it was also a great revelation, as a maidservant there saw what Yechezkel Ben Buzi was not able to see. Overflowing with gratitude, Moshe and the Bnei Yisroel sang shirah. Amongst other praises, they said, “This is my G-d and I will build Him a sanctuary, the G-d of my father and I will exalt him” (Shemos 15:2). Rashi quotes the Mechilta, which says that the Jews were declaring that the high spiritual level that they had merited was based on their legacy from previous generations. “I am not the beginning of kedusha, but rather holiness and His G-dliness is firmly established upon me from the days of my forefathers.”

Why did the Bnei Yisroel say this? Did they not merit to feel the presence of Hashem in a way that the avos did not? Didn’t Hashem tell Moshe that He appeared to the avos in the form of Keil Shakai, a mere promise, but that now He would reveal His Sheim Havaya, the fulfillment of that promise? It is precisely because of this that they strived to connect with their forefathers.

Even if a person sees open miracles with his own eyes and is astounded at the wonders that he witnessed, the effects of his experiences are only temporary. This is the frailty of a human being made of flesh and blood. He is affected by his senses of that moment. Yesterday he could have seen open nissim, but with the passing of time, the effects are dulled.

Rav Elchonon Wasserman would relate a story with all of the frightening details of a man possessed by a dybbuk who was brought to the Chofetz Chaim for a yeshuah. While this was going on, it caused quite a stir in the yeshiva of Radin. One would have thought that this incident would make a lasting impression on the talmidim. Having witnessed an otherworldly experience, their avodah, their learning and their davening would be raised to a higher level. However, said Rav Elchonon, this was not the case. A day after the dybbuk was exorcised, things were back to normal in the yeshiva, as if nothing exceptional had occurred.

The Bnei Yisroel were well aware of this. They knew that the amazing sensation of the moment could easily wear off after a while. They understood that they were about to face situations where they would have to tap into their reservoirs of emunah, so they declared their allegiance to the G-d of their fathers. In addition to acknowledging that the level of kedusha that they had reached was to the credit of the avos, they were also connecting with their ancestors. Our belief in Hashem is not based merely on what we saw with our eyes, but on the emunah passed down to us by our forefathers. That belief in Hashem is unlimited and can help us navigate the most difficult situations.

The fact that the Yidden had inner emunah as a legacy from their forefathers is certainly a major attribute. However, they had not yet been tested in their belief in Hashem. They had not yet had reason to question Hashem’s actions and did not yet see any contradictions in His dealings with them. Until a person is tested in his emunah and actually faces hardships, he cannot actualize this emunah and reach shleimus. After all, this was the goal of Yetzias Mitzrayim and Matan Torah.

Immediately with their exodus from Mitzrayim, they witnessed a chain of contradictions. On the one hand ,they saw the miracles of the Ananei Hakavod leading them, while on the other, Paroh was chasing after them and soon would conquer them again. Then, in the midbar, they were thirsty, but there was no water for three days. Finally, there was relief, as they arrived at a spring of fresh water, but to their deep disappointment, it was bitter and not fit to drink. There were many other nisyonos in the desert that the Yidden complained about, but throughout all of it, Klal Yisroel persevered and their belief in Hashem was strengthened.

This is a lesson for all of us. Everyone, at some point in their lives, goes through difficult times. Someone once went to an adam gadol for a brocha that he live an easy life. The tzaddik answered, “You’re asking me to curse you. A life without hardships is not called living, for nisyonos are meant to make us better and help us turn our potential into actual shleimus. It should give us chizuk when times are difficult that Hashem has not forsaken us. He is guiding us in a hidden way and testing us so that we turn to Him for help and become closer to Him (Som Derech, Rav Simcha Zissel Broide).