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Vayeira: Effort

Miriam Aflalo

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

“Avraham returned … and together they set out and went to Beer Sheva.” (22:19)

“Together” meaning … on the same spiritual level. When Avraham Avinu returned from the Akeidah, he felt a certain distress. He had wanted so badly to slaughter his son for Hashem’s sake, with love, and hadn’t succeeded. The angel had prevented him. His feeling was: What did I accomplish? I could have offered Yitzchak, but here he is, alive and well. True, I received promises of good from Hashem, but I didn’t merit to do an Akeidah!

Hashem said to him: “That’s how it seems to you, but to Me, Yitzchak’s ashes are bound upon the altar. To Me, he was slaughtered and burnt.” And on the strength of this merit, the Jewish People live until the end of days. (Tiferes Shimshon al HaTorah — Rav Shimshon Pincus)

Last Motzaei Shabbos, a germ of an idea was planted in my mind, and all week, it’s been sprouting leaves and blooming beautifully: This coming week, I will welcome Shabbos rested and joyful — not as always: pressured, amid pots and towels, and a last-minute swipe at the kitchen floor. I will light candles ten minutes early, after a restful nap, having completed all preparations early. This Shabbos will be truly a Shabbos of peace.

By Thursday, although still full of resolve, I hadn’t managed to make any headway.

Erev Shabbos arrived, ready or not, and the home that welcomed it was the same familiar home as the week before. As was the woman with the beautiful ideas and the good intentions; she was stressed and barking orders, arriving at candlelighting like a wrung-out shmatteh. Nap? What nap? And this week, there was also the terrible disappointment that mingled with her tears as she bentched lecht. I can’t succeed, she told herself. I tried so hard and I failed.

Here, the holy Torah teaches us a true perspective on human actions. You try with all your might, and it seems to you, that in the end, you failed. You’re disappointed, convinced that there’s no value in the effort you invested.… But that’s a mistake! The effort itself is invaluable. (ibid.)

My frustrated tears ascend on high, where they meet those of my neighbor. Two days ago, at a chinuch lecture, she sat riveted. The words pierced painful places in her heart. Did the speaker know her Shmulie personally? How else could she describe so perfectly what went on in their home? Teary-eyed, she resolved to change: to encourage, not to criticize, to concentrate on the positive, no matter how miniscule, and to accept her child with unconditional love.

But somehow, she found herself again on that same familiar collision course. Unwillingly, she was saying those same words that left both herself and her child wounded. But why? she asks herself, wretchedly. I tried so hard to start anew. Don’t I have a chance?

We’re always trying … then feeling disappointed.… That’s because we don’t know the worth of a Jew’s efforts and sincere desires. A Jew’s trying and then an angel — a force from Heaven comes and stops him. If you really wanted to do something, and you exerted yourself, you cannot control the unexpected results from Heaven. Yet, for Hashem, a good intention is like a deed; Yitzchak’s ashes are gathered on the altar.

That’s the meaning of Chazal’s words: “A person thought to do a mitzvah and didn’t do it — it’s considered as if he did it.” Reality. If Hashem commands you to do something and you wanted and tried to do so, to Him, your service is perfect. (ibid.)

I really want to change, an inner voice cries out. And I try, too. Why can’t I succeed to be what I really aspire to be? How is it that my strong will shatters in my face like a fragile glass, leaving me cut by the shards?

All our lives are full of efforts and it’s those efforts that give us life. Instead of realizing this, we get frustrated by our failures, despair, and fall, not wanting to rise again. Childish. “Seven times does a tzaddik fall and rise.” All our efforts are in the category of Akeidas Yitzchak. The angel prevents, but the merit of the Akeidah remains in our hand. No one can take it from us.… We say, That’s it. I tried. It didn’t work. But Hashem wants continued efforts. Only thus do great people emerge — from trying again and again, without giving up. (ibid.)

You attempted, persevered, and were foiled in your efforts. You wanted to succeed, you tried. But an angel from Heaven told you to stop and you’ll never know why.

However, the ashes of the good deed that you wanted to achieve are gathered on the altar. Hashem considers it as though you actually accomplished it.

You succeeded. Completely.

For tomorrow, you’ll try again.

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