Rabi Chanina ben Dosa, observing how other members of his city were bringing various donations and offerings to the Beis Hamikdash, strongly desired to do so as well. Without the ability to purchase an animal, he went into the nearby wilderness and found a large stone, which he lovingly shaped, cleaned and polished. Then it became a question of transporting it all the way to Yerushalayim.
He went out looking for porters, and eventually malachim appeared in the guise of men. They offered to undertake the trip for a pittance as long as Rabi Chanina helped.
He put his hand under it, and, miraculously, they were transported at once to Yerushalayim. Upon his arrival, as he sought to pay them for the trip, the “porters” disappeared.
Rabi Chanina had set out to do the impossible — he knew that porters would demand a hefty amount to undertake such a long and difficult trip. But that didn’t stop him from trying.
Even when the malachim were assigned to help him, he was still required to make an effort, and the effort resulted in a miracle.
The powerful lesson that this Midrash teaches us is applicable in all circumstances. All that is asked from us is a solid commitment and some effort — the rest will come from Heaven.
When Yaakov Avinu blessed Yosef Hatzaddik, he told him (Bereishis 48:15), “Hashem before Whom my forefathers Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov walked … Who shepherds me from inception to this day.”
In the sefer Imaros Tehoros, the Rachmastrivka Rebbe, shlita, quotes the Shela Hakodesh as interpreting this passuk to signify the fact that, as a person seeks to embark on the path of Torah and avodas Hashem, he must take the first steps, he must undertake his requisite efforts — and then he will merit siyatta diShmaya, assistance from Heaven, to continue.
Our Avos Hakedoshim, “walked before Hashem,” so to speak. They took the initial steps, and then merited that a great kedushah descended upon them from Shamayim.
In regard to every area of spiritual growth, whether it is learning Torah, increasing one’s Yiras Shamayim, or fulfilling any mitzvah, an individual must first undertake concrete action of his own. As Chazal (Yoma 39a) states, “a person who sanctifies himself a little, he is sanctified much [from Above.]”
In a similar vein, the Ohr Hachaim Hakodesh teaches regarding the passuk (Shemos 19:3), “And Moshe ascended to Hashem and Hashem called to him from the mountain,” that in order to be mekabel the Torah, a person must prepare himself, and transform himself into a vessel worthy of receiving the Torah. After Moshe Rabbineu ascended, Hashem called to him.
At the conclusion of krias haTorah this Shabbos, the words “Chazak, Chazak, Vanischazeik — Be strong, be strong, and may we be strengthened,” will be recited, as they are at the conclusion of the last parshiyos of Shemos, Vayikra, Bamidbar, and Devarim.
“Chazak — be strong” is a command, an instruction to us; Vanischazeik means “strengthened” on one’s own. Harav Aharon of Chernobyl, zy”a, would teach in the name of Harav Velvel of Zbariz, zy”a, that this represents the fact that a person is constant need of chizuk. Therefore, the words “be strong” are repeated twice: A person should seek to be mechazeik himself — and he will merit Vanischazeik — that he be strengthened from Shamayim.
As we journey through the often turbulent seas of life, each of us faces various tribulations and challenges. Since the Ribbono shel Olam created each of us with different types of personalities, we react differently to the obstacles we face in life. What may seem as a relatively minor issue to one person, can be a major personal crisis to another. What we have in common is a need for chizuk and inspiration.
Learning sefarim that speak about emunah and bitachon, spiritual mentors, relatives, and close friends are often invaluable sources of chizuk and inspiration. But ultimately, the primary source of chizuk lies within our own relationship with Hakadosh Baruch Hu. The only way to overcome the obstacles and the challenges we face is by taking concrete steps to strengthen ourselves to put the past aside, and strengthening ourselves for the present and the future with emunah peshutah.
As the story of Rabi Chanina ben Dosa illustrates, even when it appears that it would take a miracle for us to be able to extricate ourselves from a morass of dejection and hopelessness, we should never give up. All we have to do is make an effort at being mechazeik ourselves, and we will merit great siyatta diShmaya.