Wednesday, Jul 24, 2024

Who Says That You Have to be Happy to Sing?

 

It is not really appropriate for a columnist to start publicly admitting his deficiencies to readers. It is enough that he himself knows them. Nevertheless, I want to talk about one difficulty that I have in an attempt to try improving.

When things are not going well, when I have a setback, I get all bent out of shape. I have a hard time seeing the big picture and instead get caught up in the setback. I become angry and irritable and wish the whole setback would just go away. I have a very hard time finding the silver lining.

How can one stop, contemplate, and think about the “big picture” when he is so full of frustration and anger?

The Gemara in Maseches Sanhedrin says, “A person should sing every day.” What does that mean? Perhaps there are days when one is not in the mood to sing. Perhaps he is having a hard day with many difficulties. Perhaps today he just doesn’t want to sing.

Perhaps the Gemara’s message is that even when things are difficult, we must sing and try to be b’simcha. The way to overcome difficulties is not by making the difficulty go away, but by trying to control the way you react and respond to those difficulties.

When Klal Yisroel Sang…Despite the Difficulties

In this week’s parsha, we learn about the Shiras Habe’er, the song that Klal Yisroel sang at the well. One thing is clear. It was a very difficult time for the Yidden. They had just lost Miriam and Aharon. Moshe had “sinned” and would be prevented from leading them to Eretz Yisroel. Yet they sang.

From here we learn that no matter what is happening in a person’s life, whether one is experiencing difficulties in ruchniyus or in gashmiyus, one must try to infuse himself with simcha, fulfill the Torah and mitzvos with simcha, and sing to Hashem.

What was the Shiras Habe’er? Why did the Bnei Yisroel sing the Shiras Habe’er and what was unique about the time and place that this shirah was sung to Hashem?

To answer those questions, let us first paint a picture of that time. The Bnei Yisroel had been in the midbar for forty years. They had been through so much. Not long before, Miriam Haneviah passed away. Then Aharon Hakohein passed away. There was the chet of Mei Merivah that would prevent Moshe Rabbeinu from entering Eretz Yisroel and leading them as their faithful shepherd.

The Great, Almost Unknown Neis

Chazal tell us that as they approached the borders of Eretz Yisroel, the Bnei Yisroel had to cross a valley, traversing two towering mountain ranges. On one side was the country of Amon, while on the other side was Moav, which was the mountain range that was part of Eretz Yisroel. The Bnei Yisroel were walking through this valley on their way to Eretz Yisroel.

As we can imagine, the nations in the area were very concerned about the Bnei Yisroel coming. They weren’t happy, to say the least, and the Amonim came up with the perfect plan. They would hide in the many caves hidden in the high mountains. As the Bnei Yisroel would walk in the narrow valley below, between the mountain ranges, they would stealthily come out of the caves, shooting arrows and catapulting stones, killing and maiming the Bnei Yisroel.

That is exactly what the Amonim did. They waited in ambush, armed and ready to pounce on the unwitting, unprotected Yidden below. What did Hashem do? He made a phenomenal neis. Before the Amonim could begin their attack, Hashem caused the Moav side of the mountain range facing the caves, where the Amonim were hiding, begin to shake and move. The rocks and crags sticking out of Eretz Yisroel began to move towards the Amon side, and those rocks that were sticking out fit snugly into the caves where the Amonim were hiding, crushing and killing them. They did not have a chance to shoot even one arrow or sling even one stone.

A question arose, however. “Hashem said, ‘Who will tell the Bnei Yisroel about this neis?’” After all, they were walking below and had no idea that Hashem had just miraculously crushed their enemy. So, what happened? After the Yidden passed through, the mountain range returned to its previous place, and the blood, limbs and bones of the Amonim fell into the valley below.

What happened next? Hashem caused the be’er, the well, to go down and bring up all the blood and the limbs. When the Bnei Yisroel saw the remains of the Amonim, they recognized the magnitude of the neis that Hashem had performed for them and they began to sing shirah to Him. That is the Shiras Habe’er, named after the well that brought up the remains of the Amonim, thereby alerting the Bnei Yisroel to the tremendous neis that Hashem had performed.

Yes, it was a hard time for the Bnei Yisroel, but that didn’t stop them from singing. And the fact that they sang certainly equipped them to better overcome the difficulties.

Of Withdrawals and Deposits

I once heard a shiur on chinuch where the speaker said, “You cannot make ‘withdrawals’ without first making ‘deposits.’”

He said that for every time that you make a “withdrawal” and express words of criticism or displeasure, you had to have made at least a few previous “deposits,” praising and finding something good and positive to say.

Perhaps the same applies when it comes to asking Hashem for things. Yes, we all have things that are really bothering us, things that we really need. For one person it is parnassah. For another it is shidduchim. For a third it is nachas. For a fourth it is the ability to overcome the yeitzer hara in one area or another. Yes, we should ask and beg Hashem to help us in those areas. Now, we can get frustrated and upset when things don’t go the way we would have liked, but at the same time, we need to make “deposits.” We need to thank Hashem for all the good in our lives. We need to try to focus on how much He gives us, on how much we do have, not just how much we are missing.

I once asked a chosson who had gotten engaged after several years in shidduchim, “How much did you beg Hashem for a shidduch before you got engaged?”

He answered, “In every single Shemoneh Esrei. And I would often say Tehillim, begging him for a shidduch. In addition, I would periodically just talk to Hashem in English, ‘heart to heart,’ begging Him for a shidduch.”

“Now that you are engaged,” I pressed, “how much have you thanked Hashem for the fact that you are a chosson?”

He became a bit red-faced and then stammered, “Well, for the first two weeks after I was engaged, I thanked Him during every Shemoneh Esrei, but then I got used to it already…”

That is the human condition. We become accustomed to the good that we have, but we rarely make peace with what we don’t have.

The Lesson: To Thank Hashem Always

It is important, therefore, to sing to Hashem always and to thank Him for what we do have, whether it is a spouse, children, a roof over our heads, a good yeshiva or a good school, good friends, and the list goes on. If we are always thanking Hashem, we can also beg for what we don’t have.

I remember once seeing an interview with one of Rav Meilech Biderman’s sisters about her mother. She said that at licht bentchen every single Erev Shabbos, her mother thanked Hashem for giving her each and every one of her children, naming each one and thanking Hashem, before she asked him for anything. Only after thanking Him did she ask Him for what she needed.

The lesson for us is that Hashem wants us to always sing to Him and smile and be happy. Even when we are going through difficulties, we must try to focus on what is good, on what we do have, not on what we are missing. We must realize that if this is what Hashem is giving us, it is good for us, and if it is good for us, we should sing to Him and serve Him with simcha, just as the Bnei Yisroel did in that most difficult time in our history.

 

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