Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Appreciating Our Blessings - Devar Torah for Shemot

Yad Binyamin seemed like a perfect choice. A wonderful community with a nice mix of Israelis and “Anglos”, my wife and I felt it would be a great place to begin our lives as new immigrants to Israel. Indeed, we were right. The kids have made good friends, the schools have been terrific to work with, and the community members warm and welcoming. Yad Binayamin really has been great.
Except for our friends from the South. OK – not really our friends. I mean our enemies from Hamas in Gaza. Yad Binyamin lies 39.5 kilometers from the Gaza border, just inside the outer limits of Hamas rocket capability. The Military Civilian Authority decided (wisely) to keep all children home from school, mine included, and they have only returned to school this week. Life at home is the same, but different. Just a little more tense. The children don’t sleep as well. They don’t venture out like they used to.
But still, with the challenge of living in a real war zone, carrying my children into our protected room, listening to my wife lie on the ground during a rocket attack on my cell phone, things are wonderful. They truly are. Why do I say so? Because I learned lesson from the Ben Ish Chai that I saw in a terrific sefer called מעיין השבוע.
As we begin to read of שיעבוד מצרים, the subjugation of the Jewish people at the hands of the Egyptians, one primary question enters our minds: why? If God really wanted to ultimately give the Jewish people the Torah and return them to ארץ ישראל, who needs Egypt? Who needs hundreds of years of slavery, suffering and desperation? Why not just keep Ya’akov and his family in the Land of Cana’an, take them to Eilat for a weekend to give them the Torah and let them comfortably settle the land? Why did God deliberately create a situation that demanded suffering before the salvation?
The Ben Ish Chai answers this question through a parable.
There once lived a wealthy businessman who kindly took in an orphaned youth as his houseguest. He happily gave the youth a home to live in and the young man settled into his new life comfortably. Several years later, a poor man came to the house to ask for tzedakah. Like most beggars, he expected only a modest donation, perhaps only five or ten shekel. When the man pulled out two hundred shekel, the pauper rejoiced. He began to bless the g’vir, his wife, his children – his city, his home. It was all the businessman could do to get the man out the door, bowing and throwing blessings behind him as he left.
Watching the scene unfold, the businessman’s wife commented to him, “While it’s true that you gave that man a nice gift, it’s not that much in the grand scheme of things. We’ve given the young man living in our home far, far more than two hundred shekel, and while he’s a fine young man, he never thanks us the way that man did.”
The businessman agreed with his wife, and called the young man into his office.
“You have been living with us for several years,” he told him. “You’ve always been pleasant, but I want you out of my house now. Please leave everything we’ve given you, and go immediately.”
The young man, dumbfounded, didn’t know what to do. All he could do was quietly leave the house, wondering where to go next. Arriving in the center of town he soon grew hungry. With nothing to eat and nowhere to sleep, he found a hard bench in the park to spend the night. Forced to find work for food, he began hiring himself out to deliver groceries to harried housewives, earning just enough to get a bite to eat. On the third day the businessman told his assistant, “Go call the young man back to the house and return him to his room.”
That afternoon at lunch, the young man rushed into the kitchen to help set the table. He thanked his patron profusely for the food, and afterwards asked if he could help in any other way.
The Jewish nation, said the Ben Ish Chai, was that young orphan. If God had given us the Torah with ease and comfort; if He had allowed us to remain in ארץ ישראל without having to conquer it ourselves, we would never appreciate the value of those incredible gifts. This is why Hashem sent Ya’akov down to Egypt and the Jewish people suffered for so long. Only because we suffered to gain our freedom and only because we struggled to receive the Torah do those values mean so much to us today.
And, only because we fought – and continue to fight – to protect our right to ארץ ישראל do we truly appreciate the Land that Hashem has given us. There really is a relationship between the hardships we undergo and how much we value the blessings that we have. Thank God, I live in Yad Binyamin, not Sderot. I really don’t have things so hard. And the subtle changes to my daily life that the war has brought highlight just how much I appreciate my kids’ school, my community, the quiet of normal daily life, and the blessing that I merit to live in Eretz Yisrael.
Each of us deals with challenges and tribulations in our lives. Shemot reminds us that even while we address the hardships of life, those very struggles can help us appreciate the tremendous blessings that Hashem brings to our lives each and every day.
We hope and pray that with Hashem’s help, the IDF succeeds in its mission, life in Israel returns to normal, and our soldiers return safely to their families soon.