Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Light in the Darkness

by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

This week’s parsha of Masei, which begins with the words “Eileh masei Bnei Yisroel,” listing the many stops the Jews made as they traversed the desert on their way to the Promised Land, reflects the eternal ethos of our people. They traveled, set up camp, got comfortable and then packed up and moved on.

We would think that the names of the places, where Bnei Yisroel stopped, are of little consequence. Yet, the Torah lists every stop, to teach us that the masaos are essentially a definition of who we are. They collectively form our experience as a people as far back as anyone can remember. Each station and outpost in Klal Yisroel’s journey is mentioned, for each is significant. Every peak and valley we encounter plays a role in leading us to the ultimate geulah.

We have good days and not such good days. We had good stops and places that were totally inhospitable to us. They are all stations along the track that forms, molds and creates the eternal people, preparing us for our destiny.

The posuk in Shir Hashirim states, Tashuri meirosh amanah” (4:8). Rashi explains the posuk to mean that a mountaintop known as Amanah is a summit we will encounter at the time of redemption as we are about to enter Eretz Yisroel. As the final act of golus, we will assemble at Amanah, gaze at Eretz Yisroel, and begin to sing a song of thanksgiving and praise.

One of the previous Belzer Rebbes explained that upon finally earning the redemption for which our people has waited so long, the euphoric nation will realize as they enter Eretz Yisroel that they have lost the ability of emunoscha baleilos, finding faith in times of darkness. Thus, they will gather at the peak of golus and offer one last expression of thanks from the darkness. A final song will rise from the bunkers of the exile. It will be an ode of thanks for all that transpired throughout the journey and a realization that the darkness led to light.

In essence, “Tashuri meirosh amanah” marks the culmination of “Eileh masei Bnei Yisroel and the commencement of a new reality.

Faith calls for an ability to see when it is dark and to hear when there is silence. We exist in the darkness of golus, surrounded by ever-present issues and tragedies that test our belief. Throughout our history, we have endured so much, yet remained loyal. We have gone from masa to masa, each place of refuge ending more tragically than the one preceding it. But in darkness, we have seen light, and in tragedy, we have sensed glimmers of hope. We have always known that what we see and feel is only surface deep. We have known that there is incomprehensible depth to our experiences.

People of emunah peshutah understood throughout the ages that nothing happens in our world by happenstance. We don’t just happen to be here. We aren’t simply highly intelligent monkeys that have evolved into speaking actors. The world was Divinely created by the Mechadeish bechol yom tomid ma’aseh bereishis, and since every day is a new manifestation of the original creation, whatever transpires is for a higher purpose.

Any honest, casual observer of the world would conclude that it could not have come into existence by itself. Since it is wholly obvious that the world - and everything that comprises it - was formed by a Higher Being, it is apparent that it was created for a higher purpose.

This knowledge is what enabled us to survive all that we encountered in our masaos and to endure the golus.

As we study Parshas Masei this week, we are once again being tested. The nation that simply seeks to live in peace is portrayed as a people who derive special joy from murder. The entire world knows and can prove with pictures and facts that Jews see it as a religious duty to kill babies. Hundreds of millions of people who follow the news are told that Jews undertake massacres and engage in disproportionate military action. 

All we want is to look to the sky and see fluttering birds instead of rockets, and to hear chirping sounds instead of sirens. We await the day when children can play safely in a park, without fear, in Israel and around the world. We pray for the sound of the shofar to emanate from the holy city, proclaiming a festival and not doom. Yet we are mocked, despised, and driven from place to place. Jews have been living in France since at least the fourth century, yet thousands feel threatened and are running for their lives.

The governments in Syria and Iraq have collapsed. A radical group has taken hold of much of the former. Yet, none of the world’s policemen seem to be concerned. Tens of thousands of men, women and children, including babies, have been killed. Not a serious word of complaint emerges from any direction. Millions have become refugees, overwhelming neighboring countries. Has anyone in a position of power in the West done anything to help the plight of so many people? ISIS just gave Christian residents of an Iraqi city it captured an ultimatum: convert or die. Have any of the Christian nations and groups that counsel restraint to the Jewish state done anything to stem the drive of ISIS? We have serious differences with Israel’s prime minister, but, without a doubt, he is the most eloquent statesman on the world stage, yet his message fails to resonate.

A citizen army comprised of sons, brothers, fathers and neighbors goes to battle to protect fellow citizens. They are well-trained and focused on the common goal of acting as morally as possible in a war aimed at eradicating immoral enemies bent on their destruction. The world’s players admonish them for defending their right to live in peace.

The recent ground invasion was brought on by an attempt of 13 Hamas terrorists to infiltrate Israel through a tunnel dug under the Gaza-Israel border. Thankfully, they were stopped before they were able to realize their goal of killing innocent Jews. Yet, the world paints the war as one being waged between an evil Jewish Goliath and a poor Arab David. There is little or no reporting on the humanitarian cease-fire by Israel imposed the day the ground invasion began. There is no mention that it was ignored by Hamas and that their very actions led to the necessity of Israel ramping up their action against those dedicated to their destruction.

War is awful, but in the world in which we live, war is sometimes necessary. If evil is permitted to fester and become strengthened and emboldened, good people will suffer and be killed. Liberty and democracy are threatened by the growth of radical terror groups.

Around the world, anti-Israel demonstrations are held. The United Nations’ diplomatic mouthpiece hurried to the microphone to decry Israel’s advancement and to call upon Israel to exercise more caution so as not to cause civilian deaths. He didn’t issue the same call to Hamas. The ISIS operates with impunity. Dozens are ripped to shreds by bombs in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, yet no one knows or cares about it. Hundreds of girls are kidnapped in Africa. Initially, the world responds with a hash tag and press conferences. Just as quickly, the tragedy is forgotten and removed from the public’s conscience. After all, Israel is at war, fighting once again for its life. Who has time to examine what is transpiring anywhere else in the world?

Thousands of targets were hit by Israel. These include tunnels, rocket factories and storehouses, infrastructure built by wicked people who live to kill. When presented with a plan to end the hostilities, Hamas spurned it. In their eyes, every rocket sent to Israel is a victory and every attempt at infiltration proves their virility. It makes no sense to us, but it does to them.

When Israel finally began its ground invasion, it was with the stated goal of simply destroying the many fortified tunnels Hamas built in order to infiltrate Israel. Israel’s spokesmen specifically said that they would not destroy Hamas.

The terror group that rules Gaza, thanks to former President George W. Bush and his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, in the wake of Arik Sharon’s misguided unilateral abandonment of Gaza for peace, will be permitted to inculcate hatred and jihadism, and rearm, to torment Israel in the future. 

The entire goal of Hamas, like Yassir Arafat and his followers, is to bring about the destruction of Israel. Their essence is dedicated to reach that result. Unlike so-called “moderate” groups, they make no secret of it. Yet, it is this group that won the election in Gaza and would win on the West Bank if free elections were held there. This band of murderers was delivered a state on a silver platter nine years ago and set about destroying its infrastructure. They returned the favor of the gift they were handed for the sake of peace, by turning the Judenrein land into a base for terror.

While the Jews made the desert bloom, they destroyed a flourishing oasis. While the Jews sacrificed to defend their citizens, they spent whatever they had on offense and not a dime on defense. They utilized any building material they smuggled to build rockets, acquire weapons and construct tunnels from which to attack Israeli villages and nothing to create a viable state.

The Arabs who refer to themselves as Palestinians and live in the area the world has decided should become a state named Palestine have demonstrated repeatedly that their desire is not to live in peace with the Jews, but to eradicate their existence. 

How can anyone fail to recognize the obvious?

We think we will remember the period we are currently experiencing, but, in truth, we will quickly forget. Who remembers the Sbarro bombing or the Café Hillel bombing, when Dr. David Applebaum and his daughter, a kallah, were killed the day before her wedding?

Who cries for Ron Arad, Zachary Baumel, Tzvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz?

Who recalls the war two years ago and the one before that?

Who mourns the bombing of the number-two bus and the intifada when there were bombs blowing up Jews on busses, in restaurants and simply walking the street almost every day?

Who remembers the many rockets that were shot at Israel during the ceasefire that was in effect prior to Mivtza Tzuk Eitan? How many of us ever bothered to travel to Sderot during our visits to Eretz Yisroel to see for ourselves what it is like to live in a border town?

We are permitting Palestinian lies to gain credence. Yes, it’s true that the world hates us, but why should their media be permitted to present themselves as being balanced as they report on the murder by Israel of “innocent Arab children,” as if they were targeted?

Why are we silent when the secretary of state’s reaction to Israel’s ground invasion to battle terrorists was to admonish Prime Minister Netanyahu to do more to prevent civilian casualties? When he is caught expressing his true feelings in between parroting talking points designed to lull us into thinking the administration has changed its approach toward Israel, the matter is barely pursued. He takes off once again to the Mideast to pressure Israel into taking action that is contrary to its interests. 

When you recognize the task facing Israel in battling terrorists who surround themselves, in a crowded urban setting, with women and children for protection, storing their weaponry in schools and holding their meetings in hospitals, the fact that more people have not been killed is a testament to Israel’s commitment to the protection of human life - even of their enemies.

When we hear of Hamas fighters in Gaza, we think of primitive Arabs on donkeys. We think of Gaza as a refugee camp, teeming with families living in temporary shelter. When they speak of subterranean passageways under the border, we think of the tunnels we tried to dig as children. In fact, Gaza is a built-up urban center, much more akin to a city than a Bedouin encampment. The dozens of tunnels present a serious threat to Israel. They are deep, high, wide and long, with electricity, light and air. As Hamas realized that Israel’s air superiority would doom them in a war and the Iron Dome basically neutralizes the rockets they use to terrorize the Israeli civilian population, they began to seriously expand their tunnel operations.

Financed by Qatar, the American ally, and home of the rabid propaganda media group Al-Jazeera, Hamas evolved into a serious military threat and is no longer simply a suicidal guerilla gang. After investing tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars, they now have the ability to hold the vaunted Israeli army at bay, while popping out of the ground in Israeli villages to cause serious loss of life. Hashem yishmor.

Israel feels that it is winning the war, but even if that is true, they are losing the battle. The world focuses on photographs and, regrettably, Hamas has proved its proficiency in supplying them and crafting the story. Most people, and the media, do not focus on what is really transpiring; they simply glance at the optics and form quick opinions. While Netanyahu articulates Israel’s position quite well, he is basically the country’s entire PR operation. In a shallow, unfriendly world we cannot be faulted for expecting that Israel would be presenting its case more comprehensively.

While it is obvious that the war was caused by Hamas rockets falling on cities across Israel, world leaders unanimously call upon Israel to exercise restraint.

Restraint in what? In rooting out the terror force which threatens its very existence? Restraint in battling its Al Qaeida?

Hamas is quite adept at playing victim. Hashem has protected us, ensuring relatively few casualties, but that is not for a lack of attempt by Hamas, which has steadily increased its firepower and fighting ability. Under heavy fire, Hamas has managed to send rockets all across the country. The reports of Arab casualties are distributed by Hamas and gleefully accepted by all. They warn their fighters to dress as civilians and to refer to all casualties as “civilian.” Israel gets no credit for its yeoman’s efforts to prevent innocent deaths. After all, if they wanted to end the problem without regard to human life, they could easily bomb at will, as America recently did in Iraq and Afghanistan and has done in countries that had the temerity to bomb American targets. Japan learned that lesson after it bombed American ships in Pearl Harbor.

We ponder these facts and wonder why we are judged differently. Why does the world look at us with a jaundiced eye? How can everyone ignore the obvious? Why?

And then we remember that we are in golus in chodesh Tammuz, heading to Av. We think about all that has befallen our people during these months and we are shocked back to the reality of our existence.

Shivah Assar B’Tammuz is the dark day on which the Luchos were shattered, smashing our hopes and dreams. It is the fast day declared by Chazal to mark five serious blows our nation experienced. The five include the end of the korban tomid era, the posting of a tzeilem in the Heichal, and the burning of our Torah by Apostomos Harosha. However, the days of Tammuz and Av are dotted with many other tragedies as well.

During these months, the attacks on the Jews of Seville transpired, as did the pogrom against the Jews of Yashi, Romania. The pogrom in Kielce, Poland, where the last few surviving Jews returning home from the concentration camps were brutally attacked and murdered, also took place during this period.

Throughout the generations, wars began in these days. Our hearts and souls were attacked. The Gemara was burnt by haters and the whisper of sinas Yisroel heard throughout the year always seemed to get louder during these months.

So, really, this latest war and the accompanying chorus of condemnation and downright discrimination is nothing new for us.

In botei knesses around the world, when the reading of this week’s parsha ­is concluded, a resounding cry will rise, proclaiming, “Chazak, chazak, venischazeik - Be strong and may we all be strengthened.”

We read of the travels from one place to the next, we think about all that transpires in exile on the way to Eretz Yisroel, and our reaction is not one of dejection and gloom. Rather, we accept it with the understanding that these are all necessary passages on the path to redemption. We proclaim that our belief is strong, our resolution is unwavering, and we are tough, stubborn and persistent.

We encourage each other to be chazak. And as we tell each other to be strong, a unified roar of strength emanates from the congregation.

Some ten years ago, an Israeli soldier, Nachshon Wachsman Hy”d, was kidnapped by Hamas terrorists. A country and nation united in faith and prayer, hoping for a miracle. Nachshon’s parents, Yehuda and Esther, were fountains of emunah. Jews everywhere hoped along with them. After six anxious days, he was murdered. There were inevitable questions.

Yehuda Wachsman addressed the media and famously commented, “If people wonder why our prayers didn’t merit a response, the answer is that we did get an answer. Sometimes a Father can answer, ‘No.’”

Months later, when Rav Avrohom Pam zt”l was asked to write a letter of support for Beit Nachshon, a center founded in memory of the soldier, he described his great appreciation for the Wachsmans.

“In the depth of their pain, these parents made a public pronouncement that Hakadosh Boruch Hu does indeed hear and heed the tefillos of the Bnei Yisroel, but a Father is also allowed to sometimes say, ‘No.’ This was a great, great Kiddush Hashem…”

It’s a decade later. The storyline hasn’t changed.

Our memories are fresh. We’ve seen a nation pray together as one. We’ve heard our Father’s “No” and we lowered our heads in submissive acceptance.

Last week, as Friday was turning into Shabbos and the neshomah yeseirah was joining millions of Israelis across the country, the sirens went off again, signaling that cities from Sderot to Bnei Brak were under attack. The yom menuchah would begin with a rush into the shelter instead of shul.

We know so little. We are in golus and the mitzvah of emunah envelops us, with opportunities to grasp faith everywhere.

In a shmuess to talmidim, Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel commented on the recent eighteen days of prayer on behalf of the three boys kidnapped by Hamas. While it may appear that the prayers were rebuffed, the rosh yeshiva noted that the eighteen days of unity and prayer were followed by a war in which open miracles are being witnessed regularly across the Land.

Deadly missiles fall harmlessly. Stories abound of families vacating premises in the nick of time. A relatively new invention, the Iron Dome, acts as Hashem’s messenger, picking rockets out of the sky. Rav Elya Ber said that the eighteen days of intense prayer and growth created an account of zechuyos, creating Divine favor in advance of the sudden war.

During this tekufah of Tammuz and Av, we focus on - and long for - Yerushalayim. We wait to stand on the peak of Amanah and sing our song one last time.

Until then, we say together and aloud, “Chazak! Chazak! Be strong!”

Venischazeik. Indeed, we will be.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Mirage

by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

With hundreds of rockets falling on Eretz Yisroel, we are witness to daily miracles as there have been very few Israeli casualties. While others credit the Iron Dome with protecting the Israeli population, we note that the very formulation of the system was a miracle. Experts and politicians were stubbornly opposed to funding its creation. The singular dedication of a few diehards forced its completion, and that in itself is a miracle. It is miraculous that those people were given the intelligence and perseverance to produce this lifesaving device.

We know that even the Iron Dome cannot guarantee success. Rockets land in gas stations and in between houses, yet they don’t kill anyone. We know that it is because we have the Divine Dome, which shields us. May we prove ourselves worthy of Hashem’s continued protection.

That being said, the world’s current equation of casualty is maddening. Terrorists shoot rockets indiscriminately at a neighboring country, aiming to kill innocent civilians. Yet, when that country fights back defensively to protect itself and the millions of people - in eighty percent of its territory - who are within range of the rockets, the world equates the country’s bombs with those of the terrorists.

If you search through photo albums of wire services that supply pictures for the world media, you could be forgiven for thinking that all foreign photographers have been expelled from Israel and sent to Gaza.

For every few dozen photographs of poor suffering Gazan babies and adults killed by Israeli bombs, and for every few dozen photos of buildings bombed by Israel, there is one picture of an Israeli tank or soldier. Viewing the pictures, you realize that the intention of those who supply the media with their material is to convey the impression that Israel, the aggressor, is targeting and killing innocent civilians in order to firm up their conquest of stolen lands.

Rarely in the reporting that accompanies those pictures does it say that Israel drops leaflets warning civilians to leave and first drops a warning bomb onto the roof of a house to notify its residents to quickly leave. The few news outlets that bother to inform their readers of this tidbit quickly note that it is insufficient to warn civilians to leave and may even constitute a war crime.

Then they go on to speak of how many Palestinians were killed versus how many Israeli casualties there have been, as if that is the proper method of calculating who is in the right.

Hamas established a terror state on the ruins of a Jewish enterprise sacrificed for the sake of peace. If only they would have a land of their own, the world said, they would cease terrorizing the Jews. If they were granted the independence they covet and deserve, they would prove their intelligence and value to society as they realize their right to self-determination. 

Instead of building factories to employ and nourish their citizens they built rockets and rocket launchers to rain down on their neighbors and cause misery for their own people. Their drive to destroy the Jewish state consumed them and precluded them from being welcomed into the league of civilized nations. Instead of teaching their children to excel in school and meaningful trades, they inculcated within them a culture worshiping death.

Hamas has been engaging in firing rockets into Israeli population centers for years, yet the only time we hear about it is when Israel decides to fight back. The world neither cares, nor is concerned by the growing terror threat posed by the Islamic militants, until Israel begrudgingly temporarily stops the barrage, never really finishing the job. 

Headlines and newscasts have spoken of Israel’s bombing of a mosque, a center for the disabled, and the house of a police commander. People interested in figuring out what is going on are treated to quotes such as these, from nice, ordinary Gaza Arabs:

Mahmoud al-Batsh said, “The Jews don’t differentiate between the police commander and ordinary citizens.”

Munzer al-Batsh, the police commander’s brother, said, “The Jews eliminated an entire family: grandfather, father, mother, even the children, who were sleeping in the homes. They were civilians.” 

The Jews are awful people, targeting and killing generations of peaceful people.

The same goes for Israel’s bombing of the center for the disabled. Jamila Elaiwa, founder of the center, said that she had no idea why Israel bombed it. “No one lived there except us,” she said.

She didn’t say, nor did the reporting on the incident point out, that Hamas stores its weapons in hospitals and other civilian centers, cynically using civilians as human shields.

Israel drops leaflets warning Gazans to leave “for their own safety” in advance of a “short and temporary” operation and Hamas terms these notices “Israeli propaganda” and “psychological warfare,” which, of course, should be ignored.

Israel’s spokesman says, “We phone up our enemies and tell them that we are going to blow up the building. We throw non-explosive munitions, and that is a sign that they are supposed to vacate the building. Only once we have seen them vacate the building - and we are talking about hitting command and control places and not the terrorists themselves - then we hit.”

Did Israel warn Jamila Elaiwa that an attack was imminent? Well, um, yes, she says, admitting that, in fact, there was “a knock on the roof” before the place was hit. She was quick to add incredulously, “But no one understood what it meant. No one could imagine the center would be a target for anyone.”

All this is said and reported with a straight face.

The same goes for the mosque targeted and bombed that same day. There was ample warning - the “knock on the roof” – and everyone in Gaza knows what that means. While the imam of the place of prayer described it as a holy place, Israel said that it was also the home of “a Hamas rocket cache and a gathering point for terrorists.” 

But just know, said the imam, that he fears not Israel, for in the rubble of the building, he found a Koran open to the words, “Victory is imminent for those who remain steadfast.” 

And so, they continue lobbing rockets into virtually the entire country of Israel, reaching unprecedented distances, thus scaring millions, disrupting lives, and causing mental and financial damage to a small country that seeks peace.

A cease fire is declared and then Hamas unleashes volleys of rockets across the country that had backed down from destroying an enemy sworn to its destruction.

My children and grandchildren in Yerushalayim, and over one million other people in Israel, are awakened three times a night to go to a shelter in their night clothes, their sleep and lives disrupted. What do you tell your children? What do you tell yourself? What is going on? Why do we suffer like this? What do they want from us? What did we do to deserve this?

My four-year-old granddaughter says Shema at bedtime and asks her mommy if she thinks she will be able to sleep through the night. She wonders about her cousins: “Mommy, does this also happen in Lakewood?”

Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky zt”l remarked that if a child is sent to their room for some infraction and happily goes off to read a book there, the parents must increase the punishment in order to discipline their child. 

Similarly, said Rav Yaakov, we have been sent into exile, but if we fail to recognize that we are in golus and that we are here as a punishment, there is serious danger that the burden and suffering will be increased, chas veshalom.

As we wonder about what is currently transpiring in the skies and on the ground of Eretz Yisroel, we feel the strain of golus wherever we are.

As we daven for our Israeli brethren, we should also contemplate our own sorry state and recognize that we are in golus.

Our very first redeemer, Moshe Rabbeinu, arrived in the depths of our first golus. The posuk in Shemos recounts, “Vayeitzei el echov vayar besivlosam.” Moshe left Paroh’s palace. He went to take account of his brothers and observe what they were enduring.

The Kotzker Rebbe wondered what inspired Moshe to leave the palace to view what his brethren were being subjected to. The Rebbe explained that the answer lies in the word “besivlosam.” While the simple translation is suffering, the word has another meaning. Soveil means to tolerate.

Moshe perceived that the Bnei Yisroel were no longer repulsed by the Mitzri culture and behavior. They had developed a tolerance for their surroundings. Hence, “Vayar besivlosam.” He went to see what he could do to help bring about the geulah.

Golus succeeds when it claims the hearts and souls of its captives. 

A friend of mine recently visited Reb Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin. During the course of conversation, Sholom Mordechai said something powerful that sheds light on our condition.

He related that as the weather warmed, he took the opportunity availed to him of stepping outside of the building to enjoy the fresh air. Though inmates may only walk around a track enclosed on all sides by gleaming electric wire, high fences and lookout points, they enjoy the opportunity to feel the sunshine or a gentle breeze.

Sholom Mordechai recounted that in previous years, when he would go outside for a walk, he was confronted by a flood of memories. As he strolled outside, he was reminded of walking to shul with his children, of spending time in his Iowa backyard, of Chol Hamoed trips with his wife and family, and of all the normal things we take for granted as we walk outside.

“This year,” Sholom Mordechai matter-of-factly told my friend, “when I went out, I no longer felt those memories. As I walked, the only thing I remembered was walking outside last year in prison and the year before that.

“It bothered me for a while,” he recounted, “until I realized that this must be another effect of my years in prison. Being locked away so long causes a person to be unable to relate to the reality of an outside world that seems to have been lost over time.”

He said that “the repetitive, monotonous routine of prison time, together with the separation from family and friends and not being able to do what a human being is created to do as a productive member of society, lulls a person into feeling that prison is the only place in the world. It is like a mirage, but meanwhile, the reality of the outside world fades and blurs, becoming more and more vague with the passage of time.”

Sholom Mordechai concluded his thought: “And then I realized that this must be the way it feels for the neshomah, which comes down to this dark world and is imprisoned in a guf. At first, it recalls the splendor and glory of the Heavenly realm and it is warmed by the memories, but in time, this world becomes its home and it forgets where it comes from. The thought led me to appreciate the need for a surge of energy for my neshomah, and to do mitzvos, learn Torah and daven to sustain my neshomah.”

The insight from our imprisoned friend sheds light on the despair of golus. We are in exile so long that we run the risk of forgetting where we belong and that we are refugee figures in transit, far from home. We tend to forget that what we see is a mirage. Our senses become dulled as we suppress our longing for home.

With the onset of the Bein Hametzorim period this week, we should be in despair for what we are lacking. The sadness we are meant to experience is not for the lack of music and abstaining from eating meat and swimming during the nine days. During these weeks, we are supposed to be suffering from a heightened awareness of our exile status.

The pain during this period should be that of our soul, knowing that we are seriously lacking and can be doing much better. At our core, we should know that we are destined to be in a holier place, living a more sublime existence. These days remind us that we don’t realize what we lack. They cry out in anguish for our callousness to our own plight.

The Three Weeks urge us to remember that we don’t lack music, but life itself. Without the Bais Hamikdosh, we are weak, vulnerable and incomplete. These weeks remind us that we are in danger of becoming so deeply entrenched in golus that we don’t perceive the reality called geulah anymore.

Rav Yisroel Meir Lau frequently relates the story of his liberation from the Buchenwald concentration camp. An American chaplain, Rabbi Hershel Schachter, who accompanied the liberating American soldiers, was gazing at a pile of dead bodies in the death camp when he thought he saw something move. Gingerly, he approached the pile and detected a young boy, barely alive, among the dead.

Like a malach shel rachamim, he tearfully stuck out his hand to the emaciated child. He told him that he is an American and that the Nazis were gone. Speaking to the boy in Yiddish, he tried to gauge if his mental abilities were intact after having suffered so many harrowing experiences and being near death.

“What is your name?” asked the kind rabbi dressed in an American army uniform, as tears streamed down his face at the pitiful sight.

“Lulek,” was the reply.

Vi alt bist du mein kind? How old are you?” he asked little Lulek.

Elter far dir. Older than you,” responded the child.

Fearing that the boy had lost his senses, the rabbi began weeping. Again he asked the skin and bones that resembled a young boy how old he was, and again he answered that he was older than the weeping rabbi.

The rabbi looked at the boy with great pity and tried one last time to get a sane response from the child who had been so badly affected by the horrific suffering he endured.

“Tell me, mein kind, why do you say that you are older than me? Isn’t it obvious that you are a young child and I am a grown man? Why do you insist on thinking that you are older than me?”

Lulek explained quite simply: “Git a kook. Du veinst. Ich ken shoin nit veinen. Nu, zogt mir, ver is elter? You are crying. I have already lost my ability to cry. Am I not older than you?”Despite his youth and having experienced four tortuous years in a dark place where death and hunger were his constant companions, the youth spoke with wisdom beyond his physical age.

Hailing from 32 generations of rabbonim imbued him with Jewish resoluteness in the face of the worst cruelty and anguish known to man.

A baby cries when he is hungry. A child cries when he is hurt. A mature person suppresses hurt, anger, hunger and much else. A child cries because his entire world is shattered when his toy breaks. A baby cries when he is hungry so that he will be fed. A person who thinks that what transpires is happenstance cries when he believes that something tragic in his life has occurred.

A person of belief remains stoic and strong. He doesn’t cry in the face of adversity. He doesn’t weep when he is hurt, for he knows that what has transpired is for the good and has been Divinely ordained by a Father who created the world in which he lives to benefit Him.

He grows from his scrapes and bruises, resisting the temptation to strike back when hurt by friends. Though he may be weak in body, he is strong in spirit.

Lulek understood that lesson. He had been through so much and survived. He had triumphed over his tormentors and would go on to lead a long and productive life. Why cry? Why wallow in the past? Why engage in self-pity? Ich ken shoin nit veinin because I know what is important and what isn’t. I know what is transitory and what is permanent.

Yet, that same Lulek, who wouldn’t cry over the evils of man, sits on the floor every Tisha B’Av and cries. He weeps during the Three Weeks as he marks our centuries of exile.

We have been through so much in golus that many of us have lost the ability to cry over it. We must use this period to remember what is important and what is secondary, what is worth crying over and what isn’t. We recognize that we have been punished and evicted from our homes. Like vagabonds, we have roamed from place to place. We understand that we are essentially homeless, wandering about with our possessions in a shopping cart, seeking a comfortable bench on which to spend the dark night.

We dare not grow comfortable on that bench. We dare not become comforted with the possessions we have gathered. It is folly, we are folly, and we should want to get home.

The Gemara in Maseches Taanis (30a-b) relates that Rabi Yehuda Berebi Ilai would sit in an uncomfortable position on the floor during the afternoon of Erev Tisha B’Av and eat dry bread, salt and water. The Gemara says that viewing him, it appeared as if his dead relative was lying in front of him.

The Gemara states this to demonstrate to us that it is not enough to engage in the mournful traditions of Tisha B’Av. We must be somber over the loss of the Bais Hamikdosh as if it transpired now, not centuries ago. We must feel the pain and the hurt as if it is fresh and current.

In fact, the Rambam (Taanis 5:9) says that this is the proper way for chachomim to behave. We should all be chachomim and follow the Rambam. It is definitely the wise way to act, not only because that is the way a wise person should mourn the Bais Hamikdosh, but also because Chazal say that one who properly mourns the churban of Yerushalayim will merit seeing its rebuilding. A component of meriting redemption from golus is recognizing it for what it is and not being pacified.

On Purim, a golus holiday, as we joyously lain Megillas Esther, the tone turns mournful when we read about an Ish Yehudi, a lone Jew from Shushan Habirah, whose name, the megillah says, was “Mordechai ben Yair ben Shimi ben Kish ish Yemini.” The posuk tells us that this man was in Shushan because he was exiled: “asher hoglah miYerushalayim.”

The Tiferes Shlomo of Radomsk explains that the words “asher hoglah,” meaning “who went into exile,” are more than a description. They were part of his name. The posuk called Mordechai by his name: “son of Yair, son of Shimi, son of Kish, the fellow who is in golus.” Everyone in Shushan identified Mordechai as the golus Jew, a refugee who was driven from his homeland into exile.

Perhaps it was Mordechai’s cognizance that he was away from home, mourning his past and longing for the return of the Bais Hamikdosh, which caused him to be upset when the Jews took part in Achashveirosh’s dinner, served on utensils from the place he so missed. It was because he never forgot his home and roots that he was able to guide the Jews who had evoked Hashem’s wrath by forgetting.

The identity of the Jew in golus is bound up with the knowledge that he is a person without a proper home, lacking spirit and deficient in his very essence. We are a people haunted by sad memories and invigorated by hopeful visions of a bright future.

Walk into any Jewish home and stare at the blank space opposite the front door. We are empty, we are lacking, and whatever we have will never replace the home we loved, the holiness we embodied, and the spirit that resided within us.

At every chupah, at the apex of the great joy, poignancy, optimism and elation, the baalei simchah stand surrounded by family and friends, the chosson and kallah enveloped by a cloud of euphoria and good wishes, and then there is a pause. It is quiet and the sound of the chosson breaking a glass is heard. For no matter how good things seem, no matter how happy and safe we appear to be, we must never forget that we are not home. We must remember that what we have is but a faux existence in a fictitious world, far from the real world of our destiny.

These months of Tammuz and Av traditionally remind us of our status as exiles. We are like millions of our brothers and sisters who huddle daily in shelters. We can compare ourselves to the sweet innocent children who are currently cowering amidst the din of alarms and sirens. We aren’t home. We want to know if when we say Shema, we can find light in the darkness. We await the geulah and the bright light to shine on us and Eretz Yisroel.

Let us not sink so deeply into the shelter that is golus that we forget that we once had a home where we belonged. We want to be there again so that we can climb out of the darkness, away from the mirage in which we exist and the death and evil that surround us, so that, once again, we can feel alive, rejuvenated, complete and happy.

May that day come soon.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Reacting to Tragedy

by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Any Jew with a soul and a heartbeat felt something significant transpire over the past few weeks. Upon hearing that three boys were kidnapped in Eretz Yisroel, Jews everywhere joined in prayer, asking the Baal Hayeshuos for mercy. When the tragic result of the frantic searches reached us, we turned to the Baal Hanechamos, beseeching Him to shower the families - and all of us, a nation in mourning - with comfort.

We were horrified by the news that Jews killed an Arab boy in retaliation. The world quickly equated the two acts: Jews kill, Arabs kill, and it is all the same. Once again, the Jew was faulted for not exercising restraint and calm. Misdirected young boys acted contrary to their upbringing and Torah. Their actions were quickly condemned, yet their dastardly act permitted the world to shift its focus from the terror Israelis live with to a fictitious story of victimhood peddled by the Palestinians.

Hamas mocked Israel, lobbing a steady stream of rockets on Sderot, Ashdod, Ashkelon and Be’er Sheva. Rechovot was also targeted. Sirens went off in Yerushalayim as authorities warned Israelis everywhere to be prepared for the worst. Southern citizens were told not to ever be more than 15 seconds from a bomb shelter.

At the time of this writing, Israeli troops are massing on the Gaza border and the Air Force has begun bombing runs in Gaza. Hamas has targeted cities as far north as Chaifa. Sirens are wailing across the country as millions of people cower in shelters, fearing for their lives. Once again, we were experiencing an eis tzorah leYaakov. The tinder box that is the tiny Jewish country was apparently on the verge of yet another existential battle as Operation Protective Edge got underway.

Tzaros ha’achronos meshakchos es harishonos. The past few weeks, we worried about the fate of three boys and their families. Now virtually the entire country is in mortal danger. Explosions were heard across Yerushalayim and as far north as Chadeira. Millions of lives were interrupted. People ran wildly while a chupah was getting underway in Ashdod as sirens wailed. Children in Bnei Brak took shelter under benches, while in Tel Aviv, busses emptied their passengers who dashed off into shelters.

As the war began, Israel discovered, to its dismay, that the Gazan terrorists had four times more long-range weapons than they had previously estimated. Our brethren were whipsawed, having just experienced eighteen harrowing days, followed by more tragedy, and then they were thrown into what appeared to be a full-scale war with madmen attempting to annihilate them. Our thoughts and tefillos go out to them. We hope that they will all emerge unscathed from the battles after having forced Hamas and its allies to retreat. We join Jews and people of goodwill the world over davening for peace and security for all Israelis during this terrible time.

Fortunately, during the eighteen fateful days the kidnapping saga played out, we saw who we are and what Klal Yisroel is composed of. It became evident that at our core, we are essentially a nation joined by Torah and the long, lonely struggle we have faced together. We infuse each other with hope, we gain strength from coming together, and we reach out to Hashem in prayer, aware that there is no other dominant power or force.

Even the sad aftermath, when the ending was radically different than what we had hoped for, brought to the fore reservoirs of chizuk, tziduk hadin and bitachon.

We were, and are, very sad, but at the same time there was a sense of satisfaction. We were united as one, feeling the pain of golus, but because we were b’achdus, we saw the light of redemption. We were saying, “Shechorah ani venava.” We are black, enveloped in clothes of mourning, but at the same time, the enduring, untarnished beauty of a nation shone through as Jews everywhere shed tears for three boys they didn’t know.

Let us internalize what we learned from the process and what it means for us moving forward. Together, we can achieve and affect change. Separately, we are irrelevant and weak. We have previously experienced tragic episodes that brought everyone together. We prayed that the love would endure, yet, with time, it dissipated. Why? What can we do to make it last this time?

The achdus that we all tangibly sensed over this period can be explained with a simple truth: No one focused on each other or what the other one was or was not doing. Rather, we were all single-minded in our focus on Heaven. We worked side by side. We prayed side by side. The nature of the situation was that it didn’t allow for division to separate us. We were too intent on achieving salvation and earning Divine grace.

When we focus on a common goal and not on each other, we can achieve achdus.

Many mistakenly think that achdus is achieved when we swallow our differences and blur the lines until we become a homogeneous mass. That’s not the achdus Hashem seeks and not what we should be aiming for.

This week’s parshah provides direction on how achdus is achieved and sustained among people of goodwill who share a goal.

At the conclusion of Parshas Balak last week, we learned that following Bilam’s attempt to curse the Jewish people, they began to sin with the daughters of Moav. A nesi bais av committed a sinful act with a daughter of the leader of Midyan in full view of Moshe and all of the Bnei Yisroel.

The Torah relates that as that transpired, the entire nation stood around weeping, not knowing how to react. They knew that Zimri had committed an awful crime, but they were plagued by terrible anomia. They were upset, reduced to tears, but were unable to act upon their feelings of dread.

Their personal feelings may have also contributed to their inaction. They may have been paralyzed by the fear of what would happen to them if they were to take a stand. How would it affect their children’s’ shidduchim prospects? Would their ainiklach be accepted into good schools? They were frozen in place, unable to act.

The result of their fear wasn’t just that the horrific act went unpunished. It was a tacit endorsement as well, empowering the baal aveirah to grow more confident and arrogant. Hashem sent a plague as punishment to His people when Pinchos selflessly rose from amongst the crowd and did what needed to be done.

Pinchos was not over-zealous blinded by rage. In fact, he was the only one calm enough to remember the halacha, the lone member of Klal Yisroel with the presence of mind to react according to the Torah. Ignoring his own interests, he remained focused on the issue at hand.

He disregarded the scoffers and sprang forward to plunge a spear into the bodies of Zimri and his partner.

By acting as the shliach of an inert, if well-intentioned, people, he stopped the plague and brought a swift end to yet another inglorious chapter in our people’s history. While others contented themselves with tearful sighs, he acted and thus staved off suffering for all of them.

We are shown the reward for his courageous, bold act in the opening of this week’s parshah. Hashem tells Moshe, “Pinchos the son of Elozor the son of Aharon the kohein turned back G-d’s wrath from the people of Yisroel with his act of kana’us, and Hashem did not destroy the Bnei Yisroel in His anger. Therefore, say [the following]: Hashem is bestowing upon Pinchos His covenant of peace. He and his children who follow him shall be privileged with the covenant of kehunah forever.”

By following the dictates he had been taught by Moshe and properly utilizing the thought process as trained by his rebbi, Pinchos merited the blessing of eternal peace.

Peace, in the pedestrian way of thinking, means standing on the sidelines and refusing to get involved. The Torah says that the opposite is true. To be aware of what is transpiring and then powerlessly weep as evil is strengthened is not to be acting peacefully, but rather is quite destructive. Quietly watching is not the greatness to which we aspire, but an act of apathy that encourages evil and enables it to develop and grow.

The Torah traces the yichus of Pinchos to Aharon to remind us that he is the progeny of the quintessential man of peace, the oheiv shalom verodef shalom, who is deemed worthy of carrying the torch of kehunah forward. It was he who maintained the calm necessary to act properly. Pinchos was given the eternal blessing of peace because he made peace possible amongst Klal Yisroel by exterminating evil.

Pinchos halted the plague that had already killed 24,000 Jews because he had the moral courage and clarity to act when others were confounded and immobilized.

Sometimes, we get dissuaded by popular opinion and we confuse doing nothing with peace, when the very opposite is true. Pinchos understood that shalom and sheleimus are connected. He understood that the oheiv shalom verodef shalom achieves his goal by acting courageously, even if his response invites misunderstanding and recrimination. This, in turn, creates true harmony, with each individual empowered to act as he should.

When we say, “Talmidei chachomim marbim shalom ba’olam,” it doesn’t mean that talmidei chachomim don’t argue and battle in learning. In fact, the opposite is true. Interactions between lomdei Torah are characterized by raised voices and vehement disagreement. But their disputes lead to deep friendship.

Following the Divine blueprint leads to sheleimus, authentic shalom. Only when everything is proper, complete and whole is it possible to also have shalom. If you are lacking in sheleimus, you cannot have shalom. Torah is the absolute truth. The world was created with Torah and it serves as the guide in defining our behavior. If we follow its rules, we will be blessed with peace. If we compromise or seek neutrality when ikkrim are at stake, we empower the Soton and engender peirud.

A wealthy American philanthropist met the Mirrer rosh yeshiva, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt”l, who asked him for a significant sum of money. The gvir agreed to the rosh yeshiva’s request and offered even more money, albeit with a condition. He wanted the yeshiva to institute a short daily seder, for just a few minutes, in a particular sefer that the rosh yeshiva cherished. Rav Nosson Tzvi immediately rejected the offer.

“There is an expression that he who is the baal hameah is also the baal hadeiah, meaning that the one with the money has the right to an opinion,” said Rav Nosson Tzvi. “But not in our yeshiva. In our yeshiva, the roshei yeshiva are the only baalei deiah. Do you know why? Because we believe that every person should be a baal deiah in their area of expertise. Thanks for your generous offer, but we won’t be accepting it, because your role is not to advise us on how to run the yeshiva.”

Rav Nosson Tzvi turned to go, and as the gvir later testified, he was overcome with love and respect for the Mirrer rosh yeshiva. Rav Nosson Tzvi had done him the ultimate service of putting him in his place and allowing him to experience true peace, the inner shalom that comes with knowing one’s role in the sheleimus of creation.

Pinchos’s ancestry is traced by the posuk back to Aharon Hakohein to underscore this point. The task of the kohein gadol was to remove the barrier between man and his Creator, whether through bringing korbanos or offering ketores, depending on the situation.

With all of the countless misfortunes besieging our people as yechidim and as a klal, at times it seems as though we are living through a period of mageifah. The news is foreboding and we wonder how to get past such tragedy.

Perhaps this parshah is a reminder to us that we need more Pinchos-type individuals to come forward and stop the plague. We need people whose loyalty to Torah compels them to arise from the mourners and act courageously on behalf of the community.

There are no prophets among us and no one can say why specific tragedies befall us, but we are all aware of evils being perpetrated that nobody is battling. We all know that most things are not b’shleimus in our world. We are all aware of people who suffer and urgently need someone to rush to their aid. Apathy and even fear prevent us from carrying out these missions of mercy and justice.

The Chovos Halevavos, in Shaar Habitachon (perek 3), offers several explanations of why the righteous suffer. One is because “einenu mekanei l’Elokim lokachas dino mei’anshei doro.” He is punished because he fails to act to avenge justice from the wicked on behalf of Hashem. Who among us can say with a full conscience that when he sees evil being committed, he steps in to right the wrong and be mekanei l’Elokim?

These days, when we see that the middas hadin is rampant, especially in the months of Tammuz and Av, we should follow the lesson of Pinchos, remember the halachos, discuss them with our teachers and leaders, and not be afraid to fight the good battle lesheim Shomayim.

We need to learn the parshah and realize that standing silent isn’t just useless, it actually empowers despots like Zimri, who count on the passivity and fear of the masses to be perceived as baalei machlokes. They expertly play the game of brinkmanship and take advantage of people’s reluctance to rise up against injustice. They take advantage of this to promote their agendas and gain power. There are examples right here, in our safe country, where the left propagates this idea, and in the more dangerous climates, such as in Iraq and Syria, where those promoting radical and evil agendas around the globe flourish.

We have to seek to achieve perfection in our personal lives so that we may have the courage to selflessly slay the demons that lurk inside our camp and in each one of us.

How does one derive strength to act as Pinchos did; ignoring the displeasure of a world that confuses peace with inaction?

Reb Mendel Futerfass, who endured decades of imprisonment and torture for his beliefs, emigrated from Russia towards the end of his life and shared lessons he had learned under Communist rule.

He recalled witnessing a tightrope walker, who charged money from onlookers to watch as he made the dangerous walk across a wire suspended between two mountains. Each step caused new worries amongst the crowd, who feared it would be his last. Somehow, the skilled showman made it across in one piece.

Once, upon completing his walk, the tightrope artist asked for a child volunteer from the audience. He said that he would push the child in a wheelbarrow across the wire to the other side. Needless to say, there were absolutely no takers. It was true that somehow he made it across the rope suspended between the two ridges, but there was no way that anyone would endanger their life or the life of their child and be part of his experiment.

The showman made the request a second time, and from the back of the crowd a small boy slowly came forward. The people looked on shockingly as the child climbed into a wheelbarrow. The tightrope walker proceeded to gingerly push him across the wire.

The crowd gasped as the wire trembled, but the tightrope walker moved forward, step after painstaking step, until he finally reached the other end.

After the successful conclusion, the child came down from the mountain and Reb Mendel overheard as someone asked the boy why he was crazy enough to trust the showman.

“Simple,” the boy replied. “He’s my father.”

Reb Mendel would retell the story with a message: When you trust the one who sends you, you aren’t worried, even when everyone else is gasping in fright and trying to dissuade you.

Pinchos was attuned to the will of his Father, and the potential criticism of onlookers was not of any concern to him.

We must remember who we are, what our goals are, and who we work for.

We’ve sustained a serious blow, but an eis tzarah is meant as a clarion call to us to do teshuvah and help return the world to a condition of sheleimus. Tragedy calls out to people of inner greatness to conquer the urge to remain passive and to take action to return our world and our people to sheleimus through Torah. The only way to merit peace and tranquility is by following the path of shalom and sheleimus as defined in the Torah.

We just experienced a period of incredible achdus. We must all endeavor, each in our own distinct way, to maintain that level of achdus and seek to increase it in our world. But in order to achieve achdus, we must be cognizant of what it means. If the goal is clear, then we can attempt to reach it and achieve it. If the goal is fuzzy, we can’t possibly work toward achieving it.

Achdus means that we care about each other on a deep level. We realize that bnei av echod kulonu, we are all children of a loving father, and thus seek the best for each other. We recognize that there are differences, that no two people are totally alike, and that even brothers have different ideas and goals, yet we still remain attached. We recognize that others have faltered along the way. We acknowledge that some have erred and are off the proper path, but we love them anyway and reach out our hand in friendship to help them climb back to where they belong. The definition of achdus is not shallow back-slapping, smiling and grandstanding.

When we are a splintered nation comprised of individuals and factions acting independently without concern for the greater good, we delay the arrival of Moshiach. If we seek to make our world a better place, through displaying love and compassion at all times and expressing admonition when necessary, we will be able to achieve an enduring brotherhood of true achdus.

Chazal remind us that hateful and spiteful behavior between Jews holds back the geulah. In times of struggle, Jews appreciate and value one another. We have miraculously risen so high from the ashes of the Holocaust that sometimes we fail to appreciate our revival. The love and appreciation for fellow Jews that survivors demonstrated seem to dissipate as we grow and prosper. We permit differences to cloud relationships and cause us to look at others with a jaundiced eye and speak intemperately of - and to - others.

The Satmar Rebbe, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum zt”l, was once asked why he speaks harshly of other Jews. He explained that he saw his role as that of a mochiach, pointing out the fallacies of what he saw as wrongful movements and ideas. But, he said, engaging in that mode of behavior was not the opposite of ahavas Yisroel.

“You only hear how I speak with my back to the aron kodesh and face to the people,” the Rebbe said, “but not how I speak when my back is to the people and I face the aron kodesh. You have no idea how much I love every Jew and how I speak to the Ribbono Shel Olam on their behalf.”

Achdus means being able to appreciate the differences and that when chastising is in order, we do so with love. Every soul has its tune, pitch and melody. One is happy, one is sad, one contemporary, another ancient. One is loud, one is soft, and another is plaintive. One says mussar, another learns Torah, and a third is involved in avodah. Those blessed people whose souls follow the word of Hashem are chords in the Divine symphony, combining to harmonize the melody that is achdus.

While writing this article, a friend sent me a moving video that he said has brought hisorerus to people. It’s a clip of a young Israeli boy, a sweet Sefardi child, who was blind. He went through his childhood years in complete darkness, and just days before his bar mitzvah, he received the best gift ever. His eyesight was restored, a present from the Pokeiach Ivrim Himself.

The young man rose at his bar mitzvah celebration and sang shirah, an ode of gratitude and praise to the Ribbono Shel Olam. He sang of challenges, obstacles and pain - and the fact that he always felt Hashem at his side.

“Even when I was in darkness, You were a light before me…thank You for happiness, for both tears and laughter; even when it is sometimes difficult, it is also You, because You are never far away….

We live in a dark world of pain, and at times it is difficult to see past the darkness. This week’s parshah illuminates a path for us. With courage and trust in the Father who gives us life and hope, we can create a new reality. By letting each person sing the song and lyrics written for him in the great symphony of life, we can create true harmony.

Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman zt”l, rov of pre-Holocaust Ponovezh and founder of the Bnei Brak yeshiva he built to commemorate what the Nazis destroyed, traveled the world seeking donations to sustain his dream.

Like any successful fundraiser, the Rov was accustomed to not always receiving the proper respect and he was adept at dealing with setbacks and embarrassment. He once found himself in a shul whose rabbi didn’t take too kindly to his mission and refused to permit him to deliver the Shabbos morning sermon. He told the rabbi that while he could accept being rejected for the sermon, perhaps the rabbi would permit him to simply say shalom aleichem to the people in the shul. Not realizing who he was dealing with, the rabbi agreed to the simple request.

The brilliant orator ascended the amud after laining and said to the assembled mispallelim, “Shalom aleichem, shalom aleichem, shalom aleichem.” He continued: “Why did I say shalom aleichem three times? Because that’s what we do during Kiddush Levonah. We say shalom aleichem three times.

“But please don’t ask me why we say it three times when we are mekadeish the levonah. I promised the rabbi that I wouldn’t be engaging in any homiletics and I must keep my word. Have a good Shabbos.

With that, Rav Kahaneman stepped away from the amud and began to slowly return to his seat. A slight smile appeared on his saintly face as the people approached him and begged him to answer his question. He looked at the rabbi and the rabbi looked at him. With his eyes, the rabbi told the rov that he could return to the amud and provide the answer.

“I’ll answer the question with a story,” he said when he was safely back at the lectern and all eyes were trained upon him. “Two countries were at war. Their border was a river. Each side had its soldiers lined up on its end of the river, ready for the slightest provocation that would set off a war. As the skies darkened, one of the generals sent some soldiers to slip across to the other side to gauge the opposition.

“The soldiers swam across the river and snuck around, trying to find the best point of attack. All of a sudden, in the still of night, they heard the most awful sound from behind them: the click of three guns. Fearing for their lives, they grabbed their guns and swung around to face their opponents and shoot them before they themselves were shot.

“At that very moment, the sky cleared and the field of battle was lit up by the moon. The soldiers were amazed and shocked. They saw that the men they were about to shoot were actually their own countrymen, from a different brigade, who had also been sent to spy out the enemy fortifications.

“Instantly, they said to each other, ‘Oy, shalom aleichem, shalom aleichem, shalom Aleichem. Oy my brother! We aren’t enemies. We are brothers.’”

And so, the Ponovezher Rov cried out to the people in the shul with the unfriendly rabbi, “Shalom aleichem, meineh tayereh breeder.”

Too often, we are split and splintered because of disputes that transpired decades ago, the details of which no one even remembers. Some are from centuries ago, others from a generation back, and some are only a couple of years old. But when the battles are long forgotten and all that remains is the rift, perhaps it is time to heal the fissure. We have new battles to fight today, and winning them requires for people of goodwill to band together, with a unified stance in true achdus.

Back in the days when chassidim were real chassidim and misnagdim were equally as passionate, Rav Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk worked with the Rebbe Rashab of Lubavitch for the good of the people. They were equally proud of, and committed to, their individual paths. They understood that shalom doesn’t mean that everyone has to see everything the same way. It means recognizing that Yiddishkeit includes many paths. They didn’t send out press releases talking about their plans and successes. They didn’t grandstand. They sat together, communicated with each other, and, when necessary, traveled for the benefit of Am Yisroel. With respect and dignity, they did what had to be done. Their achdus was deep and enduring, not shallow and fleeting.

It is interesting to note that a kohein who has killed someone is forbidden from duchening, even if the murder was committed accidentally, and even if he has since repented from his act (Orach Chaim 128:35). If that is so, we may wonder why Pinchos was rewarded for killing Zimri with the gift of kehunah. The very act that he committed and for which he was rewarded is one that precludes him from performing the avodah of the kehunah.

Perhaps the words of the Mishnah Berurah (ibid.) shed light on this question. He explains that even if the kohein repented for causing a death, he is still ineligible because of the rule of ein kateigor naaseh saneigor, which literally means that a prosecutor cannot later act for the defense.

Based upon that we can understand that Pinchos stepped forward, selflessly carrying out his halachically permitted act in order to bring about sheleimus and to reconnect the Jewish people with Hashem. His act was life-giving. He was not a kateigor, but rather a saneigor. He rose up on behalf of the Jewish people to connect them which their Maker and thus earned the right to perform the avodah of kehunah which unites the Bnei Yisroel with Hashem.

Pinchos lives on as Eliyohu Mevaser Tov, who will announce to us the arrival of Moshiach when enough of us follow in his path. That path was forged for him by his rebbi, Moshe Rabbeinu. In every generation, there are individuals who carry a nitzutz, a spark, of the neshomah of Moshe Rabbeinu, and continue to light up that path. Let us seek them out - not only the ones who say what we wish to hear, but also those who say what we need to hear. Let’s respond to their call and bring sheleimus to the world so that we merit hearing the call that the geulah sheleimah has arrived.