Dealing with Adversity – Passing Our Tests Effects Salvation

For some time before the horrific matzav that evolved on Simchas Torah, Harav Moshe Shternbuch, shlita, had been cautioning that such events were possibly in the offing. At the greatly curtailed hakofos sheniyos in his yeshivah, he spoke briefly. Among his words, he said, “We need faith that Hashem will help but in order for Hashem to help, we have to show we agree to do something difficult, with mesirus nefesh, for His sake.” He then gave the directive that people should be prepared to learn Torah even during difficult times which would allow them to merit to “witness wonders with the help of Hashem.” He said that every little bit of learning has the power to effect a yeshuah.

In a later letter, the Rav noted that Klal Yisrael would be redeemed through “affliction, teshuvah, mercy and tefillah.”

Teshuvah is a very individualized undertaking; each person needs to consider what he needs to rectify and focus on those areas.

The call for teshuvah and mesirus nefesh brings to mind a story related by Rabbi Emanuel Feldman, shlita. Rabbi Feldman served as Rav in Atlanta for nearly four decades where he brought many people closer to Yiddishkeit. A secular Jewish mother once asked him to speak to her 12-year-old daughter who greatly desired to see a “little miracle” by Hashem as proof of His existence. He explained to her that a miracle means that Hashem changes the rules of nature He Himself set up. If we similarly change our conduct and habits for His sake, we make it possible for Him to likewise change the natural order of events for our sake. Things like managing to part with our money for tzedakah or refraining from insulting or harming someone. We need to be willing to leave our comfort zone to serve Him.

Such tasks constitute a great test for most people. This week we read in Parashas Vayera about the formidable test that con-fronted Avraham Avinu. In a generation when everyone worshipped avodah zarah, he dedicated his life to bringing people to the belief in Hashem Echad. Hashem gave Avraham ten tests. The final test was Akeidas Yitzchak. The entire future of Klal Yisrael depended on Yitzchak, this one son whom Hashem had granted him at the age of 100. Slaughtering Yitzchak was the antithesis of the worldview he had disseminated until now. It appeared that by fulfilling this request of Hashem, the work of a lifetime of spreading emunah in the world would be terminated. 

Still and all, Avraham and Yitzchak were prepared to forfeit everything and subordinated themselves to Hashem’s will. They hurried to follow the will of their Creator. By doing so they transcended the system of teva and physical reality. It was as if they had severed their connection to this world. They attained the ultimate level of free choice and were transformed into Bnei Olam Haba, members of the world to come, explains Rabbi Ezriel Tauber.

Afterward, the malach of Hashem tells Avraham: “Since you did this thing and did not withhold your son, your only one, I will surely bless you and I will greatly increase your offspring like the stars of the heavens and like the sand on the seashore. And your offspring will inherit the gates of its enemies.”

Rabbi Tauber explains that this brachah implies, “Avraham, know that from now on, you and your descendants are not like other nations of this world. You are singularly set apart from all other people. Your progeny will have the capacity to ascend to be like stars and even higher.”

Avraham Avinu’s attainment invested us with qualities and abilities that would stand us in good stead for future doros. Harav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zt”l, in his classic Sichas Mussar discusses how sheviras hamiddos, how overcoming one’s natural disposition and rectifying one’s undesirable character traits can invoke rachamei Shamayim and break evil decrees. One of several examples he cites from Chazal to illustrate this is Maseches Megillah 15b which questions why Esther felt compelled to invite Haman to her banquet. Achashveirosh was the one to whom she needed to direct an urgent plea to save her people.

Rabi Shimon ben Menasya answers that by degrading herself through flattering this rasha, Esther was hopeful that Hashem would respond to Klal Yisrael’s grave plight with a miracle. Rav Chaim explains that Esther’s efforts to minimize her stature played a significant role in bringing about Klal Yisrael’s rescue from a fearsome foe.

Such examples of sublimity are relevant not only to the greatest among us. Each of us has been granted a specific, individualized spiritual mission. By working to carry it out as best as possible we benefit in terms addressing the personal issues that affect the lives of all of us. Yet, it is likewise comforting to know that there may be a more global gain in terms of what this can accomplish in evoking Hashem’s mercy and lovingkindness in these troubling times.

Rabbi Yosef Gesser is a longtime writer for Hamodia Newspaper as well as an inspirational speaker on various topics, including dealing with adversity. He can be reached at

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