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The passuk in Parshas Ma’asei says: אלה מסעי בני ישראל אשר יצאו מארץ מצרים לצבאתם ביד משה ואהרן – These were the marches of the Bnei Yisroel who started out from the land of Egypt, troop by troop, in the charge of Moshe and Aaron (Bamidbar 33:1)
One of the subjects of training that the Klal Yisrael experienced in the midbar was the parshah of masaos. It’s very interesting to take note of that. There’s a whole parshah in the Torah called Parshas Masei. That means “the travels.” The travels of Klal Yisrael, the masaos, were the different places Klal Yisrael had to travel to. In the 40 years that they were in the midbar, they traveled to 42 different places, and they were guided by an anan – a cloud. The Torah tells us: ולפי העלת הענן מעל האהל ואחרי כן יסעו בני ישראל ובמקום אשר ישכן שם הענן שם יחנו בני ישראל – and whenever the cloud lifted from the Tent, the Bnei Yisroel would set out accordingly; and at the spot where the cloud settled, they would make camp (Bamidbar 9:17). The next passuk says, על פי ה’ יסעו בני ישראל – by the mouth of Hashem, by the command of Hashem they traveled, and ועל פי ה’ יחנו – and by the command of Hashem they camped, כל ימי אשר ישכן הענן על המשכן יחנו – all the days which the anan, the cloud rested upon the Mishkan, they camped. The following passuk states, ובהאריך הענן על־המשכן ימים רבים – what if the anan stayed for a long time over the ohel, for many days? ושמרו בני ישראל את משמרת ה‘ ולא יסעו – and Bnei Yisroel observed Hashem’s mandate and didn’t travel. They were shomer mishmeres Hashem, the guarded it, ולא יסעו, and they wouldn’t travel.
Imagine you come to a place with your wife and your children. You come there, you unpack the camp. You take all your stuff out. You settle in. Every day you’re looking out at the cloud. Every day the wife peeks out from the door of the tent to get a look, “Are we staying here or not?”
Now, try to picture you or your wife with your personality. She says, “I’m not moving anymore. I’m staying here.” Or she says, “I’m not unpacking.” And you say nicely and gently, “You know we may be here for a long time. There may be ימים רבים. We might as well get comfy.” And then she comes back and says, “What if it’s only a day or two?” Or what if it’s farkert? Your wife makes herself at home and you’re saying, “Hmmm. I don’t want to unpack.” Your wife then says, “Okay, start unpacking suitcases. Let’s settle in.” And you say, “You know what? It’s a pain. I don’t want to do this.”
We’ve all traveled with our families; either with our families, with our parents or with ourselves and we’ve gone places. You never know for how long your father will decide to stay in a particular place, or your mother is going to like that place or not going to like it. Bugs, no bugs. Mosquitos. Heat. No heat. Or you get antsy, not get antsy.
ויש אשר יהיה הענן מערב עד בקר, it could be you came at night, and the next morning you looked out and you saw the cloud was moving. At night you had no idea as to how long you were going to be there. ונעלה הענן בבקר, in the morning the anan rose, ונסעו. Sometimes it was יומם ולילה, a day and a night, ונעלה הענן ונסעו. Or יומיים. It’s amazing how the passuk, which is mekatzer bechol mekomos (usually is written in a concise manner) – here it gives out all these details! Sometimes two days, or chodesh, or yamim, days or months, בהאריך הענן על המשכן יחנו בני ישראל ולא יסעו, and they packed up again, על פי ה’ יחנו ועל פי ה’ יסעו את משמרת ה’ שמרו על פי ה’ ביד משה (ibid. 23).
Living Where Hashem Wants You To
I’m going to share with you what I got from this parshah. What did I take from this parshah? My entire life’s view changed because of this parshah many, many years ago. Most people, and certainly those people with a personality trait of what you call a restless spirit, a pioneering spirit. They want to travel; someday they want to go to Eretz Yisrael. They want to settle in Israel. Some people want to live in New York. Some people want to live in Lakewood. People have all their dreams. Some people like living davka out of town. Everybody has their meshugas where he likes to live. And if you ever see couples, and you put the volume up, and key into all the conversations they have about these inyanim, you’re going to hear all this talk. The wife, in her great wisdom, says, “I only want to stay here for a short while and then I’m planning on moving.” The husband says, “Oh, I’m planning on being here forever,” and his wife says, “You don’t know.” A couple of years later, they’re moving out. It’s time for a house. It’s time for this. It’s amazing to me because I used to have those kinds of thoughts and plans also until I read this parshah. Then I asked myself, “Why is the Torah telling me this parshah of masaos? I’m not walking in this desert nowadays. I’m out of the desert baruch Hashem. Maybe it was better for us in the desert. They were the dor de’ah. What does it make a difference for me?”
You know what the answer is? The answer is this parshah is the most instructive parshah possible. This parshah addresses this entire subject, as it features in a person’s life. You know where you have to live? Where Hashem wants you to. You know how long you live there? As long as Hashem wants you to. You know how short you live there? As short as Hashem wants you to. That’s what happens. It’s על פי ה’ יחנו ועל פי ה’ יסעו.
Now, people may think that this parshah really has no shaychus to them, but the Torah is nitzchius (eternal), and the Torah goes on to say that this mitzvah is a chukas olam. You have to realize that. If somebody asks me today if I would move from here, I could tell you honestly, that I would have moved the day after I built my building. I’d move tomorrow. If there was any indication from Hakadosh Baruch Hu that I should move, I would pick myself up and run because that’s what Hakadosh Baruch Hu wants. I never laid down any ground. People who buy houses and say, “I’m here for life” – they’ve just ‘buried’ themselves. That’s nonsense. They’re just detaching themselves from Hakadosh Baruch Hu.
I’ll be megaleh to you, that’s one of the reasons I never wanted a house. I was always happy to live in a basement, because you know why? I knew it was temporary. When I came to that realization, that it’s not up to me it was obvious that I did not need to buy a house. I know many people who had to move. They bought a house. They settled themselves. And then the husband lost a job and boom! The wife said, “I’m not moving.” The husband says, “I’m moving.” Back and forth. Or the husband had a job and the wife said, “I’m getting out of here. I can’t take it anymore.”
Whose Will Are You Following?
So, the heilegeh Ramban (Bamidbar 9:19) comes and talks to us about this.[i] The Ramban says like this. What does the passuk come to teach me? כי אם יאריך הענן על המשכן ימים רבים, that if they were in a place and the anan was upon the Mishkan for many days, המקום ההוא איננו טוב בעיניהם, and that place was not good in their eyes, והיו חפצים ומתאוים מאד, and they wanted and they were very desirous – it’s not my emphasis, it’s the Ramban’s – לנסע מן המקום, to get out of there. With all the ma’alos, there were places that weren’t so good and והיו חפצים ומתאוים מאד לנסוע מן המקום – and they desired to travel away from that place, but still in all ‘לא יעברו על רצון ה, they didn’t transgress the ratzon of Hashem. And that’s why it says in the passuk ‘ושמרו בני ישראל את משמרת ה, they were shomer the mishmeres Hashem.
Zugt the Ramban, what does that mean they were ‘ושמרו משמרת ה? What is that nusach? What is that terminology? They guarded the ‘משמרת ה. Zugt the Ramban כי מיראת ה’ ומשמרם משמרת מצותו לא יסעו, it was because of their fear of Hashem and because they guarded His commandments. That’s why they didn’t travel.
And so too he says אם הענן, if the anan was in a place ימים מספר, a short time, two or three days, והיו העם יגעים מאד, and the nation was extremely weary, וענה בדרך כחם, and their strength was worn out, יעשו רצון השם ללכת אחרי הענן – they would abide by the ratzon of Hashem and would travel after the cloud. The Ramban writes further that the Torah tells you nach vaiter, כי יש שלא יעמדו רק לילה אחד, sometimes the anan was there just one night, ויסעו בבקר אף על פי שהוא טורח גדול להם, even though it was great tirchah, ולפעמים יעמוד הענן יומם ולילה כי הלכו כל הלילה, and sometimes they traveled a whole entire night and the anan came to rest only in the morning. There was no camping that previous night, ובאו במקום ההוא בבקר, they arrived in the morning.
Can you imagine traveling with your family the whole night and you arrive at your destination. Your kids are cranky and your wife is cranky and you’re cranky. A gantze cranky mishpachah. And imagine a cranky nation – the whole of Am Yisrael – וינוח הענן שם כל היום ההוא, and the cloud stayed there for one whole day, just like the morning after Shavuos night, it’s nach a Shavuos banacht וכל הלילה, the next night. The next morning you wake up ונעלה בבקר השני ונסעו, oy vey vey. They wake up in the morning, the anan is moving. We’re on the road again!
והוא טורח גדול מן הראשון, it’s much harder the second day than the first day. You know why? Because when they arrived, they finally said, “Okay. We came to the menuchah and nachalah. We finally arrived.” ופרקו העגלות, they unhitched all the wagons and they unload all the stuff, their loads, כמנהג הבאים מן הדרך, like the minhag of people who come from the road. “Kids, we’ve got to unpack.” Everybody knows when we come back from a trip the worst part of the trip is unpacking. They’re long trips and you’ve got to unpack. Everybody always comes back from vacation and groans at the unpacking. I’m not sure if it’s even worth going on vacation because of all of the unpacking! ובהעלות הענן יחזרו, and sometimes when the cloud rose again, they had to go back and pack up and load up, ולא יוכלו לעשות להם תקון לדרך – and they couldn’t prepare provisions for the road. Lema’aseh you know what happens? They’re finally in a place for two days. They look outside, and at night the cloud starts to move. Can you imagine people getting upset at it? “Do you think now is the time to travel in the desert? Do you think now my kids will go to sleep? Now it’s bedtime! I don’t take orders from people pushing me around. Who is this Moshe guy? Who is this anan? Who controls this anan? Is it remote controlled? Enough is enough!” And the husband says, “We’re moving. We’re settling. It’s time to settle somewhere.” “No, it’s too nerve wracking for me. I have to work. I have to raise a family. I don’t know what’s going on over here!”
ויתכן שאירע להם במסעות שעשו כמסופר בכאן ולא בענין אחר, he says it’s shayach that how the Torah describes their travels here that’s how they traveled. It’s possible that’s how it happened! All these things are possible. And the passuk testifies. That’s why the Torah says all the situations with all the details. Sometimes they stayed in some places for many years. You hear that? It says ותשבו בקדש ימים רבים (Devarim 1:46) But they were always ‘שומר משמרת ה. You know what that means? That every single day, every single night they were looking. You never went to bed without looking out your door. Is the anan moving or is the anan not moving?
Getting “Hotel Points”
Rabosai, each and every one of you could get sechar every single second of your life for doing nothing else but living in some place where you presently find yourself! But when you constantly complain and you are not content with your present station in life, when you sound like, “Oh, I can’t stand this place anymore” – you sound like a kofer baHashem. And if you say, “I’m staying here forever,” nach a kofer baHashem. And if you say, “I’m planning on staying here for at least a couple of years or a couple of months,” it’s also kefirah baHashem! You have no yiras Hashem and no control.
And if a person would say, “I’m in my house. It may be just until tonight.” You know why? It may be so. So, if it may be, why don’t you have a little emunah in Hashem and chap a rein, an opportunity: על פי ה’ יסעו ועל פי ה’ יחנו. It will save you, it will give you so many side benefits. People say all kinds of silly things like: “I’m too old or I’m too young to stay here.” Everybody has different excuses. “My family is too young. My family is too old. I’m too grouchy. My husband is too grouchy. It’s not the type of people I like. I need a more modern shul. I need a more frum shul.” Everybody has something.
You know what the bottom line is? I live here now. For how long does Hashem want me to live here? You know why this is an important question? Imagine if a person goes through his whole life in the following way. Living is an amount of time. Most of us live in places not for days and nights, or months or weeks. We live there for longer. Imagine if you just change your mindset that, “I’m living here not, al pi my wife yachanu al pi my wife yisau, or, al pi my friends yachanu al pi my friends yisau, but I’m living al pi Hashem!” You know what? That person will be zocheh.
The passuk says ‘ושמרו את משמרת ה. Rav Yerucham says the Torah considered this an avodah rabah, because it was a nisayon gadol! Whatever is a greater nisayon is a greater avodah. To be shomer the will of Hashem, and not to get weary and tired, is a very great accomplishment.
I love talking to people and asking them, “What’s your plan?” They answer, “Plans? Oh, I have plans.” I laugh. “I mean, have you not lived life long enough to understand that life doesn’t go according to the plans you have?” They say, “Oh, I’m planning on moving from here soon.” I think to myself what a leitzanus! Who are you to make a plan come into fruition? What’s the value of your plan? People say, “I can’t take this place,” or “I like it in Lakewood,” or “Wherever I go, I stay.”Some people are like that. Wherever they are, they stay put. That’s how it is. It’s the derech haolam. They say, “Eretz Yisrael. I’m planning on staying here forever.” I say, “How do you know?” They say, “You want to know what I’d like to do.” What? ‘I’ personally? It doesn’t make a difference what ‘I’ want, because I’m not in charge. When people discuss their plans, it’s like two babies are talking. One says, “What would you like to do?” and the other one answers, “I’d like to be in diapers for the rest of my life.” They kler why yes and why not. Their outlook on life is so limited, but they don’t even understand that. When we make plans we also have that limited outlook.
Time to Grow Up
I remember this until today. I remember loving kindergarten. I loved kindergarten. I had the best two morahs around. They made a tremendous impression on me. I always wanted to be in kindergarten. You know what the problem was? Hashem said על פי ה’ יסעו ועל פי ה’ יחנו – you can’t stay in kindergarten all your life. You’ve got to move on. I used to like naptime. They were two loving teachers, gevaldige rebbetzins. It was a pleasure. The rebbis were tough. What did I need it for?
Everybody thinks about how they’re going to live, where they’re going to live, and how they’re going to live. Instead, Rabosai, you have to think about whether you’re ‘שומר משמרת ה. This a tremendous avodah that you can be zocheh to. You will come to shamayim and all of a sudden, lights are flashing. You say, “Why are the lights flashing? I didn’t do anything big. What good did I do? I never did anything good in my life!” You did one good thing. You always said, “I’m living in my house. I’m staying in my place because that’s what Hashem wants me to do. But I always keep my eyes open to see if Hashem wants me to move on or not.” You hear?
Clouds of Glory: The Ideal Matzav
When Rav Yerucham said this shmooze in the yeshivah of Mir, he was looking at the olam and he said to the olam, azoy, “I see on you that you’re not moved at all from my emotions that I’m feeling for this parshah.” He said, “Look into yourself. Contemplate this a little bit. You bochurim, who are living in the Mir, you have little luxuries here, in Mir Yeshiva, a lot less than you had in Hamburg, and a lot less than you had in the great America. And you know what? You have no menuchas hanefesh. You’re all complaining.”
All these American bachurim came to the Mir Yeshiva in the small European town of Mir. If you ever want to get a little picture of what Mir was like for an American couple, read the story of All for the Boss, where Ruchama Shain, a”h, explains what it was like getting married in the heilegeh America, the goldene medinah and having running water and toilets flushing and showers and then going to the Mir with its dirt roads. She describes how pashut their life was in Mir. And in that state of simplicity you could lose all your menuchas hanefesh. Rav Yerucham was in touch with the olam. He said, “I hear some of you are angry and some of you are complainers, mesonenim.”But Klal Yisrael in the midbar were ‘ושמרו משמרת ה. Zugt Rav Yerucham, “Your granddaddies, deine zeidas un deine bubbies, also not only your zeidas, your bubbies ochet, it wasn’t a bother forthem. They weren’t disturbed by any koshi hadrachim, in matzavim that were absolutely the hefech of menuchah and they were able to follow Hashem beahavah uveratzon. They weren’t meharher achar Hashem at all.”Even the ones who complained in the desert, “Where’s the beef? Where’s the water? Where is this? Where is that?” They didn’t complain at all about this matzav of continually following the anan. Isn’t it a pelah (wonder)?
You know, we all grew up reading the stories of the dor hamidbar. We think, “Eh, what a bunch of complainers, mamash an unhappy bunch of campers. Spoiled campers from Mitzrayim!” Nah, they weren’t spoiled at all! We’re spoiled! He says these are the great nisyonos with which Hashem trained them and tested them, and Hakadosh Baruch Hu said to them אחרי ה’ אלקיכם תלכו! It says in Devarim (13:5), אחרי ה’ אלקיכם תלכו, follow Hashem. Zugt the Sifri, what does it mean, “Follow Hashem?” זה הענן. This refers to the cloud. You hear that? The Ramban brings down over there – that’s called ‘שומר משמרת ה.
We have to realize this. We have to think about this because we are mamash nothing compared to older generations. We’re complainers. We come from complainers. The gantze world is complainers. People aren’t happy. They’re missing this. They are missing that. They don’t have houses. They don’t have big cars. Everybody is complaining. They can’t take it.
Zugt the Ramban in Devarim the mitzvah of אחרי ה’ אלקיכם תלכו – which is זה הענן – zugt the Ramban היא מצוה לדורות.[ii] It’s a mitzvah ledoros, it’s a mitzvah that applies to all future generations too. It’s a pelah. Why is it shayach to bea mitzvah ledoros? The anan was only in the midbar. Have you ever seen an anan? The ananin that I see today are not directing anybody. These are either rain clouds or fake rain clouds. What kind of mitzvah is there of following the anan today?!
So you know what you see from here, zugt Rav Yerucham? It’s a gevaldige error.[iii]He says we normally think that the anan was something that was only shayach to Klal Yisrael. It was only shayach in the midbar to guide them for forty years. It was only for that generation. Says Rav Yerucham to think like that is amaratzus. He says, to think like that is to think like a fool, who displays ignorance. Ignorant folks think like that, he says. The anan was the ideal matzav. The madreigah of the dor hamidbar to live al pi emunah withאחרי ה’ אלקיכם תלכו, it’s a gevaldige dargah of emunah! The halichos of the way a person lives, should be by the guidance of shamayim, without your self, with your own self interests! That was the dargah of the dor hamidbar. They lived al pi emunah. They went through the yam. לכתך אחרי במדבר בארץ לא זרועה, על פי ה’ יסעו ועל פי ה’ יחנו, this was Hashem’s training in living al pi emunah and that’s how they were zocheh to reach a very high madreigah. Living al pi Hashem is really the ideal matzav.
How To Ask a Sheilah
Rabosai, we’re not able to have an anan today.If there would be an anan in our lives, there would be a lot of rebellions and a lot more Conservative Jews. That generation was able to commit themselves to live al pi Hashem, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a mitzvah ledoros. It doesn’t mean that Hashem doesn’t want me to say, “Hakadosh Baruch Hu, please guide me. And if tomorrow You want me to be in Iowa, or tomorrow You want me to pick up and go to Eretz Yisrael – even though there’s no food stamps, or HUD there, and there’s no this and there’s no that, and my wife doesn’t yet have a job there and the kollelim don’t pay so well either – I will follow You.” Whatever cheshbon, concerns you have about your life circumstances – “I have a job in a good factory or I’m a jewelry man. I’m in real estate. Now I’m going to go to Israel? What’s going to be in Israel for me? It’s a tough market there. I can’t afford to live there. I don’t speak Hebrew.” Say: על פי ה’ יסעו ועל פי ה’ יחנו.
The same applies in the opposite direction. People get up one day and say I’m moving to Israel. A guy calls me up one day. “I’m moving to Israel.” I told him, “What kind of mechutzaf are you?” The guy said, “What?” I said, “What do you mean you’re moving to Israel?! You have to ask, in the following way, ‘I would like to move to Eretz Yisrael, but I’d like to know if this is what Hashem wants me to do.’ That’s how you ask a shaylah,” I told him. “If you tell me you and your wife decided and now you came to me for advice, for that,” I said, “you go to the Misrad Haklitah. Go to the Sochnut.” That’s Israel’s foreign arm in America. In every city they have them, some local little ambassadors. He shows you the ropes of how to move to Israel. You don’t come to me for that.
A mentsch has to know this is what we have to put in our kishkes.
When I got this house, I had my biggest fear. I want you to know that. I became a shtickel owner of it and I got nervous that I would feel attached to it.If I had to walk away from it tomorrow, it wouldn’t mean anything to me, baruch Hashem. If Hakadosh Baruch Hu wants me somewhere else, I would move in a second. He wants me to stay here, otherwise I wouldn’t be here. There were times I didn’t want to be here. I wanted to be in Eretz Yisrael. L’maaseh, I wanted to be there. I had all kinds of dreams.I got many calls over the years: “Would you consider a position…?” I said, “Let me finish the sentence…Anywhere.” They asked me, “You really mean that?” I said, “Yes, ‘anywhere.’ I would consider it. What is the determination? Well, determination number one is whether Hashem wants me to move there. Determination number two, is how much are you paying?” (laughter)
Getting a “Call” From Hashem
That’s what a mentsch has to know. I’ve seen yungerleit in the yeshivah over the years. I once had a chavrusa many years ago. I told him it was time to leave. The guy was giving me these cheshbonos, these shtusim cheshbonos of why he has to stay here. Because of the government programs, it wasn’t worth it for him to go to the big city he was thinking of going to. The parnasah they were offering was little. How would he live there? It seemed it was kedai for him to stay on food stamps all his life and on HUD. I told the guy, “Are you silly?” He said, “You’re going to give me parnasah over there?” I said, “No, but I’ll guarantee you one thing. The same One who guarantees parnasah here guarantees parnasah there.”
For six months I fought with him. Every day we had this conversation. Every day during the first seder I would tell him, “Nu, where are you holding? Are you going?” He said, “Are you trying to get rid of me?” I said, “No. You’ve been sitting around here. You’re starting to grow roots, but you don’t see them. When you get up from the chair, I look behind you, and I see strings coming out from your pants, and it’s not your tzitzis! You’re starting to become attached to the bench! That’s what you are. You’re not shteiging away. It’s time to move on.” To his credit, he moved on. It took a long time. He finally moved on. He became a rav. He became a rebbi. No one knew how he was going to have parnasah, but Hashem was telling him to go. I told him, “Did you look for the job or did Hashem ‘call you’? Hashem ‘called you!’ That’s how you know where you’re going. You’ve got to go where the call is. You’ve got to heed the call of Hashem.” That’s what a mentsch has to know.
Hakadosh Baruch Hu wants that we should get this in our kishkes, that wherever we are, we have to understand that this is what Hashem wants. Sometimes, I see yeshivos who move to a certain place. They take root there. Then they get kicked out of one building, and have to move to anotherbuilding. Then they get kicked out of the next building. People say, “Ah, this city is just a bunch of anti-Semites.” I’ll never forget, ‘A bunch of anti-Semites.’ They went to Rav Chaim Kanievsky to ask what to do. “That city can’t have a yeshivah.” Ke’eilu pashut. You have to move, but not because of anti-Semites. Do you know what that kind of baloney this blaming it on anti-semites is? This is pure nonsense. This is really called על פי ה’ יסעו ועל פי ה’ יחנו. That’s what the pshat is. A person has to know that he could be in a building, or, you could want to move across the street, and Hashem says, “Nein. That’s not for you. You stay right here.” Ah you say, “I have cheshbonos, what’s better and what’s worse.” Hashem says, “I decide, not you.” Rabosai, על פי ה’ יסעו ועל פי ה’ יחנו. You have to know how to approach these things, how to look at this. And this is called ‘ושמרו משמרת ה.
So you ask yourself – are you one of those guys with plans? Are you one of the guys who is the hepech hapachim? Are you one of those guys who says, “I can’t wait until I get out of here”? Are you one of those chachamim? How many yungerleit in a yeshiva say, “I can’t wait until I get out of here!” You’re not getting out even one day before Hashem wants you to. That’s all.
Put Yourself in Hashem’s Hands!
I’ll tell you a little secret now. Rav Chatzkel says that when a person is boteach in Hashem like in the midbar, you see chasdei Hashem b’ofen galu’y (in an open way) just like in the midbar! When you go forward with the understanding that Hashem is guiding you, you can go to a place where there are snakes and scorpions – just like in a yishuv – and not one of you will get hurt. Not one Jew was lost in the desert! And all the clothing grew on them, mamash. So you see a gevaldige revelation of Hashem, that a person could be zocheh to put himself on Hashem without any concerns.
But many people still have doubts: “So what caused the nisim of the midbar?” Maybe you should have a little bitachon in Hashem? No. Your wife tells you she wants to move. The nachash. First a little snake started wheedling you, working on you like it worked on Adam Harishon and you know what you said? “Okay. I’m here. I can hear it. I understand.” But you don’t begin to chap that you’re being tested by the same test of Adam Harishon! The answer to your wife has to be the following: “My dear, we live where Hashem wants us to live, not where you want us to live, and not where I want to live. We are subservient to Hashem.”
A fellow came to me one time. His wife wanted to move. How? He wasn’t sure. I said to him, “It’s not her choice or yours – it’s up to Hashem.” A short while later he comes to me and he says, “I think I found a place to live. Ah! The opportunity arose, a dream opportunity.” I said, “Do you know for sure it’s an opportunity?” “I think so,” he said. And then he started to explain to me how everything is going to fall into place. “I can get a house for cheap like borscht and the person is fixing it up and it’s going to work like magic.” I told him, “If that’s what Hashem wants.” And his wife is already getting saliva in her mouth. She was ready. “Why are you telling people? I’m already out of here.” And then lo and behold, when the guy went to get this home, mazal tov, somebody seized it an hour before him! The guy was sure it was his.
I told the fellow, “That’s the difference. Your wife is disappointed because she thought she was in control of her life. She thought, ‘I’m going to teach You, Hashem, a lesson. Sure I wear a sheitel, but I’m going to teach You a lesson, Hashem.’ And Hashem said יושב בשמים ישחק, Hashem sits in shamayim and laughs, ה’ ילעג לו, Hashem mocks them. Hashem said, ‘Change your attitude.’ Now, I didn’t say you shouldn’t move. I don’t know if you can’t move. But you move where Hashem wants you to move. That’s how you move.”
So they changed their attitude. A little while later another dream opportunity showed up. I told them, “You’d better jump on this because you see what happened last time. It was snatched from under you.” So they started to move with it. And then what happened? The person who everything was taloy on, nebach, became sick and the whole thing went down the drain. I said, “Here we go again. Be careful.”
Acquiring Yiras Shamayim
A person has to know, you have to accept to live your life ‘על פי ה. That’s what a person has to know. And if we do that, then every single second of your life, you’re mamash being zocheh to yiras shamayim. Go home tonight and look at your little house and say, “You know what? By tomorrow morning I may not be here. Maybe by tomorrow night you won’t be here. But Hashem, if You want me to be here, I’m going to be here tonight because You want me to be here.” I’m not sure if you should tell this to your wife because you may have some “fireworks” in your house tonight. But you chap arein this opportunity and can you think about this opportunity that Hashem is giving you, and you think about it and you say Hashem, “I’m ready to do whatever You want. Show me what You want and I’m going.” על פי ה’ יסעו ועל פי ה’ יחנו.
The following was a Q&A after the shiur (see footnote).[iv]
The Bottom Line
The parshiyos of Klal Yisroel’s travels in the midbar teach us to see that the “travels” of our lives are also al pi Hashem. Whether we are accepting to live in a certain place or to move – not based on our cheshbonos, but because that’s what Hashem wants us to do – we are fulfilling Torah’s dictum of על פי ה’ יחנו ועל פי ה’ יסעו. What’s more, is that even if we may not particularly like our present “station” in life, if we accept that Hashem placed us there and it’s His ratzon that we should stay there for the time being, we will also fulfill the mitzvah of ‘ושמרו משמרת ה, according to the Ramban. This week, I will think about my present community where I find myself and I will say to Hashem, “I am living in this city and in this house because this is Your ratzon, but I will keep my eyes open for Your ‘Clouds’ to see if You want me to continue staying here or make my next move. And as soon as You let me know, I will start my next journey to where You will lead me, without complaints or regrets.” And in that zechus of fulfilling Hashem’s ratzon (while letting go of my “plans”), just like the Yidden in the midbar, I, too, will be zoiche to see open miracles in my life!
[i] וטעם ובהאריך הענן לומר כי אם יאריך הענן על המשכן ימים רבים והמקום ההוא איננו טוב בעיניהם והיו חפצים ומתאוים מאד לנסוע מן המקום אעפ”כ לא יעברו על רצון השם וזה טעם ושמרו בני ישראל את משמרת ה’ ולא יסעו כי מיראת השם ומשמרם משמרת מצותו לא יסעו וכן אם יהיה הענן ימים מספר כשנים או שלשה ימים והיו העם יגעים מאד וענה בדרך כחם יעשו רצון השם ללכת אחרי הענן וסיפר עוד (במדבר ט׳:כ״א) כי יש שלא יעמדו רק לילה אחד ויסעו בבקר אע”פ שהוא טורח גדול להם ולפעמים יעמוד הענן יומם ולילה כי הלכו כל הלילה ובאו במקום ההוא בבקר וינוח הענן שם כל היום ההוא וכל הלילה ונעלה בבקר השני ונסעו והוא טורח גדול מן הראשון כי היו העם סבורים שיעמדו שם ופרקו העגלות והניחו משאם כמנהג הבאים מן הדרך ובהעלות הענן יחזרו לטעון ולא יוכלו לעשות להם תקון לדרך או יומים (במדבר ט׳:כ״ב) ויסעו בלילה ויתכן שאירע להם במסעות שעשו כמסופר בכאן ולא בענין אחר כי עמד הענן מערב ועד בקר ויומם ולילה ויומים וחדש ושנה ולכך הזכיר הכתוב אלו השעורין בפרטן ועמד שנים רבות כאשר הזכיר תחילה כגון בקדש שאמר (דברים א מו) ותשבו בקדש ימים רבים כימים אשר ישבתם
[ii] אחרי ה’ אלהיכם תלכו היא מצוה שנלך אחר עצתו וממנו לבדו נדרוש כל נעלם ונשאל כל עתיד כענין ותלך לדרוש את ה’ (בראשית כה כב) כי יבא אלי העם לדרוש אלהים (שמות יח טו) וכן יעשו ישראל עם הנביאים האין פה נביא לה’ ונדרשה את ה’ מאותו (מלכים ב ג יא) ויגד לנו ה’ אלהיך את הדרך אשר בה נלך ואת הדבר אשר נעשה (ירמיהו מב ג) ובספרי אחרי ה’ אלהיכם זה ענן והוא מה שפירשנו שנשמע לקול אותותיו ונלך אחרי עצתו.
[iii] וכו’, איתא בספרי אחרי ה’ א’ תלכו (דברים יג ה) – זה הענן (מובא ברמב”ן שם) והיא מצוה לדורות. ותמוה לכאורה, מה שייך על זה מצוה לדורות, הרי הענן הי’ רק במדבר ומה שייך זה לדורות? והמתבאר מזה, שטעות הוא מה שאנו מורגלים לחשוב כי הענן שהי’ להכלל ישראל, דור המדבר, לנחותם הדרך כל הארבעים שנה, הי’ מקרה לדור ההוא מפני שלא ידעו הדרך,”עם הארצות” הוא לחשוב כן, הענן – זה הי’ מצבם ודרגתם העליונה של דור המדבר לחיות רק ע”פ אמונה, אחרי ה’ א’ תלכו – היא דרגא עליונה, שכל הליכותיו של אדם, גם הליכותיו הגשמיים, יהיו רק כפי שינחוהו מן השמים, בלי שום עצמיות כלל וכלל, וזאת היתה דרגת דור המדבר, כלו עפ”י אמונה, ירדו לים ע”פ צווי ה’, “לכתך אחרי במדבר בארץ לא זרועה” (ירמי’ ב ב), “על פי ה’ יחנו ועל ה’ יסעו” (במדבר ט), ומתוך דרגתם זו הוא שזכו לענן. אנחנו לא היינו מםוגלים כלל לענן, רק הם שהיו בדרגא זו שכל הליכותם היו רק על פי ה’, רק הם היו מסוגלים לענן, וכיון שזאת היא דרגא, שייך בזה גם מצוה לדורות, שנצטוינו בדרגא זו, ואם כי היא דרגא גבוהה, מ”מ נצטוינו בזה במ”ע, כמו שנצטוינו על שאר המעלות העליונות כמו יראה ואהבה במ”ע. וזה הי’ באמת מצבם ודרגתם של האבות הקדושים, שהיו בדרגא זו של “לילך אחר הענן”, רק עפ”י ה’ יחנו ועל פי ה’ יסעו. אם כי לענן לא זכו. כמו שכתב הרמב”ן, כי אחרי שמחברון לירושלים הי’ רק מהלך זמן מועט ואיך כתוב ביום השלישי, שהי’ תועה עד שביום השלישי ראה ענן קשור (עיין רמבין בראשית כב ד), מפני שלענן זכו רק הכלל, אבל זה הי’ דרגתם שכל הליכותם היו רק על פי ה’. ונתבונן נא בינה במה שכתוב בפרשה ויאמר ה’ אל אברם “לך לך מארצך וממולדתך אל הארץ אשר אראך” (שם יב א) ,ועיין בא”ע (שם כ יג), שכתב על הפסוק “כאשר התעו אותי א’ מבית אבי” שהי’ נוסע ממקום למקום ולא ידע אנה ילך, עד שבא לארץ כנען וא”ל ה’ זאת הארץ. נצייר נא בשכלנו המראה הנפלא הזה, איך שהי’ יוצא לדרך ולא הי’ יודע כלל אנה הוא הולך, לא הי’ לו שום מטרה עצמית בזה, רק כפי שיראוהו מן השמים, הי’ פוסע פסיעה ולא ידע אם לצפון או לדרום, רק ע”פ ה’ יחנו ע”פ ה’ יסעו. איל לנו מושג כלל בדבר, אין אנו יודעים כלל מהו שכל. אנו מורגלים בכל ספק שיולד לנו כהתיישב עם השכל, וכפי אשר יורה השכל כז נעשה. אבל האמת שאין אנו יודעים כלל מהי הוראת השכל, שכל הרי הוא “הערה אלקית” (חוה”ל ג ה), שכל הוא המגיד לנו רצון ה’, הוא המודה לנו רצונו ית’, וזהו ענין השכל. אבל אימתי הוא במהותו זה, רק כשהוא בטהרתו, שכל נקי, צח מצוחצח, טהור מכל סיג ושמץ של נטי’ ורצון, שאם רק יש בו איזהו שייכות לרצון כל דהו, כבר מוליכין אותו בדרך רצונו, מראין לו מה שלבו חפץ,”בדרך שאדם רוצה לילך מוליכין אותו” (מכות י), והשכל כבר אינו מגיד כלום את רצון ה’, ונמצא שלהוראת השכל צריך להעמיק בינה להבין איך להתנהג עם השכל שיהי’ צח מצוחצח, וכמה צריך שיהיו ידי האדם נקיים וטהורים למשמש בו אף בנגיעה כל דהו, שבנגיעה כל דהו מיד הוא מתקלקל, וכו’, שמעתי מגדולים בעלי סמכא, שהגר”א ז”ל אמר, שכאשר יהי’ לאחד ספק באיזה ענין איך לעשות, ישב ללמוד ג’ שעות, ואח”כ כפי אשר יפול במחשבתו השנשונה לאחר הלימוד כן יעשה. והנה נסיתי פעם לעשות עצה זו ולא עלתה בידי, ונוכחתי מדעת כי עצה זו היא רק להגר”א ז”ל, כי לו נאה כי לו יאה, שבאמת בשכל הגר”א ז”ל לא הי’ שום ספק על כל דבר, ולא הי’ צריך לשום שיקול הדעת, מיד הי’ יודע איך לעשות, כי בשכל כזה שהי’ צח מצוחצח, טהור ונקי, איך יש לפניו ספק, ואם אירע פ”א שהי’ אצלו איזה ספק, הי’ צריך כשיקול הדעת, לעיון והמתנה, הרי ראה ומצא איזה קלקול בשכל, מה עשה – לא חשב כלל בהשאלה, אלא בכדי לתקן שכלו, עשה עצה זו, ישב ללמוד ג’ שעות ותיקן את שכלו, והניח הענין על שכלו אז, כפי אשר יפוח במחשבתו לאחר הלימוד, שבשכל טהור ונקי מצא מיד תשובה על שאלתו. והתבוננתי מזה דבר נורא מאד, שבאמת שכל הגר”א ז”ל הי’ תמיד רק כפי “אשר נפל במחשבתו”, וכל מה שעשה ע”פ הוראת שכלו הי’ רק עד”ז, “כמו המחשבה הראשונה הנופלת לאחר ג’ שעות לימוד”, כי זה הי’ שכל הגר”א תמיד, כי מהו שכל, הרי שכל הוא “הערה אלקית”, ומה שנופל לתוך מחשבת שכל נקי וזך ברגע הראשונה הוא הוט רצון ה’, היא העצה אשר נתן לו ה’ ע”י שכלו, והרי פשוט שעצה זו אינו שייך אצלינו כלל, רק אצל הגמרא ששכלו הי’ תמיד צח מצוחצח, טהור מכל סיג ונטי’, והי’ תמיד כמו אחר ג’ שעות לימוד, וכו’, נמצא כי בזה הדרך צריך שיתנהג בה האדם, והוא באמת מעלת שלימות גדולה לילך אחרי ה’, היינו שלא לילך כלל בעצמו, רק גם בכל הליכותיו, גם הגשמיים שלא לפסוע פסיעה בלתי ע”פ הוראת רצון ה’, וזה הי’ דרגתם והנהגתמ של האבות הק’, שלא פסעו פסיעה בעצמם כלל, וכו’,וזהו אחרי ה’ א’ תלכו – זה הענן, והיא מצוה כדורות לילך אחר הענן. היינו שנצטוינו על דרגא זו, שלא לילך בעצמו כלל, רק ע”פ ה’ יחנו וע”פ ה’ יסעו. ואם כי אין לנו ענן, שלענן זכו רק דור המדבר במדרגתם הגבוהה באמונה, אבל בכ”ז גם בכל הדורות, וגם ליחיד כפי מעלתו ודרגתו, מזדמנים לפניו סימנים, שמראין לו מן השמים, לנחותו הדרך אשר ילד בה. וזהו הדרך לאדם, ומצוה לדורות, לילך אחרי ההנהגה האלקית המתגלית לפניו, אף בלא שום ידיעה לאל ולהיכן שמוליכין אותו. מספרים על גדולים שיצאו לדרכם לנסוע וכשנתהפכה העגלה בדרך חזרו מנסיעתם, ותלו שסימן הוא שאין רוצים מן השמים נסיעתם, שאם הי’ רצון ה’ שיסעו, היו נוסעים בשופי בלי שום עיכובים ומכשולים. וכמו”כ מצינו בגמי (חולין צה), דרב בדיק במברא, ופרש”י אם מזומנת לו אזיל ואם בקושי מצא לא אזיל, ושמואל בדיק בספרא, ור”י בדיק בינוקא, דשייל לינוקא פסוק לי פסוקך, הרי לנו שעל האדם לחפש ולידע בכל דבר ודבר הסימנים שמראין לו רצון ה’, ובזו הדרך עליו להתנהג, וכו’, והנה כן הוא גם להיפוך, כמו שיש סימנים שלא לילך כן יש סימנים לילך, וכו’. (דעת חכמה ומוסר, דרש לב, אחרי ה’ א’ תלכו)
[iv] Question: How can a person tell whether Hashem wants him to move or not? Answer: Let’s say a person is living in a place and he feels that there are things that are holding him back from shteiging and he wants to move elsewhere to shteig, so once again he should turn to Hashem and say, “Hashem, I would like to shteig and I feel that if I live over there, I will shteig more, so therefore, Hashem, I’m going to make attempts to move, to see if it’s Your will. I want to do Your will Hashem.” Then if Hashem gives you a place, ‘ושמרו משמרת ה, you’ll say, “Thank You Hashem. I’m moving.” Many years ago I was given an opportunity to move to Eretz Yisrael and many people had what to say about this. Everybody was an armchair quarterback. Everybody had a deah whether it’s good to move to Eretz Yisrael. Finally I asked my zeida. He said, “It’s very simple. If Hashem wants you to move, you move. What about parnasah? Who cares? What about my kids? Your kids?! Could it be that Hashem says, ‘Move’ and you say, ‘Hashem, I’m not moving because of my kids.’ Does that make sense?! Or Hashem says, ‘Stay here,’ and you say, ‘Hashem, I’m moving.’ I don’t care what you want.” My wife and I decided we want to move. So? That means nothing. There’s one formula – “If it’s what Hashem wants,” I am ready to go. In that situation, my zeida gave me a “formula” on how to know clearly what it is that Hashem wants. He said: “If you know you’re going to go somewhere, and you’re definitely going to shteig and you’ll be able to do more for Klal Yisrael, then you definitely must go. If by staying put, you will shteig and do more for Klal Yisrael, then you definitely must stay, regardless of any other cheshbonos.” That’s what a person has to know. Hakadosh Baruch Hu should open our eyes and we should be zocheh to this tremendous, fantastic opportunity of living ‘על פי ה and traveling with Hashem. Question: How do you know if you spoke to the right Rav with your question? Answer: A person could decide, “Hashem, I don’t care what You want, so בדרך שהאדם רוצה לילך מוליכין אותו.” If a guy says to Hashem, “I don’t want to take You into account, I want to move.” Hashem says, “If that’s what you want, you can have it” – so Hashem opens the door for you. You must understand that even in this case you’re not doing it ‘על פי ה. That’s the point. You have to remember that klal הבא לטמא פותחין לו, if someone comes and makes a decision in his life that has nothing to do with Hashem, yes, Hashem opens the door. You may even find rabbanim who will tell you, you’re 100% right, even though they’re wrong, and Hashem will say you’re someone who is בא לטמא. You made up your mind before you went to the rav. You went “rav shopping” – that’s all, until you found a rav who will tell you what you want to hear.
Question: How do you understand the times when Klal Yisrael did complain in the midbar? Answer: Each time has to be studied. Each time is a different challenge and, ein hachi nami,those were major events. Today, we’re bringing out the greatness of Klal Yisrael when they didn’t complain. You know what this does to me? This demonstrates to me that the things that they did complain about, had to be so out of the loop, different than this, beyond my imagination. I would have thought that those cases were basic things which you could legitimately complain about. They traveled for three days without water – the first complaint. Water is a basic need. I need water to drink. Can you say to someone, “Oh, don’t worry about it.” I mean, that’s not a bad complaint. It’s called complaining because you ask, “Where’s water? I don’t see any fountains here. I don’t see any faucets here. I don’t see anything to drink.” But this would be a natural thing, that someone would naturally complain about. Question: How can a person know what Hashem wants without speaking to a rav? Answer: I’ll tell you how a person could know for sure that he doesn’t know. If he or she decided what they want to do first, notwithstanding that there’s Hashem in this world – i.e. “We don’t care about Hashem in the world,” then you know for sure you’re on your own. If a person wants to do something for a ratzon of Hashem and the opportunities open themselves up to him, to taka do the ratzon Hashem,then it’s a good sign it’s from Hashem that this is what He wants you to do. There was a couple here once in Cleveland. He was a big doctor. They got an offer. He wanted to move. I told him, “First, you have to know how Hakadosh Baruch Hu wants you to move. Move to a place, a community where you will go up and grow.” He says, “Where is that?” I said, “The tristate area. There you’ll find a yeshivishe community. You’ll learn, you’ll shteig.”Then he got an offer to go to Lakewood, and his wife definitely had heart arrhythmia. “Me? Lakewood? Cleveland Heights was too much for me! Me in Lakewood?” She was mamash ois mentsch. “I’m not that yeshivish. I can’t handle it.” I told him, “That’s where Hashem wants you to go. I didn’t arrange it. That was from Hashem. Move to Lakewood.” He asked, “How about Teaneck? Why not Englewood?” I said, “What are you hacking me a chainik for? Go to Lakewood.” Finally, I told the guy that it would be be’hatzlachah. I said, “You’re not moving to the yeshivah. Where do you think you’re moving? Yeshivah? You’ll never see the yeshivah in Lakewood. Tell your wife you have nothing to worry about. You can imagine it’s Wickliffe over there. So they moved there. The guy shteiged in such a way, it was beyond my wildest imagination that he could shteig that way!I’m thinking to myself, “Ribono Shel Olam, if this guy would have gone to some other city, he would not have ended up with what he did!” What would he have ended up with already? Gornisht. Nothing. He let himself go to the right place, and his wife shteiged as well, and his kids shteiged and his docterie shteiged. It’s pashut amazing!