When a Bit Is Best

It was in the middle of shalosh seudos that the Ruzhiner Rebbe, zy”a, told the following story:

A Yid who was struggling greatly with parnassah had invested virtually all that he had into the purchase of furs for resale. Time passed, the winter progressed, and he hadn’t made a single sale. The situation was dire, and the livelihood of his family was at stake.

One morning, a merchant approached him and offered to buy out his entire lot.

“I haven’t davened yet,” the Yid replied, requesting that he return after Shacharis. The merchant insisted that he was in a great rush and could not wait. It was either now or never.

The Yid was equally insistent. He had taken upon himself not to do any business before davening and steadfastly refused to make an exception — even if it meant forgoing a sale that he desperately needed. As a result, the merchant left without making the purchase.

The Ruzhiner Rebbe then continued singing the Shabbos zemiros, leaving his chassidim curious about the end of the story.

Later, a chassid asked the Ruzhiner what happened to the Yid and his furs. Did he manage to sell them in the end?

“That Yid didn’t worry what would happen to him — and you are worried about what happened to him?” the Ruzhiner replied.

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When Yaakov Avinu finally agreed to send Binyamin to Egypt in order to obtain Shimon’s freedom, he instructed his sons to take with them a tribute to the ruler who had seized Shimon, claiming that the bnei Yaakov were spies. The Torah tells us that this tribute consisted of “a bit of balsam, a bit of honey, wax, lotus, pistachios, and almonds.”

If the intention was to find favor in the eyes of the ruler — who, as the brothers would later discover, was Yosef — why did he only send a “bit” of balsam and a “bit” of honey?

The answer is that Yaakov Avinu felt a certain amount of hishtadlus was in order, but too much hishtadlus would be counterproductive. For when a person places too much emphasis on hishtadlus, it blurs the fact that the only source of salvation is Hashem. In order to do the requisite hishtadlus, a “bit” of balsam sufficed.

In a similar vein, Chazal tell us regarding the very end of last week’s parashah that Yosef Hatzaddik asked the sar hamashkim to try to win his release, and as a result of this request, he was forced to spend another two years in prison. What did Yosef do wrong in making this request? After all, wasn’t he required to make some effort to obtain his release?

Among the numerous explanations is that when Yosef phrased his request to the sar hamashkim, he used somewhat repetitive language: “If only you will think of me with yourself when he benefits you and you will do me a kindness, if you please, and mention me to Pharaoh…”

For someone on the lofty level of Yosef Hatzaddik, the first part of the statement sufficed for hishtadlus. Because he repeated himself by explaining the request, he was forced to remain in prison for two additional years.

Another explanation is that it was a matter of timing. Yosef had informed the sar hamashkim that in three days he would be summoned before Pharaoh, who would restore him to his previous position. Yet immediately after interpreting the dream, Yosef asked him to intercede with Pharaoh — which indicated that he had given up hope of being freed within the next three days. Otherwise, he would have waited until the third day before making his request of the sar hamashkim.

For this apparent lack of emunah that Hakadosh Baruch Hu could free him immediately, Yosef was forced to spend another two years in prison — a year for each of the two days that he didn’t wait to make his request.

We have no concept of the greatness of Yosef Hatzaddik, but the lesson about excessive hishtadlus is applicable to us all.

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Why did the Chashmona’im even attempt to begin a war that seemed impossible for them to win? Why didn’t they — as other righteous Jews of that era did — go into hiding instead and thus keep the mitzvos?

Harav Tzadok, the Rebbe of Lublin, zy”a, teaches that the Chashmona’im were on such a lofty level that they internalized the fact that all of life was a miracle. Their emunah in Hakadosh Baruch Hu was so strong that they recognized that He Who gives power to the many and mighty to defeat the few and the weak can also give power to the few and weak to defeat the many and mighty.