Nothing Can Be Lost

Is it possible that I failed beyond hope at my shlichus in this world? Rabbi Akiva Wagner in a Pesach Sheini message.

Rabi Elazar ben Pedas was one of the great sages of the era of the amoro’im. His scholarsip was respected to such a degree that he earned the title מרא דארעא דארץ ישראל, – or the uncontested leader of Eretz Yisroel in halachik rulings.

R’ Elazar lived in extreme poverty. Once, he had to have a medical procedure (a הקזת דם), which weakened him, and he needed to eat something to refresh himself. However, there was no food in the house other than a peel of a garlic. He ate that, and, due to his weakened state, fainted.

His colleagues, the other chachomim, came to visit him, and noticed, while he was asleeep, that he cried, and then he laughed, and then a spark emerged from his nostrils. When he awoke, they asked for an explanation. He explained as follows:

‘Earlier, I was preoccupied with a more distinguished visitor than you, – I was paid a visit by the Eibishter Himself, and was busy entertaining Him. I took the opportunity to ask Him: “Eibishter, how much more hardship must I endure in this world? Could You not find a way to ease my plight?’

The Eibishter said to me: “Elazar, my child, if you wish, I can recreate the world, start over from scratch (kind of like rebooting the computer..), and it may be that the next time around you will be born in a plentiful mazal, with a destiny of earning a good livelihood”.

I said: “Ribono shel olam, כולי האי ואפשר, even after all that, after resetting the entire universe, there is still no guarantee, it is still only a “maybe” (that my lot will improve)?!”

[And, realizing that that was the case, I asked Him] “Which is greater, the number of years that I have already lived, or the years remaining for me to live?” And He told me “The years already lived” [meaning most of my life had already passed]. So, I said “In that case, leave things be [and I’ll cancel my order for a brand new universe]”. [It was at this point, upon realizing that he was closer to the end of his life than to the beginning, that R’ Elazar ben Pedas cried].

The Eibishter was satisfied with my response, and told me “As a reward for leaving things be (and sparing Me all of that extra work), I will give you, in the world to come, 13 rivers of balsam oils that are clear and pure, for you to enjoy”. I said “My G-d, is that all?!” [But, it was upon learning that information, about the great reward that awaited him, that R’ Elazar ben Pedas laughed].

He said to me: “Don’t I have to save something for your colleagues as well?” I said to the Eibishter “Am I, then, making my request from One who has limited resources?” At that He gave me a “shnel in noz” [a flick on my nose, which was the cause of the spark seen emanating from my nostrils], saying: “Elazar, my son, I have shot my arrow at you!”

Why Such Insignificant Questions?

The entire story is extremely perplexing, as you all can see. But let us focus on two puzzling points in the first part of the story: The reply of the Al-mighty, that to make R’ Elazar more financially stable would require recreating the entire world is remarkable! The Eibishter is, after all, sustaining and supporting the entire universe and all that’s in it, יושב הקב”ה וזן מקרני ראמים ועד ביצי כינים, is finding another few dollars such a big issue? And, especially, for such a Tzaddik as R’ Elazar ben Pedas? And to require nothing less than deleting the world and reformatting it?!!

Another point: was this really so important to Rabi Elazar ben Pedas as to use up his quality time with the Ribono shel olam Himself for it? Let us remember that Rabi Elazar’s diligence in learning was outstanding even amongst the generation of amora’im, and precluded him having an awareness of anything else, as the gemoro relates, R’ Elazar would be learning Torah in the lower city of Tzipori, while his cloak remained in the upper city. He was so immersed in his learning, that he wouldn’t realize that he had travelled throughout the city leaving his cloak and his belongings behind.

Moreover, besides the fact that the amora’im, in general, lived lives that were devoid of mundane cares, we find regarding R’ Elazar in particular that he was satisfied with his lot. When offered gifts – despite his extreme poverty – he would invariably refuse them, saying “Do you not want me to live? Don’t you know that שונא מתנות יחי’?” And the meager possessions that he had he was always very generous in sharing with his poor colleagues, even looking for creative ways to share with them. For example, when R’ Shimon bar Abba was following him, he pretended to lose a coin, so that R’ Shimon should “find” it, after which he refused to allow it to be returned to him. For what, then, was he negotiating with the Eibishter?

The answer is, R’ Elazar was not seeking money, or material comforts. R’ Elazar was single-mindedly focused on his shlichus, – on carrying his mission in life and the purpose for which he descended into the world. It came to the point, however, that his destitution seemed to be affecting that very shlichus. As in the story – his lack of basic necessities affected his health, which hindered his ability to learn and teach Torah, which were his very purpose in the world. This he could not come to terms with, and he asked the Eibishter how can this continue.

[This is similar to the question that the Frierdige Rebbe was asked by a doctor (who a professor of medicine), that the Rebbe shared (amongst other times) in the famous sicha of 3 Shvat 5752: The Frierdige Rebbe was the one who used his faculty of speech to spread the maayonos of Yiddishkeit and chassidus with the greatest shturem. He said sichos and maamorim, and directed the operations of his chassidim in a way that was crucial to the most important shlichus in history. How, then, was it possible for him to endure such suffering that affected his speech, – that affected his means to carry out his shlichus??!].   

And if these are the resources he is given, then perhaps he can be assigned a different shlichus, in which the resources and the tools will be sufficient for what he needs to accomplish.

One Piece of a Puzzle

Seems like a reasonable enough request. Can’t a person apply for a transfer to another line?

But the Eibishter, in response, clarified: Your shlichus is not expendable. Rather, it is one piece of a huge puzzle; – your part, together with that of everyone else in the world – with everyone else of every other generation, past, present, and future – combine to form a complete tapestry. Every single part is crucial, not just for itself, but for the collective results.

It is understood that your position, your shlichus, can’t just be changed. Just as one couldn’t just take out one piece in the puzzle and place it elsewhere, since that would inevitably affect all the other pieces in the group, so too, one can’t get a new shlichus, because the circumstances of his current one seem too difficult to bear. The only viable option would be to start over, to make – as it were – an entirely new puzzle, in which all the pieces would be different, and would interact in a different manner to form the desired result.

But, even then, how any individual piece turns out, depends on all the other pieces and on the desired results. So a piece may be in another section of the puzzle, but may be no better off or worse off there. The Eibishter said to Rabbi Elazar ben Pedas: I can “erase” the world and recreate it, if you so desire, and that is the only way for your shlichus to be different than what it currently is. But there is no guarantee that the achievement of the shlichus will be any easier or more accessible. That depends on the entire tapestry and how you fit into it, which, ultimately, is the sole consideration.

We all may have occasions when we feel overwhelmed by our designated shlichus. It may be too difficult or too unrewarding, too boring or too much excitement, too little money or too little respect. Or we may be dissatisfied with the tools, the amenities, that are included with our shlichus, including our guf and nefesh habehamis. We may feel that we are not smart enough or too smart, too cold and apathetic, or too passionate and full of desires.

We look at others, who are also on shlichus, and seem to have a much easier time, and we may covet their shlichus (or, at least, some of its benefits). ‘Yes, undoubtedly, I am committed to shlichus, and I appreciate how important it is. But there so many others who are on shlichus who don’t seem to be struggling as I am. Why can’t I get a different shlichus?’

But we need to understand that each of us has our customized shlichus that is relevant not merely to ourselves but to the entire history of the universe, and – other than exceptional cases – the only way for it to be different would be by creating the entire universe anew. Indeed, each person can appreciate his or her importance to the entire creation, – בשבילי נברא העולם!

And every individual shlichus is automatically equipped with its designated resources and tools. Of course we can always ask for increases (and, often, we may have been designated something more that is merely waiting for us to daven for it). But we can’t exchange our conditions with the conditions of another, because each individual shlichus has its own customized conditions that are good only for it and not for anyone else.

Amongst many other stories and thoughts, Reb Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin recently shared the following in Toronto:

One of the regular activities that took place in “a place called prison” was the distribution of the mail. All of the prisoners would gather in eager anticipation, while one of the wardens would bring out the sack of mail, and call out the names of the prisoners who were lucky enough to be recipients.

R’ Sholom Mordechai was by far the recipient of the most mail. Many people, from all kinds of communities, would write to him. He would receive letters with chizuk, and letters with divrei Torah, from bochurim or school children, from Rabbis or teachers. In short, he could receive tens of letters every day, throughout his incarceration, while other prisoners may be waiting weeks to receive a letter.

Needless to say, this did not serve to endear him to the other prisoners, and he started noticing their agitation. [For example, when the warden came out to begin the distribution, a prisoner went over and said to him ‘Why don’t you just give the whole sack to Rubashkin’].

One day, one of the prisoners cornered him, saying ‘Rubashkin, I need to speak to you’. This was a big burly fellow (and he was in prison for a reason, and it was not for saying the long והוא רחום even when it wasn’t a Monday or Thursday), and couldn’t be brushed off. ‘What is it?” he asked him, so he said, in all earnestness, “Rubashkin, why are you stealing all of our mail?” Incredulous, R’ Sholom Mordechai tried to explain to the guy that he wasn’t stealing his mail, it was all his own mail, with his name on it. But the fellow was not pacified. Rubashkin was getting many letters every day, while he wasn’t getting any!

R’ Sholom Mordechai sensed that the situation, as ludicrous as it may sound, was actually far from humorous, and could get dangerous if he doesn’t manage to talk some sense to the guy. With a sense of urgency, he pulled out a letter from his pile (deliberately choosing one in Hebrew), and showed him: “Look, you see, this letter has my name on it, and was written to me. You wouldn’t want it; – you wouldn’t have what to do with it. You see, you can’t read it”. Finally, the fellow calmed down, and went away.

Thereafter, R’ SHM would not attend the mail distribution in person, but would have someone collect his mail on his behalf.

But, as he shared, he puzzled over the story afterwards for awhile. True, he avoided a sticky situation. But what was the purpose in it all? What lesson did it contain for him in his avodas Hashem?

After giving the matter some thought, he realized that there is a very powerful lesson in this: Often we are all – somewhat – like the prisoner in the story. We see what someone else has, their material or spiritual possessions, or the conditions of their shlichus, and we covet it for ourselves. If only I would have his עושר וכבוד, his talents, his successes etc. I would be a satisfied shliach.

But, in truth, every single shlichus is provided with its customized conditions. Other conditions – those provided to another shlichus would be useless to us. If it’s not what we – what I – was provided with – someone else’s money or kovod or celebrity status – then it wouldn’t be of any help to me, and I wouldn’t even know what to do with it or how to read it!

We need to all appreciate the importance of our personal shlichus. This shlichus, and the conditions that it comes with, are what I can use to do my part in bringing about the ultimate dira batachtonim. My success in this is important – not just to myself, but – to the entire seder hahishtalshelus.

This can also give us added insight into the idea of עס איז ניטא קיין פארפאלען, – the lesson of Pesach sheni, which we will be commemorating IYH on Sunday: It’s not merely that the Eibishter gave us this most powerful force of Teshuva, that enables to correct where we have erred and repair what we have damaged. But it is the certainty that there cannot possibly be a situation that is irreparable.

Because our behavior is relevant not just for our personal shlichus, but is a vital part in bringing about the ultimate goal, and the ultimate goal – the original plan of the Eibishter – cannot possibly be lost and will surely be eventually realized, it follows that it is inconceivable that we can do irreparable damage to our personal shlichus!

The specific collective shlichus of our generation in particular is to bring Moshiach now. We may find this daunting or overwhelming. We might think that this is too challenging, and we’d like to apply for a transfer to another line.

But this is not an option. All we can do is remember and remind ourselves of what is expected of us and what we are here for and rededicate ourselves to our shlichus. And very very speedily we will see the finished job, the complete puzzle, with the successful shlichuyos of each of us and all of us, that brought it about that we will all present with pride and joy!

L’chaim! May we all appreciate and attach proper importance to our personal shlichus and our collective shlichus, and may the Eibishter rededicate Himself to His vital shlichus, to bring about the final conclusion of our missions with the immediate hisgalus of Moshiach Tzidkeinu NOW!!!

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