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Saturday, July 02, 2022
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In Poland, we heard an incredible story of the Mozhitzer Rebbe’s student, R’ Azriel David Fastag, the composer of many magnificent famous melodies of the Mozhitzer Chassidim.

In a cattle car on his way to Treblinka, the clickety-clack of the wheels inspired his last composition, the haunting melody of Ani Ma’amin (one of Maimonides’ 13 Principles of Faith: that we believe in the coming of Mashiach even though he may tarry…) and he began to sing.

The powerful tune inspired those around him to sing along and soon Jews in the neighboring cattle cars joined in too. Hundreds of Jews, on their way to their deaths, singing aloud their faith in God and believing in redemption against all the odds.

Realizing the power of this niggun, Reb Azriel begged for volunteers to jump from the train and bring the niggun back to the Mozhitzer Rebbe.

Two students volunteered, one of whom survived the jump and succeeded in his mission.

How does one maintain such a level of faith against such seemingly insurmountable odds?

There is an intriguing story in this week’s portion of Behaalotcha:

And the people became as mitonenim (complainers), [speaking] evil in the ears of Hashem... (Bamidbar 11:1)

Rashi explains that the word mitonenim refers to those who are looking for an excuse to complain, a way to distance themselves from Hashem. Interestingly, Rashi suggests they were complaining about their difficult journey – ‘we have traveled three days without respite!’ And yet Rashi previously understands (ibid. 10:33) that they actually completed a three-day journey in one day because Hashem wanted to bring them into the Land of Israel immediately. In addition, they had witnessed the splitting of the sea, the Exodus from Egypt, the receiving of the Torah and more, so how could they complain?

The reason people have a hard time saying ‘thank you’ is because thanking someone means, on a certain level, that you owe them, and being indebted to others makes us feel we’re no longer in control.

Generally, when complaining, people are looking at the cup as half empty; at the clouds rather than at the silver linings. In addition, unfortunately, the target of their complaints is often the very entity that deserves their trust and gratitude.

The Ramban (ibid. 10:35) quotes the Midrash which suggests that when the Jewish people left Mount Sinai they were like “a child running away from school.” Kids struggle with school because they have to give up their freedom, and the receiving of the Torah at Sinai was the epitome of realizing we are no longer in control. Knowing that Hashem runs the world means accepting that we don’t, which is difficult for some people to accept.

In fact, this is true in our personal lives as well. Most arguments make us feel that someone else is imposing their perspective on us and our acceptance of their opinion means we are no longer in control. Understanding this would help us realize that our complaints are futile, that every situation is presented to us as a gift, by no less than Hashem!

According to Rashi, the people were looking to distance themselves from Hashem, not because of the journey or any other issue but simply because they didn’t like being told what to do.

Accepting that we are not in control is the best way to let go of all the complaints and stresses that hold us back from living a meaningful, God-filled life.

And once you know that Hashem runs the world, then even in a cattle car headed for Treblinka, you can still sing, and believe, with perfect faith.


Rabbi Binny Freedman is Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Orayta. He is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau ( www.mizrachi.org/speakers ).

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