June 8, 2024
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The Power of Positive Thinking

When Dovid was a young child living in a town in Poland, a boiling pot of water spilled on his hand. Dovid was severely burned and needed skin graft surgery. His hand healed, but unfortunately, hair started to grow from the palm of his hand because skin from his scalp was used for the graft! Dovid was constantly teased as a young boy, but Hashem had a plan. During World War II the Nazis rounded up all the Jews in Dovid’s town into the town square, where a guard announced with a sneer, “Everyone must board this train (to the concentration camp)—unless you have hair growing out of the palm of your hand.” Dovid thrust out his palm, showing the hair growing from it. The startled guard let him go. Dovid was able to escape and his life was spared. Now he understood the Divine plan concerning his hand.

That story sheds light on an anomaly in Parshas Vayeitzei. If you look inside a sefer Torah, you’ll notice there are spaces in and between various pesukim. The spaces in the middle of the line are called stumah and those at the start of a new line are called p’sucha. In Parshas Vayeitzei, however, there are no spaces at all! It’s like one long paragraph. Why?

First, let’s see why there are breaks and spaces altogether in a sefer Torah. The Torah is not written like a regular book with punctuation, so why the placement of spaces? The Gemara explains that Hashem taught Moshe the entire Torah when he was on top of Har Sinai. The spaces indicate the places where Hashem stopped to give Moshe time to think about what he had just learned. So… didn’t Moshe need time to reflect on any portion of Vayeitzei??

Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz explains that Yaakov’s life was filled with many difficulties, most of them occurring in Parshas Vayeitzei. The parsha opens with Yaakov going into exile, fleeing from his brother Eisav, who sent his son Elifaz to kill Yaakov. Elifaz accomplished his mission by stripping Yaakov of all his money and valuables, leaving him penniless (akin to death). Yaakov arrived at the home of his uncle Lavan and began working seven arduous years to marry Rochel. After the evil Lavan switched Leah for Rochel on Yaakov’s wedding night, Yaakov had to work for an additional seven years to marry Rochel, his intended wife. For 20 years, Yaakov worked for Lavan, the greatest con artist in history, who always tried to swindle and cheat Yaakov out of any profits. Yaakov’s commitment to emes (being honest) was challenged daily, as he labored to raise a family and to live a life of truth in the home of a cheat and liar.

If we analyze those years of Yaakov on their own merit, it’s hard to understand why Yaakov had to endure such suffering. Only at the end of the parsha does the silver lining appear. Yaakov left Eretz Yisrael alone and penniless, but he returned to Israel with four wives and their 12 children, along with great wealth. Looking back, one can see clearly that Yaakov was destined to marry the matriarchs Rochel and Leah, as well as Bilha and Zilpah, who all together bore 12 sons who became the Tribes of Israel. So why were there no breaks or spaces left for reflection in the middle of the parsha? Because the parsha must be read in its entirety in order to learn its teaching—that whatever happens is by Hashem’s design, for the ultimate good. The same applies in our lives when we are going through a challenging period. Hashem is teaching us that these situations must be viewed by looking at the whole picture.

But what happens when the bigger picture is unclear? What do we do when we can’t see the benefit of our difficult experiences? Rav Chaim Shmulevitz gives us an easy approach to adjust our attitudes. There was a great talmid chacham in the time of the Gemara referred to as Nachum Ish Gam Zu—Nachum, the man who said the phrase “Gam zu l’tovah—this too is for the good.” The Gemara recounts many painful episodes in Nachum Ish Gam Zu’s life and his response was always, “Gam zu l’tovah—This is also for the good.” And sometimes it was easy to recognize the good end results in his lifetime.

Everyone encounters various hardships in life; be it with finding a spouse, shalom bayis, children, health, career—the list goes on. The story of Yaakov’s difficulties, the hair on Dovid’s palm and the challenging life of Nachum Ish Gam Zu illustrate that all situations are for our ultimate good.

If we have faith and train ourselves to say “This too is for the good,” it will have a positive effect on our attitude and help us view all of our experiences as ultimately being for our good.


Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. PTI has attracted people from all over northern New Jersey, including Teaneck, Paramus, Fair Lawn, Livingston and West Orange. He initiated and leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. He has spread out beyond PTI to begin a weekly beis medrash program with in-depth chavrusa learning in Livingston, Fort Lee and a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected]. For more info about PTI and its full offering of torah classes visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.

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