Yeshaya 40 : 27
This week’s haftorah devotes much attention to Divine Providence and Hashem’s involvement in one’s personal life. The prophet Yeshaya centers his discussion around our Patriarch Avrohom and his war against the four mighty powers of his time. Yeshaya says, “Who awakened the man from the east – He who declared righteousness with His every step? Who rendered dirt into sword, pounded straw into arrows?” (Yeshaya 41, 2) Our Chazal in Sanhedrin 109a explain that this passage contains the inside story of Avrohom’s miraculous defeat of the four mighty kings. According to the Rabbis this passage reveals that Avrohom’s mighty weapons were none other than dirt and straw. They interpret the passage to be saying that when Avrohom threw handfuls of dirt at the enemy they were transformed into swords and when he sent pieces of straw they became piercing arrows.
The Rabbis go on to relate an episode in the life of Nachum Ish Gamzu, a righteous Rabbi whose steadfast faith elicited a positive and assuring response to every situation in his life. Nachum was selected to represent the Jewish community in presenting to the king a special gift. On Nachum’s way the present was stolen and in exchange his suitcase was filled with dirt. Through Divine intervention this dirt suddenly assumed similar properties to that of Avrohom Avinu’s and proved successful in silencing a serious revolt against the king. Obviously the king was greatly appreciative of his special present and rewarded Nachum and the Jewish community accordingly.
The particular details of this miraculous incident suggest an insight into the life of Avrohom Avinu and all who follow in his footsteps. At a later point (see Rashi to Breishis 18:27) we find Avrohom Avinu reflecting on his miraculous experiences of life and stating to Hashem, “I am but dirt and ash.” Our Chazal (Breishis Rabba 49:11) explain that with this Avrohom Avinu was expressing that he was worthy of being considered nothing more than dirt. After all, he could have been trampled and actually reduced to dirt during the war against the kings. It can be understood that this response reflects Avrohom Avinu’s humility and true sense of worthlessness during that war. It shows us that from Avrohom’s perspective his function in the war was no greater than that of the dirt on the ground. It was the grace of Hashem that won the war and Avrohom was nothing more than a tool through which Hashem decided to display His open miracles.
Chazal seem to be revealing to us the secret of this miraculous dirt. It was the result of Avrohom’s genuine perspective of himself during this war, a worthless entity utilized by Hashem for the sake of His glory. When one views himself in this manner then the very dirt and straw held in his hands will produce the ultimate glory of Hashem and will miraculously defeat the opposition even against insurmountable odds. In a similar vein this very same attitude was the constant approach of Nachum Ish Gam Zu to his every experience in life. He sensed the involvement of Hashem in every detail of life and understood with perfect clarity that Hashem had a beneficial purpose for every one of those perplexing difficult experiences. In essence Nachum felt that it wasn’t he who was responsible for his difficult trying moments but it was Hashem who was bringing goodness behind the veil of trials and tribulations. In this way Nachum’s every move was also a vehicle for the expression of Hashem’s goodness and Nachum was but a tool through which this goodness could be expressed. This similar sense of total submissiveness to Hashem produced therefore the same results as in the time of Avrohom Avinu. Nachum Ish Gam Zu’s own sense of dirt – his expression of submission – also served as a vehicle for the elevation of Hashem’s glory and when this dirt was thrown at the enemy it was also miraculously transformed into arrows.
We learn from this the unbelievable opportunity that life has in store for us. If we can adopt this same approach, the desire to be vehicles of Hashem, we can also merit similar experiences on some level. We will, in fact be privileged to be chosen as those very special people with whom Hashem identifies in a very direct manner and through whom Hashem showers His loving kindness to the world.