To Believe or Not To Believe by Avi Shteingart
To claim that one believes in Hashem is a lot easier then acting on this claim. For example, we all agree that it is important to learn everyday. However, putting this belief into practice is a much more difficult task.
We should not wait until Hashem sends us a message to go learn or to put any of our beliefs into practice. In this week’s Parsha, the Torah teaches that one gives a Korban when he commits a sin. Why does a man give an animal to be sacrificed when he sins? Rabbi Mark Smilowitz explains (based on the Rambam) that when the man watches the animal being slaughtered by the Kohen, he has a near-death experience. The man realizes that he could have been offered on the Mizbeach. The man will therefore repent and put himself on the right track towards Hashem.
In Dr. Joel Berman’s unit in the Israeli army, there was a certain man who was nicknamed Satan. This nickname fit him very well because he would never stop cursing. One night, Dr. Berman was supposed to be on guard duty with Satan, watching the ammunition tent. Dr. Berman guarded the tent, and finally toward the end of the shift Satan arrived. After that, Satan was the quietest man around. A few days later Satan explained why he had not cursed in such a long time. The night he had been on duty, he had gotten lost in the darkness. The next day, when he re-traced his footsteps from the night before, he realized that he had almost walked off a cliff, which would have killed him. From this incident, Satan repented and entered a Yeshiva for Baalei Teshuva.
Satan, the worst person in the unit, realized that Hashem had saved him, and that he should leave the Derech he was on at the time. Therefore, he felt that it was only proper to repent and thank Hashem. We should not wait until Hashem sends us this message to go on the right Derech. One should not sin expecting a Korban to atone for his sin. He must truly internalize the offering of the Korban and understand that it might have been him on the Mizbeach. This is similar to Kaparot before Yom Kippur: We wave the chicken over our head, and the chicken is subsequently slaughtered. After one offers the Korban and witnesses the entire process, he understands how awful his transgression was and how kind Hashem is by saving him.
The following story describes how a person faced with a horrible crisis repents and follows the word of Hashem correctly only after he realizes the crisis:
Once a very wealthy man came to the Baal Shem Tov. He told the Baal Shem Toy that he had only come to visit but did not need a Beracha because he had everything he needed. The Baal Shem Tov told him the following story:
There were once two friends who were as close as brothers. When it was time for them to marry, they went to separate towns but promised to always keep in touch. Both were very prosperous, and slowly their correspondence began to wither away. When one suddenly became bankrupt he went to his friend for help, and his friend helped him generously. However, when the latter went bankrupt and came for help, the former did not give him a penny. He said he was could not lend out money because it was all invested and unavailable. When the two friends died, the poor man who gave half his money was sent to Gan Eden, while the rich friend who did not give a penny was sentenced to Gehenom. The one sent to Gan Eden said he would not go without his friend. The court decided to allow both to return to Olam Hazeh, the rich miser as a rich man, and the poor, generous man as a poor man. In his new life, the poor man tested the rich man, and the rich man still refused to give him money.
The Baal Shem Tov told the man in front of him that he was the rich man in the story. When the man heard this, he fell on his knees and begged the Baal Shem Tov to help him do Teshuva.
Only after the rich man in the story realized that he was in trouble did he repent. We should not allow ourselves to come to this level. We should put our beliefs into effect without the help of Hashem, because if Hashem has to help us, we will be punished. The Mesilat Yesharim quotes R. Pinchas ben Yair who says that one’s purpose on this earth is to achieve closeness to Hashem. To do so he must go through the following stages: watchfulness, zeal, cleanliness, separation, purity, saintliness, humility, fear of sin, and holiness. Of course it is easy to say this, but to actually put it into effect is much harder. The following story of Dr. Berman explains how fast closeness to Hashem can be achieved:
Once Dr. Berman’s unit had to travel through a minefield, where one step in the wrong direction could mean death, with the aid of a useless map. As the unit, which was hardly religious, walked through the minefield, the effect was amazing: soldiers who rarely wore Kipot put their Kipot on and prayed to Hashem to help them through the minefield. Unfortunately, the opposite effect occurred as they traveled out of the minefield.
Like the soldiers, we should use challenges like these to increase our level of Avodat Hashem. However, we must be careful not to revert to our former selves when the challenge is overcome. It is only through our increased Avodat Hashem that we were able to overcome the challenge, and only through continued Avodat Hashem will we overcome obstacles in the future.