“I will tell you something that until now I haven’t told anyone else,” the Belzer Rebbe Harav Aharon, zt”l, said to the Boyaner Rebbe when the latter visited Eretz Yisrael.
Then the Belzer Rebbe shed light on a puzzling episode that took place during his escape from Galicia to Hungary in the midst of the Holocaust.
His Chassidim had invested enormous amounts of effort and money to spirit the Rav out of Galicia. It was a journey fraught with great danger — and filled with wondrous miracles. The cover story, in case they were stopped by the Nazis was that the Belzer Rebbe was a top Russian general captured on the eastern front, who was being brought to Budapest for questioning. His companions were to impersonate high-ranking Russian prisoners as well.
The risks were enormous. Neither the “Russian general” nor the “Russian officers” spoke any Russian …
At one point the Rebbe instructed the driver to stop the car, and to the shock and dismay of the driver and his companions, he got out and sat down on a nearby rock. For ten long minutes he sat there, seemingly oblivious to their peril, before returning to the car; the car then resumed the journey.
“I realized that we were approaching the matter with a behalah (a frantic quality)” the Belzer Rebbe told the Boyaner Rebbe. “So I sat down to gain some yishuv hadaas (composure).”
* * *
Achieving yishuv hadaas — the ability to remain calm and collected even during times of crisis — is a crucial goal for everybody. The level achieved by the Belzer Rebbe is beyond our comprehension. But each of us, on his and her own level and circumstances, is obligated to strive to ensure that our reason keeps our emotions under control.
A well-known song using words attributed to one of the tzaddikim of yesteryear illustrates this point.
“This world is a very narrow bridge; the main thing is not to be at all afraid…”
If we would think before acting and weigh our words before speaking we would prevent much grief. Yet one of the great challenges of living in this temporal world is the lack of yishuv hadaas that would make it possible for us to reflect upon and calculate our deeds. So many of us are in distress and pain about the past and the present, and living in fear for the future, circumstances that make yishuv hadaas a challenging goal to achieve.
The Torah tells us that Yaakov Avinu fought with an angel the entire night. At dawn, Yaakov Avinu emerged the victor and asked that the angel bless him. When Yaakov Avinu requested the angel’s name, the malach wouldn’t give it to him, but blessed him and departed.
This was the angel of Esav, the yetzer hara himself. He can only thrive in a state of commotion and confusion, when he spins his web and entangles us in it. But when he is asked questions, indicating presence of mind in his intended victim, he departs, for he cannot win where there is yishuv hadaas.
* * *
When Haman had succeeded in enacting the decree calling for annihilation of the entire Jewish people, he walked complacently by the king’s gate and noticed Mordechai sitting there. Mordechai “didn’t rise and didn’t stir,” a fact which enraged Haman past endurance.
Hagaon Harav Chaim Shmulevitz, zt”l, said that this was the primary strength of Mordechai. The most profound fear gripped the entire Klal Yisrael — yet Mordechai didn’t stir. He sat in a state of total composure, even tranquility.
Along with his people, he faced total annihilation at the hands of a genocidal monster — yet when the embodiment of evil walked by, Mordechai remained perfectly composed, not even stirring.
It was this perfect composure that proved to be a key part of the salvation of our people at the time. For an infuriated Haman declined to wait another eleven months — the date of the decree — to kill Mordechai. He decided to erect a gallows fifty cubits high, and bright and early the next morning he went to Achashverosh to seek permission to execute Mordechai. Only a few hours later, Haman was hanging on that very tree.
As we enter Shabbos Parashas Zachor, the Shabbos before the joyous Yom Tov of Purim, it is a most appropriate time to contemplate on the all-important attribute of yishuv hadaas.