When was the last time you thought about Hashem in a real sense?
Yes, we do many mitzvos, but how mindful and aware are we when we do them?
This week’s haftarah has much to say about emunah. We learn of Hashem’s absolute existence, of His total knowledge of the world (Yeshaya 40:27), of His never tiring (40:28) and of His support of us (40:31 and 41:14). The theme fits nicely with our parsha whose hero is Avraham Avinu, the preeminent father of emunah.
As such, it behooves us to think about, internalize, and strengthen our faith in Hashem at this specific period of time.
It is said that over one hundred years ago in Yerushalayim, a twelve-year-old boy approached the great gadol, Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, with a question.
“After musaf on Shabbos morning, we say, ‘Ein K’Elokeinu, There is no Lord like our Lord.’ Then, we say, ‘Mi K’Elokeinu, Who is like our Lord?’ Shouldn’t the order be reversed? First, we should ask, ‘Who is like our Lord?’ and then we can answer, ‘There is no Lord like our Lord.’ Wouldn’t that make more sense?” the boy inquired.
Rav Yosef Chaim smiled at the young boy’s inquisitiveness. “Great question,” he said, “But before I answer you, I would like to ask you a question. Have you ever explored the underground caves beneath the Old City of Yerushalayim?” This was a common pastime for children at that time.
“Of course, I have,” the boy nodded.
Rav Yosef Chaim continued, “Those caves are pretty dangerous. They are full of twists and turns and people can get lost inside. Are you ever afraid of getting lost inside the caves? Do you do anything to help you make it out safely?”
“Yes, I do,” the boy replied, “I attach a rope to my waist and tie it to a large rock at the entrance to the cave. This way, I can explore the tunnels as deeply as I want and always make it back safely.”
“This is the answer to your question,” Rav Yosef Chaim explained.
“The question of ‘Mi K’Elokeinu, Who is like Our Lord?’ is a very difficult question. To try and discover who Hashem really is and to describe His attributes can put people in spiritual danger. Sometimes people ask questions and receive incomplete answers. Still, we must ask these questions in order to get close to Hashem Yisborach. There is only one safe way to ask these questions. It is just like when you explore the depths of the tunnels. When we try to explore the depths of Hashem to some degree, we need to tie a lifeline around ourselves first so that we make it back in one piece. We know that if we get lost and confused, we can always return to our lifeline. If we wander into dangerous spiritual territory, we will remain safe because we have secured our rope to the great stone at the entrance to the cave.
“Saying ‘Ein K’Elokeinu, There is no Lord like our Lord’ is our lifeline. It is our anchor of emunah and bitachon, trust and faith in Hashem. When we secure this thought in our minds we safely examine the challenging question of ‘Mi K’Elokeinu, Who is like our Lord?’” [Story heard from Rabbi Dovid Hochberg.]
As we live the work week of our lives, we face many challenges, and many questions of faith. There are many potential spiritual hazards. How can we survive? Shabbos must serve as our rope, as our lifeline. Shabbos can help us navigate through the tunnels of life safely.
On Shabbos, we are better able to connect with Hashem directly and to feel His involvement in our lives. On Shabbos, we are able to tap into and strengthen our emunah and bitachon. I once heard Rav Avrohom Schorr point out that the gematria of the word kirvas, as in “Kirvas Elokim li tov, closeness to Hashem is what I consider good” (Tehillim 73:28), is the same as the word Shabbos, 702. On Shabbos, we feel close to Hashem.
This helps us understand the answer to a famous question. “Mizmor Shir L’Yom HaShabbos” (Tehillim 92) seems to lack a connection to Shabbos. Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, in his sefer Emes L’Yaakov on Chumash (Shemos 5:9), relates that on Shabbos, Klal Yisrael would read from scrolls that discussed their redemption (Shemos Rabbah 5:18). He explains that this kapital of Tehillim was written on one of those scrolls. He brings support for this thought from Rashi in Bava Basra 14b and Tehillim 90 where is says that Moshe authored eleven chapters of Tehillim, 90-100 which includes 92.
Why did Moshe feel it was vital that Klal Yisrael study Mizmor Shir L’Yom HaShabbos in Egypt? Moshe assessed that the most significant issue on the minds of the Jewish people at that time was the problem of “tzadik vera lo,” the plight and suffering of the righteous. Klal Yisrael was enduring terrible oppression by the Egyptians and questioned why Hashem was allowing their persecution to continue. The concept of “tzadik vera lo” is the focus of Mizmor Shir L’Yom HaShabbos.
After a long and laborious back-breaking week of slavery, Klal Yisrael would gather in their batei midrash and lament their fate. The rav would give his drasha, based on the verses in the scrolls they had, such as Mizmor Shir L’Yom HaShabbos, exhorting the Jews not to give up hope. He would tell them to have faith in Hashem, even amidst the darkness of slavery and exile. “Lahagid baboker Chasdecha V’Emunascha ba’laylos – [we need] to tell of Your [Hashem’s] kindness in the morning, and Your faithfulness at night.” He would encourage them to still speak of Hashem’s greatness even in the midst of slavery and oppression – “Mah Gadlu Ma’asecha Hashem.” He would remind them that Hashem’s calculations are very mysterious – Me’od Amku Machshevosecha.” The rav would conclude that one day soon the wicked Egyptians would receive their consequences and punishment – “hinei oyvecha yoveidu,” that Bnei Yisrael would become successful and prosperous – “Tzadik Katamar Yifrach.” Presently, though, he would tell them, we must accept that whatever Hashem decides to decree against us in Egypt is just and fair – “Lo avlasa bo.”
We, too, yearn for the redemption from our many years of galus and should attempt to emulate our forefathers in Egypt. Just as they spent their Shabbosos learning and strengthening their faith in order to withstand their exile, so must we. We ought to utilize the kedusha of Shabbos to enable us to brave the impure elements and spiritual challenges we constantly face during the week.