With each new day bringing its own set of challenges, many of us wonder: why me?
Often one looks around and gets the impression that others are having an easier time navigating the maze of life, that somehow the neighbor’s road is less treacherous, his obstacles smaller and easier to overcome.
This, of course, is only an illusion. As has often been said, if all of us could put down our life-burdens in a row and then we would be given a choice of which pekel to retrieve, everyone would take back his own. And the fact is that each one of us was given the tools and the ability to rise above our particular challenges, regardless of how daunting they may be.
But in practice, this is a very difficult task.
There are several lessons in this week’s parashah that may help us gain inspiration as we try to keep our heads above the churning waters of life.
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Though Avraham Avinu faced ten mighty nisyonos (and passed them all), still, relative to the lives of his son and grandson, most of his life was filled with tranquility. He was a “father of a multitude of nations,” acknowledged by his generation as a “Prince of Hashem.” His “pillar” — the aspect of avodas Hashem that he represented — was chessed (loving-kindness), and his life was full of chessed.
It was Avraham Avinu who established tefillas Shacharis. His tefillah, the first of the day, takes place in the glorious sunshine of the morning. “Avraham rose early in the morning to the place he had stood…” (Bereishis 19:27). As the Gemara (Brachos 5b) explains: “The word amidah (standing) means tefillah.” He was able to “stand” in his place, so to speak, and daven, for he was surrounded by chessed.
The pillar of Yitzchak Avinu was gevurah — midas hadin. His aspect of avodah was serving Hashem despite obstacles, and so overcoming the dinim. In his personal life he suffered significant hardship. When his servants dug wells in the valley of Grar, the local herdsman quarreled repeatedly with them, and for close to a third of his long life his “eyes dimmed from seeing.”
The tefillah Yitzchak Avinu established was Minchah. “Yitzchak went out to converse in the field toward evening” (Bereishis 24:63). He was forced to “go out,” i.e. overcome his challenges and emerge whole from them.
Of the three Avos, Yaakov Avinu lived the life most beset with challenges and tragedy. For most of his adult life, he faced the unrelenting enmity of his only brother. For twenty years he was forced into hard labor by his duplicitous father-in-law. He suffered the tragedy of Dinah. And Rochel Imeinu was niftar just after giving birth to Binyamin. For twenty-two long years Yaakov Avinu grieved for his beloved son Yosef; and then he spent his last years in exile in a foreign land.
After seeing the sun set, Yaakov Avinu established Maariv, a tefillah for the long, difficult “night” of galus, paving the way for his descendants to be mispallel in the most daunting and difficult of times.
But he did more than that. He also “took from the stones of the place” and “arranged them around his head” — he took the stones that were blocking his way, the very obstacles he was facing, and used them as a tool to grow closer to Hashem.
(Based in part on the sefer Eretz Tzvi by the Kozglover Rav, Hy”d).
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In sharp contrast to, lehavdil, the secular world, exalted levels of avodas Hashem are not measured by the quantity of chessed accomplished or number of dapim of Gemara learned. Rather, it is the dedication of the heart, and the difficulties faced and overcome in reaching these goals that is valued in Shamayim.
When Yaakov Avinu awoke after meriting a dream of nevuah, he declared “How awesome is this place — this is none other than a Beis Elokim.” Chazal teach us that he also said, “If I would have known, I would not have slept!”
Yaakov Avinu merited seeing in a dream wondrous revelations, images and levels that we cannot possibly fathom. Awed and inspired, he at first regretted that for the past fourteen years that he had spent in yeshivah, he hadn’t slept at all. What marvelous revelations had he missed out on?
But he immediately reconsidered. He concluded that as wonderful and as elevating as his dream was, that was not the purpose of living in this temporal world. Enjoying lofty revelations is the final reward for doing mitzvos, but the purpose of living in this world is simply to toil in avodas Hashem
Each barrier we encounter, each challenge we face, is another opportunity for spiritual growth. Were we only to realize the greatness of our efforts in response to these “difficulties” and how much our efforts are valued in Shamayim, we would be astonished — and delighted beyond words.
But then again, if we were to have this knowledge our nisayon would be that much smaller, and the accomplishment of overcoming it much smaller as well.