For years, every time we lain Parshas Vayeira, the same question bothers me. Why did Avrohom Avinu not rush to tell his wife Sarah that Hashem promised that they would have a son? The elderly couple had unsuccessfully sought a child for many years. Hashem appeared to Avrohom and foretold him that he and his wife would be giving birth to a son who would inherit them and carry their mission forward. How can it be that Avrohom didn’t share the great news with his wife?
Together, Avrohom and Sarah had labored side by side, decade after decade, in an uninterrupted chain of dveykus, to bring the message of G-dliness to the masses. Theirs was a lifelong campaign of filling the world with Hashem’s glory. The two of them set out on their path alone, displaying dedicated leadership. They drew many adherents and followers, until they had a wave of maaminim following them.
They were blessed with much wealth and fame, and had everything a couple could desire – everything, that is, except a child. They didn’t have someone of their own flesh and blood to carry on the campaign for further generations. They didn’t have anyone to nurture and inculcate with their values.
They no doubt tried everything they could, including davening and segulos, all apparently for naught. Then, one day, Hashem gave Avrohom Avinu the ultimate besorah tovah: He and Sarah would merit a child. Yet Avrohom kept it a secret. Why?
The Ramban addresses this question (Bereishis 18:15), explaining that Avrohom did not immediately hurry and share the happy tidings with Sarah either because he wished to wait until Hashem would let Sarah know the good news at a later time, as He indeed did later the same day through the malochim, or because he was preoccupied with performing the mitzvah of milah on himself and his household as he had been commanded and thus didn’t have the time to tell Sarah. When he completed fulfilling Hashem’s commandments regarding milah, he was weak and sat at the entrance of his tent to recuperate. Before he had a chance to get back to himself and tell Sarah, the malochim came and told her themselves.
Even after studying the words of the Ramban, the question still bothered me. How can it be that Avrohom didn’t run and tell his wife that the one thing they were lacking in their lives would be granted to them? How long would it take? Wouldn’t doing so bring much happiness to his wife? How could he postpone bringing her that joy?
Perhaps the question is based on a mistaken premise. One who is a true maamin knows that all that happens to him is for the good. One who lives with true bitachon understands that Hashem created the world to be meitiv to man. Hashem’s purpose in creation was to bring about goodness and kindness. At times, it may appear to us as if what is transpiring is bad. We don’t always comprehend what is going on, but we have to know that there is a greater purpose and understanding of all that is transpiring. Nothing is haphazard and nothing happens by itself.
People want children because they have been conditioned to expect to give birth to a child. Children bring joy into your life and into the world. Children provide hope that our traditions, beliefs and successes will be transmitted to future generations. What is a family without children?
But, in fact, we are all here because Hashem willed it so. Everything we have is because Hashem willed it to be that way. We all have a mission in life. We are given what we need in order to be able to succeed in our mission. Some people need a big house in order to fulfill their shlichus, while some don’t. Some need a big car, while for others a small jalopy suffices. Some people need a lot of money in order to carry out the mission for which they were placed in this world, while some can be most successful in their shlichus without a dime in their pockets.
A maamin and baal bitachon doesn’t look at what other people have and complain about why he is lacking in those blessings. He knows that Hashem chose poverty for him and wealth for the other person. He is not jealous of others and does not view himself as lacking in anything. He is happy with what he has because he knows that he has a Father above who provides for him.
Avrohom and Sarah were the consummate maaminim. They understood that Hashem does what is best for them. When they weren’t blessed with a child, they didn’t go around feeling bad for themselves. They didn’t view their lives as lacking. They viewed their lives as full and blessed, even though there were no children in their home and no one to inherit them. They perceived their mission to be bringing the knowledge of Hashem to the world. If they didn’t have a child, then they could apparently fulfill their mission without one. Their good acts would live on some other way.
Since they didn’t view the lack of a child as a major tragedy, when Avrohom heard from Hashem that he and his wife would be giving birth to a son who would inherit them and carry on their mission, he didn’t rush to tell his wife. In last week’s parshah (15:4-5), Hashem told Avrohom, “Asher yeitzei mimei’echa hu yiroshecha – The one you give birth to will inherit you.” The posuk says that Hashem took Avrohom outside and told him to “look up to the sky and count the stars. If you are able to count them, so will you be able to count your children,” for they will be so plentiful that it will be impossible to count them.
The posuk then recounts (ibid. 6), “Vehe’emin baHashem vayachsheveha lo tzedakah,” Avrohom trusted Hashem and Hashem looked upon Avrohom’s faith favorably.
Many question what the big deal is that Avrohom trusted the promise of Hashem and why Hashem considered it a major act. If Hashem appeared to anyone, wouldn’t he trust Him to keep His word?
If we continue with our line of reasoning, we can answer that the big deal was that Avrohom was the paradigm believer in Hashem. He believed when he didn’t have a son as much as he believed after he was promised the son and multitudes of offspring. His belief didn’t change. He was the consummate believer.
As such, when Hashem promised that he and Sarah would give birth to a child who would inherit them and continue their mission, it was not such a big deal that Avrohom had to interrupt the mitzvoh he was doing in order to rush and tell Sarah.
This is what the Ramban means when he says that Avrohom was busy carrying out Hashem’s commandment regarding milah. Avrohom was fulfilling his mission of following Hashem’s word. That is what his life was all about. He was the consummate servant of Hashem, whether he had a child or not, so his first obligation was to finish doing what Hashem asked him to do. Sarah wouldn’t expect anything different.
We tend to plug our emotions, perspectives and reactions into stories of the avos and thus we have questions. We understand the burning urge for a child, the ache of loneliness, and the frustration of unanswered tefillos. But there is a level beyond ours, the level of tzaddikim. Yes, a child is a hemshech, a continuation of all man’s accomplishments and a means of ensuring that the chain goes on. A child affords one the mitzvah of chinuch, the joy and fulfillment of seeing a new generation growing in Torah and avodah, and the nachas of transmitting eternal values, but there is a backdrop to all this: the only reality that counts and exists is that which Hashem desires.
To us, a husband and wife longing and yearning for something for so many years and then receiving it is a happy story. To tzaddikim, before they are answered, it is viewed as the ratzon Hashem, after they are answered, it remains the same ratzon Hashem.
To Avrohom Avinu and Sarah Imeinu, the desire for a child was in the context of that reality. Hashem hadn’t wanted it, so it was good and perfect. They existed serenely within that reality. The news that they would have a child meant, in their terms, that the ratzon Hashem now was different than it had been before. Their will had been in concert with Hashem’s all along and so would it continue.
Similarly, the nisayon of the Akeidah was a test of Avrohom’s bitachon. Now that he had been blessed with a son, were he to learn that it was the will of Hashem for him to return that gift, would he happily comply with Hashem’s wish or would he question the command? The posuk (Bereishis 22:3) recounts that Avrohom passed the test. “Vayashkeim Avrohom baboker.” Without delay, he hurried to fulfill Hashem’s wish. He had wanted a son in order to perform his shlichus in this world. If Hashem wanted him to have a son, he was thrilled, and if He did not wish for him to have a son any longer, then Avrohom would rush to fulfill the will of Hashem, fully accepting the decision.
The Chazon Ish wrote poetically, “Ein kol etzev ba’olam lemi shemakir ohr ha’oros shel ha’emes. There is no despair in the world for one who perceives the light of lights of the truth.” Rav Yitzchok Hutner pointed out that the Chazon Ish, who experienced the same struggle as the avos, was expressing that there exists an “ohr,” a light, of ratzon Hashem that is more obvious. There is also an “ohr ha’oros,” a less obvious but deeper light, that of amitas retzono Yisborach. For those who perceive the deep light of Hashem, there is no depression, for they recognize the truth that all that transpires is for the greater good.
On Shabbos, we do not wish a sick person a refuah sheleimah. Instead, Chazal say, we say, “Shabbos hi milizok.” On Shabbos, we don’t cry out in pain.
Perhaps we can understand that pain and pity are appropriate when one is somewhat removed from the ohr ha’oros. On Shabbos Kodesh, our proximity to the Borei Olam makes such reactions inappropriate. Shabbos is the day when the ohr of sheishes yemei bereishes shines through and we appreciate that if things are a certain way, it is because that is what Hashem wants. During the yemei hama’aseh, things are less clear, and we cry, but on Shabbos, when the light is evident, we refrain from sadness.
On Shabbos, as well, we do not engage in obvious acts of mourning. On the six days of the week, we cry over the passing of loved ones. When Shabbos arrives, there is no sadness. On Shabbos, we proclaim that the world was created by the Creator. We receive a neshomah yeseirah, which allows us to comprehend concepts that we can’t understand during the week. On this day, we do not mourn or engage in sadness, for we recognize that Hashem created the world to do good and all that transpires is for the good.
Rav God’l Eisner was a mashgiach in the Gerrer Yeshiva prior to the Holocaust. He survived the war and was appointed mashgiach of Yeshiva Sefas Emes in Tel Aviv.
A student retold that he was an inmate in several concentration camps. Under the Nazis, there were no good days, only continuous sorrow and pain. One day, the boy saw his rebbi, Rav God’l, and hope rose in his heart as he remembered the good old days in yeshiva and the chizuk and hope that the mashgiach had offered back then.
The talmid approached Reb God’l, raising his sad, shallow eyes. “Rebbe, mit voss? How do we carry on in the shadow of the crematoria, with the smell of death hovering like a cloud?”
The mashgiach reached into the folds of his thin uniform, pulling out a treasure. In a place where everything was seized upon arrival, he carried with him from the day he arrived a scrap of paper in his shirt pocket, close to his heart.
There, in the pit of death, the mashgiach read aloud to the talmid the words of the Chovos Halevavos in Shaar Ahavas Hashem, at the end of perek alef:
“Like the chossid who arose in the night and said, ‘My Master, you have starved me, and I lack clothing, and I sit here in the depths of the night, but your greatness and wonder I see. If you burn me in fire, I will only add more love and joy in You…”
The mashgiach’s demeanor was serene as he folded his precious slip of paper and hid it again. “The Ribbono Shel Olam wants us here, so we’re here. Whatever he metes out, day or night, happiness or pain, comfort or distress, I accept it the same way.”
It’s all ratzon Hashem.
Such is the way of the avos, tzaddikim and maaminim, and that is the way we should try to live our lives.
This lesson, like all maasei avos, is most relevant these days, when every day seems to serve up an endless diet of bad news. Every time we check on the latest from Eretz Yisroel, there is another attack and more bloodshed. Should we become despondent? Should we be afraid to leave our homes and travel to Eretz Yisroel? Should we fear what is happening to the world? Or should we be strong, comfort the grieving, and recognize that this is all part of an unfolding Divine plan?
We see increasing strain on Jewish communities worldwide. We see politicians ignoring us, openly siding with our enemies. We see people we thought we could trust, smile and assure us that all is well, as they shake the blood-soaked hands of those intent on destroying us.
We look around at the world and see treachery everywhere. We see evil rising. We see immorality and depravity enshrined into law. We see countries across the world evaporating, as hundreds of thousands are killed. We see the American culture under attack from within and without. We see the candidates running for the presidency and we shudder what will happen if some of them reach the White House.
Our personal lives contain much turmoil. We all have things in our lives that don’t go as planned. We all have our share of heartache and problems. Why do we have to work so hard and why can’t we attain our goals with less aggravation? It takes so much money to make ends meet; we can’t take the constant pressure to stay above water. There are so many things we wish were different. Should we be overcome with sadness? Should we give up? Should we feel alone and forlorn?
We have to do our best to go on besimchah. We have to recognize that what happens is His will and ratzon hatov leheitiv. We should have no doubt that what happens is good and is the right thing for us, whether or not we easily perceive it. We must know that those who see the ohr ha’oros recognize the good nature of everything that transpires. We have to do our best to rise to that level.
The connection to the Ribbono Shel Olam means that we know that He who created us and gives us life at every moment also knows exactly what we need. At times, we wish for things to be different, for a lack to be filled, or for a situation to be changed.
So we daven and hope, but always with the confidence that He knows how things ought to be. Avrohom Avinu prayed for the people of Sedom, begging, beseeching and pleading for Heavenly mercy on their behalf. He was turned down. How did he respond? He returned the next morning “el hamakom asher omad shom es pnei Hashem” (Bereishis 19:27). He went back to the same “place,” with the very same submission, humility and faith with which he had offered his tefillos and been turned down the day before.
“Yes” and “no” are but two expressions of the same ratzon. They are thus not different. As Hashem’s children, we have that same ability and unique attitude to recognize that everything is from Hashem. So ein kol etzev. We don’t grow dejected. We continue to hope, certain that one day, may it be very soon, we will rejoice when it all becomes clear just how good it has been all along.
Rav Pinchos Menachem Alter of Ger recounted that as a child, he visited a bank. He saw a man handing over piles of cash to a teller and felt so bad for the man. “Oy, the poor man has to give so much money to the bank. He probably has nothing left for himself,” he thought in his childish head.
As he stood there, he saw another man receiving bundles of money from a manager. “Look at that rich man,” he thought to himself. “He is walking out of here with a fortune.”
The rebbe related that it was only later that it was explained to him that the person he saw handing over money to the teller was, in fact, the wealthy man. He had come to deposit his money in the bank for safekeeping. The second man, who walked out with a big wad of cash, was quite poor. He had no money of his own and had come to the bank to negotiate a loan. He had to put up his house as collateral and had no idea how he would ever pay the loan back.
What seems to us as reality is only a façade. One who seems blessed may in fact be cursed. One who seems poor may indeed be blessed.
Let us learn from Avrohom and Sarah to look at the world properly, envisioning things as maaminim and baalei bitachon. Recognize that we have a higher calling and mission in life. We are the children of a very wealthy and powerful Father who wants the best for us.
When we trust and believe that there is enough money in His bank to provide for us all, we will recognize that, in fact, we do have what we need.