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Life Is Tough: How Avraham Avinu’s Nisyonos Impact Us All — Conclusion of the Nisyonos Series

To show further that the nisyonos of Avraham Avinu were focused and centered on his developing the ultimate in emunah and bitachon, let me quote the Chovos Halevavos in Sha’ar Cheshbon Hanefesh, number 27:

“…And realize, that regarding the ten tests of Avraham Avinu which Hakadosh Boruch Hu tested him with — we would not praise Avraham’s “passing” of the tests if not for the fact that he accepted all that transpired with complete will and with a joyful heart (at the thought of being able to selflessly perform and uphold the will of the Almighty), as the possuk says (in Sefer Nechemya 9:8), ‘And You have found his heart to be loyal to you…’ And the reason we condemn and find fault with the actions of the Jews who left Egypt is because of their constant complaining about Hashem…”

Amazing! And this explicitly states the point — the central point of Judaism is emunah. And the “father” of our nation is Avraham Avinu. Thus, he was tested in his emunah in ten ways, in ten areas, each successively more difficult, to produce a nation which would have the innate ability to accept Hashem’s will uncomplainingly and, ideally, b’simchah. Not, so to speak, the action — but the attitude!

But why do we have nisyonos at all? The word implies that my life would not “ordinarily” have contained this event, or these series of events; that it or they are a “special delivery” from Hashem. But for what purpose? What will be shown, what will be proven — and for whom?

(Of course, one may simply point to the Mesilas Yesharim and Derech Hashem cited back in Part One and Two of this series, and say that all of life is a nisayon, that there is no such thing as a “special” event, that everything that occurs is simply what I am supposed to accomplish in my life. While that certainly may be true in one’s life, and without the aid of an actual navi we surely do not know that whatever is happening in our lives is a specially “manufactured” nisayon, the fact remains that we see in the Torah, in Tanach, and in the words of Chazal, that the concept of a uniquely directed, extraordinary, nisayon definitely does exist.)

 One approach is to see in the word nisayon the root nes, meaning flag or pennant, waving high, as a sign. Ramban writes (Bereishis 22:1) that the point of a nisayon is to actualize the potential of the menuseh (the one being tested)… that Hakadosh Boruch Hu does not reward a person for that which he or she wishes to do, would like to do, is capable of doing. Rather, since this world is the olam hama’aseh (the physical world of action), Hakadosh Boruch Hu “tests” a person in order to allow their will to do, their ability to do, to materialize in reality, in an action, thus enabling a reward for a good deed, as opposed to good intentions. Thus, Hashem tests only the righteous, for this very purpose, with Hashem “knowing” the outcome, for the benefit of the menuseh, while Hashem will not test the wicked, who would indeed be unable to pass his test.

Another approach is to see nisayon as an actualization of potential, but in a different sense. Not merely to make real qualities which already exist, but to actualize heretofore unknown and dormant kochos. The person being tested rises to the occasion, and thus the test is a stimulus to a growth process, allowing the person to actually develop through the nisayon. “I didn’t realize I had it in me to control myself in such a situation… I didn’t believe I would be able to withstand that temptation… I am really happy that I am capable of such calm acceptance of Hashem’s will.” And thus the nisayon is an instrument of actual improvement and spiritual maturation.

A third approach is stated by Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim and by Rabbeinu Bachya, that the purpose of a nisayon is to publicize, to broadcast, so to speak, the qualities of the person being tested, in order that others know of the person’s righteousness, goodness, and devotion. It is actually a chinuch instrument, that there be a role model for people to emulate; that people learn that it is possible to reach certain heights in avodas Hashem: yes, it can be done and if he or she can do it, then it is quite possible that I can as well. Don’t say it can’t be done — look over there, he did it, she did it.

Another approach is similar, but sees in the “advertising” not so much a chinuch opportunity but simply to let people know of the virtue of the person who up till now was an unknown. It is a way for a neighborhood, a city, a country, to find out who and what this person is really all about, why he or she is worthy of honor and deserves the public’s esteem.

Sometimes a nisayon is consigned to a person simply as a way of increaing his olam haba. This may also sometimes be presented as yissurin shel ahavah, where Chazal tell us there is actually a concept of a person being placed in an “undeserved” situation, where Hakadosh Boruch Hu assumes he or she will rise to the occasion and reap the extra reward in olam haba for this unusual display of fealty to the Creator.

Not always is adversity a nisayon; the possuk in Parshas Hamon states that Hashem will give the Jews their daily bread through the miraculous mon ”in order that I test them to see if they walk in my ways or not” (Shemos 16:4). And so a person can be granted a life of ease, with no problems, with nothing seemingly going wrong or even difficult about one’s life —and that, ironically turns out to be the greatest nisayon of all. Will you walk in My ways, or will you fall prey to “vayishman Yeshurun vayiv’at” (and Yisroel grew fat, and rebelled), that is, the unfortunate reality that comfort and the good life tend to lead people away from awareness, and appreciation, of Hashem.

We daven every day “and bring me not to a nisayon.” We are afraid of failure, afraid of not living up to potential, afraid of not living up to Hashem’s, or our own, expectations.

Yet, as we have seen in this series, it is perhaps the unique engine of growth in a person’s life. May we pass all the nisyonos that we are sent.

Parshas Vayeishev Bulletin & Tefila Halacha

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It  is bettter to daven with a minyan even if one’s clothing are not dignified (obvious work clothing, for example) than to daven alone with properly dignified clothing. (This is a statement about the importance of davening with a minyan.) The same holds true regarding davening within the zeman Tefillah (even for shacharis, before zeman Tefilah, and not rely on davening before chatzos.) THIS HOLDS TRUE EVEN FOR WOMEN–so better in a robe, making zeman Tefillah, than to get dressed and miss it.
 
Talking during davening, besides everything else, causes a chillul HaShem, since it indicates a lack of respect and/or fear of HaShem.
There is no specific mitzvah to light Chanukah lights anywhere but one’s home, no matter how public and how much pirsumei nissa would result.
The only exception is lighting neiros Chanukah in Shul. Lighting in Shul reminds us of the lighting of the Menorah in the Beis HaMikdash, as the Shul is our Mikdash me’at, a miniature Beis HaMikdash (this is one of several reasons given for the Shul lighting).

Life IS Tough: How Avraham Avinu&s Nisyonos Impact Us All — Part Five

We have seen in previous articles that Avraham Avinu’s nisyonos are the prototype for the experiences and spiritual struggles of our lives. It behooves us, then, to delve into a deeper understanding of those nisyonos and thus understand ours better. The Mishnah in the fifth perek in Avos cites Avraham Avinu’s ten nisyonos; Bartenura there enumerates them, the first being Ur Kasdim (when Avraham Avinu was thrown into a furnace by Nimrod for refusing to repudiate his teachings about one G-d), and the last being the akeida. This is the classic list, echoed by most meforshim. Yet there are different opinions as well. If one looks at the Rambam’s commentary on the Mishnah there, one does not find the test of Ur Kasdim! How could the Rambam not count Avraham Avinu’s willingness to give up his very life for the ideal of Hashem Echad, which was basically unknown at the time? Isn’t this the test from which thousands upon millions of martyrs throughout countless generations drew fortitude and strength and were able to give up their lives for their Jewishness? How can the Rambam not count it in the list of nisyonos?

Another difficulty: After that first test, after Avraham showed his readiness to sacrifice his life, shouldn’t every other one (perhaps excepting the akeidah in which he had to kill his son — but even that is debatable) be easier, a step down, a lower, less-intense test? After all, if Avraham was ready to sacrifice his life, and every vestige of Avraham and his teachings would then dissipate into nothingness, isn’t having to go down to Mitzrayim because of a famine a no-brainer? Or chasing away Hagar and Yishmael? Why the need for any more tests? (Arguably, even the akeidah should pale alongside Ur Kasdim; the akeida at least left open the possibility of other children, whereas after Avraham would be dead, who is to say anything would rise up from the ashes? Furthermore, at the akeida, Hashem explicitely told Avraham to slaughter Yitzchak, while at Ur Kasdim, Avraham Avinu acted alone, only upon his own conviction.) Why the need for eight or nine other, seemingly lesser, nisyonos if Avraham had already proven his mettle in a more difficult trial? And Rabbeinu Yonah in Pirkei Avos actually counts as the final nisayon Avraham Avinu’s needing to purchase a gravesite for Sarah — nu, come on, that’s aggravating, depressing, insulting — but as the pinnacle of nisayon?!

We are used to the idea that our main service of Hashem involves our actions, while more intangible items such as emunah and bitachon are sidebars. We therefore measure nisyonos using our scale of values, i.e., how hard or difficult it would be to, say, jump into a burning furnace versus leaving one’s father’s house and traveling throughout a promised Land. Thus we see the question as a good one — why anything after that first test?

Yet the premise is false. As Chovos Halevavos makes abundantly clear throughout his sefer, the primary obligation of a Jew is to be aware of, to know, to be convinced of, and to trust in, the reality of Hashem’s existence, His Oneness, omniscience, omnipotence, and essential goodness and fairness. This is stated as well by Ramban in many places throughout the Torah, especially Sefer Shemos, specifically at the end of Parshas Bo. The Gra writes (Mishlei 22:19) that the entire Torah was given to the Jewish people for the purpose of fostering emunah and bitachon and this possuk in Mishlei is teaching us that that is the focal point of all of the mitzvos. And so is the simple understanding of the Gemara in Maseches Makos (24A), which states that the prophet Chavakuk distilled all 613 mitzvos into one basic principle: Vetzadik be’emunosah yichyeh — And the righteous shall live with (or by) their faith.

Hashem is real. Hashem exists. Hashem is One, with no contradictions, no inconsistencies, no falsehood, no subjectivity — only emes, reality, rationality itself. Goodness, justice, honesty, truth.

What is a nisayon? When I am faced with incomprehensibility. Why did Hashem do that? How could Hashem do that? How could Hashem allow that? That is so unfair! Where is Hashem? I davened so intensely, with so much kavanah — everyone did! I gave tzedaka, I did Machsom L’fi, I increased my acts of chessed.

A true nisayon lies not in the seeming difficulty of task performance. After all, once one is convinced of the rightness of one’s actions, one rolls up one’s sleeves and does what must be done. So it’s difficult to get up at four a.m. every morning? Okay, but if one wants to know Shas, one does that. But how about if I just concluded a week’s learning in my newly carved-out early morning seder — and then I’m fired from my job? I just started giving five percent of my money for tzedakah, instead of the more common ten percent — and the stock market takes a dive, I’m now broke, and I just found out that my daughter needs braces? I devote my spare time to chessed, I control my temper — why does my spouse have inexplicable headaches?

That was the crux of Avraham Avinu’s nisyonos! From the lesser “question” to the burning unanswerable one. Ur Kasdim? No problem, I’ll die for my belief, I’m willing to be moser nefesh. I have no questions on Hashem; this is a kiddush Hashem. (And Rambam holds this doesn’t even make it to the list!) Ah, but I have to wander about in sudden insecurity? Hashem promises me the world, and suddenly Sarah is kidnapped? I finally have a son (Yishmael) and I am told to chase him away? Hashem — I don’t understand! Are you really there?

Now that’s a nisayon!And the ultimate test is the biggest question of all: Yesterday you promised me Yitzchak and his descendants, today you are telling me to slaughter him — which Hashem do I believe? You promised me Eretz Yisroel and, my goodness, I can’t even find a place to bury my wife!

Now you understand the Rashi in Pirkei Avos that, when describing the nisyonos says: “Here, then, is the list of ten — and we see how Avraham Avinu did not question the Almighty.” Clearly, Rashi is making this point: this was the kernel, the nub, of the nisyonosand the greater the question, the harder the nisayon. And so it is in our own lives. True, we have the more pedestrian nisyonos as well (go read last week’s column — in fact, go read the last few weeks’ ones); but we, too, at times, face the ultimate nisayon, because it forces us to come face-to-face with our fundamental faith, belief, and trust in Hashem: How can Hashem do this to me? I moved to Eretz Yisroel, gave up my everything, and now I don’t have parnassah? Is Hashem there? Is He even listening to me?

Conclusion, im yirtzeh Hashem next week…

Life IS Tough: How Avraham Avinu’s Nisyonos Impact Us All — Part Four

Let us now try to identify some — only a few! — of the everyday nisyonos which test and challenge us, as per Ramchal. (These are scenarios where you, the reader, knows what should be done, but finds it hard to do — it is a nisayon, not a scenario for sheilos; of course, sometimes the nisayon is to make sure to ask a sheilah.)

Your neighbor is forever “borrowing” things from you: some bread, a little milk, a bag of sugar… yet she never seems to remember to return anything. Do you say something? Or stop lending? Do the same to her? Complain about her to your husband, or your best friend?

You’re sitting in a traffic jam or doctor’s office… standing on line at the checkout, and the person in front of you has 11 items, not 10, the checkout girl apparently flunked sixth grade math … that clerk in Misrad Hapnim sweetly informs you that you do not have the correct form. How do you react? What do you say to those involved? To yourself? Does Hashem care about what you are thinking?

You stayed home to wait for that technai, kablan, delivery person… he doesn’t come. Worse, he came when you finally left, hours later, in frustration. Reaction?

It’s bedtime, and you’re doing what mothers do at bedtime. And then, in the middle of it all, you get a phone call from that nudnik, although you told her never to call you between 7 and 9 p.m., but she needs to tell you about her day…

Your in-laws ignore your pleas, and when the kids are with them, let them watch television or videos that you wouldn’t allow… Yet they (the in-laws) always seem so hurt when you press the issue… Or maybe it’s that candy! How much respect do you have to show them when they’re the ones weakening your parental authority?

You tell your guests that kiddush is at 11 a.m. sharp, and you gave them exact directions. It’s 11:23 a.m., the kids are cranky… and no guests in sight.

You come home from shul on leil Shabbos, and for the 159th time in a row (or does it only seem that way?) the table is not set, the challos are not out, the wine is not on the table… and she wants me to sing Aishes Chayil?

You finally bought those tickets to the U. S., and they are now non-refundable. Two days before the flight, a friend is caught up in a real crisis, and literally has no one here to rely on but you…

Why didn’t I ever get around to learning the simple, basic, meaning of the first brachah of the Shemonah Esrai? Do I remember correctly — did Rav Malinowitz once say that you are not yotzei? Oy, why don’t I listen when he speaks?!

Do I really, truly believe in Hashem? Do I think about how He sees all, knows all, and cares about how I act? What about that lashon hora, didn’t I realize HE was listening to me… Why did I lie about how old my child is? Why did I lend my friend my non-transferable bus pass? Why did I get depressed over that missed appointment? Do I ever take the time to ask Hashem to let me succeed? That other fellow got the job I interviewed for; honestly, why do I feel as if he took something away from me that was rightfully mine?

You’re in the airport, you’re hungry, craving something to eat, and the only snack bar has a hechsher that you normally would not think of using. No one’s looking, no one will know. What could be wrong with this plain cookie? And it does have a hechsher

You are traveling on the highway, and someone is stopped on the side of the road… maybe a flat tire (you have the equipment to help), maybe battery trouble (you have cables), maybe something you can do nothing about. Do you stop to find out?

Your friend asks you to loan him 500 shekels for a week. You could, but you’re somewhat nervous, and you don’t want to “insult” him by asking for a guarantor; your natural inclination is to say you don’t have it, you can’t…

You owe the kablan money; it’s past the time that was agreed upon by which you would pay him the second third of the money. Yet you are not so happy with the way the wall looks, although he did what you asked of him…

Do you ever sample candy or dried fruit from an open bin? Are you sure the storeowner doesn’t mind? Why are you hesitant to ask him?

You’ve been trying for the longest time to sell some used furniture, to raise much-needed cash. Do you point out the defects? Did you ask a rav if you have to, or which kind you do have to and which kind you don’t?

You wanted — needed — to borrow $20,000 from a friend. He lent you what he said he was able to, $15,000. Do you feel resentment? How absurd is that?

You were let go when your company downsized. Are you devastated? Embittered? Morose? Do you feel gratitude to the company which, after all, employed you until now? WHAT? You’re kidding, right?

In Part One, we cited the commentary on Avos which says that Avraham Avinu’s nisyonos encompass all of life’s trials. Am I ready to be moser nefesh, if not to the point of martyrdom, just to lose significant money in order not to violate an issur Torah? (The halachah demands losing ALL your money in such a case.) It’s a question of emunah, mesirus nefesh, no? Avraham starts his journey into Eretz Yisroel, leaving behind friends, family, leaving his and Sarah’s successes in ruchniyus (v’es hanefesh asher asu…). They travel, they arrive, they’re there. No parnassa. Hunger, famine! What does Hashem want from me? I went to extraordinary lengths to fulfill His will, and this is my reward? How can I face all those who mocked me for coming?

Of course, parnassa in and of itself constitutes an enormous nisayon of bitachon, of emunah

And shidduchim!

All tribulations in life: having children, chinuch, suffering, yissurim, shalom bayis, keeping seemingly incomprehensible mitzvos… it’s all there in Avraham’s ten, and we, his children, live a life of nisyonos as well.

To be continued…

Rav Malinowitz is the Rav of Beis Tefillah Yonah Avraham, located in Ramat Beit Shemesh Aleph, at the corner of Nachal Refaim and Nachal Luz. Many of Rav Malinowitz’s shiurim can be heard at www.btya.org.

Life IS Tough: How Avraham Avinu’s Nisyonos Impact Us All — Part Three

Two weeks ago, I cited from Ramchal, both from Mesilas Yesharim and at greater length from Derech Hashem, that a person’s life is filled with nisyonos; that every event, every occurrence, everything that in the normal course of events would elicit a reaction from us — any type of reaction — is a nisayon for the person, a test within his or her parameters of bechirah, testing to see if he or she will grow, stagnate, or fall. To repeat, and it bears repeating , for it is the essence of the point:

Thus, all gratification and all suffering and all annoyances and all frustrations exist as a challenge and a test — and the nature of the challenge is what Divine Wisdom has decreed to be best for — and the life task of — each and every individual.

The manner in which all this is accomplished is beyond our ability to grasp and comprehend, and we can never understand it or perceive it fully. It is done with unimaginable wisdom, with each person treated according to his or her nature and potential and role in life.

I assumed the point would best be made, and the lesson best be learned, by taking an ordinary everyday-type example, and showing how ordinary everyday-type occurrences hold within them the key to people’s true success in life: to wit, not how much money they make, how many friends they have, if they have a nice house or run a successful business — but rather if they grow, if they refine their neshamah, if they become more spiritual, holy people ; if they emulate Hashem’s ways, and study them to know what they are. If people would see that in the most seemingly innocuous encounters of life there could be refinement, perfection — or its lack — and that THAT is what determines who they are, what they are, and their essential nature, surely more attention would be paid to those annoyances, disturbances, difficulties, and even hardships, to use them as stepping stones to growth, and to the realization that they occurred for that very reason! And the more ordinary, the more likely it is to be so!

(To satisfy your curiosity — and to satisfy those who felt it a bit inappropriate [not I, but I PASSED the nisayon of akshanus — stubbornness] — my so-called reactions to the mislabeling was, and in this piece will also be, a fictional account of my reaction, created to be an exhibit of the above. Consider it a fictional-version-aid to the lesson given.)

Let us now resume our story:

I fumed, “I will not let them get away with this. They think they can treat me with this cavalier attitude of theirs, probably because it’s ‘just’ the English section, the stepchild, if that, of the paper… Well, I’ll have them regret their middos ra’os… Maybe I’ll start with handing in my article late. Maybe a few hours, maybe a day… Maybe I’ll skip a week, maybe two — after all, it would be their just desserts, a fitting ‘punishment’ for their carelessness. It’ll show them how it feels when one is on the receiving end of carelessness, and they’ll be more careful. Yes, I can even consider myself their mechanech, their teacher, their Rav, teaching them how to treat people… ”

Really? You’re their mechanech? Maybe the more operative word is netirah, and nekamah (holding a grudge and taking revenge, respectively). You are, after all reacting to a personal slight (only perceived — but that happens to be irrelevant)… You were not their mechanech yesterday, you will not be tomorrow… If you want to meachanech them, go sit down with them and explain how you feel, how they must tighten up their operations. Now, you are just lashing back, hoping to hurt them as you’ve been hurt — and that’s the essence of the prohibition of nekamah! Tell me, would you do the things you are thinking if they would have done this to someone else, not yourself? Methinks not — always a great litmus test to check for nekamah… And so…

YOU FAILED!!!

“But it is such bad fortune! Okay, on a scale of tragedies, it’s not epic, I won’t get carried away — but still, the ramifications are pretty bad. People will think I skipped a week, that I am not consistent, maybe that I don’t keep commitments. Who knows what this could — theoretically — lead to? It’s unprofessional and puts me in a bad light!”

Have you never learned the story of Rabbi Akiva and the rooster and candle? Have you never heard of Nachum-Ish-Gamzu, who teaches us the obligation to believe, and attempt to see, that all is for the good? That Hashem is good, and everything which emanates from him, is also only good?

“But what could be good about what happened?”

I don’t know, let’s think. Maybe the article was not well-written, and it is a bracha if many people skipped over it. Maybe you’ll have a flash of inspiration, and the mishap will allow you to drag the ‘nisyonos’ series another one, two, three even four columns, giving you material to write about, taking the column into a direction you hadn’t planned, and thus having the spontaneous opportunity to wake people up about a far-reaching truth concerning their lives! I do not think you would have gone in that direction if not for that typographical mistake!

“Fat chance of THAT happening!”

Well, you never know…

“Indeed, I suspect I never will.”

YOU FAILED!!!!

“Why should I give them the benefit of the doubt? What do they do for me? What have they ever done for me? Just headaches, aggravation, and pressure and stress!”

What about hakaras hatov? They give you a voice in the community, a platform to talk, to teach, to hold forth drashos in print, yes, to pontificate! Where’s your sense of gratitude?

“But how can I wait till next week to explain what happened?”

Where’s savlanus — patience, a middah Shlomo Hamelech extols in Mishlei (16:32): One who controls himself is better (i. e. stronger) than any mighty person?

“But how can they do this to ME??”

Ga’avah?

“But it’s driving me nuts!”

Serenity, simchas hachaim, same’ach b’chelko… ?

“But it didn’t happen to, let’s see, another fine writer, Shoshana Schwartz!?”

Kinah?Ayin rah?

“But I don’t care that it’s not easy to put out a whole newpaper and thus mistakes will happen!”

Nosaiy b’ol?

“But I don’t want to have to explain!”

Atzlus?

“I should act like nothing happened?”

Chessed?

Look, at the end of the day…

Whatever happened to the mitzvas assei of V’ahavtah l’rei’acha komocha? Let’s say YOU had made the mistake…?

To be continued

Rav Malinowitz is the Rav of Beis Tefillah Yonah Avraham, located in Ramat Beit Shemesh Aleph, at the corner of Nachal Refaim and Nachal Luz. Many of Rav Malinowitz’s shiurim can be heard at www.btya.org.