Shiur presented in 5779
A Superficial Outlook on Yomim Tovim
This year, B’ezras Hashem, we will get another chance at celebrating the Yom Tov of Chanukah. Most people have a childlike view of Chanukah, just like everything else in their lives because when they were children, their parents introduced them to Chanukah through their childish perceptions. Many people believe that Yomim Tovim and Chagim are for children, like להבדיל אלף אלפי הבדלות secular holidays are to the Nations – they are for superficialities, for presents, for excuses to eat or go on vacations, to play games and the like. I want to share with you a thought that I had on Erev Chanukah while waiting in the airport to come back to Cleveland from New York.
A New Perspective On “Al HaNissim”
If you look into in the tefilla of “עַל הַנִּסִּים” in the Siddur, you see that Hashem, בְּרַחֲמֶֽים רַבִּים, stood by the Yidden בְּעֵת צָרָתָם. In the nusach of the tefilla it says: מָסַֽרְתָּ גִבּוֹרִים בְּיַד חַלָּשִׁים (“You delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak”), וְרַבִּים בְּיַד מְעַטִּים (“the many into the hands of the few”), וּטְמֵאִים בְּיַד טְהוֹרִים (“the defiled people into the hands of the pure”), וּרְשָׁעִים בְּיַד צַדִּיקִים (“the wicked into the hands of the righteous”), and וְזֵדִים בְּיַד עוֹסְ֒קֵי תוֹרָתֶֽךָ (“and insolent sinners into the hands of diligent Torah students”). How would you coin these five differences? What would you say these 5 things are? You would likely say that these are five differences between the Jews of the time, the Hashmonaim, and the Greeks, correct?
The Hashmonaim were extremely weak. There were a handful of people in relation to the Greeks, who had a tremendously powerful army. In addition, the Hashmonaim were very few in number (12-13 people), as opposed to tens or even hundreds of thousands of Greek soldiers. The Hashmonaim were טְהוֹרִים – they were pure people, and their טָהֲרָה stood by them against the טֻמְאָה of the Greeks. The Hashmonaim were also tzaddikim and because of that they were saved. They were also Lomdei Torah. And as we know, the Greeks were classified as זֵדִים (the opposite of tzaddikim). So seemingly, you can break these five differences in two groups: the first two contrasts the “weak” and the “few” – to bring out the power of this amazing miracle, that although the Hashmonaim were “weak” and “few,” Hashem stood by them and granted them victory. But how would you classify the last three distinctions (pure, righteous and Torah students)? Do these bring out the superiority of the miracle? No. What do they bring out? They bring out the reasons why Hashem stood by them – they won because they were tzaddikim, because they were lomdei Torah, and because they were pure. So on the superficial level, you would say that these five distinctions are broken down into two main groups. However, upon a closer look, you can say that all five differences are really one classification andall five come to explain why they merited this amazing ישׁוּעָה.
Who Really Fought the War?
Now, how does this work? How does this distinction explain the miracle? We may think that the Hashmonaim won the battle in spite of the fact they were very small in number and weak in strength. But this is not correct, because it presumes that there were only about 13 of them and the odds to win the battle against a strong army were absolutely crazy. But this is not the p’shat. They won because they were weak and few in number! This wasn’t a game of odds. You have to know that this war wasn’t conducted by Hashmonaim; it wasn’t Mattisyahu or his children, or some Chassidim or Tzaddikim who conducted this war. This was a case of Hashem fighting the battle for those people who responded to “מי לה’ אלי”! Those who stood on the side of Hashem received this great gift. It’s not possible, it is beyond any imagination, to think that the Hashmonaim could have gone against the Greeks! There were no odds there – no betting man would ever put a bet on this war, because he would say, “This is not a war!” Maybe a thousand against five thousand could count as a possible war, but 13 weak men against 100,000 powerful Greek soldiers? This is not called a war! Hashmonaim understood beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were not fighting a conventional war. The Greeks fought the type of war called אֵלֶּה בָרֶכֶב וְאֵלֶּה בַסּוּסִים – “They [call] on chariots, they [call] on horses” (Psalms 20:8) – they fought a normal, natural war, but Klal Yisroel fought a war where they were completely focused on Hashem: כִּי בִי חָשַׁק וַאֲפַלְּטֵהוּ אֲשַׂגְּבֵהוּ כִּי־יָדַע שְׁמִי – “Because he is devoted to Me, I will deliver him; I will keep him safe, for he knows My name” (Psalms 91:14). “Do you know My power? Do you know what I am about? You showed me that you were willing to put your lives on the line and rely on me,” Hashem said, “then I will fight this battle for you!” Hashmonaim didn’t come with any armor, they had nothing. The Greeks had the best and the latest technology and weapons. They fought a different kind of a battle.
A Different Kind of Battle
What did this battle look like? First I will tell you what a usual battle looks like: on one side of the battlefield, you have five thousand soldiers who shoot their arrows and catapults into the crowd of the opposing army standing across the field. What would a miracle look like in such a war? We would walk or tiptoe around a bunch of arrows landing next to us without getting hurt. But that is not what happened here! All the arrows turned around, as if there was a force directing them, and they landed on the Greeks who shot them! This was not a normal battle! That’s not called “good luck.” That’s called Hashem fighting for you! “Good luck” is when everything that’s raining upon you misses the target or you avoid the incoming arrow, and you say, “They had bad aim.” No, that’s not what happened. And that’s why we say עַל הַנִּסִּים – you have to thank Hashem “וְעַל הַמִּלְחָמוֹת”! Someone asked R’ Chaim Kanievsky: “why are we thanking Hashem for the מִּלְחָמוֹת – don’t we try to avoid wars?” He answered that Chanukah was a type of a battle where there was nothing natural about it. The “armor” that the Hashmonaim brought to the war was totally and completely bitachon in Hashem, it had nothing to do with them!
How Did They Win?
How did they get to this level of bitachon? They saw that the odds against them were ridiculous, they were so few and weak, that it was impossible to start up with the Greeks. And so they said מִי כָמכָה בָּאֵלִים ה’ מִי כָּמכָה נֶאְדָּר בַּקּדֶשׁ נורָא תְהִלּת עשה פֶלֶא – “Who is like You, O Lord, among the celestials; Who is like You, majestic in holiness, awesome in splendor, working wonders!” (this is what Maccabees stands for). Their numbers and their value as soldiers meant nothing to them. And because they understood they were gornisht and they had to rely on Hashem to such a degree – that is why Hashem fought for them! They managed to raise and elevate themselves in that respect. If it was a natural war, then you can say that they won in spite of their small numbers. Here, though, they won because of their small numbers – because in that war Hashem was fighting for them. This is a tremendous insight into how bitachon works and we will explain why many people don’t have it.
Let’s say a person decides to take a quick ride in his car until the end of the block. He’s going in a “natural” way, he’s not standing there with closed eyes and saying to Hashem, “Hashem, please fly me there” – he is not saying that. What is he saying is, “Hashem, I’m going to drive my car till the end of the block, please help me out.” You need bitachon for that as well! The bitachon of you driving a car means that you are boteach that Hashem is helping you. It means that Hashem is not going to divert you anywhere, or some guy is not going to send you a text message so you feel compelled to answer it, etc. This is called “regular” bitachon, a bitachon within the טבע. Or let’s say someone says, “Hashem, I am going to get up from my chair and hope that I will stand,” or he says, “Hashem, I’m going to go on an airplane and I hope that the plane lands with me safely sitting in my seat” – these are also examples of bitachon על פי טבע. But it’s still called bitachon.
Don’t Put Your Trust In United Airlines
Now, most people don’t have any bitachon, that’s the אמת. A guy who gets on the plane has zero bitachon. He believes in the United Airlines choice of planes or pilots, or their decision to de-ice the plane during winter, or he trusts airport workers who check the engines prior to the flight to make sure they don’t miss something. Believing in these things is like believing in a piece of grass that will fly you out of town – it’s absolute silliness. What you have to be boteach in is that Hashem will see to it that this airplane arrives safely without any mishaps, or that some meshugene will not get on the plane and get it diverted or delayed, or that no one will offer the pilot a shot of vodka because it’s the Holiday season – you have to be boteach in Hashem for all of that as well. You have to be boteach in Hashem 100%.
The El Al Flight Without Bitachon
The challenge with the recent El Al flight from NY to Israel (where many frum people ended up being stranded in Greece for Shabbos), is that people were 100% boteach in El AL that it would get to Israel on time, before Shabbos. To believe in El Al?? I believe in goyim first – they have more respect for my Yiddishkeit and Shabbos than an El Al pilot! Their pilots denigrate Shabbos. Goyishe pilots understand better. A person on that flight should have been saying some serious Tehillim, in addition to the following, “Hashem, I am not on this plane, I am in Your Hands – please deliver us safety to our destination before Shabbos so we should safely disembark before Shabbos and that there should not be any Chillul Shabbos.” This is what they should have done. But there was no bitachon there at all.
An Extreme Type of Bitachon
There is also a second type of bitachon. This bitachon is in play when you are flying on the plane and there’s a sudden jolt, and then the captain comes on the intercom and announces that we just lost the right engine. But then he reassures everyone, “Have no fear, because I’ve been flying planes with one engine for many years.” Then, suddenly, the plane shakes again and the second engine falls off, and everyone on the plane – understandably – go nuts. At that point, someone in the back screams out, “The same ‘pilot’ who got us here can get us there without engines.” So people yell back, “Who is that pilot?” “Hashem,” the guy says. All of the sudden people try to get bitachon in Hashem, but they can’t, because they don’t have any connection with Hashem, they don’t believe that Hashem can save them in this situation. This was the level of bitachon of Chanukah. The miracle of Chanukah and the bitachon of Chanukah is taught to us by a few Jews who were in a much worse situation than a plane going down without both engines. When a plane goes down, at least there’s hope in some people’s minds, that if a plane has to make a water landing, there is a floatation device under their seat that can save them. But this is all nonsense, as we understand.
Some time ago, during the period of stabbings r”l in Eretz Yisroel, a company developed a special neck brace that was supposedly knife-proof. They advertised its effectiveness and protection all over. Everyone wanted to buy it: private citizens, soldiers, police, etc. During a live demonstration, someone tried to stick a knife into it, and it went straight through into the neck of a person wearing the neck guard! They quickly called the ambulance and rushed the guy away. Their product went down the tubes right away because people believed in that product and not in Hashem.
Raising Yourself Above Nature
A person has to know that the message of the miracle of Chanukah is that you can get on a different plane with Hashem, you can enter a different atmosphere and you can rise above any טבע. If you say “מי לה’ אלי” and you say “Hashem, I am mekabel Your authority upon myself and I know that there’s something called למעלה מן הטבע”- then you are in a different situation.
We find this idea in Parshas Vayeishev (Breishis 37:22-24), where the brothers decided to kill Yosef, and Reuven wanted to save him by throwing him into the pit:
וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם רְאוּבֵן אַל־תִּשְׁפְּכוּ־דָם הַשְׁלִיכוּ אֹתוֹ אֶל־הַבּוֹר הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר בַּמִּדְבָּר וְיָד אַל־תִּשְׁלְחוּ־בוֹ לְמַעַן הַצִּיל אֹתוֹ מִיָּדָם לַהֲשִׁיבוֹ אֶל־אָבִיו…וַיִּקָּחֻהוּ וַיַּשְׁלִכוּ אֹתוֹ הַבֹּרָה וְהַבּוֹר רֵק אֵין בּוֹ מָיִם
(“And Reuben said, “Shed no blood! Cast him into that pit out in the wilderness, but do not touch him yourselves” – intending to save him from them and restore him to his father…and they took him and cast him into the pit. The pit was empty, there was no water in it.”)
What was in that pit? The pasuk says that the pit had no water – וְהַבּוֹר רֵק אֵין בּוֹ מָיִם. The Gemora (Chagigah 3a, Shabbos 22a) comments that, yes, the pit was empty of water, but it had snakes and scorpions:
והבור רק אין בו מים משמע שנאמר והבור רק איני יודע שאין בו מים אלא מים אין בו אבל נחשים ועקרבים יש בו
Now, what are the chances of a person surviving in such a pit? Zero! And that’s exactly why the brothers agreed to throw him there! There is a related Gemora (Yevamos 121a) which says that if a man fell into a pit with snakes and scorpions, the court testifies that he is not alive anymore and his wife can remarry:
תנו רבנן נפל לגוב אריות אין מעידין עליו לחפורה מלאה נחשים ועקרבים מעידין עליו
The Sages taught: If an individual fell into a lion’s den, one may not testify about him that he died, since the lions might not have killed him. If he fell into a pit filled with snakes and scorpions, one may testify about his death, since it is certain that they killed him.
No Light At the End Of the Tunnel
If so, why in the world did Reuven want to put Yosef into such a pit and then go back to save him? There seems to be no difference between Reuven‘s decision to put him into that pit and the brothers’ decision to kill him – in both instances he is a dead man! You know what the answer is? Reuven knew that Yosef was a super ba’al bitachon. He knew that Chazal said, אַשְׁרֵי הַגֶּבֶר אֲשֶׁר שָׂם ה’ מִבְטַחוֹ – “Happy is the man who makes the Lord his trust” (Tehillim 40:5). Reuven had no doubt whatsoever that Yosef would get into that pit, climb into the Hands of Hashem and say, “Hashem, I am in your Hands now, please save me.” The average person doesn’t have such bitachon. Yosef knew there was no hope to get saved ”naturally” from that pit, but he knew of bitachon – מִי כָמכָה בָּאֵלִם ה’ מִי כָּמכָה נֶאְדָּר בַּקּדֶשׁ – that there is no one like Hashem. When a person is in a difficult situation of צרה and צוקה, and he recognizes that he has no כוחות of his own, and he knows absolutely clearly that there is no hope for him, this is when he will be זוכה to ישועת Hashem! In the hakdama of the Sefer “Ma’asei Ish” about the Chazon Ish, there is an amazing quote attributed to him – something he used to often say:
תשועת השי”ת באה ברגע שהאדם כבר לא רואה בדרך הטבע מקום להוושע
(“The salvation of Hashem will come at the moment when a person cannot see b’derech ha‘teva how he can be saved.”)
So when a doctor tells someone in the hospital r”l that על פי טבע they are not getting better, most patients or family members will say, “But isn’t there something else that can be done in this situation?” And the doctors may say, “Ok, we will think of another potential solution.” And then the family breathes a sigh of relief, that at least they didn’t kick them out of the hospital. But when they see there is no hope anymore, everyone puts on those long faces and they accept their fate. What you have to know is that a doctor only has value as long as he can help you. He’s only licensed to heal, he’s not licensed to decide when your life is over! He’s limited because the only yeshuos he has access to are medical ones – he doesn’t have access to Hashem. No way! A person at that point has to realize, there is no point to rely on doctors anymore – “I am now going to Hashem!” Now, in the first stage, everyone is davening, making kabolos, they are getting chizukim – and that’s great. But these things are geared to get the doctors not to give up. And if this particular doctor won’t work, then they will find another one. You have to know the only doctor is Hashem.
The Burn Unit Story
I will never forget what happened with my daughter who was terribly burned as a young child. You should never know of this! Her entire skin peeled off her body without breaking. She was in this skin “wrap” that was not attached to her body anymore. This was a pretty frightening thing to see. We rushed her to the hospital. The head of the burn unit of this famous hospital, a non-Jewish doctor, named Dr. Bob Gerding, came out and said, “It doesn’t look good.” I said, “What does that mean?” I myself knew that it didn’t look good – I didn’t come to ask him if it looked good! So he said to me, “I am giving it a few percent chance of survival.” He told me “prepare yourself.” I got upset at him and I told him the following, “Dr. Gerding, don’t take this personally. I am a religious Jew. You want to know why I am in the hospital? In our Torah, it says, “וְרַפֹּא יְרַפֵּא” – “you should surely heal” (Shemos 21:19), and the Talmud explains that this is where G-d gives a license to a doctor to heal. Don’t ever, in my presence, cross your line! Your license is only to heal. When it comes to dying, that’s G-d‘s domain, don’t play G-d in my presence!” He told me, “Well, I understand that you are very emotional right now.” I said to him, “Doctor, you don’t understand anything about me – our feet may be planted on the same planet, but I am like a Martian next to you. We come from different planets. Don’t ever tell me the bad news, your job is to heal – that’s all.” I am sure he didn’t understand. I remember going home that Shabbos because I had to be home with my other children. My wife stayed with our daughter in the hospital. And I remember thinking that I had no doubt that my child was going to make it, I knew that Hashem was going to keep our child alive! After Shabbos, I called the hospital, and they told me that my daughter was alive.
Another chiddush this guy told me when I came to him on Sunday and asked him, “So what do you say, Doc? What do you say, huh?” He told me, “You got lucky.” I said to him, “Doc, it’s the power of prayer and the power of trust in G-d.” And I told him, “I hope that before we leave the hospital, you will get a new understanding of a new dimension and a new dynamic, called “the power of G-d.” He gave me this strange look, and then I asked him, “How bad does it look, Doc?” He told me that she would need “tens and tens” of skin grafts, maybe even a hundred. And I told him, “Let me tell you something, Doctor. You are stepping over your bounds again – you don’t determine how many skins grafts my child is going to need, the One Above does. Your job is to heal her and do these grafts “as needed.” I asked him when he would start the skin grafts, and he said it wasn’t going to be for a while. Then I asked him how long my daughter was going to be in the hospital, and he said, “At least a year.” At that point, I said to Hashem, “Hakodosh Boruchu, please teach this sheigetz a lesson of who is the Boss and Who calls the shots!” My daughter walked out of that hospital 3.5 weeks later! She got one skin graft on the bottom on her foot, the size of a dime maybe! Now, she didn’t come home and go straight to Florida. We still had to take care of her for a while – change the bandages – it was a work in progress.
When I left the hospital, Dr. Gerding and 11 other doctors walked me out to my car. He came over and said, “You humbled me.” I told him, “It wasn’t me, it was G-d.” He said, “I learned something that I never imagined existed before.” And this is a guy who saw a lot of trauma, he was the head of that burn unit. He wasn’t some little doctor who started putting on bandages yesterday! And he wrote me a letter afterwards of how moved he was and how full of humility he was. And to his credit, he forgave us most of our medical bill, which was tens and tens of thousands of dollars; we only paid $600 in the end. He did it on his own, I didn’t ask him for it. He looked over our case and wrote that he was humbled and that he “owed” this to me.
Modern Day Avodah Zorah
Rabbosai, you have to reach out to Hashem. When it seems that there is no hope, like the Chazon Ish says, when a person doesn’t see any way to get saved על פי טבע, that’s when you can be saved by Hashem, that’s when you can soar above the world and rise above everything and any situation and connect to Hashem and have Hashem do the work for you. And then you don’t have to rely on the ”doctors.” When a doctor says to me, “I cannot help you anymore,” that’s when I say, “Boruch Hashem, now I can turn to Hashem, רופא חולי עמו ישראל.” Most people don’t believe that Hashem is the healer and the doctor; they believe that Hashem gave the doctors the power to heal, and now they have that koach. But this is exactly the Avoda Zorah that people believed in the olden days, i.e. that Hashem gave the power to the sun, and the sun was Hashem’s servant and the sun now performed the power of Hashem, even though they knew that the sun’s power came from Hashem. This is what most frum people believe about the doctors today. Now, there are many wonderful askanim, here in the US, and in Israel, who help people find doctors – this is a tremendous chessed – don’t get me wrong! But you have to know that the medical field doesn’t have the monopoly of Hashem’s koach to heal, it’s all His! And when the doctors say “it’s hopeless” or “עד כאן” – they are saying “we are limited,” that עד כאן Hashem gave us the koach. At this point, most people throw up their hands and lose hope, but you have to say just the opposite, that now, I have a personal ”Jewish doctor” called ”רופא חולי עמו ישראל”.
Your Personal Physician
Someone asked the Steipler this exact question – why do we call Hashem ”רופא חולי עמו ישראל” – why is Hashem only the doctor of our nation, what about the other nations? The Steipler answered that Hashem is really only a “רופא חולי עמו ישראל” and in this zechus of being a רופא חולי עמו ישראל, Hashem is מְזַכֶּה the Nations of the World as well! But if a person doesn’t know how to knock on this door, he’s out “in the cold.” Hashem should help us internalize this lesson, of how these miracles of Chanukah were brought about through the Hashmonaim – people who dedicated their faith and bitachon, trust and reliance to Hashem. And if you do that, you can also come out from your darkest, deepest “pit” full of snakes and scorpions.