Parshas Chukas-Balak 5783
In Mesichta Makkos daf yud, amud beis, the Gemara states as follows: מן התורה ומן הנביאים ומן הכתובים – The Sages tell us that there’s a certain principle which is written in the Torah and repeated in the books of the Nevi’im and then restated again in the books of the Kesuvim. And the principle is as follows: בדרך שאדם רוצה ללכת מוליכין אותו – In the way in which a man chooses to go, they lead him. It means that min haShomayim they lead you.
מן התורה – First he cites an instance from the Torah, from this week’s sedrah, as a proof. It’s written that when Bilaam was solicited by Balak to come and prophesy for him a curse against the Bnei Yisroel, so at first Bilaam refused. Hakadosh Baruch Hu spoke to him and He said, לא תלך עמהם – “You should not go with them.”
But afterwards, when they came again, and this time when they importuned him again they made big offerings of wealth to him, so Hashem spoke to Bilaam a second time and He said, קום לך אתם – “Arise and go with them.” Which means that after Bilaam had weakened inwardly – we’ll come back to this point but for now it’s enough to say that although outwardly Bilaam still maintained his previous position that he wouldn’t go but inwardly he weakened – so Hakadosh Baruch Hu said, “Okay, be my guest. If you wish, go ahead.” And Bilaam saddled his donkey and he went trotting along towards his destruction. The end was that Bilaam was destroyed.
And that, Rav Huna says, is a teaching for us. בדרך שאדם רוצה ללכת מוליכין אותו – If a person is going to aim in a certain direction, then things will happen to help him get there. It doesn’t mean a prophecy will come to you at night—you have to be a big person for that—but something is going to happen to lead you in the path you choose. Good direction, bad direction, whatever direction you choose to walk on, you have to know that you’ll be helped along.
Now, this is such an important principle that our great teachers weren’t satisfied with merely one example. They took the trouble to show that it’s reiterated; not only is it in the Torah but it’s in the Nevi’im and Kesuvim too.
מן הנביאים – From the Nevi’im we see this principle from a verse in Yeshaya (48:17): אני ה’ אלקיך מלמדך להועיל – I, Hashem, teach for your benefit, מדריכך בדרך תלך – I lead you in the way that you walk. It means in the way that you choose to walk, that’s the way I’m going to lead you. If you seek, you’ll find it.
And from the Kesuvim too (Mishlei 3:34): אם ללצים הוא יליץ – If one wishes to be among the scoffers, so Hakadosh Baruch Hu will help you be a scoffer, ולענוים יתן חן – And if you wish to be among the humble ones so Hakadosh Baruch Hu will give you the favor that the humble ones find in the eyes of people. If you desire humility, then you’re going to be blessed with that quality. If you’re looking to be a talmid chochom, you’ll find places. You’ll find rebbeim and seforim. And it’s surprising how much success you’ll have in getting where you want to go.
Synagogue of Sinner
And on the contrary, if you want to be one of the kibbitzers, you like to be a wise-guy, so Hakadosh Baruch Hu is going to give you opportunities. He’ll give you comrades of like-character. You know what’s going to happen? When you look for a synagogue in your neighborhood you’ll choose just the right one – a moshav leitzim. There are plenty of synagogues like that, places where if you walk in before they begin praying in the morning, they’re not talking divrei Torah. Instead they’re sitting around and kibbitzing. All of a sudden there is a burst of laughter. They’re joking and exchanging rechilus, plenty of slander, laughing at tzaddikim, pious people.
Of course there are good synagogues too – you walk in and you’ll find people sitting with seforim. Some are saying Tehillim. Some are saying bakashos. They’re using their time wisely. But if you’re looking for leitzim you’ll find them aplenty. And you’ll be especially successful because Hashem will help you.
In the yeshivahs too. You know there are yeshivahs or some circles in the yeshiva where everybody means business. They want to learn. They want Torah and yiras Shomayim. Ooh, it’s a pleasure to see such boys. But there are some circles where it’s not so much; they have other less important interests. And if you want to find it you’ll be surprised how much success you’ll have in discovering even in the best yeshivas, the little pockets of an underworld. Now this underworld, they won’t make a holdup on you. They won’t hit you on the head with a blackjack but comparatively speaking there’s an underworld in yeshivahs too! Of course, they’re despised by the good boys. And the rebbes look at them with a watchful eye. But it’s there – there are boys like that. And if you look for them you’d better be careful because Hashem might give you the bum’s rush. He’ll push you right through the door.
You Can Run and Hide…
It’s a Torah principle that you can’t get away from. That’s why if you go way out to the towns outside of Greater New York, you’ll find a lot of Jews who aren’t Jews anymore because of this principle. They ran away from Brownsville to Flatbush and from Flatbush to Las Vegas because it was just too much Judaism for them. So first, Hakadosh Baruch Hu in His mercy tries to rope them in one more time. That’s why the Torah pursues them—they opened up now a mikvah, I think in Teaneck or in one of these places in New Jersey; Teaneck, yes. But what do they do when they see that Flatbush is pursuing them and catching up with them. They’re exasperated. “A mikvah out here?! What’s going on here?! Why are there black hatters here?” they say.
So they sell their home again and move further out where they don’t have to be so crowded by the ultra-Orthodox. And Hakadosh Baruch Hu finally gives in and He helps. “If that’s what you’re looking for,” He says to them, “I’m going to help you.” That’s why Dr. Moon came along and so many Jewish boys and girls yielded to his meaningless propaganda. Because Hashem wants to help. You wanted your family to get lost so He’ll find a way for you – even if he has to bring a nobody, a meshugeneh from Korea to do it.
And that’s Hakadosh Baruch Hu’s principle of guiding you in the direction you wish to go. It means that it’s a fundamental system of Hakadosh Baruch Hu in dealing with mankind. You are led in the way you wish to go. If you are looking for what is good, He’ll help you find it. And if you are looking for what’s not good, He’s going to help you find that too.
Prophets and Profits
Now, I want to come back now to our protagonist, to Bilaam, in order study an important detail in this subject, something we may not have realized on our own. Because I’m convinced that if we were standing there with Bilaam when the emissaries of Balak came back a second time, we wouldn’t have thought anything wrong with what Bilaam did. He opened the door for them – so what? He didn’t say, “Come in. I’ll reconsider my decision and maybe I will be willing to curse the Bnei Yisroel.” No, no. Chas v’shalom! Bilaam would never say such a thing.
You have to know that Bilaam was a great man. A person doesn’t become a navi Hashem for nothing. No matter what the reasons were – some say Bilaam was made great only as a counterbalance to Moshe Rabbeinu, so that the gentile world shouldn’t be able to say, “If we had a big navi like the Jews had, we also would have been something.” But it’s not that simple. Even with this consideration, Bilaam was chosen for that role because he was a great man. He was chosen by Hakadosh Baruch Hu for a special role because he was fit for such a role. And so you can be sure that Bilaam was devoted to Hashem.
When the servants of Balak came back a second time what did Bilaam say? “Even if you’ll give me all the money of the world, I won’t say what Hashem wouldn’t tell me to say.” How many American rabbis giving hespeidim in the funeral parlors can say the same? For a little bit of money they say orations over dead oichlei treifos, over dead mechalelei Shabbos. Plenty of rabbis! I don’t mean real rabbis, but there are people who call themselves rabbis and they make nice orations over people who didn’t keep the Torah. I was at a funeral where the rabbi compared the dead person, someone who lived with a gentile, to tzaddikim in the Tanach. Why? Because there was a big fee.
And here is Bilaam who was going to get a very big fee – “A houseful of silver and gold.” That’s quite a fee! Nobody ever got such a fee for making a eulogy over a dead man. And yet what did Bilaam say? “Even if you give me a houseful of silver and gold, I’m only going to say what Hashem Elokai – Hashem, my G-d, tells me.” You hear that? “Hashem, my G-d.” And so Bilaam was a loyal man.
Only there was one trouble with him. There was something in Bilaam’s attitude that caused his downfall. He was looking for something besides Hashem. He was looking for an opportunity to maybe yes make some money. And maybe some glory too. His eyes were open for opportunities, opportunities for trouble.
A Certain Hankering
So at first Hashem had pity on him. And so when the emissaries of Balak came to him the first time, Hashem said, “Don’t go.” And that should have quenched, that should have extinguished in Bilaam’s heart any thought of money and glory. Hashem said no, finished. And when they came to him a second time, he shouldn’t even have opened the door to them. He should have yelled through the peephole, “Get off my property! Scat! And on the double! And I don’t want to see your faces again!”
Instead Bilaam opened the door. He entertained them. Only he said, “I cannot do it unless Hashem tells me.” But he was looking for that little opportunity, that little crack in the wall to take advantage of – “Maybe if you’ll stay overnight, Hashem will tell me something different and I’ll be able to go with you” (ibid. 19).
“Oh!” Hashem said, “I see what you’re hankering after. I see what you’re looking for. And My principle is that if you’re looking for it—if your mind’s eyes is scouring for opportunities—then I’m going to give you some encouragement. I’m going to lead you.” And that’s why Hashem said, “Go with them.”
Now if Hashem hadn’t said that, Bilaam would have stuck by the first psak, the first decision. Bilaam wouldn’t have changed his mind. “Hashem told me not to go, I’m not going.” Even if they had offered him all the compensation and honor in the world!
But now Hashem saw that he desired it, that he entertained the idea. “Oh,” Hashem said, “That’s enough for Me to apply My principle. בדרך שאדם רוצה ללכת – because you want to go on that way, I’m going to let you go.” And He spoke to him again, a vision of a prophecy and He said, “קום לך עמהם – get up and go with them.” And that was the beginning of the end of Bilaam’s career. That little bit of looking for an opportunity was everything.
Policing the Peripheral
We’re learning now a very important detail in this Torah principle of “In the way in which a man chooses to go, they lead him.” Because we see now it doesn’t have to be something so overt. It’s an attitude of wanting, rotzeh; of hankering for something. And if you want so you’ll be attuned to opportunities – you’ll see things that you would have missed altogether if you hadn’t been looking for them.
You know there are ways of perception, of perceiving facts and objects that we are not always making use of. For example, there’s such a thing as side vision. Healthy people have side vision, peripheral vision – they see out of the side of their eyes. The eye doctors say that if your side vision is blocked, then it’s necessary to go to a physician to have your eyes examined because it could be chalilah a bad sign. Normal healthy people have side vision.
But just because you have it doesn’t mean it’s being used. You won’t see the things on the side unless you’re looking for them. A policeman, let’s say, who’s traveling a lonely beat at night, so not only is he using his eyes but he’s using his side vision too. He was trained to do that and he’s always practicing because he wants to know who’s in the corners and the alleyways. It doesn’t mean that he’s looking to the side but even without turning his head he already has that awareness. He’s attuned to his surroundings and he sees things that the ordinary person wouldn’t notice.
Somebody once described to me a detective’s course. The students were sitting in the room and the instructor was teaching them and suddenly the door pushed open and a lunatic rushed in and he attacked the teacher. In front of the class! The students were taken by surprise. They were aghast! The whole thing was over in a second. There was a short scuffle and then the man got up and ran out.
Then the teacher turned around to the students and said, “Describe what you saw.” The whole thing was a put-up scene. “Describe the assailant,” the teacher said. And as many students as were there, that’s how many different descriptions of the assailant there were. It’s because they hadn’t been prepared to see. They weren’t looking for that.
And so, the instructor taught them that their job is to always be on the lookout for details. What kind of suit did he wear? Or did he have a jacket at all? What kind of trousers did he have? What kind of shoes? What kind of a necktie? Could you catch the color of his eyes? How tall was he? Compared to the mark on the wall or the window, how tall was he? All these details would be noticed by a professional because what he’s looking for he’s going to see.
Opportunities for Improvement
So even before any teaching of the Gemara it’s a truism that a man is led to those subjects – that type of knowledge – that he’s interested in. There are a lot of things that we would notice if we were interested in seeing them. And so it’s common sense that people find what they are looking for. It’s an axiom of nature – if you’re looking for something, then you’re going to discover it. It doesn’t mean if you look for gold that you’re going to discover gold but you’ll discover things.
You know, you could practice that for five minutes. Let’s say when you walk out in the street tonight, right after you heard these humble words that were said here, so if you’ll be wide-eyed you’ll see opportunities. You have here a lot of people who live in Boro Park, far away. It’s cold tonight and it’s hard to get transportation. You have a car. Look around. Whom can you take home tonight? You came here for a good purpose and they did too. It’s all good people here so ask around. That’s a glorious opportunity, to take people home. You save them sometimes an hour traveling, waiting for two buses on cold street corners, and they’re lonely corners too; and because of you they can be home in fifteen minutes. And so if you’d want enough, if you’d want to be an ish chessed, a Jew who loves his fellow Jews, so you’d see the opportunity. And once you start on that path Hashem will help you even further. But you have to start looking.
The opportunities are unlimited but Hakadosh Baruch Hu is not going to force them down our throats. It’s up to us to use our free will to use them. You have to look.
Because what do you think? That every opportunity is going to be labeled with a big label “THIS IS YOUR CHANCE! FIRST AID TO BECOME BETTER!” or whatever it is? No! It’ll come in some inconspicuous manner and it’s up to you to be on guard, to be on your toes and to seize it as soon as it comes.
Opportunity for Shalom
Now that’s the great lesson we learn here, that we have to keep our eyes open for things; it might come in from the side, but if you’re a rotzeh you’ll see it with your peripheral vision. You’ll see opportunities and you’ll seize them. And think that over because opportunities come all the time.
Let’s say that you came to a wedding and you find yourself seated next to the man you like the least. He happens to be your landlord from the old neighborhood where you lived and you suffered a great deal from him. What he suffered from you, you’re not so aware of. And so you’re thinking, “How crazy are these people who arranged the seating cards! Don’t they know that I can’t stand this person?!”
Now on any other day you would never even come close to this fellow – you cross the street when you see him. But now that you’re there anyhow, you’re thinking, “Maybe this is what Rabbi Miller was talking about, to look for opportunities. Don’t I always tell my wife that I want to make shalom with him? I’m always saying that I’m the good guy, that I want peace. So maybe I should keep my eyes open now and grab the opportunity.”
But because you’re not really a rotzeh, a ‘wanter,’ so you’re too embarrassed to say something and so you make believe you didn’t see him and you find another seat. Oh, what a tragedy! What a missed opportunity.
But if you learned tonight’s lesson, you’ll say, “Yes, I’m going to do it. Hashem is sending me an opportunity to become friendly with him again. And even though it’s silly that just because of a mixup with the seating I should give up all of my sober calculations that I had against him, I’m going to seize the opportunity.”
The Cold War
Which means that as silly as the opportunity might be, we shouldn’t disdain it. We should run through every opening that’s being offered to us in order to become better. Here’s a man who has practically not spoken to his wife for a year-and-a-half. A tragedy. A cold war in the house. And both of them realize that they are ruining their lives. They both know it; they want shalom. Otherwise every day is Gehenom. But how do you break the ice? It doesn’t even occur to them that they should. They know it’s wrong, but they don’t see any way out of the impasse.
And now her mother died. Ooh! That’s a glorious opportunity. If he would break down and shed some hypocritical tears, that’d be a glorious opportunity. He’d make himself busy at the funeral. He’d offer her consolation. He’d go out and buy things for her, flowers—although it’s not necessary, it’s not right, but who cares? It’s an emergency! He’s going to utilize that opportunity.
Or even if it’s something much less. Let’s say she broke a vase. It happens sometimes in the house. She was hanging curtains and she fell down and broke the vase on the dining room table. There’s a glorious opportunity to make peace if he’ll say the right words.
Or if he lost his job. So if the cold war continues, so she pours some more ice on him and says, “Look. It’s your fault. I told you for years and years you weren’t acting right with the boss. You don’t act right with anybody! It’s a wonder they kept you so long.” But if she would rise to the occasion – it’s a gift from Heaven this occasion, this misfortune – if she would hurry to his side and say, “Joe, don’t worry. We’ll stand by you. You always were a good husband, a good provider. Hard luck everybody has but you’ll be restored. Sooner or later you’ll get back again to a better job,” then everything could be mended. There could be a reconciliation and if they had sense they could live happily forever. They could live happily anyhow, but they have to utilize the opportunities. And once opportunities are seized, Hakadosh Baruch Hu helps. He fulfills His side of the deal and He’ll lead you even more.
Now that’s the process that applies to any kind of mental attitude. So when a person tries to be an oived Hashem, as I mentioned before, opportunities will come up that will give him a push in the right direction. But he has to be wide-eyed, looking for it. Maybe he’ll find a good chavrusa or a friend to study mussar with. That’s a big find by the way, a partner who will help you become better. He might even find some tzaddik or a big talmid chochom who will guide him with advice and encouragement in the right direction. It happens.
Discovering the Tzaddik
You know the story, how Rav Yisroel Salanter became who he was. When Rav Yisroel was a boy so in his town of Salant there was an elderly man, Rav Yosef Zundel. He was considered a plain balabus. Reb Yisroel writes that he once saw there was a case in the town when one of the neighbors in the town stopped Reb Zundel, “Reb Yosef, I’m thinking of buying this horse from the goy. You know anything about horses maybe? Maybe check it out for me?” What did Rav Yosef Zundel do? He opened the horse’s mouth and looked at the jaw; he inspected all the teeth to see if it’s a good young healthy horse, and he gave his opinion. He was considered a plain man.
Now, Rav Yosef Zundel had a queer habit of taking walks outside the town by himself in the fields. And the townspeople thought it was an idiosyncrasy. That’s his way. But Rav Yisrael Salanter as a bachur was a mevakesh and he was looking; and he saw something different about this man. Rav Yisroel noticed that Rav Yosef Zundel was talking to himself. So he started following him and trying to get close to listen to what he’s saying.
One day Rav Yosef Zundel noticed that this young man was following him. “Young man,” he said, “You want to be a yorei Shomayim? Learn mussar!” Rav Yisrael said that it entered his heart like an arrow. And he became one of the greatest men in the world as a result of his ratzon – his eyes that were open to opportunities.
That’s the great secret of “in the way that a man wants to go, he’ll be helped.” It means that you have to utilize the stimuli that come along. If you are interested then you’re going to find various opportunities along the path of your life which you’re going to notice and utilize because of your desire to walk in that direction. If you didn’t have that desire, then you would have passed them by but because you’re interested, so you’ll see them –you’re going to find ways and means by the wayside that other people wouldn’t notice. You’ll discover those things that you’re looking for and you’ll discover them in wonderful ways.
A World of Bechinah
And we come now to one of the most important and yet most ignored opportunities in life. I’m talking about the opportunity to become fortified with emunah and ahavas Hashem by means of seeing Hashem in nature.
Now, I know that some might disagree with me – they don’t think it’s as important as I claim; but I’m only saying what the kadmonim say. You know, the Chovos Halevovos, near the end of his great sefer, he speaks about ahavas Hashem, about how to love Hashem. Now that’s a big subject that we won’t study tonight but he says there that before we can come to ahavas Hashem, we need to engage in what he calls bechinah. You newcomers should mark that word down – it’s an important vocabulary word if you come to this place.
Bechinah means to analyze, to study carefully. And the Chovos Halevovos wants us to know that there’s a certain analysis that a person must engage in. And he says there that we have to engage in it not a little. You must spend a great deal of time in bechinah.
Bombarded by Bechinah
What bechinah is he talking about? What are we analyzing? So he explains that the primary bechinah is analyzing creation, the phenomena of nature. If you wish one day to arrive at the top of the ladder, to the highest of all degrees of perfection, so one of the prerequisites is to study and analyze the things that you see in the world and to become aware of Hashem in nature.
Now I understand that this is a chiddush to a lot of people. Most people wouldn’t even say such a thing, but he not only says it – he means it. And therefore who cares if so many people will contradict us and will perhaps ridicule this? The Chovos Halvovos is an authority on the subject of avodas Hashem. There are not many others who are authorities on this subject and he states, that number one is to see Hashem in the world around you.
Actually it’s not difficult. The Chovos Halevovos tells us that Hakadosh Baruch Hu is showing Himself to us always. Constantly, from all sides, we are being bombarded by opportunities to see His Presence. Only that we have to react to the opportunities in the right way by wanting to see, by looking.
That’s בדרך שאדם רוצה ללכת – in the way you want to go. You have to want! And once you want to look – like the students in the detective course – if you’re willing to use your peripheral vision and your intuition and your curiosity, so you’ll see more and more and you’ll become more and more impressed, and more and more aware of Him. But you have to want; you have to be willing to see all of the millions of things around you.
Impressed in Flatbush
I’ll bring you an illustration. A man once told me that he went to visit the Grand Canyon. He was telling me about the niflaos haBorei and he claimed that he was very much impressed. Now it could be that he was impressed; I have no reason to disbelieve him. But when a person is a rotzeh, when he wants to be impressed by Hakadosh Baruch Hu he doesn’t need such tremendous opportunities. His eyes are wide open for it here in Brooklyn too. If he’s willing to look, so his admiration for Hakadosh Baruch Hu grows exceedingly every day. And when he wants to see, Hashem helps him see.
Now, I’m not going to make a protest now against people who go to see the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls. But I’m telling you that it’s superfluous. Because the more a person makes sure to see things, the more Hakadosh Baruch Hu will help him be impressed by all of the little things.
That’s why my advice to you is to train yourself to be a rotzeh right here in Flatbush. If you want, you can walk outside right now in the street and look at the trees. It’s an exhibition that Hakadosh Baruch Hu is showing you. Only that what happens? A person walks past the tree like a horse walks past it; not noticing, not thinking, nothing. But a rotzeh looks! He wants to see! And once he looks, so molichin oso, he notices things.
What’s the Purpose?
He looks and he sees that every leaf of the millions of leaves on Ocean Parkway, every leaf has two sides; a dark green side where there’s a lot of chlorophyll and a light green side where there’s not much chlorophyll. And in every case the light green side is turned away from the sun and the dark green side faces the sun! Millions and millions of leaves! How did that ‘accident’ happen? Because chlorophyll needs the sun and that’s why the dark green side faces the sun. So it’s an exhibition of Hakadosh Baruch Hu right here on Ocean Parkway.
I’m not telling you now drashos, imaginary things. I’m talking plain fundamental principle. And so number one is we must divest ourselves of our habitual attitudes and ask ourselves a fundamental question. What’s the purpose of all the objects in creation? Or to put the question in a different way: why does the world need so many things? Why is nature so complicated? So many different trees with so many different leaves. So many different seeds and plants and flowers. What’s the purpose in general of all these things, of all this variety?
And for this, we turn to Koheles (3:14) and he tells us a key statement: והאלקים עשה – Why did Elokim make everything? שיראו מלפניו – In order to demonstrate that there is a Borei; in order to make us Aware of Him. And even more, to demonstrate what kind of a Borei He is; to show how infinite is His wisdom and how endless is His kindliness.
But what’s the use if we don’t notice? The whole purpose is lost. And so what did Hashem do for us in His kindness? He doesn’t want you to waste your life. He wants you to notice things. So He made variety! In case you don’t notice the wonders of the red roses, so when you pass by a different garden and you see pink roses, so then what you didn’t notice the first time, you might notice the second time.
It’s like a man whose wife is making him the same supper every night and soon he forgets about the one making the supper. So his wife makes a variety. One night she’ll put this type of dressing on the chicken, the next night a different covering. She’s hoping you’ll notice the one making the chicken!
And so if you’re eating a red apple and you don’t appreciate it – and you should; the glory of a red apple! What a beauty! What a miracle it is! What a wonderful design of packaging it is! Still, if you’re stupid enough not to notice that, if you’re obtuse and thickheaded and you lose the opportunity, so maybe someday you’ll be eating a Golden Delicious and it’ll hit you between the eyes – what a beautiful tint that is! And it will wake you up to the One Who made it for you!
And therefore variety stirs your mind to think about things that otherwise you might ignore. That’s the purpose of variety; to wake up people to notice things they didn’t notice before. That’s what Rashi says in Mesichta Rosh Hashana (31a). He says that the purpose of variety is that we should be attracted to see it and our attention therefore is concentrated on it.
The same is seeds. How many various seeds a person sees! You know that there are different ways that seeds are distributed. Some trees drop their seeds. Some seeds have wings that fly away. Some seeds spring out when you touch the plant. Some seeds are stored up in a container that builds up gas pressure and after a while it bursts and it explodes and the seeds scatter. There are many ways that seeds are spread. So the question is: Why are there so many ways? Why don’t all seeds scatter in the same way?
The answer is because Hakadosh Baruch Hu is trying to get you to notice them. So you’ve been stepping on maple seeds all your life – they are scattered across the sidewalk – and you never once noticed that each seed has a remarkable wing attached to it. It’s only if somebody bends over and picks it up and throws it into the wind and you see it whirling around like a helicopter that you finally think that there is something here.
I was walking with a yeshivah man last week and I was showing him the maple seed. “Oh I know all about this,” he said to me. “It’s the mustaches that children play with.” That’s all he knows, that it’s children’s mustaches. He thinks it’s nothing. It’s a seed and it’s a wing; a seed with a wing! A glorious contrivance! A flying machine!
Angels in the Sukkah
I was sitting in my sukkah a few years ago having supper when a few of these seeds flew in through the schach. So I said “I have to take these in. They are little angels that came from the Heaven.” They flew in and they said, “Look at us! You are neglecting us; you’re trampling on us. Pick us up and think about us; think about the One Who made us.”
That’s why I have one of them in my pocket. Look; there’s a seed here. When you see it it’s easier to speak about. And here is a backbone; because this material is very thin. When it dries it is taut and so it catches the wind and it conveys the seeds. And once it is in the wind, it starts twisting like this – it’s able to overcome gravity to some extent and it doesn’t fall straight down. You see the ridges here? When this was green these were all little pipes conveying liquid and materials to all parts of the leaf. But they serve a double purpose because when it dries they become staves to stiffen the flimsy material. It has to be lightweight to fly but now it has a backbone – all these staves that branch out are anchored in the back bone. It’s exciting to look at!
This little ailanthus seed leaf is masterfully formed. It is twisted like a propeller, both ends are twisted, so when the wind blows, it gains levitation and it travels outside of the shade of the parent tree – if it fell under the shade it wouldn’t grow well – and the passenger is just exactly in the middle, the seed is just exactly in the middle so it should have equilibrium. You hear that? It is a remarkable thing. It’s a pity you aren’t up here to see it.
Open Your Eyes!
That’s the purpose of life – to notice these things! That’s why they’re there. האלקים עשה, He made everything, שיראו מלפניו, so that people should become more and more aware Him. And it’s right in front of your eyes. You don’t need any books. You don’t need to go to the libraries. Once you are willing to open your eyes and use your mind, you’ll be able to write your own books.
All the good achievements of life are like that. Good middos, good attitudes, good ideals, Torah and mitzvos, everything – the more you want and the more you look, the more you’ll find. You want to do chessed? Keep your eyes open. You want to learn Torah or make shalom or do mitzvos? Keep looking for opportunities. You want to see the Creator in the creation around you? So open your eyes! And once you start on the road towards greatness, He’ll help you. It’s a Torah guarantee. בדרך שאדם רוצה ללכת מוליכין אותו – in the way you wish to go, He’ll lead you.
Have A Wonderful Shabbos
Setting Out On the Road
Every person has to journey through life. There are many paths he can choose, and Hashem will lead him through the one he sets out on. When Bilaam set out on the wrong path, he was led to his downfall. This week I will bli neder take a half minute each day to consider my choices and my path in life to ensure I am not making the wrong choice, like Bilaam did. I will spend another half minute thinking about the best path in life and desiring to pursue it.
Tapes: 90 – Your Works Praise You | 152 – Utilizing the Moods | 384 – Career of Aspirations | 449 – Hashem’s Two Testimonials | 499 – In The Way You Wish To Go | 511 – All Things Declare His Glory | 522 – Rosh Hashanah – Hashem in Nature | E-239 – Hashem Speaks in Nature
“So Bnei Yisroel saw that Aharon Hakohen had died,” Rebbi Cohen was saying. “And they all cried for him for thirty days. ALL of Bnei Yisroel wept for thirty whole days when Aharon was niftar. Can you imagine that?”
The boys in the class all listened intently as Rebbi Cohen discussed the passing of Aharon and what it meant for Klal Yisroel. He walked around the room as he spoke, describing what it must have been like in the Midbar, with everyone so sad for a whole month.
“Wow, Shimmy, you seem especially interested in this,” Rebbi Cohen said. “I’ve never seen you write so many notes before!”
But as Rebbi Cohen approached Shimmy he realized that Shimmy did not seem to be writing down what he was saying. In fact, Shimmy didn’t even seem to hear his rebbi mention his name.
“Shimmy, what is this?” Rebbi Cohen said, picking up one of the papers. “This has nothing to do with what we’re learning. And what are all these pictures?”
Shimmy blushed furiously. “Um… I’m sorry, Rebbi,” he said. But Toras Avigdor is having a contest where kids can try to write their own story for Toras Avigdor Junior Parshas Re’eh, and the winner will have his story published!”
“I see…” Rebbi Cohen said, looking at the story Shimmy was writing. “And I see you’ve drawn illustrations as well.”
Shimmy blushed again. “Well yeah I thought because I’m good at drawing they’d accept my illustration too.”
“Well, Shimmy, you are definitely a talented artist and this story sounds entertaining, but do you think in the middle of class is the right time to work on this?”
Shimmy looked at his feet. He didn’t mean to do anything wrong, but he knew he shouldn’t have been working on this project while his Rebbi was talking.
“I’m sorry, Rebbi,” he said softly.
“I’m glad to hear that,” Rebbi Cohen said, gathering up his papers. “But I’m going to have to confiscate your work. I don’t think you should benefit from something you shouldn’t have been doing.”
“But Rebbi!” Shimmy said, close to tears.
“We are not discussing this any further in middle of class,” Rebbi Cohen said firmly, and he went back to talking about Aharon Hakohen.
Shimmy sat glumly through the rest of class. After the bell rang, he gathered up his stuff and slowly walked home.
“Hi Shimmy! How was cheder?” Mommy asked brightly.
“Terrible,” Shimmy said, hanging up his backpack on the hook.
“Oy I’m so sorry to hear that,” Mommy said, giving Shimmy a tight hug. “Do you want to tell me what happened?”
Shimmy started crying. He explained what had happened in class and how Rebbi Cohen confiscated the Toras Avigdor Junior story that he had worked so hard to write.
“I know it was wrong for me to do it in the middle of class, but why did the rebbi have to be so mean? Why does he hate me so much?”
“Oh Shimmy,” Mommy said kindly. “Your rebbi doesn’t hate you.”
“Then why wouldn’t he even let me explain why I thought he should give it back to me?” asked Shimmy.
“Shimmeleh,” Mommy said. “Do you know how in this week’s Parsha it talks about Aharon Hakohen passing away?”
“Yeah that’s what Rebbi Cohen was talking about when I was writing the story,” Shimmy said with a sheepish smile.
“Well if you notice, it says ‘וַיִּרְאוּ כָּל הָעֵדָה כִּי גָוַע אַהֲרֹן – the whole nation saw that Aharon was niftar’. Everyone was sad and cried at the terrible news. However, when Moshe Rabbeinu was niftar, the Torah says ‘וַיִּבְכּוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת מֹשֶׁה בְּעַרְבֹת מוֹאָב שְׁלֹשִׁים יוֹם’ – it doesn’t say ‘kol’, that all of the Yidden cried. Not everyone cried for Moshe like they cried for Aharon.
“Now, why is that? Wasn’t Moshe Rabbeinu the greatest leader we ever had? But Chazal tell us that Moshe Rabbeinu was the dayan – he was the judge. It was assur for him to compromise, and there were people who weren’t so happy with the way he paskened when their din Torah didn’t go their way. But Aharon Hakohen, Chazal say, was soft and nice to everyone. He was Oheiv shalom v’rodeif shalom – he went out of his way to make peace and make everyone happy.”
This seemed confusing to Shimmy.
“So who was right?” he asked.
“They were both right!” Mommy said with a smile. “They both loved Klal Yisroel so, so much. But they had different jobs. Just like your rebbi. Do you know how I know that he loves you? He called me before you came home from school to make sure that you weren’t too sad about what happened. He cares about you. But he is your rebbi and his job is to teach you to do the right thing.”
Shimmy smiled. It was still hard that he lost the story he had worked so hard on, but it felt really good to know how much his rebbi loved and cared for him.
Have A Wonderful Shabbos!
Takeaway: Hashem created the world so that children have both, strictness and love. It is our job to recognize that strictness from our parents or teachers is really love.