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Maintaining Emunah in Challenging Times

Last Shabbos was the first yahrzeit of a truly special young man, Binyamin Yisrael Gonsher, who passed away at the young age of 14 due to a brain tumor. A siyum on Shas was made on his yahrzeit, with the help of many who had committed to learn in his memory. I still recall the words of his father, Ron, at the levaya: “I dreaded the day I would be standing here at the levaya of my son. I don’t know why Hashem did this; it hurts me and my wife so much. It hurts us to our core. But I know that Hashem has a plan, although I don’t know what it is.” That is true emunah (faith).

Last Sunday was the yahrzeit of another special young man, Shlomo Zalman Rindenow, son of Rabbi and Rebbetzin Rindenow, who was tragically killed at the age of 19 in an accident — while serving in the Israeli army. The Rindenows also displayed such incredible faith, even in their most trying of times.

Parshat Balak highlights the incredible emunah that Klal Yisrael had in Hashem at all times. In Bilam’s failed attempts to curse the Jewish nation, he compared Bnei Yisrael to a lion. “Like a cub, they get up and like a lion, they rise.” Bilam wanted to cast aspersions on the attitude of Klal Yisrael when they awaken each morning, but Hashem turned around Bilam’s comparison to the positive.

Rashi explains that the comparison to a lion ended up showing the strength of Klal Yisrael’s emunah, whereby the Jews wake up each morning and say Shema (a statement of faith), daven and put on tzitzit and tefillin.Many people wake up early to go to work, or school or to exercise. But it’s amazing to take notice that many Jews wake up even earlier, so they can daven. In many communities, there are groups who awaken even earlier, to have time to learn Torah before Shacharit. In Passaic-Clifton, there is a 6 a.m. chabura (learning group) with close to 60 people, who learn for an hour before Shacharit!

Bilam continues his inappropriate lion theme, comparing the way Jews go to sleep at night to a lion. Rashi explains that Bilam is referring to the fact that a lion doesn’t sleep until it kills its prey, eats and removes any nearby predators. By contrast, Jews say Shema before going to sleep, as they entrust their neshama into the hands of Hashem to protect them from harm.

The Vilna Gaon says that nighttime — when we go to sleep — represents the times when our lives are filled with darkness and uncertainty. Daytime — when we arise — represents the times in our lives when we see the Hand of Hashem helping us. Bilam claimed that Klal Yisrael are normally challenged in their faith, and are always groping through the darkness. But Hashem switched Bilam’s focus, indicating that while Klal Yisrael might be groping through the darkness at times; they rise in the morning and face the new day with full emunah in Hashem. No matter the darkness he encounters, a Jew maintains his faith.

Indeed, this is shown by the fact that upon going to sleep and waking up each day a Jew recites Shema — the prayer which expresses our absolute faith in Hashem. A Jew has emunah and trust in Hashem, be it in challenging times or in times of success.

The Gemara tells us that this pasuk in Parshat Balak — which compares Klal Yisrael to a lion by the way they rise and go to sleep with the strength of their emunah — was supposed to be incorporated into the daily Shema prayer, but this lengthening was deemed to be an undue imposition. The Sfas Emes explains — in the name of the Chiddushei HaRim — that this pasuk echoes the main theme of the Shema, which is that when we rise and when we go to sleep (and at all times in between) we should be focused and solely dedicated to do the will of Hashem.

Losing a child shakes any parent’s emunah. Even after a challenging day, many of us can go to sleep and look forward to a brighter tomorrow. But for the families who have lost a child, the next morning will not change the reality of their loss. Nonetheless, the Gonsher and Rindenow families arise like lions with regard to the strength of their faith. They are role models to me in their trust that Hashem has a plan, despite our not knowing what it is.

May Hashem bring Moshiach quickly and bring the day when the clarity of Hashem’s Master Plan in all events will be revealed to us. Until then, may Hashem strengthen our emunah to help us deal appropriately with both the challenging and successful times in our lives.


Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch, where he leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. PTI has attracted adult Jews of all ages from all over northern New Jersey for its learning programs. Fees are not charged but any contributions are always welcome. Beyond PTI, Rabbi Bodenheim conducts a weekly beis midrash program with chavrusa learning in Livingston plus a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected]. For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.

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