Of Traps and Travails

A gabbai tzedakah frequently visited the home of a notorious miser, who true to his reputation refused each time to donate a cent.

“Why do you keep on coming to me?” the wealthy man asked the gabbai tzedakah. “You know that I never give you anything.”

“The yezter hara told me the same thing a little earlier today,” the gabbai tzedakah replied. “He too tried to dissuade me from coming to you. I told him that I actually learned from him. Every time he tries to convince me not to come to you I ignore him, yet he keeps on trying. So I too keep on trying…”

The miser was won over by the argument, and gave a substantial sum to tzedakah.

On frequent occasions, our community has been deluged by efforts of missionary organizations to ensnare Jewish souls with their poisonous tentacles.

Missionary groups are very dangerous, as much a threat to our souls as terror groups are to our bodies. Every year, falling victim to deceptive tactics, hundreds of uneducated Jewish souls are torn away from their heritage. Since the missionaries disguise their true intentions, their tactics can sow confusion and spiritual damage among those who not well-versed in the Torah lifestyle.

However, with the rare exception of an individual with severe emotional or personal issues, they are unable to achieve their real goal: convincing a Jew living a Torah life to abandon Yiddishkeit.

Nonetheless they spend huge sums of money and resources trying to infiltrate the frum community. If they are willing to spend so much for the sake of evil, when they know that they probably won’t accomplish their goal, how much are we obligated to spend and give for the sake of the eternal truth?

***

The second of the two parshiyos we read this week begins with a list of all the different encampments of Bnei Yisrael as they traversed the midbar.

The Kotzker Rebbe teaches that when Moshiach will come, all the journeys of the Yidden in exile will also be compiled in a sefer.

His grandson, the Shem MiShmuel, explains that one of the primary purposes of the wandering of the Bnei Yisrael is to purify them through suffering, so that they should merit entry into Eretz Yisrael.

While in the midbar — though they had their share of challenges — they also had the heavenly mann to eat, the well of Miriam for drinking water, and of course the Clouds of Glory to protect them. Nonetheless, their travails sufficed to gain them entry into Eretz Yisrael and the immeasurable level of ruchniyus that represented.

One could only imagine what we, who have suffered such unspeakable tribulations for nearly two thousand years, will merit when Moshiach finally comes!

***

The sefer of our travails will tell not only of the thousands of towns and villages we once inhabited, and the persecution and humiliation we suffered, but also of our spiritual challenges.

Often we think that only when we successfully overcame a nisayon and managed to defeat our yetzer hara the first time around, that counts as a victory.

Yet this is not the case. For how we respond to a spiritual downfall, how we behave after we realize we have grievously erred, is just as important.

The Midrash tells of the peddler who frequented the towns near the city of Zippori, proclaiming, “Who wants to purchase the elixir of life?”

On one occasion he entered the hometown of Rabi Yannai, and after making his announcement he was besieged by local residents clamoring to buy this wonderful item.

Rav Yannai, sitting and learning in his nearby residence, overheard the commotion and asked the peddler to come to him, as he too wished to purchase the elixir.

“You don’t need it,” the peddler told him, “nor do those who are like you.”

When Rabi Yannai pressured him, the peddler agreed to show him the elixir. He opened up a sefer Tehillim to the verses “Who is the man who desires life? Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking decit.”

“All my life I knew this passuk, but did not know its meaning, until this peddler came and told it to me,” Rabi Yannai exclaimed.

All the peddler did was show him the pesukim; how did he add to Rabi Yannai’s understanding of the words? Certainly Rabi Yannai was aware of the literal translation.

The Izhbitzer Rebbe zy”a, explains that this peddler, who is called in the Midrash a “rochel,” was actually someone who had previously been known for committing the sin of rechilus. Now that he had done teshuvah, he merited a deep understanding and sweetness in the words of this passuk. For someone who stumbled in a particular inyan and then did teshuvah for it merits a connection with the passuk relating to the inyan.

Rabi Yannai had never uttered a word of rechilus and so was unable to relate to the passuk the way this baal teshuvah did, and he was grateful to the peddler for sharing his understanding and his connection to this passuk.

All of us have weaknesses. In the Three Weeks, days of reflection and introspection, let us take advantage of them by growing from them.