On Motza’ei Shabbos, September 14, Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss spoke at Congregation Nachlas Yitzchok on the topic of not giving up. He began by lauding the organization Chickens for Shabbos. “It’s basics. It’s chayim.”
Rabbi Weiss shared that “the Kotzker Rebbe says that t‘shuvah is an activity of introspection and cheshbon ha’nefesh. This can have fall-out. We can get really down on ourselves.” You can begin to feel like giving up. “Yi’ush is when you’re not using your head.” He noted that this is exactly what the Satan wants. He wants us to be paralyzed with fear. Sarah and Avraham had given up on having a child, yet Yitzchak was born to teach us that Jews never give up. It’s not in our vocabulary.
He quoted a great rav who taught that we recite t’hilah 27 right after shofar blowing because the shofar awakens us that the Yom HaDin is coming, but t’hilah 27 speaks of Hashem as our y’shuah. The theme of this t’hilah is to never give up. He noted that the word “Elul” is an acronym in Hebrew for the words, “it’s possible for us to stand before Hashem.” He also taught that gevalt and gevaldig differ by two letters, yud and gimel, which add up to 13. Thirteen is Hashem. If you have Hashem with you, you can make gevalt into gevaldig.
Rabbi Weiss stressed, “I can’t begin to tell you how deadly giving up is. It is dangerous.” He shared the powerful analogy of a spider that weaves a web and catches a fly. It waits until the fly stops moving and gives up, before the spider attacks it. In the same way the Satan will weave a web and wait until we give up before it attacks. “Only when we give up, that’s when we are in danger.”
He shared examples in our history that show a person should never give up.
Yocheved had no children while others in Egypt gave birth to six at a time. They had huge families. She didn’t give up but decided to become a midwife, and that brought her the z’chus to have Miriam when she was 124 and Aharon when she was 127. She had Moshe at the age of 130. “You don’t give up because you don’t know when the main part of your life is just around the corner.”
Boaz’s name means “in him is strength.” He buried 30 sons and 30 sons-in-law. Then he buried his wife. Yet, he never gave up. The last day of his life he sired the ancestor of David HaMelech who would bring Mashiach. This is because he never gave up.
Rabbi Akiva didn’t start learning Torah until age 40. He left his wife Rachel for 24 years to raise 24,000 talmidim. Then every talmid died. His talmidim were his life’s work. Many great rabbis said that their talmidim were their s’farim. Rabbi Akiva didn’t give up in the face of all of this. He traveled south and raised another five talmidim. One was Rabbi Meir and he rebuilt Torah. If Rabbi Akiva had given up, we wouldn’t have Torah.
He shared the story of Chizkiyahu who saw in prophecy that he would have an evil son, so he decided not to marry. When he was on his deathbed, the navi told him he would die because he hadn’t married. Chizkiyahu didn’t give up. He davened and he did t’shuvah, and Hashem blessed him with 15 more years.
Rabbi Weiss emphasized, “There is nothing that we can do worse than giving up. Jews do not give up!” He continued, “Nobody has the right to give up hope.”
He shared a powerful idea from the Spinker Rebbe. The Rebbe asked the question, “Why do we have the daily mitzvah to remember our coming out of Egypt?” We cannot go 12 hours without thinking about Egypt. We have so many other miracles that happened to the Jewish people, why is this one so emphasized? We all know we left Egypt exactly at midnight. If we had gone any later, we would have reached the 50th level of tum’ah. This would have been the point of no return. Here we were on the brink of the point of no return and yet, 49 days later, we were at Har Sinai receiving the Torah. “See how fast a Jew can turn himself around?” That lesson of hope is so important that you have to think of it every 12 hours.
Rabbi Weiss went on to explain that if you want to do things differently in the new year, then you can’t go on behaving the same way and expect different results. You have to change what you do or how you do it. He gave the example of davening without any kavanah. If you want to improve, then do something different, like marking headings in your siddur at certain points that are meaningful to you and jotting down what you want to ask Hashem.
He then asked, “Why do we sing Ashamnu?” We’re listing our sins so you would think we would say these in a somber voice. He taught that it is because we are reciting the vidui and doing t’shuvah with love because our sins will be turned into mitzvos. The way to do t’shuvah with love is to realize that Hashem does so much for us.
Rabbi Weiss continued, “You have to have a will to be better. This is the time of year to have this, and with Hashem’s help you can.”
He shared a teaching of Rabbi Ephraim Shapiro that when we come to shul, we have to daven for each other with passion. If you need a shaddock, daven for others who need one.
He ended with a lively question-and-answer session.
By Susie Garber