Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
The Mishna in Yevamos (49a) tells of a mysterious scroll found in Yerushalayim. The Gemara proceeds to enumerate the contents of the parchment. It is not immediately clear what the common thread is to all the facts listed on the scroll. However, one surprising fact mentioned in it sheds light on a historical mystery: How did Yeshaya HaNavi die? The scroll tells us the tragic and surprising answer. Yeshaya Hanavi was killed by his own grandson.
The story starts before his grandson was even born. Chizkiya HaMelech was deathly ill. Yeshaya HaNavi came to visit him and deliver a message. (Berachos 10a) The Navi told Chizkiya that his death is a punishment for not marrying. Chizkiya protested that he was within his rights not to marry. He determined through Ruach HaKodesh that he would have wicked children. Rather than fathering wicked offspring, Chizkiya decided not to marry. Yeshaya Ha- Navi responded that regardless of the future, Hashem expected Chizikya to follow the halacha and marry. Chizkiya should leave the future to Hashem.
Chizkiya accepted the rebuke and agreed to marry. However, Yeshaya Hanavi told him it was too late; his death had already been decreed. Whereupon, Chizkiya HaNavi declared, “I have a tradition from my father’s house that even if a sharp sword is on a person’s neck, it is not too late to pray!”
Chizkiya prayed for forgiveness and accepted to marry. Yeshaya HaNavi delivered Hashem’s response: fifteen years had been added to Chizkiya’s life. Chizkiya asked Yeshaya if he could marry his daughter. Perhaps their combined merit would ensure that the offspring would be righteous.
Unfortunately, the plan did not succeed. Chizkiya’s son was the wicked King Menashe. The Gemara (Yevamos 49b) states that Menashe determined that Yeshaya was a false prophet.
Moshe Rabbeinu indicated in the Torah that the best blessing a person can achieve in regards to his lifespan is to live the full number of his predetermined years. Yet, Yeshaya HaNavi prophesied that Hashem added 15 years to Chizkiya’s life, more than his predetermined years. The contradiction is actually a good question. There is a debate in the Gemara about what the correct answer is. Yet Menashe did not want to hear the answer – he was just looking for an excuse to kill Yeshaya, and so he declared Yeshaya HaNavi to be a false prophet. The penalty for such an offense is death. Yeshaya HaNavi died at the hands of his own grandson, the wicked King Menashe.
Yeshaya HaNavi instructed Chizkiya to just follow halacha and leave the future to Hashem. There are other places in Tanach that demonstrate the same theme. The Megilla (2:10) tells us that Esther did not reveal her nationality to Achashveirsoh because Mordechai commanded her to do so. What was the reason for Mordechai’s instructions? Rashi says that Mordechai hoped that Achashveirsoh would reject her as a queen due to her unconfirmed and suspicious heritage. Yet, in the very next verse, the Megilla states that Mordechai stayed close to the king’s palace to see what would become of Esther. Rashi explains that Mordechai did this because he was given a Divine signal that the future salvation of the Jewish nation would come about through Esther.
My rebbe, HaGaon Rav Henoch Leibowitz, zt”l, asked why was Mordechai trying to cause Achashveirsosh to reject Esther if the future salvation of the Jewish nation was on the line?! My rebbe answered that no matter what Hashem has planned for the future, right now Mordechai had to follow halacha. Esther was not allowed to marry Achashveirosh. There was currently no threat to the Jewish nation, imminent or otherwise. Consequently, he advised Esther not to mention her nationality and hopefully rescue her from the king’s palace. What about the future? Mordechai left the future to Hashem.
In Parshas VaYaishev, Yaakov Avinu sends Yosef HaTzaddik to check on his brothers. Yosef could not find them. Hashem sent an angel, Gavriel, to direct Yosef to their location. Yet, Rashi (37:17) says that in the angel’s words to Yosef, there was a hidden warning: your brothers are trying to kill you. At the very same time that Gavriel is directing Yosef to find his brothers as part of the Divine masterplan, Gavriel is warning him to stay away!?!
My rebbe, HaGaon Rav Henoch Leibowitz, zt”l, asked: isn’t that an obvious contradiction and dereliction of duty? Yet, we do not find that Gavriel was taken to task for this. Moreover, Chazal teach us what Gavriel did, so that we can learn from it. My rebbe opined that the explanation is the same as before. Gavriel had a job to fulfill. He needed to deliver a message, which he did. Yet, at the same time, he felt that Yosef needed saving. And so he managed to do both at the same time. If Yosef would have taken the hint, he would not have sought out his brothers. What about Hashem’s masterplan? Gavriel left that to Hashem.
My rebbe explained that the lesson from this second example is even greater than the first. Gavriel did not have an obligation to save Yosef, but it was the right course of action to take, therefore, he fulfilled his job and still followed what he thought was proper and left Hashem’s plan to Hashem.
My rebbe explained the practical application. Oftentimes people are involved in spiritual endeavors such as establishing a shul, raising money for a Torah school, and running a chessed organization. These projects can take up all of an individual’s time. Certainly, there are thankfully many dedicated people who willingly give up all their time. However, there could be other demands on a person’s time. A person needs to spend time with his family. Even if there is no halacha about spending time with one’s family, it is still the right thing to do. Obviously, family time comes before the pursuit of wealth. Still, does family come even before spiritual endeavors? What about the argument, “If I don’t stay up until midnight every night fundraising how will the school stay open?! I don’t have any time to be home because otherwise how will this chessed organization function?!” My rebbe explained that the answers to those questions are if Hashem wants the school or organization to stay open, it will stay open even without our personal input. If Hashem does not want them to function, whatever we do will not help.
So what is left for us to do? Hashem wants us to do our best while managing priorities. That is our mission in life. A person should try his hardest in his available time, while still leaving time for family. After a person did one’s best in the given time constraints, the rest must be left to Hashem.
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow is a rebbe at Yeshiva Ateres Shimon in Far Rockaway. In addition, Rabbi Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead, NY. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.