Lech Lecha 5783: Learning the Lesson of Complete Emunah

לאת הכרת הטוב ולזכות חנה בת חי’ שלי ושלכם שלה הוא

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Shiur presented in 5778

Parshas Lech Lecha: Learning the Lesson of Complete Emunah (5778)

Hashem’s Promise for Avraham’s Descendants

In this week’s parshah,we encounter a tremendous episode where Hakadosh Baruch Hu has a discussion with Avraham Avinu. Avraham Avinu says, הן לי לא נתת זרע, I don’t have children, והנה בן ביתי יורש אותי, behold my steward [Eliezer] will be my heir (Bereishis 15:3). True, a stranger won’t be the one to inherit me, but it’s not going to be my son.

והנה דבר ה’ אליו לאמר, behold the word of Hashem came to Avraham saying, לא יירשך זה, the one who you think is going to inherit you will not inherit you, כי אם אשר יצא ממעיך הוא יירשך – your very own child shall be your heir (ibid, verse 4). Hashem told him: “Don’t be worried that the nation that is guaranteed to rise from you and continue in your derech will be from Lot, a family member, or from one of your friends, Anar, Eshkol and Mamrei, or from Eliezer, your great talmid. No. You’re going to give birth to zera, and that zera, that seed is going to inherit you, and from it you will build a big future.” ויצא אותו החוצה, Hashem took Avraham outside and He said to him, הבט נא השמימה, look at the heavens, וספר הכוכבים, and count the stars, אם תוכל לספר אותם, if you’re able to count them. And He says to him, כה יהיה זרעך, so will be your children. “Can you count the stars? No. Likewise, your children, your descendants, you won’t be able to count.” ’והאמין בה, Avraham believed in Hashem, ויחשבה לו צדקה,  Who considered it as a righteousness to him (verses 5-6).

Now, Rashi says what does ויחשבה לו צדקה mean? Rashi says, what that means is, Avraham believed what Hashem was telling him. Avraham didn’t ask Hashem for a sign on this. And Hakadosh Baruch Hu considered that a big zechus for Avraham. He considered the emunah Avraham had as a special righteousness. Here the Torah is testifying, Hakadosh Baruch Hu is testifying to the level of emunah that Avraham Avinu exhibited. And this was such pure emunah that Hashem considered it tzedakah for him.

Avaham’s Belief in Hashem’s Promise

The Ramban and others ask, what kind of tzedakah is this? What kind of ma’aleh is this? If Hashem Yisbarach bechvodo uv’atzmo tells Avraham you’re going to have a child, is it such a big deal that he believed in Hashem?

And also, what does it mean “he believed in Hashem”? You know, sometimes you meet a guy and he says to you, “I want to help you. I’m going to help you” But, from experience, you discover that most people who tell you straight out that they want to help you, it’s worth a pound of salt. They usually don’t. They’re like the guys who say to you, “I’m going to pray for you.” Right. I’m sure you will.

The passuk says, ‘והאמין בה, and we have to realize what this means, because there are many levels of emunah.

If you tell me you’re going to help me, you know what I can say? “I hope so. I appreciate the fact you want to help me. I appreciate the fact you said that.” But am I going to take that to the bank? No. Any rosh yeshivah who has ever gone to raise funds for his yeshivah or anyone who has gone to raise funds for other undertakings, knows that a person’s word is as good as lokshen. It’s mind boggling. I’ve had people come over to me in the middle of davening and write me notes that said, “Enjoyed your shiur very much. Will take care of you shortly. Today I have a ta’anis dibur.”There was a person I once met. He said to me, “I’m going to Eretz Yisrael now. When I get back, I’m going to take care of you.” I’ve had people say, “I’m going to send you a check right away.” Do you know what “right away” means? That next year maybe you will remember. “Oh, I didn’t give it to you last year?” It’s mind blowing. I’m talking about nice, normal, otherwise good people.

Hashem said to Noach, “I’m going to bring a flood.” Hashem Himself tells this to Noach. Noach is a tzaddik. He builds a teivah. He spends 120 years on a mission of building a teivah. You’d think that on the day that it started to rain, the man would jump into his raincoat, jump into this teivah, slam the door shut because he doesn’t know how fast it’s going to come, and he would seal that teivah and say, “Hasta la vista boys.” But Noach doesn’t go into the teivah. It rains and rains. The rain is starting to gather. It’s harder, stronger rains. It gets worse and worse. The pasuk (Bereishis 6:6) says, ויבא נח אל התיבה מפני מי המבול, and Noach came into the teivah because of the waters of the flood, so Rashi says, אף נח מקטני אמונה היה, Noach himself was meketanei emunah, מאמין ואינו מאמין שיבוא המבול ולא נכנס לתיבה עד שדחקוהו המים, he didn’t enter the teivah until the water pushed him in. Can you imagine this?! I can’t. But you can be sure if Noach would do this, I wouldn’t be any better because Noach was a צדיק תמים היה בדורותיו. He was a big person, a tzaddik.

Hashem could tell a person something, “Nu, I hear Hashem.” But why aren’t you moving? Hashem is ba’al harachamim. You know that Hashem is ba’al hachessed. Hashem is lo chafetz bemos hameis. Hashemdoesn’t want reshaim to die. He wants them to do teshuvah. But regarding Avraham it says: ‘והאמין בה. You know what ‘והאמין בה means? Rav Elchonon Wasserman says, ‘והאמין בה means Avraham believed in Hashem as much as was humanly possible. He believed Hashem to the Nth degree. There wasn’t an ounce of safek, and only Hashem could know that. If I say to Hashem, “I believe You as much as I can,” what is that worth? When Hashem tells you something, you have to believe it much more than you believe a person!

When I was in a certain city one time, I encountered a mofes. I met a person for the first time, and the person said, “How can I help you?” He said, “I’m going to help you. I’m going to send it out today.” It was Sunday. I said, “There’s no mail.” He said, “I’m taking care of it today.” You think I believed him? I didn’t believe him. I figured, this is the first time I’m meeting him this year. By next year, maybe I’ll get it from him. The guy sent it out that day! I was blown away. I wanted to call the guy up, and tell him, “You stand out among people. You are outstanding! You’re an ish emes! You’re a man of your word!”

Now, if a guy tells you, “I’ll do something for you.” When will he do it? If he says: “כשירחיב ה’ אלקיך את גבולי, when Hashem will give me a chance. When I have time,” I don’t have ta’anos on the guy. But if he says to me on the spot, “right away,” then I go back three months later and say, “What happened to the ‘right away’”?

When Hashem told Avraham Avinu, “You’re going to have a child,” the Seforno says he believed it in a fashion and in a way not stam – it was a rock.[i] He told Sarah, “Hello Sarah. I’m certain we’re going to have kids. Get the layette. Call the decorator. We waited all the years for this kid.” In Avraham’s mind it was guaranteed. And Hashem said, “I consider it for you as a zechus.[ii]

Beyond the Starry Prognosis

Now, why was it a zechus? Hashem told him and Avraham believed Him. But it’s more than that. Chazal tell us that Avraham originally wanted to know if he was going to have kids, so he went to astrologists. Avraham was a very wise man and he went to big chachamim who were expert astrologers. He saw in the mazalos that he was not going to be molid. He had a basis to believe that he couldn’t have kids. He had reason to believe that. You know what Hashem told him? Hakadosh Baruch Hu told him, “Come with Me. Come outside.” ויוצא אותו החוצה. You know what Chazal say that means? Hashem told him, צא מן המידה הזאת, step out of your ‘signs.’ Step out of your horoscopes. Hashem said, “What did everybody tell you about your prognosis of having a child? אברם אינו מוליד ושרי אינה מולדת.”You know what Hashem said? He didn’t say, “I’m going to change it.” Hashem said, “אברם אינו מוליד, but Avraham will be molid. As you are now, you can’t be molid.” It’sinteresting. Hashem didn’t say, “I’m going to make you be molid with your name Avram.” No. Hashem will make him be molid with the name Avraham. שרי אינו מוליד, but Sarah yoledes (Bereishis Rabbah 45).

Hashem said, “There is a way of Me elevating you over the mazalos.”It says in Chazal, Hashem raised him above the kipas ha’aretz, and told him, “Right now, you’re in a place lema’aleh min hamazel.” It says, “look at the sky.” It doesn’t say שא נא עיניך וראה השמימה, lift up your eyes and see the sky, because Avraham was already lifted above the sky. He said “Look down at the sky כאדם שהוא מביט מלמעלה למטה.” It’s moradig.[iii]

Avraham’s Merit brought a Gift to All His Children

And Hashem told him something else. An amazing thing. “Not only you, but כה יהיה זרעך.” The gemara says in Shabbos (156a): אמר רב יהודה אמר רב מנין שאין מזל לישראל, how do you know there’s no mazel in Yisrael? And Rashi says, through tefilah and zechusim, a person could be meshaneh his mazel.[iv]The gemara says, שנאמר ויוצא אותו החוצה אמר לו צא מאיצטגנינות שלך שאין מזל לישראל. It seems like a peledike zach. Even if I have a mazel, I canchangethe mazel. Not just stam like this, but al yedei tefilah and al yedei zechusim. You have to go out of your way to make yourself zechusim. When Hashem told him כה יהיה זרעך, that means that your children will also have this ma’aleh of being lema’aleh min hamazel, of not being subjugated to the mazel. Hashem was telling Avraham: “Your children will also have this koach.”

There’s another beautiful Chazal that says, Hashem said to Avraham, “What can I bentch you with? That you’re going to be a tzaddik? You are a tzaddik! That your wife Sarah should be a tzadeikis? She is a tzadeikis! I’m going to give you a brachah that all your banim she’asidim la’amod mimcha yehiyu kemoscha.” This is the meaning of כה יהיה זרעך, so your children shall be, like you are right now.” You hear this? A moradige zach. We have tremendous kochos.

I remember the first time I was omed on these pesukim,I read them many times. Many, many times. I thought about this point, I am not subjugated to any tevah. I’m not subjugated to any mazel. I don’t care what the newspaper says. I don’t care what anybody says.I know that I am a zerah Avraham and Hashem said כה יהיה זרעך. However, this exact koach of being able to go lema’aleh min hakochavim and to look down on the world doesn’t come for nothing. You get it al yedei zechus and al yedei tefilah – through merits and strong tefillah.

Break Limitations Through Merits

People who work on this like Avraham Avinu can experience tremendous, tremendous changes in their lives. The gemara says that a lot of things, like children and parnasah are dependent on mazel. Whether you have kids or not, whether you have parnassah or not is dependent on mazel. But the gemara says that tefilah can change it. Zechusim can change it. You have to know that this koach of hachutzah (“of stepping outside”) – every Yid carries this. I’m not limited. I have no barriers, I have no limitations.

There’s a moradige Chazal that says this about Yosef Hatzaddik. It says, when Yosef was challenged, she grabbed him by the garment and she said shichva imi, lay with me. It says, he left his beged in her hand, וינס ויצא החוצה, he ran outhachutzah. So Chazal say, where did he get the koach to go out hachutzah? Bezechus Avos. Where does it say that? ויוצא אותו החוצה. By Avraham Avinu it says Hashem took him hachutzah.

You hear this? You hear what kind of thing this is? How many of us think we’re locked into our shortcomings? How many of us feel that we’re tied down and bogged down? “This is the way I am.” “Maybe it’s my mistake,” people have said, “Maybe I caused it. Maybe it’s my condition. Maybe because I have this condition therefore I behave like this. Therefore, I’m drawn to these bad things. I have no control over myself.” ויוצא אותו החוצה. Realize one thing: if you’re a zera Avraham, you should know you have a kesher, a connection to zechus avos! You can get out! But you have to have zechusim. Yosef, too, had to be medabek (attach) himself bezechus avos (to the merits of Avos). But this didn’t happen on its own. This happened by realizing that, first, he was their descendent and, second, by emulating them.

כה יהיה זרעך, shtait. That’s what a person has to know. It’s the legacy which Avraham Avinu left us with. Every single one of you makes a choice. Yes, you have mazalos. Yes, you have limitations. You may be limited by your capabilities, various limitations. You may be limited because your background was weak. You may be limited because you have a lot on your plate. People have all types of limitations. But you have to remember that you’re a descendant of Avraham Avinu, and as such, actually, you have no limitations.

What is Real Emunah and Bitachon?

I once went to a person’s house and he told me that he was in a terrible situation. A horrible situation. He was on the verge of financial collapse, and his family didn’t know about it. He was the shliach to support all his children and sons-in-law, and he had a fine lifestyle. He bemoaned his fate to me, and then he said to me one thing. “I need help from you but don’t tell me about emunah and bitachon because that’s one thing I’ve got plenty of. I’m into that.” I said, “Don’t take this personally, but listening to you talk, I am getting the jitters listening to how precarious things are, and how you can’t sleep and how you can’t eat and how you can’t function. That’s the furthest thing from emunah and bitachon.” I said, “You may know about emunah and bitachon, but you don’t have emunah and bitachon. Emunah and bitachon means, ‘I have menuchas hanefesh.’”

Yonah Hanavi was in a storm and the ship was about to sink and it was being thrown from side to side under these terrible, awful, awesome, huge waves. The boat is about to capsize. When a boat is in a storm, it bends over all the way and the sails are now facing this way, instead of up. Then you get thrown the other way. Now it’s facing this way. You think one of these times, you’re going under. With Yonah Hanavi, the whole boat was going nuts. They were throwing things off the boat. They were going unbelievably crazy. They were doing teshuvah, pishpush ma’asim. They were doing viduy. They were doing everything. And what does Yonah Hanavi do? He goes downstairs to sleep.

Sleep?! Maybe he wants to read a paper to take his mind off it because he’s nervous, or he wants to smoke something, I don’t know what. He wants to drink something, efshar. But what’s he going down to sleep for?! How could you sleep?! The captain of the ship comes down and he sees him lying in bed there. He wakes him up. He says, “Who are you? Are you a nut? Where are you from? You know what’s going on?” Yonah said, “Oh, I’m not afraid.” He said, “Why aren’t you afraid?” He said, “My Hashem made the shamayim. He made the aretz. He made the yamim. My Hashem is doing this all. You have nothing to worry about. You don’t have to worry about it.” He said, “You’re a nut. You’ve got to see a doctor. They’re going to lock you up.” Yonah answered, “No. Ivri anochi. Ivri anochi. We’ve been through krias Yam Suf before, my friend. Ever heard of krias Yam Suf? We are ovrei yamim. We defyall teva. This big storm doesn’t impress me.”

I’m thinking, “Wow, that is serious emunah. That is some serious emumah.”We could use some of that since people are tested all the time.

Why No Shidduch Yet?

Many people have children looking for shidduchim for a long time, and it’s very difficult for them to believe things are going to change.  They attribute it to all kinds of reasons, just like Avraham Avinu did. The astrologists said, “You can’t have kids.” Every shadchan said, “You’re not going to have a shidduch. First of all, you don’t have the money. Forget about it. No money, no one is marrying you. Second of all, your kid doesn’t look good. He’s too fat. She’s too fat. Three, the mother is a little funny. She makes funny jokes. People always say she makes funny jokes. No one wants to be in your family.”

I just met a young man, a real ben Torah. I said, “What do you think the reason is you don’t have a shidduch?” He said, “My teeth used to be crooked.” I said, “What do you mean??” Now his teeth are like ramrod straight, perfect teeth. He said, “Oh, you know what kind surgery I went through to get these teeth straightened out.” I said, “But I’m sure everybody told you it was because your teeth weren’t straight. Now they’re perfect. How come you can’t get married?”

Now he has another problem. He can’t eat. From all the surgeries in his mouth, he can’t chew. Every time he chews, it’s like, “Oh, no.” Not stam. But he looks picture perfect. His teeth are pearly white. His teeth are not holding back his shidduch. But he thinks he needs something else to make it happen.

Choose Between Segulos or Tefillah

You know what it says in this week’s medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 45:2)? It says when Sarah wanted kids, people came to her and you know what they told her? “You need some kind of good kameiyah. There must be a holy Jew somewhere who can make you a kemeiyah, some kind of kabbalist who knows how to make kemeiyas. Get yourself a kemeiyah, put it around your neck and wear it. That’s your ticket.” You know what she said? “I know why I’m not pregnant? ה’ עצרני מלדת, Hashem is the only one that’s holding me back. I’m going to deal straight with Hashem.”[v]

Today, you know how many people go for segulos? Hereis a 30-year-old person who is not married yet. I said, “How come you’re not married?” She said, “I tried every segulah in the world.” I said, “I want you to know that every segulah you did, pushed away your shidduch because you have no emunah in Hashem. You have emunah in segulos.” It does not say anywhere to put your trust in segulos.

A lot of times crooks and charlatans come and offer you all kinds of promises. They’re mamash fuppers. Fupper is a Yiddish word for super fakers. They just take your money. They have nothing to offer you. They read your mezuzos. They don’t know how to read a mezuzah. If they find a mezuzah that’s not pasul, they make up pesulim. Not long ago somebody told me about a mezuzah. I said, “I want to see that mezuzah. The mezuzah was 100% a mehudar mezuzah.” The guy said, “Probably the guy wrote it out of order.” Meshugeh. They make up stuff and people believe in this. They read faces. They read this. They read that. They give you meshugene segulos, and everybody swears by them – rings and rocks and stones. The only thing it’s going to give you is kidney stones and gallbladder stones. That’s what these rocks are going to do for you! They’re not going to help you because it has nothing to do with Hashem.

But you’re כה יהיה זרעך צדיקים כמותם. If you see a person who’s doing segulos,that tells me – it’s over. You’re out. If you did nothing, you’d be better off. This passuk teaches us, get yourself some zechusim and be mispalel seriously.

Somebody came to Rav Shteinman with a question and he said, “Daven.” The person said, “I davened.”Rav Shteinman said, “You know what the word for davening is? צעקה – tze’akah (outcry). Do you know what the numerical value of tze’akah is? 265. 265 times.” I’ve seen people in my life who had emotional issues and be’emes they needed medication. I told them that if you can wrap yourself around the fact that it’s just you and Hashem, and that Hashem is the רופא חולי עמו ישראל, you could bring yourself a yeshuah. They were functioning, fully functioning. They could cry easily, though they were adults. Their head was full of obsessive thoughts. And they turned to Hashem and they davened mamash from the bottom of their hearts, and they got better. I’ve seen a few of those. They just turned to Hashem and they put their effort in every day. They davened to Hakadosh Baruch Hu and they accumulated zechusim.

One of the biggest zechusim a person can do for himself is to assist others, but on a consistent basis; to do chessed with others. People don’t want to accept it. They just don’t want to buy into it. They say, “Okay, I’ll try it.” They have no emunah in the strength of this zechus.

Seeing Teshuvah and Emunah as Reality

How many of us have emunah in teshuvah? The Rambam says teshuvah only works if you have emunah in it. Do you realize that if you really believed in teshuvah, after Yom Kippur you would feel like such a tzaddik! You would feel you’re starting a new life and a new world. You’re getting a new chance in life, like you never had before. But many act the same as they did before Yom Kippur because no one really believes it. You know what they say? “I hope so.” I’ve told a number of people over the years, “You know, you’re a new person.” And they say, “I hope so. I’m not sure.”

When a person is ma’amin baHashem, Hashem is ויחשבה לו צדקה. That’s a zechus. That becomes an amazing zechus and tzedakah. I’m not talking about ‘wanting to have emunah.’ I’m talking about ‘having emunah.’ Avraham was special for having emunah that the promise was va’dai, being certain it was going to happen without an iota of doubt. It was off the charts. And Hashem told him, כה יהיה זרעך. We are his children. We have the exact same ability. Let us utilize it.

You don’t have to go out ten times when you are dating. I remember before I got married I was extremely concerned. I didn’t want to go out a lot of times. I wanted to go out once, and I wanted to get engaged. I said, “There’s no reason why I have to go out with five or ten girls and then find a shidduch. That’s the stupidest thing in the world.” Everybody told me there is no such a thing. One in a million guys gets lucky the first time. I said, “Why can’t that happen? If it’s going to happen after the 10th, after the 15th, why can’t it happen after the first? Why not?” And everybody tried to come up with an answer why not. I remember one guy told me, “I’m not sure why not.” But why can’t it be? Baruch Hashem it was possible. Hashem showed me.

A person has to know that when you go out with somebody and it doesn’t work, it’s not because there’s something wrong with you or you have something stopping it. The only thing you’re missing is emunah. That’s the only thing you’re missing. And Hashem is trying to be mechazek you. “I got you a date. I can’t get you the right date?” You think Hashem says, “I can’t figure out who’s the right girl for you”? Put your trust in Him that He will bring the yeshua!

Hakadosh Baruch Hu should help us go in the derech of our forefathers and fly the flag of Avraham Avinu in our lifetime.

[i] והאמין בה’ בטח שיעשה מה שאמר בלי ספק אע”פ שהיה הדבר נמנע או רחוק אצל הטבע

[ii] ויחשבה לו צדקה האל ית’ חשב זה הבטחון בו לצדקה וזכות לאברהם ובזה הודיע שכשאמר אברהם אחר כך במה אדע כי אירשנה לא חזר בו מאמונתו כלל שאם היה כן לא היתה אמונתו נחשבת לצדקה כלל כאמרו ובשוב צדיק מצדקתו ועשה עול כל צדקותיו אשר עשה לא תזכרנה (ספורנו שם)

[iii] דבר אחר, כי הגוים האלה אשר אתה יורש אותם וגו’, ואתה לא כן. מדבר באברהם, שהיה רואה באסטרולוגין, שהיה המזל אומר לו: שאין אברם ולא שרי מולידין. מה עשה להם הקדוש ברוך הוא. אמר רבי יהודה ברבי סימון בשם רבי חנין, כתיב: ויוצא אתו החוצה ויאמר הבט נא השמימה (בראשית טו, ה), העלה אותו למעלה מכפת הרקיע. ואין חוצה אלא הרקיע, שנאמר: עד לא עשה ארץ וחוצות (משלי ח, כו). וכן הוא אומר, הן אראלם צעקו חצה (ישעיה לג, ז). אמר לו הקדוש ברוך הוא, מה שאמרת, והנה בן ביתי יורש אתי (בראשית טו, ג), לא כן הדבר, כי אם אשר יצא ממעיך הוא יירשך (שם פסוק ד). אמר לו: אתה אומר לי, שאני מוליד. אמר לו הקדוש ברוך הוא, צא מן המדה, אברם אינו מוליד, אברהם מוליד. שרי אינה מולדת, שרה מולדת. ויוצא אתו החוצה, אמר לו: הרי אתה למעלה מן המזל. מי גדול ממי. לא אתה, שאתה למעלה ממנו. הבט נא השמימה. שא נא עיניך השמימה אין כתיב כאן, אלא הבט, כאדם שהוא מביט מלמעלה למטה. וכן הוא אומר, הביטה ענני ה’ אלהי (תהלים יג, ד). ויאמר לו כה יהיה זרעך (בראשית טו, ה). מיד, והאמן בה’ (שם פסוק ו). אמר להם משה, מה אברהם הניח את המזל ולא היה עוסק בו, אף אתה, לא כן נתן לך ה’ אלקיך (מדרש תנחומא, שופטים י״א)

[iv] אין מזל לישראל – דעל ידי תפלה וזכות משתנה מזלו לטובה [על הגמ’ דלעיל: דאמר רבי יוחנן: מניין שאין מזל לישראל? שנאמר: ״כה אמר ה׳ אל דרך הגוים אל תלמדו ומאותות השמים אל תחתו כי יחתו הגוים מהמה״ – הם יחתו, ולא ישראל]

[v] וַתֹּאמֶר שָׂרַי אֶל אַבְרָם הִנֵּה נָא עֲצָרַנִי ה’ מִלֶּדֶת (בראשית טז, ב), אָמְרָה יָדְעַת אֲנָא מֵהֵיכָן הִיא סִבָּתִי, לֹא כְּשֵׁם שֶׁהָיוּ אוֹמְרִים לִי קָמֵיעַ הִיא צְרִיכָה, הִימוּס הִיא צְרִיכָה, אֶלָּא הִנֵּה נָא עֲצָרַנִי ה’ מִלֶּדֶת, וכו’.

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