The Gerrer Rebbe, the Beis Yisrael, zy”a, had a custom of inviting people in for tea in the very early morning. On one occasion a young bachur was invited to the Rebbe for a pre-dawn visit.
It was still very dark outside and the curtains were drawn, the doors closed. The gabbai was not there and the young bachur stood outside feeling lost. Suddenly the lights came on and the Rebbe opened the door wide.
“The door was open all along,” he said. “All you needed to do was turn the knob and push it.”
The Rebbe then told the bachur the following vort, which relates to this week’s parashah:
When Yaakov Avinu came to the well that had the very large stone on it, other shepherds were standing around, waiting for everyone to come and lift the stone together.
“Anyone could have lifted the stone,” the Rebbe said. “But they all saw a big stone and said, ‘I can’t lift it, so I am not even going to try.’ Yaakov Avinu also saw a big stone and believed that he wouldn’t be able to lift it, but he said, ‘Let me try’ — and indeed he could do it,” the Rebbe concluded.
The Midrash teaches us about the time that 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 the stone, 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 some 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 our hishtadlus — the rest will come from Heaven.
Throughout the generations, Klal Yisrael was blessed with spiritual heroes who embodied this concept and, regardless of how daunting the circumstances, they selflessly did all they possibly could.
A quintessential example of such a leader was Harav Michoel Ber Weissmandl, zt”l, whose yahrtzeit was this week, the 6th of Kislev. The son-in-law of the Nitra Rav, Harav Shmiel Duvid Ungar, Hy”d, Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivas Nitra in Slovakia, Harav Michoel Ber was a brilliant Torah scholar, with a particular expertise in deciphering ancient kisvei yad.
Even when few believed that a war was coming, Harav Michoel Ber was already deeply involved with and entrenched in his heroic rescue efforts. Throughout the war years, he made every type of hishtadlus that was humanly possible, and beyond. He sent letters the world over, he telegraphed, he smuggled, he negotiated, he bribed, he worked with anyone who could possibly be of help to save Jews.
His decisions were based on the Torah and the needs of Am Yisrael — never about self-serving agendas or kavod. The “I” had no place in his vocabulary; his life was the epitome of selflessness. And when Harav Michoel Ber believed something needed to be done, he thought nothing of how others would react.
Emerging from the Holocaust, Harav Weissmandl was shattered. He wife and children had been killed, and his community decimated. From his sickbed in Switzerland, he promised to rebuild the Nitra Yeshivah, and he proceeded to throw all his energies into this endeavor. He would later also remarry and rebuild a beautiful family.
His influence, both through his talmidim — and via their children and talmidim — as well as being a role model for Klal Yisrael, continues to have a great impact, six decades after his petirah.