He found himself lying on the top of a rickety roof dangerously close to the edge, bruised battered and in excruciating pain. As to how he got there he has no idea, all he remembers is the frightening sound of the howling wind that suddenly caught him from behind. He had never imagined that a wind could be so powerful, it passed by in the blink of an eye and simply took him with it, lifting him off the ground as if he were nothing more than a fallen leaf. Yes, he knew that a storm was expected that day … everyone was talking about it and they told of its awesome magnitude and of the tragedies that such a storm has caused in the past. He heard their words, but in his heart he was swayed to dismiss the ‘exaggerations’. “What could possibly happen…?”, he thought “… it’s only a wind.”
The storm began with some slightly unusual winds, the trees shook and the window shutters rattled. He began to think again about his decision to make the journey; it’s not worth getting a cold. But what occurred just a few moments later was something he could not have imagined in his wildest dreams.
Now, during the many days of his slow recovery, he has some time to think and he begins to understand where he went wrong. He simply was not prepared to forgo his daily schedule.
For years he had made his way along that route at the same time each day. He had walked leisurely in pleasant weather, beneath the clear blue skies along those very same paths and they had always brought him to great places. On that cold and stormy day too, he was determined not to forgo his schedule and humble himself before a mere wind. However, sometimes it is the right decision, he should have stayed closed up at home, even at the expense of his satisfying routine.
There are times when life seems to smile at us, routine goes smoothly without distractions, the body is healthy, the bank account isn’t suffering from overdraft and things at home are peaceful … the good times. Days filled with Torah and nights decorated with hisboddedus and tefillah, we begin mesechtos (tractates of Talmud) and complete them too. Our chavrusa (study partner) seems tailor made from heaven and everything just seems to be in place.
Suddenly … ‘a storm’. It begins with just a few insignificant ‘drops’ that aren’t really worrying – a small financial hassle, a slightly larger expense. Afterwards some other disturbances are added – one’s schedule was a bit shaky, his chavrusa wasn’t so pleased and little by little the disturbances find another place in one’s day, until the ‘out of order’ seems to have acquired a fixed place.
In such a situation our instincts tell us: ‘move forward, don’t let every little wind steer you off the path. How can you change your route now, after years of routine. One doesn’t trade in a good horse … keep moving!’ We try to move alone and do our best to continue despite the irritation, frustration and anger but very soon the wind turns into a raging storm, and that is a tremendous danger. A storm is no small matter; it can cause damage and destroy all that lies in its path.
This is how it is. The middas ha’din (the attribute of judgment) and the Yetzer hara do not slack-off on their duties. They aren’t prepared to simply concede and allow a Jew to progress from level to level. They will not allow the world to turn into paradise. They also have real claims and possess sacks full of accusations which they make use of as they proceed.
In truth they possess only one power – ‘great in its time’. At those times that they are given permission to accuse, they do it with all of their strength. They have no continuity and their existence is absolutely temporary, however, this momentary existence is also destructive …
Against a great storm one does not declare war. When it appears, one must simply go into hiding, find shelter, cover one’s head and wait for it to pass.
This battle tactic we learn from Yaakov Avinu. This is the way he conducted himself when he stood against Eisav, He knew the secret of Eisav and was aware of what his ‘storm wind’ could do. He therefore prepared himself in various ways. Yes, he did prepare and plan a battle strategy, but in addition to all this, he also prepared a gift – a very honorable present for his brother, he even bowed a few times, all in order to find favor in Eisav’s eyes and to cause his wrath to subside. He knew that ‘his wind is great in its time.’
The is also the way the Jewish people have acted throughout the long exile amongst the nations of the world, through much distress, persecutions and decrees. We would have been wiped off the face of the earth long ago if not for the ‘trade of our forefathers’ that remains in our hands, that with every distress we find shelter and protection in tefillah and in yearning for Hashem’s salvation.
Yaakov Avinu teaches each of us how we should conduct ourselves in the times when the attribute of judgment plays up.
One must certainly pray and cry out to Hashem. To fight is also necessary, to push sleep from one’s eyes and to learn even when it’s not so comfortable. Even when not everything works out it is forbidden to allow our physicality to dictate the course of our lives. However, it is imperative that we not fight too hard. We must be wise and understand that there are impediments – the body is after all formed from physicality and is not all powerful – if we push it too much it will breakdown, G-d forbid.
There is a limit that cannot be crossed with stubbornness alone and it is forbidden to fight head to head in such a fashion. Sometimes we must make use of the ‘gift’ to give the body something too, to allow it to sleep a bit. It also needs to eat and at home it is necessary sometimes to make peace, to talk, to help. There are certain things that must be taken care of – one does not fight a storm.
However this is not enough. There is a need for practical advice and guidance, for the main expression of the attribute of judgment against a person is a lack of Eitzah (advice). In such a state a person doesn’t know how to advise himself – he sees many different ideas and each one has its arguments and amidst all of this he doesn’t know what the right thing is. The lack of Eitzah is the most dangerous situation of all.
Yaakov Avinu stood up to this test too, he didn’t know what Eisav was intending and which was the correct way to approach him; should he go straight into battle or, perhaps, Eisav would be peaceful – in which case he should approach him peacefully and with love.
So what did he do? “… and he split the people that were with him into two camps”(Beraishis 32,8) so that should one get destroyed, the other would remain.
Reb Nosson (Hilchos Rosh Chodesh 7) explains this in the following way: “when a person sees that it is difficult to achieve the perfect advice, one must conduct himself according to the “split advice” so that at least something will remain and he will not be destroyed completely, G-d forbid. Meaning, when a person sees that the Yetzer Ha’ra is overcoming him and it seems to him that he doesn’t have the strength to stand up against him. As much as he tries to think of advice and tactics he doesn’t seem to find clarity, and because of this his advice is always split.
Then, the main piece of advice for him is to rely on the power of the true Tzaddik, being, that on whatever path he goes he will find Hashem. And in the meantime he should act in accordance with the “split advice.”
How is it possible to ensure the survival of ‘one camp’”? When we engrave in our hearts that no matter what happens, we will never abandon Hashem and we will never ever despair.
Reb Nosson also brings a few examples: “for example when a person wants to learn a lot, to pray, to do much hisboddedus and to be clean from now on of any sin of bad thought, and he sees that it is difficult for him … he should nevertheless strengthen his resolve that: … I will toil with all my strength to snatch a bit of good every day of my life, and if G-d forbid I will not be able to pray properly then I will see to it that I speak afterwards a few words of supplications and requests. If this too is withheld from me, then I will learn a little or a lot, and at least I will strengthen myself with strong yearning for Hashem and I will scream: ‘Master of the world, save me!’”
This is the ancient advice that Yaakov made use of when his advice was split. This piece of advice is suitable for us all and it rests upon the foundation of the clear Emunah that Hashem can be found in every place … and in every place it is possible to serve Him and to please Him … the main thing is to grab whatever we can, not to discouraged by doubt for at least ‘one camp’ will remain.
A bachur decides at the beginning of the zman to learn certain material and to cover a large amount. He tries a little, pushes himself a little and in the end crumbles. Yaakov Avinu tells us that when the storm comes against us we shouldn’t be stubborn. We should be wise and change our route. Hashem can be found in every place, so we should try and learn something else – something easier or less deep – and at least this bit of learning will remain. When the wrath subsides we can return healthily to our usual route and proceed rapidly.
If we want to find Hashem he is everywhere, and we don’t have to stubbornly persist along the main road. We can be smart and avoid accidents. For the storm is great in its time, but in the end it subsides and disappears. Then we can lift our heads and keep moving forward.