Dealing with Adversity – Through Sheer Force of Will

This week in Pirkei Avos (perek 2) we read “Asei retzono k’rotzonchah kedei sheyaaseh ratzonchah kiretzono – Treat His will as if it were your will so that He will treat your will as if it were His will. Nullify your will before His will, so that He will nullify the will of others before your will.

Rabbeinu Yona explains that if we consider all that we have as collateral – on loan from the Borei Olam – we will readily be willing to do His will such as parting with part of our wealth for tzedakah.

He further tells us (as does Rav Ovadia M’Bartinora) that by rescinding plans that do not reflect Hashem’s will, Hashem will override the plans of our enemies who sought to rise against us.

When righteous people find favor with Hashem, even their adversaries are reconciled with him, as we find in Mishlei 16:7, “When Hashem desires a man’s ways, his enemies also make peace with him.” One example is Yosef Hatzaddik who found favor in Paroh’s eyes and became viceroy of Egypt (a good piece of advice given the current, hostile climate in this country).

A person who possesses the middah of ratzon, willingness, says sefer Orchos Tzaddikim in the Shaar Haratzon, is uniquely suited for such attitudes. He does not seek honor and prominence, does not question Hashem’s plans for him and rejoices in his lot.

Sefer Pele Yoetz expands on this idea when he says that one with this middah is not finicky and does not get angry. He does not cause them anguish out of concern for kvod habriyos (respecting human dignity) and endeavors to fulfill other people’s desires as long as their request is consistent with Torah.

We see another dimension of the concept of will in a teaching of Harav Avigdor Miller, zt”l, who explains in his commentary on the Siddur that this mishnah calls to mind the passuk in Ashrei “He does the will of those who fear him (Tehillim 145)” Rav Miller understands that the word “fear” implies “trust.” Their yirah is such that “they know that nothing can help or harm them, for there is no power but His .. for all their welfare is solely in His hand.” Moreover, He does their will even if it is merely in their thoughts, not articulated. As per the principle of “measure for measure,” in the quest to please Hashem they are motivated to do His will even beyond what he commanded.

At Kabbalas HaTorah we declared “Na’aseh v’Nishma” – committing ourselves to fulfill before hearing the commands. It was a pledge of complete subjugation to Hashem’s will — the polar opposite of today’s attitude of unfettered freedom. One may feel such dedication is not feasible. Sefer Hachinuch (mitzvah 16) famously tells us “Ha’adam nifal k’fi pe’ulosav — man is impacted by his actions.” By performing chesed, one disciplines himself to become a kind person. Regretfully, the reverse is also the case. Mesilas Yesharim famously tells us “hachitzoniyus m’orreres es hapnimiyus – external movements awaken inner ones.” We control the former more than the latter. By exercising what we can control, it will enable us to influence what we don’t control.

This recommendation can enhance our Torah study. Many people find it challenging to sit and learn for long periods. Harav Mendel Kaplan, zt”l, a greatly esteemed Maggid Shiur at the Yeshiva of Philadelphia, would advise his talmidim not to linger over breakfast and start their morning seder promptly, which would warrant Divine help. “Melachim are waiting at the door to assist you,” he would say.

He would further suggest learning even at times when it is difficult (such as on Friday or bein hazmanim) which he said would likewise bring them siyatta diShamaya.

Harav Emanuel Feldman, shlita, laments that living an observant life is a major struggle for many people since “the self wants to bend G-d to its will while the major teaching of Judaism is that we must learn to bend the self to G-d’s will.” He posits that this unfortunate reality is a hard sell in a society in which people want to be in charge and leads many Jews to be drawn to Rabbis and congregations that offer “less uncomfortable choices” in terms of Yiddishkeit.

To illustrate the benefits of earnestly following the Torah’s path the Chofetz Chaim gave the following allegory: A traveler was compelled to navigate a high, narrow mountain road. The path itself was extremely risky and down below were wild animals that could attack one who fell even if he survived. The man came up with what he thought was a viable plan for tackling this frightening challenge. He would don a blindfold to spare him from seeing the perils facing him and would thereby remain calm. He foolishly misunderstood that this would only increase the danger and aggravates an already bad situation. 

Similarly, we must acknowledge the precariousness of not following retzon Hashem; by following His desires we avoid pitfalls and gain immeasurably in this world and the next.

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 ygesser@hamodia.com.

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