At the beginning of this week’s parsha, Hashem tells Avrom to leave his home and birthplace and go to “ha’aretz asher areka – the land that I will show you.” Many reasons are given for why Hashem did not tell Avrom where he was headed. Rashi (Bereishis 12:1) suggests, “Lo gila lo hamakom miyad, Hashem did not initially reveal the land he was headed to, kedei lechaveva be’einov, in order to make it more beloved in his eyes.”
Imagine an elderly couple setting out on a life-transforming, camel-back expedition over hills and valleys, loaded down with their possessions, livestock and followers, and having no idea where they were headed.
Imagine packing up everything you own, getting into a van, and arriving at the highway not knowing whether to go north or south, east or west.
Imagine the conversation as you load your kids into the car.
“Where are we going?”
“We don’t know.”
“How long will it take us to get there?”
“We don’t know.”
“Is this some kind of a Chol Hamoed trip?”
“No, we are moving.”
“We don’t know. Stop asking so many questions and get into the car.”
“When will we get there?”
“We don’t know.”
“How will we know when we got there?”
“We just will. You’ll see. And when we get there, everything is going to be great.”
Rav Yaakov Yisroel Kanievsky, the Steipler Gaon, explains that the depth of the connection that a person feels toward another person or object is directly related to how hard he worked for it. Love is generated through work, exertion, effort and eventual accomplishment. Hakadosh Boruch Hu was telling Avrom to set out and walk that lonely, difficult path. He was telling him that in traveling to the destination, he would find struggle and darkness, but, at the end, the hard work would create tremendous love for the place Hashem would eventually show him.
Avrohom Avinu worked hard for everything he accomplished. It is interesting to note that the Torah introduces us to our patriarch Avrohom and his interaction with Hakadosh Boruch Hu with the commandment to him to leave everything behind and move.
Discovering that the world had a Creator and finding Hakadosh Boruch Hu caused Avrom much enmity. His family was not entirely happy with him, and neither were his former friends and countrymen. He endured attempts on his life, jail and much scorn, mockery and disdain. However, the Torah does not tell us any of that. After telling us his family tree, it presents him to us through “Lech Lecha,” Hashem telling him to uproot himself and travel to a foreign country.
With the Steipler’s explanation, we can understand why. It is because through telling this story, the Torah shows us that being a Yid involves more than mesirus nefesh for Yiddishkeit. The foundation of being a good Yid is to work hard at what we do. When we follow Hashem, when we do a mitzvah, we do it not only with our whole heart, but also with all the energy we can muster.
To succeed in limud haTorah, we must devote our full concentration and energy to it. We can’t sit with a Gemara with our feet up on a reclining chair, sipping a caffè mocha, and expect to grow in Torah.
Chazal tell us (Tana Devei Eliyohu 25) that a person must say to himself, “Mosai yagiu maasai lemaasei avosai Avrohom Yitzchok v’Yaakov? When will my actions equal those of Avrohom Yitzchok and Yaakov?”
The Alter of Kelm explains that Chazal could not be telling us that our ambition should be to live up to their level of action in Torah and avodah, because that is a goal that is impossible to achieve. Rather, the intention of their teaching is that we must work as hard as they did to attain their towering levels, for it is not possible to achieve shleimus in chochmah, yirah and middos without working hard at it.
In the posuk of “Im bechukosai teileichu,” Hashem tells the Bnei Yisroel that if they will follow His commandments, they will be successful. Chazal famously teach that the deeper definition of the words is “shetihiyu ameilim baTorah,” that you must work hard to study the words of the Torah.
Only through hard work and applying yourself fully to the study of Torah can you accomplish anything in the understanding of Torah and how to perform mitzvos. Therefore, Chazal are saying that in order to merit the blessings of “Im bechukosai teileichu,” of following Hashem’s commandments, you must be “ameilim baTorah,” working hard and striving to gain a deep and proper understanding of Torah.
This is the lesson Chazal are saying. We must strive to work as hard as the Avos did. We are not blessed with their abilities and cannot reach their level of understanding and their depth in their performance of mitzvos, but we can work as hard as they did.
The Avos achieved what they did through hard work, as they followed the dictum as later expressed in Iyov (5:7), “Odom l’omol yulad – Man is created to work.” Hashem created us to work. He wants us to use all of our abilities in the study of Torah and performance of mitzvos. Our goal is not necessarily to attain the high levels of the Avos, something that is beyond our reach, but rather to work as hard as they did to get where they got.
We all are endowed by our Creator with the tools we need to accomplish our individual tasks in life, and we are all obligated to use those tools to the maximum. That is what Hashem wants from us, and if we do that, then our “maasim” can be compared to the “maasim” of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov.
Rav Nissim Karelitz would regularly visit his uncle, the Chazon Ish, in his Bnei Brak apartment. One time, upon his arrival, the Chazon Ish told him that he wanted to go visit his sister and her husband, Rav Nochum Meir, who lived at the other end of Bnei Brak.
The Chazon Ish was very weak, but he said he wanted to go, so they left the apartment together and began the trek. Bnei Brak in those days was a small, underdeveloped village. A short while after they began walking, the Chazon Ish could not go on and sat down on a fallen log to rest. After resting for a few minutes, he got up and they began walking again. After walking a bit, again he was too weak to continue on, so he sat down on a log to rest. This happened several times, until they finally reached their destination.
When they reached his sister’s home, the Chazon Ish turned to Rav Nissim and said, “Do you see that? We made it. Az men geit, kumt men un.” Loosely translated, he was saying, “If you go, then you’ll arrive.”
“Had I not gone,” said the Chazon Ish, “I could have sat in my house for another twenty years without going, but now that I went, I arrived. Yes, I walked slowly and made frequent stops to rest, but in the end, I got here. The main thing is to begin to go.”
In life, many things are difficult and we all go through tough times, days when we feel that we just don’t have the strength to do what we have to. We all have days when we sit down to learn and it just doesn’t go, and days when whatever we try doesn’t work. What separates the great people from the small people and the successful people from those who fail is that the great people give what they are doing their maximum effort in all circumstances.
The Chazon Ish was often weak and bedridden, but his will to learn Torah and perform mitzvos was stronger than any of the physical forces that conspired to hold him down. He arrived to Eretz Yisroel virtually unknown, a sickly person who kept to himself and was ameil baTorah with every fiber of his being. He went on to become most influential as Klal Yisroel’s rebbi and father, because he said, “Mosai yagiu maasai lemaasai avosai Avrohom Yitzchok v’Yaakov.”
A story is often told of two people from a small shtetel who had a financial dispute. They were near Tizmenitz, the city where Rav Meshulom Igra served as rov. Rav Meshulom was known throughout the Jewish world for his genius in Torah and halacha.
The two men went to the gadol hador and presented their issue to him. He listened to both sides and paused to consider how to rule. After giving the issue much thought, he told them that it was too complicated for him to issue an immediate ruling, and that it would take several days for him to study the sugya and be able to rule.
The two men returned home to their shtetel. They decided that since the great rabbi was stumped, they had nothing to lose by asking their own rov to decide the issue for them.
Upon hearing the issue and realizing the complexities involved, the rov turned pale. He feared that if he would tell them that he didn’t have an idea how to pasken, word would quickly spread in town. The townspeople wouldn’t appreciate the halachic concerns involved. They would quickly conclude that he is an am haaretz and he would be out of a job. He told the disputants that he needed a couple of hours and sent them on their way.
As soon as they left, he began davening. He opened a Tehillim and shed copious tears, begging Hashem to help him find the answer and save his job.
After several hours of davening, he went to his bookshelf and randomly pulled out a dusty old sefer. He opened it to find that his prayers were answered. The author of that obscure teshuvah sefer, which he had never opened before, wrote about the exact situation the two men had discussed and presented his resolution.
Thankful that Hashem had heard his prayers and saved him from certain disgrace and abject poverty, he sent for the two men. He presented the solution to their case and both accepted the rov’s ruling, duly impressed with his scholarship and reasoning abilities.
As promised, they return to Rav Meshulom Igra at the appointed time and date. It wouldn’t have been proper to have him research their case and then not have the decency to show up. Rav Meshulom greeted them and presented his resolution. It was the same conclusion that their rov had reached.
They told the great gaon that they had presented the question to the rov of their tiny shtetel, and within a couple of hours he had produced the same decision.
Rav Meshulom was in awe. He said to them, “Take me immediately to your rov. He is a halachic giant. I must meet him.”
The two happily escorted Rav Meshulom to their town and brought him to the home of their rov. The rov nearly fainted when he saw the famed gadol at his doorstep. He was even more stunned when Rav Meshulom began heaping praise upon him, announcing, “It is an honor to meet you!”
The rov was confused. “Why do I deserve such honor? I am but a kleiner shtetel rov, a simple rabbi of a small village!”
Rav Meshulom explained that it took him days to resolve a matter that the rov had solved in a few hours. “If you are such a gaon that you can solve that issue so quickly, I had to meet you,” he declared.
The humbled rabbi welcomed the Torah giant into his home and explained what happened. “I cried out to Hashem for hours to help me find the answer and then I went over to the bookcase and min hashomayim, the answer fell into my lap.”
Upon hearing the tale, Rav Meshulom became agitated. “You davened for an answer?” he rebuked him. “You cried? Veinen? Veinen kenen mir aleh. Davenen? Davenen kenen mir aleh! I can also cry. I can also pray.”
He asked for his coat and said he must return home. “I came here searching for a gaon with whom I can speak in learning and I didn’t find one. I shall return to my home and my seforim.”
What Hashem wants from us is to work at it, to study and study and study some more, concentrating as hard as we can when we are learning or doing a mitzvah. Think about what you are doing and don’t think about anything else. Rid yourself of anything that removes your focus and causes you to lose your concentration.
If you want to grow in Torah and mitzvos, it can only be accomplished by giving it all you’ve got. If you want to achieve greatness in Torah or in any other endeavor, you have to couple fervent prayer and emotion with blood, sweat and tears.
If we want it to be real, if we want it to last, if we want to be the best we can be, there are no shortcuts. Whatever it is we are engaged in, if it is worth doing, it is worth doing properly, and if you are not prepared to expending the effort to do it right, then don’t surprised when you don’t succeed.
Rav Meshulom Igra was blessed with a brilliant mind and was a great tzaddik, but he got to be one of the greatest gaonim of his time by working hard, by horeving, by not letting up and devoting everything he had to studying and understanding Torah.
A new zeman is underway now in yeshivos around the world. People are beginning new limudim and new masechtos. Many new beginnings are commencing and it won’t come easy. You won’t understand everything right away. It will take work, and more work, and lots of effort to gain a proper understanding. Don’t give up. Don’t say, “This isn’t for me.” Don’t say, “I can never understand it.” Go it over one time and a second time and a third time. Get rid of all the distractions.
Get there the way the Chazon Ish got to his sister, one step at a time. “Az men geit, kumt men un.” You’ll get there. You can also be great.
“Mosai yagiu maasai lemaasei avosai Avrohom Yitzchok v’Yaakov.” You can be as great as Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov if you believe in yourself, your mission, and your ability to accomplish it.