The following speech was given this past week on a shabbaton (not by me :-) ) and I wanted to share the message with you.
Good Shabbos everyone! It is wonderful to be here together tonight. Still, we are missing something valuable by being away from home. Many of our parents give us brachos every Friday night. Our fathers come home from shul, and in that moment of kedusha, they bench us. What bracha do our parents give us? Girls are benched to be like Sarah, Rivka, Rochel and Leah. Our brothers are benched with a posuk from this week’s parsha, Yesimcha Elokim k’Ephraim v’ch’Menashe.
If we bench girls to be like our Imahos, why don’t we bench boys to be like our Avos? Why do we bench them to be like Ephriam and Menashe?
Someone once told me a story that supposedly happened with the Shpoler Zaide. The Shpoler Zaide had a chossid who made his living working in a tavern. All day he served wine, beer, and schnapps to local goyim. The atmosphere in the tavern was far from ideal for a frum Jew. The chossid felt he had to struggle to keep up his standards of ruchniyus, davening, and limud hatorah. He decided to go his rebbe for guidance.
The chossid cried to his rebbe, "Every day I deal with drunks and low-class people behaving almost not like humans. I constantly need to fight against the negative influence of the environment. I wish I could change my job so I would be surrounded only by erliche, emes’e chassidim, good Jews. Then I could be a real yirai shomayim, a true eved Hashem.”
The Shpoler Zaide answered him compassionately. “You wish you had enough money so you could stop working in the tavern among the goyim. You would sit and learn all day in a beautiful Bais Medrash full of people learning and davening with geshmak. Then you will be able to serve Hashem the way you should. You feel you can't be a real eved Hashem in the environment you are in now.
"The truth is, the opposite it true. Hashem already has thousands of servants who are in a great environment and have no challenges. He has a whole shomayim full of malachim with no yetzer harah. Every malach only wants to do Hashem’s will with his whole being. If Hashem wanted more of those servants, He would have made you a malach.
“But Hashem wanted something different – something better from you. Hashem wanted a servant who is willing to struggle to serve him. Hashem put you in this place of tuma right now so you would long to be close to Him. You look forward the whole day to those few holy words you can utter before your Creator. The longing, yearning, and purity you struggle to create in your tavern full of drunks is more precious to Hashem than the service of malachim up in shamayim.”
The Shpoler Zaide taught this precious Yid: HKB”H is not looking for a flower among flowers. He wants the rose among thorns. Hashem wants to praise us, “kishoshano bein hachochim, keyn rayosi beyn habanos.”
Why is serving Hashem through struggle, being a rose surrounded by thorns, so valuable? The gemara teaches, “tov echad b’tzar mi’meah shelo bitzar, one mitzvah you struggle to do is better than 100 mitzvos without a struggle”. Rav Dessler z”l asked, how much pain does it take for the mitzvah to be 100 times more valuable? The gemara says the smallest significant measure of suffering is putting your hand into your pocket to take out three coins and only coming up with two. If doing the mitzvah takes a little extra effort, as much as putting your hand into your pocket twice instead of once, your mitzvah is worth 100 times as much. And what if your struggle is twice as hard, if it is like needing to stick your hands into your pocket three times? Your mitzvah is worth 100 times 100, ten thousand. And if your struggle is as hard as reaching into your pocket one MORE time? Your mitzvah is worth 100 times 100 times 100 – one million times as much!
You can see why Hashem wants His flowers to be beautiful roses among thorns. A Shoshana beyn hachochim is infinitely more precious to Him!
Now we can understand why Am Yisroel chooses to give our children the bracha Yesimcha Elokim k’Ephraim ve’chi’Menashe. The Yalkut Yehuda explains: Ephraim and Menashe were the first Jews born and raised in galus, in a secular environment. They were surrounded by Mitzrayim who descended from cursed Chom, a low nation full of avodah zarah and znus. Besides their parents, they had no yidden to serve as role models and give them chizzuk. In that atmosphere, Ephraim and Menashe grew to be as great as the Shvotim, and Yaakov Avinu chose them to be Shivtey Koh alongside his own children. Ephraim and Menashe are the models of Shoshana beyn hachochim, being beautiful roses among thorns. And that’s why we bench our sons to be like Ephraim and Menashe.
Every precious and beautiful Shoshana in this room has her own thorns – her own “tavern”. We have our challenges – our personal struggles and weaknesses. And those struggles are what make us special, valuable, and beautiful. May we be zocheh that HKB”H should say about us, “kishoshano bein hachochim, keyn rayosi beyn habanos.”