Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Lament or Smile?

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Everyone waits for summer and here it is, one of the happiest times of the year. During normal times, things slow down and life takes on a more casual tone, as people set out for new horizons to explore and places to enjoy. This year, under the cloud of corona, everything has become more difficult, including the escape from daily pressures and a change of scenery. We seek a reduction of stress levels and the constant reminders of an unseen enemy threatening us.

We may not be able to find consolation in the current conversations and events, but in the words of the Torah there are comfort and solace.

Before Tisha B’Av last week, a dear friend of mine sent me an email. He asked, “How are you approaching Tisha B’Av this year? Are you lamenting like the novi Yirmiyohu or are you smiling like Rabi Akiva?”

His question really got me thinking. What a rough year this has been so far. What a frightening situation Klal Yisroel is in. What an awful situation Eretz Yisroel is in. What an awful situation this country and much of the world are in. On Tisha B’Av, we mourn the churban, the source of all of our troubles. Of course I would be lamenting on the day that is the repository of all of Klal Yisroel’s sadness. But I also thought about Rabi Akiva and his powerful message.

Last Shabbos, we heard the comforting call of “Nachamu nachamu ami,” as we began the seven weeks of consolation, the Shivah D’nechemta.

Many wonder why the prophet Yeshayahu repeated his prophecy, saying nachamu twice. Why the repetition?

SEEING BEYOND THE SURFACE

The Maharsha explains that the double language is found in Maseches Makkos (24a). Chazal quote the Tannaim who viewed the makom haMikdosh following the churban together with Rabi Akiva. The others became upset after seeing what had become of the holiest site. After Rabi Akiva comforted them, they thanked him and said to him, “Akiva, nichamtanu, Akiva, nichamtanu. Akiva, you have comforted us, Akiva, you have comforted us.”

The double consolation is a reflection of Rabi Akiva empowering them to be able to see what is behind the surface. They had all seen foxes at the site of the Bais Hamikdosh. They saw the desolation of the present. Rabi Akiva saw the past and the future. Remembering the words of the prophet who had foretold the destruction, he saw consolation in the sorrowful sight. Just as the words of the prophet came true regarding the destruction, so would his prophecy about the rebuilding come to fruition.

Rabi Akiva was unfamiliar with Torah study until he reached the age of forty. He became drawn to Torah because he wasn’t locked into the present. He had the ability to see beyond what his eyes were witnessing. He saw a stone and water dripping on it and observed over time how drops of water were able to penetrate the tough substance of the rock. He watched, contemplated, and then understood. If water can break through rock, then Torah can impact a person as well, despite age and background. There was hope for him. If he would study Torah, it would penetrate. He did not have to remain a simpleton for the rest of his life.

He went on to appreciate the Torah with all its splendor and lessons, first applying it to himself and then to others, impacting us until this very day.

Whatever the answer to my friend’s question is, now, in the Shiva D’nechemta, we need to feel comforted. After mourning the churban, we need to follow the example of Rabi Akiva, viewing what is transpiring in the world and applying lessons of strength and consolation to ourselves.

IT IS ALL HASHEM

In Parshas Eikev, Moshe Rabbeinu continues his admonition of the Jewish people. He warns them not to fool themselves as to why Hashem has been kind to them and why they have experienced success. He reminds them that all Hashem desires in return is that they have yiras Shomayim.

Without obvious Divine intervention, our people would have been wiped out a long time ago. Yet, we become comfortable and conceited, convincing ourselves that our success is thanks to our superior intellect and strength. It takes a pandemic for us to realize how weak and dependent on Hashem we really are.

When we read the pesukim of Parshas Eikev, we can visualize Moshe pleading with the Jewish people. He reminds them of all they have been through, and of all the miracles Hashem performed in order to bring them to where they are. He begs them to remember who has fed, clothed and cared for them, even as they remain ungrateful. He reminds them how stubborn and spiteful they were, and how he repeatedly interceded on their behalf.

Read the pesukim of this week’s parsha (8:11 and on): “Be careful lest you shall forget Hashem… Lest you eat and become full and build nice, good, fancy homes and become settled… Lest you have much gold and silver and become haughty and forget Hashem, your G-d, who took you out of Mitzrayim and led you through the midbar, where he quenched your thirst and fed you. Yet you say in your heart, ‘I did this all myself with my own strength.’ Remember, it is Hashem who gives you strength to wage war… If you will forget Hashem and go after strange gods and you will serve them and bow to them, I warn you that you will be destroyed…”

These pesukim are not just written to the people who have obviously gone astray. They are written to us as well, and should serve as a reminder that we should never let our gaavah get the better of us and fool us into thinking that we are self-sufficient, that we are smart and strong enough to take care of ourselves. We must always remember where we come from and where we are headed. We must be constantly aware that it is Hashem who provides us with the know-how and stamina we require to earn our livings and get ahead in this world, and to survive life’s many challenges and pitfalls.

Let us not fall prey to self-aggrandizement. Let us ensure that we don’t become blinded by our ego and evil inclination, and that we remain loyal to the One who sustains us.

As the parsha ends (11:22), “If you will observe the mitzvos, love Hashem and follow in His path…then Hashem will let you inherit nations that are larger and stronger than yours… Wherever you will set your foot down will be blessed… No one will be able to stand in your way.”

The yeitzer hora causes us to concentrate on the wrong things in order to dull our thinking and lead us down the wrong path. When we don’t think straight, we easily become sidetracked, and silly things deter us from focusing on what is important.

When the trivial becomes important, the important becomes trivial.

PERSPECTIVE AMIDST THE CHAOS

We live in an age when, all too often, people concentrate on the insignificant, silly, superficial, glitzy stuff and don’t bother with anything that has depth or requires even minimal intelligence. People get caught up with perception and confuse it with reality. Often, nowadays, those skilled at creating clever perceptions win, while those who bother lifting the heavy load lose. Just look around in our world and you will see that being played out all the time.

Look at the world around us and see how an inept man with a dangerous agenda has a real shot at the presidency of the United States, because a perception has taken hold about the current president. A president who has carried out his promises and is doing exactly what he said he would do. People without a sense of history or responsibility buy into the narrative and support turning the country over to those who would steer it toward socialism and worse.

We have to be able to maintain the proper perspective no matter what storm is swirling about and regardless of how things are skewed. We need to remain calm and intelligent, examining current events and life in general with a broad perspective predicated on Torah values and leadership.

Summer is a season with a different format and pace, but despite that, we have to remain focused on getting to the same destination. In the splashing of pools, the lapping of waves, the heat and sometimes heavy rain, we need to hear the message that our tasks are never-ending.

This week’s parsha is called Eikev, which Rashi explains as a reference to the mitzvos that are easily trampled “with the heel.” There is significance to the heel for another reason as well. Chazal teach us that Adam Harishon’s heel shone with a powerful light, illuminating all of creation.

The heel, says Rav Chaim Volozhiner, is the most physical, tough, unrefined part of the body. It can withstand pain and irritation. It isn’t sensitive. Adam Harishon was so holy that even his heel shone brilliantly and enlightened the world. The kedushah touched him there as well. Every part of him, even the lowly heel, was holy.

The goal of man in this world is to bring kedushah back to the “heels,” the eikev. Like a heel in the body, there are places and times that seem devoid of holiness, and it’s our mission and mandate to invest them with meaning.

The avodah of these weeks, with their relaxed pace and change of venue, is to “fill the heel with light.” Fill the slow pace with light. Fill the simple things with light and always remember that our goal is to fill the entire world with light.

In this week’s parsha, we are told, “Hishomer lecha pen tishkach es Hashem Elokecha” (8:11). We are commanded never to forget about Hashem.

Summer, with its fond perspectives, settings and vistas, presents many ways to remind us who created the world and our role in protecting it and causing it to shine.

THE CHARM AND FRESHNESS

On Rosh Chodesh Elul - yes, it’s around the corner - we will begin reciting the words, “Shivti bevais Hashem kol yemei chayai lachazos beno’am Hashem ulevaker beheichalo” (Tehillim 27).

Dovid Hamelech’s request, to sit in the house of Hashem for his entire life and behold the splendor of His palace, is recited twice daily during Elul. Why does Dovid ask “levaker,” to visit, Hashem’s palace? Would Dovid have been content just to visit?

Home, wherever it is that you live, seems mundane and kind of boring. The place where you spend your vacations has charm and a special place in your heart. You go somewhere and you think it’s the greatest place in the world. You wish you could leave all your troubles behind and move there and live there full-time. Your vacation site seems idyllic, stress-free and blissful.

Throughout the year, that place comes alive in your memory, and just thinking of it and flipping through the pictures you took puts you in a good mood. You were relaxed and in a positive frame of mind there; you really appreciated the experience. You weren’t working or stressed, so you had time to visit the sites and attractions and really enjoy.

There was a time, before smartphones changed the world, when Disneyworld distributed free cameras to families visiting there. They reasoned that in the coming months, the people would view the pictures they would inevitably take with those cameras and would be reminded of the good time they had. They would then yearn to return.

Rav Elya Lopian says that this is what Dovid Hamelech asked for: “Let me experience that feeling in the house of Hashem. Give it the chein of vacation, the magic and charm of a reprieve from ordinary life, even as I sit there every day.”

Let us see the world through pure eyes, taking in the beauty and splendor of what we witness, viewing each facet and feature, and adapting those lessons to improve our lives as ovdei Hashem.

The grandiosity and majesty of creation center around man. We are the epicenter of everything, for all was created for us. When we behold beauty, we appreciate what we are, what we represent, and the potential that lies in our actions.

During the summer, we tend to experience vibrant scenes and fresh horizons. We become charmed by the sights and sounds around us, by the customs and habits in the place we happen to be visiting, because we are finally relaxed, in a positive frame of mind, and thus invigorated.

We ask that when we are in the presence of holiness, when we seek out Hashem and Torah in the bais medrash, we should be there in a state of “levaker beheichalo,” with the eagerness of a visitor, wide-eyed, positive and easily impressionable.

We drive five hours to some forsaken small town with pine trees, a few small shops and little else. If we are in a bungalow in the country, despite it being in disrepair, we find it charming, and everything around is majestic. The streets are peaceful, the people and simple sights endearing.

In reality, we could see the same chein in our own homes, shuls and shops, and find majesty and beauty ever-present in our everyday lives.

Some see the “eikev” of the parsha referring to the period in which we live, ikvesa deMeshicha, the heel of Moshiach. While that brings a rush of joy that we are finally approaching the days we have long been awaiting, it brings with it trials and tribulations, pandemics, depressions, recessions, lost and wayward people, and a general apathy and indifference to things important.

Over these next couple of weeks of peace of mind and calm, let us focus and contemplate about the bigger picture, as Rabi Akiva did, and explore ways to fill our lives and the world with goodness and light so that we may merit seeing not only the heel of Moshiach, but his entire body, as he arrives to tell us that our time in golus is up. May he come very soon.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Bizarre

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz



We are living in strange times. Since the era of Covid began, the world has taken a bizarre turn. Until then, we could usually say, “Olam keminhago noheig,” world events follow a basically predictable, natural, course. However, ever since then, everything that has occurred has been bizarre, unpredictable and unexplainable.

First, masks were mocked. Now, every store and locality has rules mandating wearing them. Initially, we were told that upwards of two million people would die in the United States from the pandemic. Of course, every life is important, but now, four months in, the toll stands at 145,000.

The economy was humming along, doing better than ever, hitting historic numbers, and President Donald Trump had a lock on being reelected. The way polls are projected now, he will lose in dramatic fashion and the country will be forever changed.

The Democrat candidate is clearly past his prime; that’s no secret. He barely ventures far from his home, reads a speech from his teleprompter every now and then, answers no questions, and offers nothing new. He is controlled by ultra-leftists beholden to Bernie Sanders and his bunch. He has promised higher taxes and legalizing all illegal immigrants, and he checks off every progressive box on the checklist. Yet, polls show that he will win election as president of the United States.

It is strange that people who ought to know better from our community are already hedging their bets, promoting him with the mistaken view that should he be elected, it will make a difference to him and the anti-religious, anti-Jew, anti-Israel, anti-capitalism gang that will be in power that some misguided Orthodox Jews supported him.

PECULIAR HAPPENINGS

It is strange that a drug that cures people of the disease is suppressed and those who lobby for it are mocked and vilified. Dying patients whose families begged that their loved ones be treated with HCQ were turned down, because the drug fell out of favor only because the president promoted it.

It is strange that large stores were allowed to open, while small shops were forced to close, and their owners and employees were forced on to bread lines to feed their families.

Schools were forced to shut down, robbing children of the education so vital to functioning and succeeding in this world, though it is known that young children are not affected by the virus.

The younger the person is, the less likely for that individual to become ill or to be affected by the virus. Chances of mortality increase with age. Yet in a bizarre move, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, portrayed heroically by the media, forced nursing homes to bring Covid patients into their facilities and thus cause older people to die needlessly.

People were brought into hospitals suffering from shortness of breath and left to die, without being cared for or fed.

It is strange that shuls and botei medrash were forced to close and then were allowed to open only if attendance was kept to a bare minimum, while allowing similar venues to open to larger crowds. Funerals and outdoor weddings were curtailed, yet when nationwide protests sprang up over police brutality and systemic racism, attendance was encouraged by the very same people who shut down other outdoor activities.

The rise of the protests in itself is a strange phenomenon. Very few black people are killed by police, yet since the killing of George Floyd, systemic racism has been accepted as a given and people across the country are falling over themselves to redress a wrong that has been addressed, and progressively improved since the Civil War. Months later, the protests and riots continue, though they go largely unreported. Federal enforcement officers seeking to calm the havoc are referred to as “stormtroopers” and “the Gestapo” by the nation’s highest authorities.

It is inexplicable that the country that stands as a beacon of freedom for all nations of the world, welcoming refugees from all over and allowing them to grow, prosper and occupy positions of power, overnight becomes vilified by many of its own citizens as a bulwark of evil conceived in sin.

A basically kind and generous country where people are generally judged by their merits is now almost universally portrayed as an evil empire. Anarchists are praised by the media, and riots are presented as peaceful protests.

It is strange how fast leading centers of commerce, industry, arts and culture have been shut down and fallen out of favor. The streets of Manhattan are empty, as are its stores and offices. Billions of dollars of real estate values evaporated into thin air, seemingly overnight. Malls are dying, as their stores are going bankrupt, one famed brand after the other.

People who thought they were set for life died unexpectedly of Covid. People who felt that their business could weather any storm never thought that a virus could come along and wipe them out.

People who were on an upward trajectory were cut down to nothing and sat on line waiting for a Shabbos Box.

People who had it all figured out discovered in very depressing ways that they didn’t.

In this country, politicians and medical professionals sought to flatten the curve and get the number of sick people who would become infected down to a manageable number. They promised that when that would happen, restrictions would be lifted and life would return to normal. The curve was flattened, but life hasn’t returned to normal and is not likely to for at least another few months, economic and mental meltdowns notwithstanding.

In Eretz Yisroel, the leaders thought that they could stop the virus dead in its tracks and engaged in a full-fledged war against it. They shut everything and everyone down, thinking that they would be in control. It didn’t work and the country is still closed to non-citizens. The same prime minister who was riding high in the polls is now viewed as an incompetent leader who can’t do anything correctly. Daily protests against him grow in size and his coalition partners stab him in the back with no fear of retribution.

Is it not strange?

DERIVING COMFORT…AMIDST PAIN?

This Shabbos, we read the haftorah from which Shabbos Nachamu derives its name. Yeshayahu Hanovi proclaims this week, “Nachamu, nachamu, ami, yomar Elokeichem,” the most comforting message known to man.

The novi calls out to us and proclaims, “Nachamu, the pain will soon end. Nachamu, the golus will soon be over. Nachamu, be comforted on past tragedies. Nachamu, a bright new day is dawning.”

How do we derive comfort if the catalyst for our pain is still here? The Bais Hamikdosh is not yet rebuilt and so much of our world is in churban. There is so much healing that is required. Machlokes and problems beg for resolution. A pandemic rages across the world. So many are without jobs and income. Children don’t know if there will be school come September, and nobody knows when Eretz Yisroel will open up. How are we expected to experience nechomah in the absence of redemption?

How do we get nechomah?

Since the Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed, we have experienced one tragedy after another. Tisha B’Av is the repository of some 2,000 years of Jewish pain and suffering. It is the day on which we mourn for all that was and now isn’t, for all that wasn’t and we wish was, for all that our people have lost in the Diaspora.

When we sit on the floor saying Kinnos, we mourn the churban of the first Bais Hamikdosh, the second Bais Hamikdosh, the Harugei Beitar, as well as the calamities that befell the Jewish communities of Europe one thousand years later during the First Crusade. We remember the Jews who were persecuted during the Inquisition, the expulsion from Spain in 1492, and the gezeiros of Tach V’Tat. We are reminded of the seforim that were burnt in Paris in 1242.

We sit on the floor and think of the Jews who were shipped all across the world throughout the ages. Just as they finally became comfortable in one country, they were sent away, refugees, on a quest to begin living again in yet another strange, unwelcoming land.

We mourn on Tisha B’Av for the millions of Jews who were killed and maimed physically and mentally during the harrowing century that just ended.

And we do this all on Tisha B’Av, because all our problems emanate from this sorry day, the day of the churban.

For three weeks, we pondered the churban. For three weeks, we concentrated on all the tragedies that have befallen our people since the destruction of the Botei Mikdosh and the forced exiles that followed, rendering us homeless. We refrained from music, clean clothing, shaving, haircutting, and beard trimming. Every time we looked in the mirror, we were reminded that we are still living out of shopping carts in a place far from home.

The yearning for a rebuilt Eretz Yisroel, with Yerushalayim at its heart, the Bais Hamikdosh in its center, giving meaning to our lives and raising us to the heights of holiness, happiness and fulfillment, pulsated within us for three weeks, coming to a head on Tisha B’Av, when we sit on the floor, reciting sad liturgical poems depicting the destruction, emptiness and hardship that have befallen our people.

We sit uncomfortably on the floor, thinking of all the sadness that surrounds us and those we love.

And then, all of a sudden, nechomah is in the air. Shabbos Nachamu is coming. Everyone is happy and cheerful. The music blares, the grill is fired up, the clothing is clean, and life is back to normal. Tisha B’Av and all that it represents are but a distant memory.

How does it happen?

THE HAND OF HASHEM

If we believe that things happen in this world haphazardly, then there is no comfort. If everything is random, then why did this tragedy that I am mourning happen to me? If calamity has no explanation and things just happen because things happen, then how are we consoled when one of those things happens to us, r”l?

If Eretz Yisroel and the Bais Hamikdosh were destroyed because Rome was stronger than Yerushalayim, then what happened is just the way the world operates and my bemoaning the sad result of that war of attrition will not bring back the exalted time and places.

But if everything that happens now and everything that happened then is directed by the Yad Hashem, then whatever occurred happened for a reason. Nothing is random. Nothing happens because it’s just the way of the world. Then it makes sense to mourn the tragedy and seek comfort. Then it is understandable that by mourning the tragedy and understanding why it occurred, we can find comfort and ensure that not only doesn’t it happen again, but the void can be filled.

The very words of Yeshayahu point to the source of our consolation. He proclaimed, “Nachamu, nachamu, ami, yomar Elokeichem,” and the world put on a smile. It is interesting that the novi used the appellation Elokeichem when referring to Hashem. We know that the name Elokim refers to when Hashem is using the middah of din, while the name Yud-Kay-Vov-Kay refers to Hashem when He is using the middah of rachamim.

This is the depth of Yeshayahu’s message of consolation. Hakadosh Boruch Hu, who destroyed the Botei Mikdosh with the middah of din, comforts the Jewish people with that same middah. Just as He then saw fit to demolish, now He has determined that it is proper to comfort and let the people know that there will be consolation and rebuilding, not out of pity and rachmanus, but by right.

In this week’s parsha, as Moshe Rabbeinu (Devorim 5:20) recounts the delivering of the Aseres Hadibros on Har Sinai, he tells them, “Vayehi k’shomachem es hakol mitoch hachoshech v’hahar bo’er ba’eish - And from the darkness you heard the voice [of Hashem] as the mountain was aflame.”

The Maharal (Tiferes Yisroel 47) asks that there is no darkness when referring to Hashem in Shomayim.

Perhaps we can explain that Moshe was referring to the darkness of this world. The Bnei Yisroel had recently been freed from Mitzrayim, where they were dominated by forces of darkness, and now, as they were free, though in the darkness of olam hazeh, the voice of Hashem burst forth, shedding light on the darkness of this world.

When we perceive the voice of Hashem, it shines light on the obscurity that surrounds and confounds us. When life takes dark turns and we understand that what transpired is from Hashem, our lives become illuminated.

At times, we get lulled into a false sense that things just happen by themselves, by forces of nature. We can forget that Hashem directs everything. We can become dejected and wonder why tragedies occur and why some people have more than others. So, from time to time, Hashem sends us reminders. Things happen that could not be happening by themselves. Things happen that make no sense, following no known rules. Things happen that confound all the experts and turn the world upside down.

Things happen like the things that are happening now. They are inexplicable and defy understanding. Where did the virus come from? What started it? Why were so many mistakes made along the way? Why are medicines suppressed? Why expend efforts to sabotage economies? Why is a socialist revolution being promoted? Why are capable people rendered impotent when battling this virus? Why are losers rising and winners losing? How does that happen overnight? How does a narrative take root spontaneously and grab hold of a country?

ORCHESTRATED FROM ABOVE

It happens because nothing happens by itself. The virus didn’t originate from a bat, shuls and yeshivos weren’t closed by politicians, incomes weren’t lost due to a lockdown, and the Holy Land wasn’t put off limits by an overzealous health department.

Everything that happened was by the Hand of Hashem. He brought us the virus and He closed shuls and yeshivos. He caused everything else that happened over the past four months. We don’t know why. We don’t know what the plan is. We don’t know how it will end. But we do know that it’s not just happening by itself. Therefore, it follows that our actions impact what will happen. If we will mend our ways, if we will take to heart that we can’t take anything for granted, if we do teshuvah and improve the way we daven and learn and treat each other and do mitzvos, then it will affect the middas hadin that is apparent now.

Nachamu, nachamu, ami, yomar Elokeichem.” You will be comforted, the novi says, when you realize that your actions affect what happens. If we recognize that, and do teshuvah, then we will bring about a speedy redemption in our day.

Current events direct us to appreciate that these things aren’t happening by themselves, but are directed by Hashem, and are directly correlated to the way we conduct ourselves. Let us all do our share so that we will shortly receive the ultimate tanchumim.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Say It With Love


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

This week’s parsha of Devorim opens with Moshe Rabbeinu admonishing the Jewish people for the various sins they committed during the forty years they spent together in the desert on their way to Eretz Yisroel. Rashi famously points out that he began his reprimand by enumerating the various places where they acted improperly. Moshe spoke this way to the Jewish people to show them respect and to not cause them embarrassment.

The Ponovezher Rov would travel the world raising funds to build and maintain the Ponovezher Yeshiva and its branches. People would gather to hear his incisive, uplifting and emotional drashos. Wherever he went, everybody loved him. The following short speech he once delivered shows why.

When Yaakov went to Choron seeking out his mother’s brother Lovon as he was escaping from his brother Eisov, he saw the local shepherds gathering their flocks and leaving the area of the watering hole. He said to them, “My dear brothers, where are you from?” When they told him that they were from Choron, he asked them if they were familiar with Lovon. They responded that they were and that his daughter Rochel was approaching with a flock of sheep. Yaakov then began to admonish them that they were leaving early for home.

Said the Rov, “Imagine the scene: An old man with a long white beard, bedecked in a kapota, who is a stranger to the area and knows nothing about the local customs, comes to town and begins to lecture the shepherds that they are leaving work early. Logically, at least one of the culprits should have stood up to him and said, “Who are you? Who asked you? We aren’t interested in what you have to say.’ But instead, they accepted his admonition and responded to him that they weren’t able to remove the large stone that covered the water, and since they couldn’t water their sheep, they were leaving.

“Do you know why? That was because the people were able to discern that Yaakov cared about them. The strange person who was lecturing them opened his conversation by saying, ‘Achai, my dear brothers.’ When they heard that, they were able to tell that what he said was meant for their good.”

When a person feels that the one admonishing him loves him and cares about him, he is able to accept what the speaker says, and listens and pays attention to his comments.

FEELING THE LOSS

During these days of Av, we are all mourners. We consider the time when the Bais Hamikdosh stood in the center of Yerushalayim. We reflect on how different and blessed life was at that time. We think about all the tragedies that occurred to the Jews throughout the ages and become sad, because we know that Tisha B’Av is the repository of sadness and mourning for everything that has befallen us.

The tragedy and sadness have to be part of our essence. We have to mourn, not look for ways to free ourselves from displaying that as believing Jews, we realize our history and what has befallen our people in the churban and ever since. How can we laugh and party when the memory of the six million is with us in this period? How can we engage in happy and fun activities while remembering the Harugei Beitar, the millions of our brothers and sisters who were led into slavery?

When you walk into a room where people are sitting close to the floor with a prominent rip in their clothing, the atmosphere is heavy and sad. Not a word is exchanged. Then a menachem, a comforter, walks into the room. Initially, the people on the floor look up at their visitor with sad, knowing eyes. Then they slowly come alive, sharing stories of their departed loved one, exchanging reminiscences. “What do you remember?” they ask. “What can you share?” They then accept words of chizuk as expressed in the eternal phrase of nechomah: “HaMakom yenacheim es’chem.”

The halachos of the Nine Days are not simply laws that we outwardly observe. Nor should we look for ways to wiggle out of them. They are meant to influence our thought and feelings during this time. We are meant to be in a state of sadness these days, contemplating our losses, as a mourner would do. We are lacking if we don’t feel the loss in our hearts.

We all know that the second Bais Hamidkosh was destroyed because sinas chinom was prevalent amongst Jews at that time (Yoma 9b). However, the Gemara in Maseches Sanhedrin (104b) points to the chet hameraglim as the cause of the destruction. It was on the 9th day of Av that the Jews in the desert cried for naught. Their “bechiyah shel chinom echoes all these years, giving every generation many reasons to cry.

The meraglim lacked the ability to see themselves for who they were. They were reduced to the size of insects in their own eyes, feeling small and insignificant, because they accepted the attitudes and views of others as fact.

The Jews heard the report of their mission to the land that Hashem promised them and broke down in tears. “Woe is to us,” they cried. “We are being led to a country that will destroy us.” They were insecure about their ability to merit Hashem’s blessing and protection. They feared that they wouldn’t be worthy of the promises that they would inherit the Land.

They didn’t perceive their own greatness.

The historical accounts of the churban Bais Hamikdosh appear in Maseches Gittin because the break between Klal Yisroel and Hakadosh Boruch Hu was a tragedy not unlike a get (divorce). The novi Yeshayahu cries out (50:1), “Eizeh sefer krisus imchem asher shelachtiha - Which divorce has Hashem sent you?”

Hashem never stopped loving His people. He never divorced Himself from them. There was no get. The people who were singled out and set apart with privileges unavailable to others believed that they had been cast aside. Because they lacked self-confidence, they were easily misled and taken in by apocalyptic predictions.

Years later, during the period of Bayis Sheini, although the Jewish people were religiously committed, the rot at the root of the chet hameraglim was still present. Because the people were cynical, negative and pessimistic, they didn’t feel Hashem’s love, nor did they appreciate His proximity. They didn’t see the Jewish people as being worthy of Divine love, so they hated each other. They wrote sifrei krisus to each other because they didn’t appreciate the greatness inherent in every individual Jew. Insecure, they were blind to their own worthiness and, like the Jews at the time of the chet hameraglim, because they felt undeserving, they didn’t appreciate what they were given.

On Tisha B’Av, we repent for what they did. We sit on the floor, reciting Kinnos, recalling how good we had it, how much love there was, how close we were to Hashem, and the holiness and unity that were apparent in our lives. We bemoan the losses we suffered. We recognize through our tears how much Hashem loved us, and we proclaim that we know that He still loves us and that we are worthy of that love. By doing this, we repent for the sins of the meraglim and sinas chinom.

REALIZING OUR SELF-WORTH

Many of our problems are rooted in the sin of low self-esteem, of not realizing who we are. People give up on becoming great even before trying. They are easily knocked off course and lose motivation to succeed and excel, because they don’t believe in themselves. This is one of the ways the yeitzer hora causes us to live a hopeless, sad and sometimes self-hating life.

Many people hate themselves and cause themselves pain because they can’t cope. These people start out like the rest of us, but because of bad vibes they pick up, they end up on a downhill trajectory and often hit bottom.

To get up, they need love, they need care, they need self-value, and they need to know that they make a difference and their lives are important. It may be easier said than done, but it saves lives and makes us and them better people.

How do we combat it? By talking to them and treating them with respect, we instill self-pride in them.

How do we combat it? By talking up to people, not down. By pumping people up, not taking them down. By not being judgmental and by bearing in mind that all people want to feel good about themselves. You can help them have that feeling if you talk to them as if their lives have worth, no matter how they act and how they look.

By caring about people and their feelings, you are helping give people a lifeline and a reason to carry on.

WE MAKE A DIFFERENCE

Chazal famously teach us that a generation that doesn’t merit the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdosh is viewed as having had the Bais Hamikdosh destroyed in their time. The Sefas Emes explains that anyone who doesn’t believe that his actions can contribute to the building of the Bais Hamikdosh is accountable for its destruction. Those who don’t realize that they have the power to bring about the return of the Bais Hamikdosh have a part in its destruction.

To believe that we make no difference is part of the churban.

Our response to churban is to have faith in ourselves and know what we are, who we are, and what we can achieve.

This, says the Sefas Emes, is what’s meant by the brocha we recite in Birkas Hamazon referring to Hashem as the “bonei (presently building) berachamov Yerushalayim.” Rebuilding the Holy City is a steady, ongoing process. At any given moment, Hashem is rebuilding Yerushalayim. It is destructive to think that we can’t play a role in that process.

We lost the Bais Hamikdosh because of two related sins: bechiyah shel chinom, a futile cry, and sinas chinom, baseless hatred.

Our every act, word and tear has a purpose. They are not for naught, chinom. Realizing what a Jew represents is the greatest and most effective antidote to sinas chinom. Each of us carries so much power. We have to appreciate the mitzvos and ma’asim tovim of others and see their efforts with an ayin tovah.

On Tisha B’Av, we see that no one is chinom and nothing they do is chinom. We re-learn how to love. We recognize that just because we have a different appearance and act differently doesn’t mean that we are inherently different. Because the other fellow wears green and we wear black doesn’t mean that we should dislike him or look down at him. Just because someone doesn’t dress the same way you do doesn’t mean he is not worthy of love and care.

SPEAKING OF ANOTHER’S GREATNESS

The Chofetz Chaim would travel from town to town selling his seforim. It happened that he found himself staying at a Vilna kosher inn. At mealtime, a large burly fellow walked in and sat himself down at the table. He called over the server and ordered her to bring him roast duck and a large glass of wine. When the food came, he grabbed it from the server and began to eat voraciously, without a brocha or any decency and manners.

The owner saw that the Chofetz Chaim was appalled by the man’s behavior and was debating whether to get up and speak to the man. He walked over to the sainted gaon and begged him not to say anything to the rude guest. He told him that the man was a veteran of Czar Nicolai’s army and was liable to curse and lay a hand on the Chofetz Chaim.

“Please, rebbe,” said the innkeeper, “leave him alone. There is no one to talk to. He is an illiterate bully. When he was seven, he was taken away with other Jewish children and, as cantonists, they were taken to Siberia. He grew up with local peasants, and when he was 18 years old, he was inducted into the Czar’s army, where he spent the next twenty-five years.

“Forty years of his life found him among uncivilized ruffians, far removed from any Jewish community. He never learned a word of Torah and during those years, never saw a Jewish face. Rebbe, please don’t start up with him. Your respect is worth more to me than getting into a tussle with him.”

“Have no fear,” the sage responded. “I can speak to him and set him straight.”

With that, the Chofetz Chaim lovingly and with a smile approached the man. “Shalom Aleichem. Is it true that you were kidnapped as a young child, taken to Siberia, grew up among gentiles, and never merited to study Torah?

“It would seem to me that you suffered tremendously, enduring various types of torture. No doubt they mocked your religion, tried to convert you, and forced you to eat pig and other non-kosher foods. Despite all you went through, they didn’t break you and you remained a Jew.

“I would be glad to have the sources of merit that you have and be a ben Olam Haba as you are. All the decades of mesirus nefesh for Yiddishkeit and kevod Shomayim rank you with the greatest of our people. In the World to Come, you will be seated among the giants of our people, the tzaddikim and gaonim.”

As the Chofetz Chaim spoke, tears began streaming down the face of the tough guy. He was shaken by the loving words of praise and support. His heart was touched as it never was before.

When the man found out who was speaking to him, he began to cry and kissed the Chofetz Chaim.

The aged tzaddik completed his pitch: “A person such as you merited being considered a kadosh who was moser nefesh for Hashem. If you live the rest of your life as a ‘kosher Jew,’ you will be the happiest man alive.”

The former cantonist undertook to do teshuvah and live a Torah life.

When we speak to people during this period and we seek to improve our conduct and repair the breaches that caused the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh and our disbursement among the nations in exile, we must do so with love and care. Even when we must admonish someone, it needs to be done in a way that does not hurt the recipient.

Let us get into the habit of being more loving and expressing the love through our actions and words. Caring about others, showing people that we have faith in their abilities, and always engaging in friendly conduct will help bring about the geulah quickly in our day.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Moving Forward


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

The period of the Three Weeks, when we mourn the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh and its implications, has begun. We feel and fear the golus this year more than in several decades.

This country stands on the precipice of tilting towards socialism and worse. Rabid leftists and secularists are in control of the schools, universities and media. With their stooge who is running for the presidency riding a wave in the polls, they are so close to victory that they can already feel it. Nobody knows what this country will look like should they actually win the White House, especially if they will also control the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Just take a look at the large cities of this country, which are all controlled by Democrat mayors, and you will have an inkling of what is in store. New York City, formerly the country’s capital of business and culture, is now seeing a rise in crime, boarded up businesses, and fleeing taxpayers. Instead of beefing up the police so they can lower crime and create a level of comfort for businesses and citizens, the radicals in charge have cut the police budget and turned a deaf ear to the concerns of law-abiding, tax-paying citizens.

The numbers of shootings and murders in Chicago continue on an upward trajectory and nobody cares. Blacks of all ages are being killed, but doing something about it doesn’t fit anyone’s political agenda. The other large cities are not faring much better.

THE GAMBIT IS WORKING

Joe Biden is an empty canvas upon which people paint their imaginary picture of what he thinks and what he will do. His handlers and enablers have him basically under house arrest. He rarely goes out to meet regular people. He doesn’t do press conferences. His staff issues statements in his name, and their gambit is working, apparently. The media is on board, bashing President Trump all day every day, doing whatever they can to get Biden elected and Trump out of the way.

The Republicans, as a party, are impotent. They are afraid to speak up and arouse the ire of the media. So, for now, the only one condemning the leftist socialist tilt is the president.

When “peaceful” protesters decide that Columbus statues are not “woke” and must come down because the Italian white man caused the birth of the evil empire known as the United States of America, nobody says boo besides Mr. Trump.

The election in November is shaping up not as a choice between Biden and Trump, but rather between leftist Marxist ideology and American apple pie democracy. Everything else is window dressing.

For now, nobody knows if the people are acquiescing to the anti-police, anti-white orthodoxy that is said to be sweeping the nation. Nobody knows whether people understand what the democrat agenda is when they tell pollsters that they will vote for Joe Biden. Maybe the poll numbers are a result of people’s fear to let it be known that they do not agree with those who seek to erase the country’s history and philosophy.

What we do know is that if the leftists win and take hold of the reins of power, the country and especially its Jews will be in for very trying times. The past four months will continue for four years. The noose of golus can chas veshalom tighten once again.

So, as we mourn the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh, we need to concentrate on what we must do in order to facilitate its return. With small gestures, we seek to impress upon ourselves the great loss as we aspire to reach the levels of our forefathers with a home for the Shechinah in our world. But it is not sufficient to merely abstain from music, haircuts and weddings. We must also engage in greater behavior changes that require deeper thought.

THE JOURNEY OF OUR LIVES

The parshiyos we lain this week recount the voyage of the Jewish people throughout the desert and the stops they made along the way to the Promised Land.

Sifrei Kabbolah and drush are replete with deeper meanings and the significance of each station along Klal Yisroel’s journey through the midbar. They teach that the 42 masa’os correspond to the 42-letter name of Hashem, the holy “Sheim Mem Bais.”

The journey, with its forks, turns, hills and valleys, was necessary to prepare the nation for acquiring Hashem’s land, Eretz Yisroel. As we study the parshiyos and the journey, we follow along attuned to the mussar and chizuk encoded in them. As we recount the difficult times and the exalted moments, we find direction for the masa’os of our own lives as well.

We know that whatever happens to us is a sentence in an unfolding autobiography. Chapters have been completed and many more remain to be written. We must forge ahead to our destiny, neither tiring nor being satisfied with past accomplishments, nor becoming bogged down by failure.

None of us knows which of our acts will be the one that earns us eternal life. Something we say to someone today can have an impact in later years and bring the person around to a life of Torah. We can’t expect instant success and we must not be deterred by temporary failure.

We have many opportunities to act positively and put things in motion. We never know how they will turn out, but if we work lesheim Shomayim and give it all we have, we will have written yet another chapter in our book, made the world a better place, and brought us all one step closer to Moshiach and the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdosh.

Adam le’amal yulad. Man was created with the purpose of working hard towards a goal. Each of us has masa’os, trips, toward a destination. Some are smooth rides, while others are bumpier. There are many that are filled with “construction sites” and detours. Whichever masa we are on, we must do what we can to ensure that we never stop moving forward.

Following the tragic experience of the Eigel, Hakadosh Boruch Hu told Moshe of His displeasure with Klal Yisroel and His plan to wipe them out, as they are an am keshei oref, a stiff-necked people (Shemos 32:9). Moshe begged and pleaded on behalf of the people and received forgiveness. He asked Hashem, “Please go in our midst, as they are an am keshei oref” (34:9). The same characteristic that was cited as the reason for their punishment was used as the reason for mercy.

An explanation is given that Moshe was arguing that the very middah that led them to sin would be a catalyst for their success. Stubbornness will be necessary, he was saying, for the nation that pledged to follow the Torah and mitzvos to carry faith in their hearts through a long and bitter golus, serving as ambassadors of kevod Shomayim in a dark world.

They were forgiven and have been stubbornly seeking perfection ever since.

THE SPIRIT OF THE JEW

Most writers and historians play up the image of the Jew in the ghettos and concentration camps as feeble and pathetic, submitting to their Nazi oppressors like sheep. Books by religious writers depicting the Holocaust era leave the reader astonished by the indomitable spirit of these Jews. You are amazed, knowing that the Jews were stronger than any Nazi beast. Part of that strength was an acceptance of Hashem’s will, plan and design.

When you read the stories religious survivors tell of their experiences during the awful Holocaust period, you become overwhelmed with dual feelings of sadness and of the majesty of the Jewish people. When you read their tales, you begin to gain a perspective of the tragedy of the entire Jewish exile since the churban. But the greatness of the eternal people is evident as well.

The words of the people fighting for their lives are infused with spirit, blood and tears in an elegy of death and of life. They died with the name of the L-rd on their lips as they paid the ultimate price for their loyalty to the Creator.

Jews died alone and together, lined up at forest pits and in ghettos, saying Shema Yisroel and singing Hallel.

The chevlei Moshiach swallowed them up. In their merit, we live and prosper in freedom.

Sunday was the 20th day of Tammuz, the day upon which the Jews of Telz, led by their great rabbonim and roshei yeshiva, were led to be killed. The story of how the golus in Telz ended is blood-curdling, reflective of the best and worst of humanity.

Yet, people who survived the killing fields and camps picked themselves up with measures of faith and hope. If ever anyone had a reason for despair, it was they, yet they found a will to live and recreate what was destroyed, and if they became despondent, they never let it show. They knew that they had departed one pre-ordained golus stop and were establishing another.

FROM POTENTIAL REDEMPTION TO DESTRUCTION

On Tisha B’Av, we mourn the tragedy of the loss of the Bais Hamikdosh. We also mourn the loss of Beitar. While we commonly understand that the tragedy of Beitar was that tens of thousands of Jews were killed in that city by the Romans after the churban, the Rambam (Hilchos Taanis 5) describes it a little differently:

A great city by the name of Beitar was captured. Inside it were many tens of thousands of Jewish people. They had a great king whom all of Yisroel and the rabbis believed was the king Moshiach. He fell into the hands of the gentiles and they were all killed. It was a great tragedy, as great as the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh.

Rav Moshe Schapiro explained that the tragedy was that their king, Bar Kochva, who could have been Moshiach, was killed. What could have been a period of redemption instead became one of destruction. Through their sins, an era that could have returned the Jews to the state they have awaited for since the chet hameraglim turned into tragedy. That is what we mourn on Tisha B’Av.

We have come so close to the redemption that we can hear the footsteps of Moshiach and suffer from the chevlei Moshiach. Before Moshiach’s arrival, the tumah of the world increases, as the Soton fights to prevent his arrival. When the world will assume the state that Hashem intended, the koach hatumah will wilt. Amaleik will cease to exist after the geulah. So, in the period leading up to Moshiach, tumah rises and becomes strengthened, as the forces of evil do their best to prevent the Jewish nation from reaching the levels that Hashem intended.

This is not just a drosha. It is a reality and we see it all around us. Activities that all civilized nations viewed as abominations are now commonplace; they are publicly accepted, codified into law, and protected by Supreme Court decisions. Morality is old-fashioned, increasingly disappearing from streets, homes and schools. The tumah chases after us wherever we are and seeks to entrap and overtake us. We must endeavor to prevent it from sucking us into its vortex. We have to strengthen ourselves and seek to raise our levels of kedusha so that it can overcome the forces of tumah and allow Moshiach to reveal himself.

The Satmar Rebbe, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum, would say that following the awful tragedies of the Holocaust, Hashem was about to bring Moshiach. To provide the Jewish people with a flavor of the impending redemption, Hashem gave the Jewish people possession of the Land of Israel. It wasn’t a complete ownership, though. It was controlled by people who didn’t believe in Torah and formed governing laws without Torah. The Bais Hamikdosh wasn’t returned; halacha did not rule. It was merely a taste of things to come.

However, because the Jewish people were satisfied with the little bit, Hashem determined that we weren’t deserving of the redemption and therefore we were left with a semblance of what could be.

SO CLOSE, WE COULD TASTE IT

Two thousand years ago in Beitar, we were so close to redemption, but we transgressed. The blood that could have been the fuel of geulah was spilled in yet another churban.

Seventy years ago, we were so close to the geulah that we tasted it.

Who knows if we lost out over the past decades by acquiescing to the comforts of the Western golus and not pining enough for the return of the Bais Hamikdosh.

The stir created by current events has reawakened an awareness of our precarious state. In this period, let us resolve to do what we can to end the golus once and for all. Let’s not settle this time for anything less.

Let us not despair. This week, when we read of the travels of the Jewish people from one place to the next, we will think about all that transpires in exile on the way to Eretz Yisroel. And when we conclude, a resounding cry will rise from the congregation, proclaiming, “Chazak, chazak, venischazeik - Be strong and may we all be strengthened.”

We proclaim that our belief is strong, our resolution is unwavering, and we are tough, stubborn and persistent.

We will get this done. Let’s go.

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Bold & Fearless

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz 


People struggle with direction on how to act and react when confounding situations arise. New diseases that have never been previously encountered pop up and begin to spread. Unfamiliar with the illness, doctors don’t know how to treat it and people are overcome with fear. A tragedy occurs, everyone frets, and nobody knows how to react. A frightening situation ensues and there are many capable, trained people around who should be able to tackle it, but they become frozen by fright and are unable to respond.

It is not enough to be intelligent, to have been trained, or to be proficient in everything during good times. To be really great, you have to be able to perform in a time of crisis.

Great people have the fortitude and self-confidence to rise above chaos, research the facts, get a clear idea of what is really going on, and do what must be done to rectify the situation. In trying times, many people wait for someone to come to the fore, to rise above everyone else and provide leadership.

This week’s parsha highlights the role played by Pinchos, who personified the strength that was essential to saving Klal Yisroel from destruction. The Alter of Kelm writes that the Torah described the background of Zimri and Kozbi to demonstrate the strength of Pinchos. Although Zimri was the nosi of shevet Shimon and Kozbi was the daughter of a king in Midyan, Pinchos arose from the entire community and fearlessly smote them. He didn’t make cheshbonos, like so many people do, about what would await him for performing his act. There was a crisis situation, everyone was overcome by fear, and one man emerged and, with a potent inner strength, did what had to be done.

FEARLESS AND STRONG

Because of the strength of Pinchos, Klal Yisroel was saved from being wiped out in a plague. The Torah relates the story of Pinchos to teach us for all time that we must be strong and determined. To maintain the Jewish people, we must be fearless of man and loyal only to Hashem. Had Pinchos feared retribution, the ensuing plague would have wiped out the Jewish people. Had he not been bold and courageous, everyone would have suffered.

Had he paid heed to people who mocked him, tracing his lineage to Yisro, he may have regretted his act, but great men, who engage in great acts, cannot pay attention to what people say at the time. People who act without personal considerations do not get caught up in the moment. They reflect on the necessity of their action and how it will be perceived long after the interested parties have gone from the scene.

The posuk states, “Vayokom mitoch ha’eidah - And Pinchos emerged from within the community (Bamidbar 25:7).

Pinchos stepped forward from amongst the people to save his generation and inspire those who followed regarding how to conduct themselves when the going is tough and the people are apathetic, lethargic, or simply overcome by fear. The act that evoked Hashem’s wrath was performed in public, but nobody responded.

Since Pinchos was the only person who was bothered enough by the sacrilege to approach Moshe to discuss the halacha of how to respond, he earned the right to react. When action is called for, there are always valid excuses not to get involved. Great people look beyond the justifications for inaction and often alter the face of history. In our private lives, we should resist the temptation to seek excuses for lethargy and indecisiveness.

The Medrash states that when a person rids the world of some form of evil, as Pinchos did, it is as if they have brought a korban. We can explain that when a person brings a korban after committing an aveirah, the sinner arranges forgiveness for his improper act. Aveiros cause separation between the sinner and Hashem. The korban removes that barrier and re-establishes their relationship.

Aharon is the paragon of shalom, not only because he made peace between men, but because his avodah in the Mishkon brought about shalom between man and his Creator. By repairing the breach in the relationship between the Jewish people and Hashem, Pinchos engaged in the work of his father, Elozor, and his grandfather, Aharon. He was rewarded with the promise of peace, as the posuk says, “Hineni nosein lo es brisi shalom,” because what he did removed the separation that sins cause between Hashem and Klal Yisroel. Hashem is the Source of life and the Torah is an eitz chaim. Torah sustains Am Yisroel. But sins cause them to separate from the Source of all life, causing plagues to ensue.

When Pinchos arose from amongst the group and acted to eliminate the sin that caused the separation, he reunited the Jews with Hashem, bringing about shalom and shleimus. As they became reconnected, the mageifah ended and Pinchos was blessed with eternal shalom. Although he wasn’t born with kehunah, he had now earned it, for he performed the task of the kohein, bringing shalom and shleimus between man and Hashem.

CATALYST FOR GEULAH

Parshas Pinchos ushers in the period of Bein Hametzorim, the Three Weeks. The lesson of Pinchos is most significant at this time of year, as it reminds us that every person can make a difference and be a catalyst for the geulah.

During this period, when we concentrate on lamenting the loss of the Bais Hamikdosh and our inability to bring korbanos, engaging in acts of mourning should not suffice. There are many breaches that need to be filled and there is much lacking in our otherwise great community.

The Rambam in Hilchos Teshuvah (3:4) famously directs us to view the world as perfectly balanced between impurity and holiness. One single deed can tilt the balance and bring the universe to a state of kedusha and geulah.

If we would each take that admonishment more seriously, we could help bring the geulah quicker. If when we see iniquity, we would, while acting in constancy with halacha and halachic guidance, not engage in conventional calculations of loss and gain, but rather act like Pinchos did, we would help make the world a better place. This does not mean that we should act rashly and without consideration, but if responsible people would speak truth to power more often, the corrupt would be thwarted, the crooked would be blocked, and the immoral would be prevented from carrying out their designs.

Rav Yaakov Emden writes that the length of our golus might be a result of not sufficiently mourning the churban. He decries the lack of passion, tears and mourning. We engage in the minhagim of aveilus, but fail to recognize what it is that we are mourning.

Until just recently, we have felt very comfortable in our golus, often forgetting that, in fact, we are in golus. We felt at home here. Current events have shaken those who are blessed with foresight, as they sense unwelcome changes in the offing.

We live in a time when it’s not facts that count, but perceptions. As people increasingly rely on bits of second-hand information to form opinions, a fake reality exists in many minds. Assumptions are made and conclusions are arrived at.

To rectify a problem, an honest assessment must be undertaken based on facts and a proper analysis. When we allow biased suppositions to govern our judgment, we fail in our missions and lose to our enemies.

We live in trying times. We live in a time when many leaders are corrupt and inept. We see a vacuum and fear that it is being filled by nefarious persons. We see foundations being ripped asunder and essential fundamentals being toppled. As we wait in vain for the breach to be filled, they only deepen. We mustn’t wait for others to rise. We must arm ourselves and be prepared to act, lest our cardinal elements erode. It is imperative for caring people to restore the goodness and greatness.  

BIAS-FREE

Pinchos arose from amongst everyone to avenge public sins, but before acting, he discussed the issue with Moshe Rabbeinu, who told him, “Karyana de’igarta ihu lehevi parvaknei. Because you are the one who objectively studied the issue and arrived at the proper conclusion, you have earned the right to respond.”

For Pinchos to merit acting on behalf of Moshe, it was not sufficient for him to be courageous. He also had to be objectively correct. Because he acted without bias, he was able to succeed in vanquishing the temptations that ripped at Am Yisroel.

As we view the challenges our day presents, we must act like Pinchos, with sound reasoning, objective analysis of the facts, and the approval of Moshe Rabbeinu, while remaining impervious to the vanity of shifting public opinion. If we act as he did, we will be able to overcome the serious nisyonos that abound and merit the brocha of shalom b’shleimus.  

While during the current period we engage in acts of mourning to commemorate the loss of the Bais Hamikdosh, all throughout the year, at weddings, the choson breaks a glass while he stands under the chupah next to his kallah. Through this act, just as their mothers had done by breaking a plate prior to the chupah, the young couple proclaims that Jewish joy is not complete as long as we are bereft of the Bais Hamikdosh.

While the new couple stands under the canopy, which signifies their new home, they view the crowd that has gathered and perceive how much joy they have brought to so many people. Hundreds are often present to share in their joy. Much money and many hours of effort and preparation have been expended to bring about this moment. When it comes down to it, it is all for two individuals, who are often young and have not yet made their mark on the world. They see the power they possess and the faith the community has in them. The intense joy serves as a catalyst for them to realize that they have the ability to return the Jewish people to their home, to their chupah with Hashem at the Bais Hamikdosh. At the apex of joy, the chosson smashes the glass to signify that he knows that we are in exile and that he will do what he can to bring about the redemption.

Thus, Chazal say, “Kol hamesamei’ach chosson vekallah ke’ilu bonoh achas m’churvos Yerushalayim. If one brings joy to a young couple, it is as if he has rebuilt a destroyed home in Yerushalayim.”

EMPOWERED AND VALIDATED

When you bring joy to people, you are validating their worth. You are telling them that you appreciate them and their abilities. When you make a young couple happy, you are telling them to look at the good side of things, to use their strengths to bring good and positivity to the world. You are telling them to look aside from those who are negative and to separate themselves from people who are no good. When you add to their joy, you are telling them that they have what it takes to bring about the rebuilding of Yerushalayim. 

We can empower people through joy and celebration, and we can remind them of their abilities through our actions. We each possess the ability to not only rebuild parts of Yerushalayim, but to cause the Bais Hamikdosh to be returned. We have to be like Pinchos, responsible and great, bold and brave, fearless and strong.

We can all do it.