We Should Not Stumble

V’achalta v’savata u’veirachta (Devarim 8:10)

Parashas Eikev contains the mitzvah of reciting Birkas Hamazon, in which we thank Hashem after we have eaten a meal containing bread. Many commentators discuss the tremendous value in saying this blessing with intense concentration and the numerous benefits and blessings that a person can receive for doing so. Harav Yitzchak Zilberstein recounts an inspiring story which demonstrates the power of Birkas Hamazon to alter people’s lives in completely unintended ways.

A young Torah scholar in Yerushalayim went to a library to study a certain rare book that was not available in his yeshivah or shul. Since he knew that there were no kosher restaurants in the area around the library, he brought his lunch with him, and when he got hungry, he took a break to eat. At the conclusion of his meal, he recited Birkas Hamazon aloud with great fervor.

To his astonishment, the secular librarian approached him when he finished to ask him why he had said “she’lo neivosh v’lo nikaleim v’lo nikasheil — we should not feel ashamed or be humiliated, and we should not stumble” — when the correct wording is simply “she’lo neivosh v’lo nikaleim,” omitting the phrase “v’lo nikasheil.” The librarian explained that although she had recently abandoned the path of Torah observance, she was familiar with the text of the prayer because she had grown up in a religious family. The young man, who had been accustomed to include the phrase “v’lo nikasheil” in Birkas Hamazon since his youth, promised to show her a photocopy of a page of a prayer book proving that there is a text of the prayer which includes this expression. However, to his chagrin, when he attempted to locate a source for this wording by searching the relevant books in the library, not one of them contained this phrase.

After the young man finished his research in the library, he proceeded to Meah She’arim, where after many hours of searching, he discovered an old Haggadah which included the phrase “v’lo nikasheil” in Birkas Hamazon. Excited by his find, he photocopied the page, and he highlighted these words and drew red arrows pointing to them so that the librarian would understand the purpose of the letter. Because he did not know her name, he sent it to the library with a request that it be delivered to the young woman who was working on that day. After mailing the letter, he moved on with life and forgot about the entire episode.

Many months later, the young Torah scholar received an invitation to a wedding, but to his surprise, he didn’t recognize the names of the bride or groom or their families. Although he obviously had no intention of attending, Hashem caused him to “coincidentally” pass by the hall on the day of the wedding, so he decided to enter and quickly survey the room to see if he recognized anybody. After looking around and confirming that he did not know any of the members of the wedding party, he concluded that the invitation had been sent to him by mistake and turned to leave. However, before he could do so, somebody approached him and said that the bride desperately wanted to speak with him.

At this point, he was completely baffled, as he was certain that he had no relationship with the bride, but as he approached her, she excitedly asked him whether he recognized her. When he responded that he did not, she told him that she was the librarian who had debated him regarding the proper text of Birkas Hamazon, and she cryptically added that the entire wedding was in his merit. She explained that at the time of their interaction in the library, she was involved in a serious relationship with a non-Jewish man who wanted to marry her. Although she was no longer religious, she was still uncomfortable with the idea of marrying a non-Jew. Finally, the man grew impatient and gave her an ultimatum, demanding that she agree to marry him by a certain date, or else he would move on without her.

She went to work on the appointed day confused and tormented about what answer she would give him. When she arrived at the library she discovered the letter, which had circulated throughout the library for several weeks until finally making its way to her desk on that fateful day. She opened the letter and was astonished to see the highlighted words “v’lo nikasheil” — we should not stumble — which she interpreted as a Heaven-sent message imploring her not to stumble by agreeing to marry a non-Jew. This wake-up call helped her resolve her doubts, and she informed the fellow that she would not be marrying him. From that point onward, she slowly returned to the religious lifestyle of her family, and now she was about to get married and establish a new Jewish home, all in the merit of one passionate Birkas Hamazon.

Parashah Q & A

Q: Moshe told the Jewish people (8:5) that just as a father will chastise his son, so too does Hashem rebuke them. Why did Moshe refer to future punishments which had yet to occur instead of to those which had already transpired and to which they could better relate?

A: Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.Parashah Potpourri The Yalkut HaGershuni explains that when a parent wants to intimidate a child to prevent him from misbehaving, he may take out a thick belt to show him what punishment awaits him if he doesn’t listen. Similarly, Hashem is a loving parent and it pains Him when He has no choice but to mete out punishment. Therefore, he alludes to the suffering and rebuke that awaits them in the future if they don’t observe the mitzvos, in the hopes that this knowledge will prevent us from sinning and sparing Him the need to actually implement His threats.