As I walked into shul for mincha/maariv today, I was stopped in my tracks. There in front of me, next to the mechitza in the Beit Midrash, stood a large TV camera and microphone. Although I originally thought it was a new synagogue initiative to help improve the decorum of our tefillah betzibbur (which happens to be relatively good), the rabbi informed the mispalelim that the New York Times had sent a camera crew to the synagogue to document us for a piece they’re working on pertaining to how people in religious world were “coping” with the aftermath of the presidential election. Many of those present found this perplexing. This group of men and women gathering together for daily prayer was far from anything out of the ordinary, but it made me think about the premise of this journalist’s presence at our minyan. This week has been pretty interesting, to say the least. There are people across the country who are hurting, still transfixed over the election results, and I understand their shock. When there’s a communal consensus of suffering and shock, we as a people come together both to pray and remind ourselves that the Almighty is in control, and will ultimately seize the situation and end our misery. What can we do? What should we do? To me, there are three steps that we must take at this moment: Believe in God, Daven, and Act.
The first step is to believe that Hashem has a plan and to trust in Him. It’s the most frustratingly cliche answer ever given, but it’s the truest of adages, one that we find spanning the gamut of liturgy and, and also nestled in Parshat Lech Lecha. Rav Shlomo Wolbe in his Shiurei Chumash brings a fascinating insight from this week’s sedrah, when Avraham is told by Hashem that he and Sarah will be blessed with a child (Bereshis 15:6). Now Avraham and Sarah weren’t exactly as young and vivacious as they once were, but Rashi explains that this blessing was a zechus for Avraham believing with complete faith that Hashem would indeed do what he promised to do (give them a child). Ramban is curious. Avraham believed that Hashem would make good on His word – That’s it? Why should Avraham be rewarded for believing that something Hashem said would happen was actually going to occur? There has to be something more! Maharal explains that Avraham’s complete emunah is precisely why he and Sarah would be rewarded. Even though he had a direct message from God that he and his wife would have a child, true emunah is something that can be hard to muster up. Sarah Imeinu was old, and, as Rashi explains, didn’t even have the organs to even carry a child! Yet, Avraham was rewarded because of his emunah sheleimah, his complete faith that the unthinkable could occur because it had been willed by the Almighty. To summon up that level of belief for something so seemingly unlikely is nothing short of heroic, and we can see that other figures across the Torah grappled with this very task and acted differently.
Rashi explains (Bereishis 7:7) that Noach only entered the teiva once the rain began falling to signal the impending deluge. Why did he wait? He built the teiva for 120 years! Hashem told him the flood was going to happen! Why did he only enter the Ark once the rain started falling? According to Rashi, Noach lacked this complete faith in the Ribono Shel Olam, and didn’t believe that He would bring about such a punishment. What do we remember of Noach? He was ultimately drunk and embarrassed. Yet, even Moshe Rabbeinu was punished for not believing in to the word of God, as evidenced by his hitting the rock after being told to speak to it. Moshe was only the greatest leader the Jewish people have ever seen (no big deal). His life’s work was to lead the Jewish people through the desert to the promised land, and after only one hiccup he loses the chance of setting foot on that its holy soil. The message is clear: emunah shlaima is something that’s rewarded even though it seems trivial.
Our next step is prayer. The struggle for Avraham and Sarah to conceive is not the last time that our Patriarchs and Matriarchs dealt with issues infertility. One such experience was that of Rachel Imenu, whose yahrtzeit is marked this Shabbat, a day that is marked by intense tefillah. Rachel’s prayers are very important, and it is in her merit that Mashiach will ultimately redeem the Jewish people. Rachel cried to Yaakov that if she doesn’t have children, it’s as if she were dead (Bereishis 30:1). Rav Avraham Schorr in HaLekach VeHalibuv on Sefer Breishis explains that because of this “chiddush” of Rachel being considered dead without children, Yaakov then took Bilhah, Rachel’s maidservant, and had a son. This child was named Dan, by Rachel, because Hashem had judged her and listened to her voice. Even though she herself had not yet given birth, she was the reason for Dan’s existence. Rav Schorr writes that Shevet Dan was no ordinary tribe of Israel. Shevet Dan was charged to bring up the rear of all the tribal encampments and was responsible for ensuring that everyone was where they needed to be. This is in line with the description of Rachel Imenu in Sefer Yirmiyahu, the Rachel who “cries for her children for they are not with her” and that because of her, “there is hope for your future, says the Lord, and the children shall return to their own border.” Rachel Imenu would cry, and Shevet Dan would secure the perimeter, and see to it that all of the nefashot of Klal Yisrael were never lost, always ending up in the right place. In this merit, in the zechus of Rachel Imenu and her tefilos, her yahrtzeit is a powerful day that is met with great prayer for anything that we need.
We now come to the final step: action. There is much to learn from the emunah of Avraham and the tefillah of Rachel. The belief that ultimately things will be alright, and the reality that at times, all we can do is pray. Nevertheless, there is plenty to take away from the actions and the struggles of these individuals. The parsha is named for the commandment given to Avraham to get up and leave behind the entire world he knows. The cynic will say that Avraham took with him his wife, nephew, their possessions, and those who they brought into the fold of monotheism, hardly leaving much behind. The cynic will speak up again and tell you Rachel finally was blessed with children of her own yet died while giving birth and was hastily buried along the roadside. Yet, a cursory glance at their actions in the Torah showcases the chessed Avraham and Rachel. These individuals did not wallow in the sadness of the low points of their lives. They didn’t only believe it would be good, or daven that things will work out.
This call to action reminds me of a hero of mine who I was lucky enough to see with my own eyes only once, whose yahrtzeit also happens to come out on Shabbat. Natey Finkel was a regular American day-school educated boy, and he eventually grew into Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Mir Yerushalaim. He was an individual who would meet with scores of people and go on fundraising missions world-wide to raise money for his institution. He maintained a rigorous, rigid schedule which would be hard for anyone to keep, let alone a man confined to a wheelchair with a body racked by tremors and weakness stemming from Parkinson’s disease. Anyone who has seen someone suffering from Parkinson’s knows first-hand how debilitating it can be. Yet, Rav Nosson Tzvi did no
t sit idle, nor did he lament his lot in life. He was an individual that if you saw on the streets of Meah Shearim, you might assume to be a person with significant ailments, perhaps not capable of making a marked difference on his daled amos. Such an assumption would be egregiously incorrect. He was an absolute giant. For him to be able to sign his own name was an ordeal in itself. But this man was able to move past immense setbacks, and make a significant, palpable impact. Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel was a hero to me not only because of what he was able to accomplish, on behalf of his yeshiva (which he helped grow into the largest yeshiva in Israel and second largest on the planet) or even the Jewish world. It was the manner in which he did it; through pain, suffering, and tzaros. He was an individual who didn’t not slow down until the day he died.
That is our charge. To act. Too many times do we sit back and feel comfortable hashtagging and signing online petitions rather than fight the fight in the trenches. It is incumbent upon us to not rest on our virtual laurels while there is still great pain and suffering. We must disconnect from our online soapboxes in order to effectively work on eliminating matters that divide us in order to bring about unity. We must come together.
None can be certain what lies ahead, but by working together, despite our differences, we can do our part to ensure that there is indeed “hope for our future”, as well as hope for our present.