Even the smallest and seemingly insignificant possession is a matnas Elokim and must be treated as such
here is a popular midrash quoted in a number of early sources that tells us, “Hashem said to Yaakov: You endangered your life [nosata nafshecha] for small jugs for My sake. I will repay your children with a small jug in the days of the Chashmonaim.”
This Chazal begs for an explanation on at least two fronts. First, what is the correlation between the pachim ketanim Yaakov went back to retrieve at Maavor Yabok before his historical encounter with the Sar shel Eisav and the lonely pach shemen found by the Chashmonaim that became the catalyst for our Chanukah celebration for all time? Second, what did Chazal mean when they said Yaakov went back to retrieve those small jugs “for Hashem’s sake”? According to the simple narrative in the Chumash, he simply returned to pick up what he had accidentally left behind!
We must also understand why Yaakov needed to go back, in any event. He was not lacking for wealth; a few dollars’ worth of jugs would hardly make a dent in his portfolio, which already held more cattle and property than he would ever need.
Perhaps all these questions answer one another.
I recall reading about a young Belzer chassid who received a special coin from the Rebbe as a gift in honor of his bar mitzvah. An older chassid coveted the coin and offered the young boy a significant amount of money for it. Young as he was, the boy was smart enough to realize that the Rebbe’s coin was worth more than money, and he turned the man down by simply telling him, “It is a gift from the Rebbe and it is not for sale at any price!” The man understood it would be futile to continue his effort and quickly gave up.
If this is how much we should value a coin from someone as holy as the Belzer Rebbe, how much more so should we appreciate a gift directly from Hashem Himself?
This approach, perhaps, can answer our difficulties with the midrash with which we began. When Yaakov Avinu returned for the small jugs, it was hardly because he was in need of them. Rather, it was because his heightened sensitivity for every single thing he possessed, big and small, made him see they were all gifts from Hashem. Such things are inestimable in value and worth going back to retrieve, even though the danger involved led Chazal to characterize his doing so as a form of mesirus nefesh.
This is what the midrash meant by telling us that Yaakov returned for “Hashem’s sake.” It wasn’t because Yaakov needed the pachim. Rather, he was being mekadesh Hashem by demonstrating that even the smallest and seemingly insignificant possession is a matnas Elokim and must be treated as such. Sure enough, the ensuing meeting with Sar shel Eisav, and all the symbolism attached to it for eternity, showed us how worthwhile it was.
This is not the only time we find Yaakov going to extra lengths to safeguard his property. The Torah records that after parting company from Eisav, Yaakov built succos, huts, for his animals. As a result, that place became known as Succos. The Ohr HaChaim Hakadosh questions the significance of this and writes that Yaakov introduced to the world the concept of creating shelters as a means of caring for animals, and the Torah deemed it worthy enough to be written down for eternity. Perhaps we could add based on the above that Yaakov was also reinforcing the message that everything we own is a gift from Hashem and needs to be recognized as such, not to be taken for granted. Maybe this is included in the Ohr HaChaim’s thought as well.
Let us now return to the pach shemen of the Chanukah story. Imagine discovering the one little jug that would seemingly only last one day. The pessimistic person says it is barely worthy of a mitzvah, let alone a celebration. The optimist says Hashem has gifted us a miraculous find. We will cherish it and do what we can with it, for surely Hashem didn’t give it to us for nothing. The rest is history, known to all of us as Chanukah.
Aside from all the standard lessons we traditionally take from Chanukah, maybe this would be an opportune time to take another one. We often find ourselves left wanting more, whether in the world of business, personal achievements, or even family, not realizing that what we already have is a gift from Hashem.
An acquaintance of mine founded a yeshivah with dreams of seeing it grow and take its place among the yeshivos hakedoshos u’mutzlachos of the world. Which rosh yeshivah does not? After a number of years, enrollment was still below what he had envisioned. In a discussion he had with a veteran of the yeshivah world, my friend was asked how many talmidim he had.
“Only forty”, he replied.
The immediate response was laden with a strong dose of mussar: “What do you mean only forty? Every talmid is an olam, an entire world. Even if you have only one, you have so much. There is no such thing as ‘only’!”
Having had the privilege to teach talmidim myself for over thirty years, bli ayin hara, I was both refreshed and overjoyed when my friend shared this conversation with me. What aspiring marbitz Torah does not hope for and dream of having hundreds if not thousands of talmidim and playing a pivotal role in Klal Yisrael? Some do, many do not. Or so we thought. Who says a small gift from Hashem, as every talmid must be viewed, is not a large one?
WHILE LEARNING in the Ponevezher yeshivah in 1982, I was a daily witness to the indescribable mesirus nefesh of Rav Shloimke Berman ztz”l, one of the roshei yeshivah and a son-in-law of the Steipler. Rav Shloimke suffered from a rare form of Parkinson’s disease, which caused him to shake violently as he went about his daily routine of giving shiurim, learning Torah, and even checking esrogim with great expertise. It was hard to fathom how he managed to live that way, but he was a constant presence in the beis medrash.
I asked his son, who was my good friend, if there wasn’t any medication available that could ease his shaking and alleviate his misery. He responded that there most certainly was, but it made his father drowsy and affected his concentration. His father felt that as long as Hashem had given him the gift of seichel, a clear and intelligent mind, he did not want to squander the chance to learn and spread Torah.
I was amazed how this tzaddik was able to persevere under such circumstances. Yet he recognized and appreciated Hashem’s gift, even against the backdrop of his severe disease, and insisted on utilizing it to the fullest. It was no small gift, and he was not going to let it go to waste, yissurim and all.
Another memory from yeshivah: The mother of another good friend was extremely ill with a machlah that would eventually claim her life. We gathered for Tehillim every night for Maariv in the hope of offering her some respite, if not a complete recovery. My friend told me that every little bit made a difference. His mother, a tzadeikes, expressed how thankful she was to Hashem; despite her incredible pain, she was able to experience a second or two of relief when, with great effort, she was able to change her position in bed. That was worth giving hoda’ah for! And it certainly was mechazek me to keep on davening on her behalf.
Who dares think a little is not a lot? And no one should ever harbor thoughts that if Hashem gifted him with “only” a small family, while others are filling their Ford Transits to capacity, that he has not been the recipient of a gift directly from Hashem’s hand to cherish and appreciate. And even couples that still await children, difficult and painful as that challenge certainly is, need to find solace and comfort in the gifts that they have indeed been given and focus on them in the meantime.
And what was Dan thinking when his wife bore him one child, Chushim, who was deaf? Yet Dan merited to become the second-largest shevet after Yehudah. It was indeed the gift that kept on giving. Not everyone will merit that, either, but who can know what potential lies in the gifts each one of us was given? Did Yaakov know what destiny awaited him as he made his statement of appreciation for Hashem’s small gifts? Do we? Even when gifts we hoped for never materialize, we need to look at the ones that did in earnest. Who knows where that will lead us down the road to our own destiny?
Appreciating that the small blessings in life are really not small after all is not something we need to do just for ourselves, but to recognize in others as well.
It is well known that Rav Moshe Feinstein, aside from his gadlus in Torah, was a gadol in the way he treated other Yidden. Someone in his inner circle dared ask him if he really thought people were as choshuv as he treated them, or if he was simply putting on a show to make them feel good.
Rav Moshe responded with his great humility that he was well aware of his own capabilities and potential, and he honestly felt that he had not lived up to his full potential. However, as pertained to others, he had no idea what their full potential was, and as far as he knew, they were the greatest they could be! How could he not be mechabed them in turn?
There is a great lesson for all of us in appreciating greatness even in what might not appear as such on the surface. Being the best one can be, achieving one’s full potential, no matter how modest that potential may be, is the definition of gadlus.
ONE OF THE MAJOR TOPICS of discussion over Chanukah is the unique nature of how this mitzvah is performed. On the one hand, there is the basic minimum of one candle per night, which suffices to fulfill the mitzvah 100 percent. Yet we all try to go out of our way and fulfill it mehadrin and mehadrin min hamehadrin with more and more candles, something we don’t find with any other mitzvah.
Perhaps, based on the above, we can suggest that indeed, we are celebrating and taking note of the small gift from Hashem, the discovery of the one lonely pach shemen. That is all that halachah mandates. Yet we insist on demonstrating that that one tiny gift is not tiny at all. We light in shul with a brachah, something that the halachah never demanded. The mitzvah grows and morphs into more and more at home to the point that a house full of people will be lighting dozens of candles, as testimony that every small gift from Hashem is truly never small at all. Great people see the gifts, big and small, and realize that there are truly no small ones at all. Yaakov Avinu saw it and enabled the Chashmonaim to see it too. So should we.
As of this writing, we are still engaged in a war the likes of which none of us has ever seen. Let us keep in mind what Chazal taught (Berachos 5a), that Hashem gave us three matanos tovos — Torah, Eretz Yisrael, and Olam Haba, and they are acquired only through yissurim, difficulties. The Ben Ish Chai, in his Sefer Biniyahu, explains the reason is that a person may have ulterior motives in all three of these great pursuits. Perhaps he is learning Torah just to acquire the wisdom it contains, but not l’Sheim Shamayim. Maybe his desire for Eretz Yisrael is merely to indulge in its physical attraction and delicious fruit. Even the desire for Olam Haba could be for the wrong reasons, as he may be performing the mitzvos merely to receive the rewards they bring, as opposed to simply fulfilling the will of Hashem.
(For many of us, we probably think, halevai we would do the right thing in the first place, but this reminds us that there are greater things to which we should aspire.)
If one is willing to go through difficulty to get all these precious acquisitions, it is a sign that his intentions are 100 percent sincere, and he is willing to put up with whatever it takes to get them. Withstanding the challenges that line the path of learning Torah and acquiring Eretz Yisrael and Olam Haba are, in themselves, fulfillment of the will of Hashem.
The Torah itself alludes to the greatness of this gift of Eretz Yisrael. In parshas Va’eira, Hashem promises, “And I will bring you into the land that I raised My hand [nasasi es yadi] to give it [to you].” Based on the sefer Tzeidah Laderech, the pasuk is using a metaphor: I, Hashem, King of the world, am proud to hold Eretz Yisrael up high for all to see, and present it to my beloved Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, and their descendants. Kiveyachol, Hashem is so proud to give this great present to his most devoted servants, for it is the most special place on earth.
Chazal taught us that the comparatively small area of Eretz Yisrael is capable of yielding outstanding brachah when we are meritorious. The Gemara, at the very end of Maseches Kesuvos, describes the incredible bounty, both in quality and quantity, that Eretz Yisrael is capable of producing when Klal Yisrael is zocheh to live there and observe Torah and mitzvos properly. The Gemara quotes many testimonials to bear this out, among them Rabi Meir and Rabi Yehoshua ben Levi, who personally witnessed miraculous brachah from what under natural circumstances would have been impossible.
Our small gift is not small at all, and the more we fulfill the ratzon Hashem, the more we will see how big and great that gift can become. On Chanukah it was one day’s oil turning into eight. Who knows what great gift is in store for us if we can muster up the proper zechuyos, even in our own time.
Eretz Yisrael may be small in size but is great in stature. It will only come with yissurim as the Gemara told us. Let each of us do our part, so that we merit the gift of Eretz Yisrael once again as our own, ba’agala u’vizman kariv.
Rabbi Plotnik, a talmid of the yeshivos of Philadelphia and Ponovezh, has been active in rabbanus and chinuch for 25 years and currently serves as ram in Yeshivas Me’or HaTorah in Chicago.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 988)
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