1 Elul 5763
Show Me the Magic
From the desk of Rav Lipman Podolsky
The new Yeshiva year is about to commence. The walls and benches of the Bais Medrash are radiant with excitement in anticipation of their new occupants. How much Torah will be learned! How many young people will be guided toward lives of fulfillment and achievement and happiness! How can one help but feel excited!
But growing can be painful. It is much easier to run away from challenges than to face them. We are far more accustomed to passively receiving than actively achieving. True, deep down we want to grow, but are we willing to do what it takes? Why can’t the rabbi just push the magic button? “Rebbe, show me the magic!” Why can’t we just take the pill of perfection? Why can’t we just wait for a lightning bolt of inspiration?
“You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox falling on the road and hide yourself from them; you shall surely stand them up, with him (Devarim 22:4).” In Judaism, you cannot stand aside and watch someone suffer. A Jew is either part of the problem or part of the solution. A message well worth remembering.
Look carefully at the verse. Notice anything extra? See the last two words, “with him.” Why was it necessary to write that?
Picture the scene: Reuven’s fully loaded donkey falters on the path. His friend Shimon, perceiving the opportunity to help his friend and fulfill a Torah commandment, runs to his aid. While Shimon huffs and puffs under the heavy load, Reuven lets go and lies down on the ground, sticking a long blade of grass between his teeth. Shimon, straining under the heavy burden, looks with disbelief at his friend. “Reuven! What are you doing? Get over here and help me hold up your donkey!”
But Reuven doesn’t budge. “Oh no, my friend. The Torah clearly commands you to help me. It’s your mitzvah, not mine. Tizkeh l’mitzvos!”
This is why the Torah adds “with him.” If the owner of the donkey isn’t going to help himself, no one else need help him.
The Chofetz Chaim extracted from here a vital lesson related to each Jew’s personal growth in Judaism. Every year we try to do Teshuva. We spend all of Elul and the Ten Days of Repentance begging Hashem to make us into better Jews. We cry and weep in our supplications. We realize that without Hashem’s limitless help we will never succeed, and so we turn to Him.
Yet, we fail. Our Teshuva is short-lived at best. Why is that? What are we missing? What more need we do?
Answered the Chofetz Chaim, if you want Hashem to help you, first you have to help yourself. If you want to get close to Hashem you have to take the first step in Hashem’s direction. “Return to me, and I will return to you (Malachi 3:7).” Hashem will help us; but only if we help ourselves.
And this our mission this Elul: “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li — I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine (Shir haShirim 6:3).” If I am my beloved’s, if I bring myself close to Hashem, then He will be mine, He will draw close to me, as it were.
There it is, then. We cannot wait for inspiration to strike. No one can show us the magic. It’s up to us to make the first step in the right direction. Hashem will help guide us on the path to our destination, have no fear. But if we don’t start walking, if we kick back with a long blade of grass, we will surely never get there. “If a person doesn’t take care of himself, who will care for him (Mesillas Yesharim chap. 1)?”
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