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Thought for the Day: If You Can, You Must, and HaShem Will Prove to You that You Can

I've made a career out of completely ignoring worrying about my career.  Mostly it's because I get bored easily, so I soon after I become proficient doing something, I am already getting bored with that activity.  The only cure is has been to constantly be on the lookout for what looks interesting on the horizon.  Of course, that means that I am often/usually working outside my comfort zone, but I find the  discomfort of working on something brand new is only a tiny fraction of the pain of ennui.

The second yahrtzeit of my father-in-law, אהרן דוד בן יצחק, ע''ה was this past Shabbos, parshas Noach.  We commemorated the occasion with a kiddush at the Chicago Vaskin minyan.  As it happens, the rosh yeshivah from Yeshiva Beis Yisrael in Neve Yaakov davens with us this time of year and we had the z'chus for him to offer divrei torah לעילוי נשמת the niftar.  I'll shall do my best to convey the essence of his words.

The mishna in Avos 3:17 tells us that man is so beloved by HaShem, that He created man in His image.  To display even a greater degree of love, HaShem informed us that we were created in His image, as it says, (כי בצלם אלוהים, עשה את האדם (בראשית ט,ו.  Interestingly, that verse occurs in parshas Noach (which is how it got into the rosh yeshiva's drash); certainly not the first place in the Torah that we are informed that man was created in HaShem's image.  The talmidim of Navaradok not only found it interesting, but were downright bothered by this.  Here I quote the rosh yeshiva: "Not only was this a Navaradok question, it's actually a good question."  (Meaning that the question is not simply a mussar-pilpul used as a device to launch into a mussar speech, but it actually an interesting question in its own right.)  The rosh yeshiva answered with an event that happened.

As with any change in introduced to our (that is, Torah Jewish) system, the mussar movement met with some healthy opposition.  Because of the terribly destructive influence of the Reform Jewish Religion, the mussar movement also met with some unhealthy opposition as well.   R' Yisrael Salanter, a pioneer and prime mover of the mussar movement was therefore always assiduous in establishing himself first and foremost as a talmid chacham.  R' Salanter was once "on tour" delivering powerful drashos and came to one town where the opposition to mussar was particularly strong.  A notice was posted that R' Salanter would speak on a certain topic and a list of a dozen or more מראה מקומות/talmudic sources was listed.  A few of the opposition members stole the announcement and replaced it with their own: same topic, but a random selection of מראה מקומות.

Shabbos morning came and R' Salanter asked to see the sheet to review the sources... and was horrified to see what had happened.  With only a few moments to decide how he would respond to this situation, R' Salanter approached the podium.  R' Salanter began by saying the topic was well known and then proceeded to give an overview based on his original sources.  He then told them that since it was so well known, he would like to give them a deeper appreciation of the topic... and launched into a three hour drash using every one of the given sources.  The drash was spellbinding and not a single member of the congregation had any reservations about accepting anything that would be proposed by a talmid chacham of such caliber -- especially those who had originally opposed him.

At the end of the drash, R Yisrael Salanter fainted.  Those who had set this test up were terrified that they had gone way over the top and rushed to help R' Salanter.  When he revived, R' Salanter told them it was not the stress of developing such an incredible drash on the spot that had caused him to faint.  It was difficult, to be sure, but he felt more energized than anything else as the drash proceeded.  What had caused his fainting was realizing that he never dreamed that he would be able to do such a thing; it was obviously beyond his ability.  But now he had accomplished what he heretofore considered impossible.  That meant, said R' Yisrael Salanter, that heaven would from now on expect that level of scholarship from him.  It was the thought of how high his personal bar had been raised that had caused him to faint.

R' Lehrfeld then explained.  It is not enough to have this or that quality; one must use that quality, or it is for nought.  That verse in parshas Noach says that there is a consequence to the fact that man is created in HaShem's image.  The extra measure of love that HaShem showed by presenting us with that information was that we are not only capable of great things because we are created in His image, it is actually expected -- nay, demanded -- that we do, in fact, accomplish great things.

Everyone has heard that HaShem doesn't give a person a bigger challenge than he can handle.  I added a realization that I had during my bought with chemotherapy: HaShem also doesn't give you one ounce less than you can handle.  Apparently, we also expected to push ourselves to the limit of our abilities, and if we don't, then HaShem will us arrange for us to see just how much we could -- and therefore should/must -- accomplish.


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