Ups and Downs
“B’shlosha devarim nitnah Torah – b’aish, bamayim, u’bmidbar” (Midrash
Bamidbar Rabbah, 1:7)
This is the lashon (text) of an interesting Midrash in this week’s parsha.
It relates that there were three elements associated with the giving of
the Torah to the B’nei Yisroel – fire, water, and [the sands of] the
Lightning and flashes of fire were in the air when Moshe received the
Torah (Shmos 19), the clouds dripped water while the Jews were at Mount
Sinai (Shoftim 5), and the parsha begins this week by describing the
setting for Kabbolas HaTorah – in the Desert (Bamidbar 1:1).
Many commentaries attempt to explain the deeper meaning found in the
cryptic Midrash that enumerates these three elements. What is the message
to be extracted from the Midrash?
A POWERFUL INSIGHT
Rabbi Meir Shapiro z’tl., the Lubliner Rov, explains the Midrash and
offers a powerful insight into our obligation to serve Hashem at all
times. He maintains that the Torah is informing us that we must maintain
our eternal commitment to the values and lessons of the Torah – regardless
of the setting. Fire, like heat, always rises to a higher plane.
Regardless of the direction in which a match is turned, the flame always
rises. Water, on the other hand, is pulled downward by gravity and always
flows to the lowest possible point.
The Lubliner Rov comments that these diametrically opposed elements, fire
and water, represent the up-and-down phases in the human experience, while
the desert represents the love that the B’nei Yisroel displayed to Hashem –
following Him in the harsh, unforgiving desert with pure faith that our
needs would be met.
UPS AND DOWNS
Sometimes we are on the rise, and everything we touch seems to turn to
gold (similar to the flames of a fire which always rise). There are darker
periods where we seem to be in a downward spiral (like water which flows
unchecked in a downhill direction.). The Midrash is informing us that
during these two diametrically opposed phases – success and failure – we
must maintain our commitment to Hashem and His Holy Torah.
It is my strong belief that there are no blessings without challenges and
no challenges without opportunities. When Hashem gives us material
blessings, we have the opportunity to enjoy the benefits associated with
comfort and financial peace of mind. Along with success, however, come the
temptations and challenges. Will we maintain our compassion as our quality
of life improves? How will our success affect our dealings with those less
fortunate ones among us? How will this impact our morals and value system?
Challenges and the difficulties we confront in life bring with them are
certainly fraught with danger – but at the same time, rich with
“ADVERSITY INTRODUCES A MAN TO HIMSELF”
This profound quote, “Adversity introduces a man to himself,” is one of my
favorites. It reinforces the notion that our challenges – and how we
respond to them – are an integral component of our persona.
The inevitable bumps in our lives are very challenging – in so many ways.
However, there are great opportunities for growth during these seemingly
dark periods in our lives. Challenges help us find our inner strength,
clarify our priorities, and force us to focus on what is truly important –
‘What Matters Most’ to us.
Think for a moment of the names of our greatest treasures – the leaders
who illuminated our collective eyes to the beauty of Torah. Rashi. The
Ba’alei Tosfos. The Rambam. The time period of 800-900 years ago was a
phenomenal growth period for the qualitative and quantitative growth of
Looking at the monumental accomplishments of the Gedolim (sages) of that
time, one would be led to thinking that they lived in a tranquil time.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the era in which these
gedolim grew to towering spiritual heights was tumultuous and war-torn.
The two crusades took place during those years, and the horrific
plundering and murder of many tens of thousands by the crusaders affected
the entire Jewish world. Rashi and the Ba’alei Tosfos lived in The Rambam
was forced to flee from his home and wrote some of his chiddushei Torah
(Torah thoughts) while escaping from danger on a ship in stormy seas, as
he writes in one of his seforim.
Perhaps it was the stormy times that made these giants grow taller. They
rose to – and above – the challenges of their environment and enriched all
future generations of their talmidim with their Torah.
NO BETTER TIME THAN NOW
The Lubliner Rov explains that the Midrash informs and reminds us that
there is no better time than the present to devote ourselves to learning
Torah and to deriving the eternal values of its lessons.
“B’aish, Bamayim, U’bamidbar”.
At all times, in all places, and in every type of environment – there are
opportunities for greatness in Torah learning and spirituality.
Best wishes for a Gutten Shabbos
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz and Torah.org.
Rabbi Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam in Monsey, NY, as well as the founder and Program Director of Agudath Israel's Project Y.E.S. (Youth Enrichment Services), which helps at-risk teens and their parents. He is a popular lecturer on teaching and parenting topics in communities around the world, and is the author of several best-selling parenting tape and CD sets. For more information on Rabbi Horowitz's parenting tapes, visit http://www.rabbihorowitz.com/ or call 845-352-7100 X 133.