Thursday, October 30, 2014

defeating armies with a handful of dirt

1. This Shabbos may be one of the most important Shabbosos of the year. 

“Huh?” you say.  “Doesn’t he know that the Shabbos Project was last week?”

Yes, I do, even though I’ve been out of it.  And that’s exactly why this Shabbos is so important. It’s relatively easy to feel the importance of Shabbos when there is a so much fanfare surrounding it.  People love to be part of movements, crowds, happenings.  But what happens when you take away all that fanfare and are left with just plain vanilla Shabbos (as if Shabbos was something plain and vanilla!)?  Will there be the same enthusiasm for Shabbos, the same kavod and oneg Shabbos, the same sense of unity on Shabbos?  Will that the Shabbos Project have been just a flash in the pan, or will it have been an impetus for real change in people’s attitude toward and respect for Shabbos?  

2. The gemara (Ta’anis 21) tells the story of Nachum Ish Gamzu whose motto in life was “gam zu l’tovah,” everything is for the good.  One time Klal Yisrael needed to send a gift to appease the authorities and Nachum Ish Gamzu was elected to go.  Since he was accustomed to having miracles done for him, they figured he would be a safe choice.  Along the way a duplicitous innkeeper substituted a chest filled with dirt for the chest filled with gems and precious stones that Nachum was carrying. When the chest was brought to the king and the “gift” revealed, the king was outraged.  Just as all looked lost, Eliyahu haNavi appeared in the guise of an officer of the court and suggested that perhaps things were not as they seemed – perhaps this dirt was not ordinary dirt, but was the dirt Avraham Avinu used in the war in this week’s parsha.  When thrown at the enemy, the dirt turned into arrows and spears.  They tested the dirt in battle against the one enemy that the king could never conquer, and sure enough, it worked.  Nachum was rewarded with the same chest refilled with gold and jewels.  When he passed through the same inn on the way home and related what happened, the unscrupulous innkeeper figured that since it was his dirt, he could profit.  He brought his own chest of dirt to the king, but it was revealed to be plain old dirt, and so he got the punishment he deserved.

Why did this miracle occur to Nachum Ish Gamzu davka through the dirt used by Avraham Avinu?  And why was Avraham zocheh to specifically that form of siyata d'shemaya?

The Ostrovtza explains that there is a midah k’neged midah at work here.  If you think that you are in control of your life and have such great kochos and abilities, then Hashem will treat you like the speck of dust that you really are.  But if you put aside your ego and acknowledge that you are not such a big deal, that Hashem is the one who is really in charge and you are but a speck of dust, then not only will Hashem lift you up and give you even more kochos, but even the specks of dust you trample on will be found to have tremendous kochos.  Avraham said of himself, “Anochi afar v’eifar” – despite his great kochos, he considered himself like dirt.  Midah k’neged midah, Hashem took the actual dirt Avraham tossed at his enemies and invested it with the power to crush armies.  

If you think power comes from your own abilities, then you will discover just how little power you have.  If you realize only Hashem as power, then you will discover how generous he is in giving that power over to you as a reward.
Nachum Ish Gamzu followed in the footsteps of Avraham Avinu.  His motto of “gam zu l’tovah” showed that he accepted that everything was from Hashem, and therefore could only be for the good.  In the merit of that hisbatlus, acknowledging his own lack of power,Hashem rewarded Nachum by investing even the dirt he walked on with real power.                  

3. The gemara (B.B. 16) tells us that Avraham Avinu had a precious jewel that he wore around his neck that would heal anyone that looked at it.  When Avraham died, Hashem took that precious stone and put it in the sun. 
R’ Reuvain Katz, in his Duda’ei Reuvain, on this week’s parsha explains that the jewel Avraham Avinu wore around his neck was his ability to teach others about emunah.  (Speech comes from the throat = the neck).  When Avraham passed away, Hashem took that power to learn about emunah and put it in the sun: “Hashamayim misaprim kvod K-l.”


  1. Re the Ostrovtzer's connection of Avraham Avinu's Anochi afar v’eifar with his victory over the melachim- this relates to the Nefesh HaChaim 3:12 that the reason Reb Chanina said to the mechasheifa that she could take the dirt from under her feet was because Ein od milvado is that he had such bitachon in Hashem's being the only power, that kishuf had no ability to do anything. It's davka because he too held Anochi afar v’eifar that the afar v'eifer was a pure means of the manifestation of Hashem's will. This is, of course, the Reb Chanina ben Dosa of gam zu le'tova, same idea.

  2. Also, regarding "with just plain vanilla Shabbos", please see