God is your umbrella (Shabbos 131)

While none of our patriarchs and matriarchs led easy lives, Yitzchak appears to have had more than his fair share of challenges.  Born to elderly parents, he was bullied by his older brother, and then taken as a lamb to the slaughter by his father.  At the age of 40, he was still single, and when he finally found his basherte, she was far too young to start a family.

The age difference may explain why there doesn’t seem to have been great communication in their marriage. Their twins were born when Yitzchak was 60.  He couldn’t really relate to them – the younger was timid and other-worldly, the older was brazen and strayed from the monotheistic path.

While he succeeded in business, it wasn’t without constant property disputes.  In his senior years, he went blind.  And while his brother eventually repented and gave their father, Avraham, nachas in his old age, sadly that was never the case with his wayward son, Esav.  And so, if Avraham is considered meritorious for having undergone ten trials in his life, one can only imagine how much merit Yitzchak accumulated in his arduous lifetime!

מַצָּה וְכׇל מַכְשִׁירֶיהָ דּוֹחִין אֶת הַשַּׁבָּת, דִּבְרֵי רַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר. מְנָא לֵיהּ לְרַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר הָא? אִי מֵעוֹמֶר וּשְׁתֵּי הַלֶּחֶם — שֶׁכֵּן צוֹרֶךְ גָּבוֹהַּ. אִי מִלּוּלָב — שֶׁכֵּן טָעוּן אַרְבָּעָה מִינִים. אִי מִסּוּכָּה — שֶׁכֵּן נוֹהֶגֶת בַּלֵּילוֹת כְּבַיָּמִים. אֶלָּא גָּמַר ״חֲמִשָּׁה עָשָׂר״ ״חֲמִשָּׁה עָשָׂר״ מֵחַג הַסּוּכּוֹת: מַה לְּהַלָּן, מַכְשִׁירֶיהָ דּוֹחִין אֶת הַשַּׁבָּת, אַף כָּאן מַכְשִׁירֶיהָ דּוֹחִין אֶת הַשַּׁבָּת.

The mitzvah of matzah and all its preparatory needs override Shabbat; this is the statement of Rabbi Eliezer.  From where does Rabbi Eliezer derive this? If you say, from the mitzvah of the omer and the two loaves, this can be refuted, as these are Heavenly needs. If you say he derives it from the mitzvah of lulav, this too can be refuted, as it requires four species. If you say he derives it from the mitzvah of sukkah, this too can be refuted, as it applies during the nights just as it applies during the days. Rather, he derived it based on the word fifteenth stated with regard to matzah, and the word fifteenth stated with regard to the festival of Sukkot. Just as below, its preparatory needs override Shabbat, so too here, its preparatory needs override Shabbat.

There is a fundamental distinction between the primary mitzvot of Pesach and Sukkot.  One is only obligated to eat matzah on the first night of Pesach (of course in the Diaspora, the Rabbis extended it to the second night).  For the remainder of the festival, one may not eat bread, but there is no mitzvah to eat matzah.  Either you eat meat and vegetables or you eat matzah.  But even when you eat the matzah, you don’t make a special bracha “al achilat matzah.”  By contrast, the mitzvah to eat in a sukkah extends for all seven days of the festival.  Any time you eat a meal in the sukkah, you make the bracha “leishev basukkah.”

The mitzvah of matzah, which commemorates our redemption, is only eaten at night.  The mitzvah of sukkah, which represents the Almighty’s protection, is in effect night and day, and lasts many days.  This hearkens back to the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and the subsequent sojourn through the wilderness.  The Exodus happened in an instant: on the night of the 15th of Nisan.  The sojourn happened over a period of forty years.  God protected us night and day for an extended period of time.

In life, we have moments of night-time, when the darkness seems so foreboding and we wonder how we’ll ever get through.  And then there are moments of daytime, when the light shines bright, and things go well.  During the dark times, we seek redemption; we need Hashem to take us out of the night and show us the light at the end of the tunnel.  During the days, we pray that God continue to protect us and guide us to physical, material, and spiritual wholesomeness and prosperity.  The faithful individual remembers the providential hand of Heaven even during the times when the sun is shining.

In the first bracha of the Amidah, we say that Hashem, the King “helps, saves, and shields.”  Help connotes assistance in the face of adversity.  Salvation means redemption from the adverse situation, so that the problem goes away. Shielding implies the erection of a force-field, a barrier, around us, so that we are entirely guarded from any adversity in life.  Would it not make sense to skip the first two categories and pray to God that He shield us from adversity completely?  If we’re shielded, then we’ll never need salvation, let alone assistance!

The issue with that approach is that it negates the very reason you are here on Earth.  You were placed here to be challenged.  The more challenges that come your way that you successfully overcome, the more you grow and mature, both psychologically and spiritually.  Some challenges are simply too overbearing – when that happens, you have the option to ask Hashem to remove them, or even to be completely shielded from them.  But those are the exceptions.  If you’re never challenged, you’ll never grow.  That’s why praying for God’s help, rather than His salvation, is the preferred approach.

That’s how you should view most of life’s tribulations.  Night-time is a rare occurrence.  Mostly, it’s daytime.  It’s not redemption you need, but a helping Hand to guide you through the wilderness.  At first blush, Yitzchak’s life is almost the least eventful of all the patriarchs and matriarchs.  Upon closer consideration, however, you realize that his life was full of trials and tribulations.  He simply accepted them and was happy to grow from each experience, with little fanfare.

Yitzchak’s name means laughter.  When you’re able to laugh and see the bright side of every situation, you’ll maximize your time here on Earth.  While most of life is lived in the daylight, not every day is going to be sunny.  God never said there wouldn’t be rainy days.  But He’s promised to be your umbrella on those days.  May you always look up and see the sun shining down upon you or, at the very least, the umbrella of Heaven protecting you from the trials and tribulations of life!

About the Author
Rabbi of Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue, London, UK.
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