One night this week I had to go to Bnei Brak for a meeting. Just over five hours of travel for an hour-and-a-half meeting. At least I got home at 11:30 p.m. Somebody else I know just missed the direct bus home, and ended up getting home at 1:30 a.m. That's what happens when you live "out there somewhere."
I personally don't enjoy such trips, and I don't enjoy so much going to the city. However, I had the opportunity to sit on the train and listen to my favorite "heart surgeon," Rav Shlomo Brevda. I don't have too many opportunities to listen to him, so I used the travel time wisely.
Unfortunately, I cannot cover his hour-and-a-half talk, since he hit on so many important points.
So, I'll touch on one.
He made a very interesting point about this week's parsha. We see that the small Jewish nation began to grow in Egypt and expanded beyond belief. At first, they lived well, but very quickly, they were put in heavy slavery for hundreds of years. He pointed out, "If it were me, I would have been broken within a few days," yet somehow, even after several hundred years, the Jewish people were able to maintain their faith in Hashem. What was the secret behind such a success?
It was Yaakov who led his family down to Egypt, and it was through Yaakov's education and direction that his family was able to build a society. And what do we know of Yaakov? Well, he was ordered to steal the brachos from Eisav, his brother wanted to kill him, he had to live and survive Lavan for many years, he had four wives (which I can't imagine was easy), he had to fight Eisav's "angel," he had to deal with Eisav's suddenly wanting "to be friends," there was the episode with Dina, the selling of Yosef, and he sometimes came to odds with some of his children. Simply put, Yaakov did not live the easy life. In fact, he admits to this when he met Pharaoh.
"No rest for the weary" would be appropriate for him. Yet, he received a promise from Hashem in the beginning of his travails, that He would be with Yaakov throughout.
And that, says, Rav Brevda, was the secret.
A person's journey through life is not about taking things easy. Like soldiers on the front line, we are always to be on the watch for the enemy. No matter how stressful life is, one has his obligations to his Commander. And each "stress point" is the enemy attacking him, trying to break him.
When Jews first started coming to America, he said, they were not prepared at all for what was awaiting them. The assimilation rate was horrific. After a time, things were straightened out. Torah communities were built, Jewish "infrastructure" was developed, education systems were designed. Hard work and sacrifice was invested by many individuals to make the Jewish nation thrive in the United States. And that is why only the Torah community is growing, while those groups that have chosen not to fight for their souls, if you will, are in a severe decline.
A person, and a community, needs to train themselves to know that life is not easy. Each individual, each family, and each community, has their spiritual battles to fight. If a person knows this from the beginning and understands what and where his enemy is, he will have an easier time weathering the fight. But, if he is unprepared, unwilling, and/or has "bad intelligence" on his enemy, he will end up fighting a losing battle.
The Jewish nation was able to survive, because they grew from Yaakov. They knew what hard, constant work was, even before the slavery. And they also understood who the Egyptians were, and why they needed to remain as separate as possible. So, when they were finally thrown into the life of slaves, they knew what they needed to do to keep themselves intact.
With that, I wish you all a wonderful Shabbos!