Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Seven Minutes of Appreciation

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Mincha on Erev Rosh Hashanah had ended and the crowd in the Gerrer bais medrash was waiting for the Maariv that would usher in the new year.
The Gerrer Rebbe, the Bais Yisroel, whispered something to the gabbai, Reb Shea Noach. The gabbai walked to the bimah and made an announcement: “There are still seven minutes until shkiah.”
Sometimes, we are so focused on the future that we lose sight of the present. The rebbe was reminding his followers that there were still seven precious minutes with which to be mesakein the fading year.
What can be accomplished in seven minutes?
The Chofetz Chaim would often say that over the Yomim Noraim, we appeal to Hashem as a “Melech chofetz bachayim,” a King who desires life. As we ask Hashem to grant us the gift that He Himself appreciates, it stands to reason that to be granted the gift, we also have to be chofetz bachayim. If someone has a valuable watch that he wishes to entrust to a friend for safe-keeping, which friend would he ask, one who has no understanding of valuable items or one who possesses an appreciation for fine watches? Of course, he would turn to the one who knows how to treat an expensive timepiece.
The Chofetz Chaim would conclude that the King who desires life is more likely to bestow life upon one who values life; cherishes and realizes the gift being given every moment.
Rav Avigdor Miller would make the same point with the example of a storeowner forced to lay off one worker. He has a choice of who to keep. One employee is hard-working and effective, but always in a bad mood and giving off negative vibes. The other is less efficient, but always in a good mood, making customers happy and lifting the spirits of those around him.
Rabbi Miller would say that a sharp proprietor would keep the second worker, perceiving the benefit of having a positive person around. So too, Hakadosh Boruch Hu wants happy workers, those who are pleased to be doing what they do.
In the final “seven minutes” of the year, we can focus on 5776 and consider how things have progressed, how much we have received, and how fortunate we have been during the past year, and express our appreciation for the blessings we have been granted.
We should take a moment to contemplate how many times we panicked or worried over the past year and how many moments of fear we faced. Then, from the perspective of the final moments of the year, think about how many of those problems cleared up and how many of those situations were resolved.
Think of all the brachos we received since the past Rosh Hashanah, the children brought into the world, as well as our new accomplishments, opportunities, friends, vistas,
and welcomed maturity in Torah.
As we stand at the cusp of a new year and begin praying for life, goodness and blessings, we first must appreciate what we have been granted and offer thanks and gratitude.
This week’s parsha tells us how, as it discusses the mitzvah of bikkurim. The Jew brings his first fruits to the Mikdosh and offers thanks in a loud voice. As the posuk states, “Ve’anisa ve’omarta” (Devorim 26:5).
The mitzvah of bikkurim, which began with our entrance to Eretz Yisroel, forces us to contemplate our blessings. Following the winter, we see an orchard of bare branches. We care for the trees nonetheless. We engage in months of hard work and davening for the climate necessary for a good crop, as well as the proper measurements of wind and rain, and no plagues or pestilence. We continually check the status of our orchard.
Then, one day, after all the waiting, toil and prayer, we find a ripening fruit and tie a string to it to indicate that this fruit will accompany us to Yerushalayim, so that we can thank Hashem for the bounty we are confident He will bless us with. We express appreciation for the miracle of growth and our faith in the future guarantee that we will be blessed with a bountiful year.
The lesson of bikkurim is not only a perfect message for this time of the year, but a perfect metaphor for the blessings in our life. Barren fruit trees, looking like they will never grow again, surrounded by dirt and snow, offer much rationale for despair, until suddenly, one day, a tiny new fruit restores hope for the future.
Hakoras hatov, being appreciative, is a vital middah. The word lehakir, at the root of hakoras, has a double meaning. It means to appreciate and it also means to recognize. For in order to appreciate the good, you first have to recognize its existence. 
Hakoras hatov necessitates hisbonenus, focus and concentration, for we must feel the gratitude. Hakoras hatov does not mean offering lip-service and empty thanks, which is demeaning to the recipient, but really appreciating what we received and the one who did us the favor.
The opening pesukim of the parsha refer to Eretz Yisroel’s qualities and its flow of milk and honey. We don’t always see the blessings. Sometimes all we see are hostile neighbors, stabbings, bombings, and too many people who know nothing about their heritage and religion.
We examine our own lives and find things wanting. We can concentrate on the good or we can focus on those areas of life where the good is not always apparent. We see the barren branches and fret and worry that they will never give fruit again. We plant seeds and they disappear, causing us to wonder if they will ever grow into anything.
We need to concentrate on the good. We need to believe that the good that is not yet apparent will soon be, when the barren branches will show a sign of life. We don’t despair. We maintain our faith that everything that happens is for the best; it’s just that some good is evident, while some is not. And still we are makir tov.
We see a world overcome by fear, with bombs exploding at every corner of the globe, civil wars ripping nations apart, diplomacy failing, and refugees spreading hate and anxiety. We see bombs go off in New York and New Jersey, and miraculously nobody is killed. We see politicians react by begging people not to think that Islamic terror is involved, though obviously it is. We see stabbings in Mid-America along with chants about Allah.
We see our brethren in Eretz Yisroel so removed from Torah that they fight to work on Shabbos. We see generations growing up in the Holy Land without any Jewish knowledge whatsoever. We pity them and wish that there was a way to reach them. They assume that all we do is burn garbage pails and throw stones. We daven at the Kosel and put out of our minds that secular groups are waging a strong battle to bring their movement to the holiest place accessible in Jewish life.
We recognize that the reality is that the seeds are underground, germinating, and concentrate on recognizing the good everywhere.
I thank Hashem that I was able to be in Eretz Yisroel for a few days last week and for Shabbos, basking in holiness, positivity and growth.
I was surrounded by a sense of awe and joy over the too-short duration of my visit, confident that what I viewed and experienced is a harbinger of what’s to come. I am grateful for the opportunity to have visited, and even more grateful for what I saw over the course of those few days.
I stood in the field and saw how seeds have become luscious fruits. I saw barren branches and I saw trees laden with fruit.
I was given a grand tour of Yeshivas Mir in Yerushalayim, and as much as I knew and heard about the Mir, there were too many amazing sites to count. The Mir represents a chain stretching back many generations. We know that the yeshiva was carried on the wings of angels, beyond the reach of the Nazis, serving as an island of Torah for so many. We know how the more recent roshei yeshiva led the Mir to new heights, how people like Rav Chaim Shmulevitz, Rav Nochum Partzovitz and others emerged as the leaders of so many of the generation’s rabbeim and rabbonim, setting many on paths of Torah greatness and understanding
More recently, we watched in awe as a physically handicapped but not debilitated Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel built and built and built, constructing the largest yeshiva on earth with love and superhuman energy. Then, suddenly, he was taken from us.
Now, almost five years later, we experience the atmosphere in the many halls of the yeshiva, the sound of Torah in its many botei medrash, the enthusiasm on the faces of those who learn there, the sheer hasmodah that engulfs you as you walk by people of every age on bench after bench, and the joy and serenity on the faces of yungeleit who likely have no idea how they will buy chicken for Shabbos. You think you know what the Mir is, but you don’t until you feel it, see it, hear it, and are overwhelmed by the thousands of lomdei Torah between its many walls and on the streets everywhere around it going to shiurim.
You walk through the Mir and you can feel the prophecies of Yeshayahu Hanovi that we read in the seven haftoros of nechomah. You walk through its halls and see how seeds planted over the decades are flourishing.
The image of Rav Asher Arieli, in his short jacket, with his humble posture and bright eyes, and his worn Gemara under his arm, as he speaks in learning with talmidim, typifies that miracle. Quietly, majestically, Torah is exploding.
The Chevron Yeshiva has its roots back in Lithuania. The Alter of Slabodka opened a branch of the yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel, in the ancient city of Chevron, where the clean-shaven, sharply dressed Litvaks added to the mosaic of the Holy Land, blessed with yiras Shomayim and exceptional depth in learning. Their dedication to Torah was seriously tested.
The horrific massacre that took place in that city and the yeshiva would have broken others, but the yeshiva relocated to Yerushalayim and forged on. Not many foreigners study there, and their campus is located off the beaten track, so many of us are not familiar with what goes on there. We know about the glory years, when virtually every future rosh yeshiva in the country learned there, but are unaware of the great edifice of Torah that it is today. I had never seen the Chevron bais medrash until last week. What an amazing site! Fourteen hundred bochurim fill the cavernous room, exploding with Torah.
Many seeds were planted to blossom into this burgeoning bais medrash that draws some of the best bochurim from all over Eretz Yisroel who wish to toil in Torah. In the middle sits the rosh yeshiva, Rav Dovid Cohen, speaking in learning with bochurim.
It was humbling to stand there, being shown around by the rosh yeshiva, Rav Yosef Chevroni, but it was also very thrilling to see how Hashgochah orchestrated for this magnificent orchard to grow. Rav Chevroni showed me the yeshiva dormitory, which is being expanded to accommodate the growth, and a new dining room, which is being constructed to feed the ever-increasing number of bochurim. Walking around the bais medrash and expanding campus, observing the many fruits nobody ever thought possible, I was heartened, confident about our future and grateful.
I traveled to Rechovot to see the completed Halichot Chaim Kollel and community center that its leader, Rav Zvi Schvartz, has been dreaming about for the past 18 years. Few gave him any chance of succeeding in his dream to construct a building to house his 70-member kollel and center for kiruv in the cosmopolitan Israeli city. It was fascinating and invigorating to see what one dreamer has been able to accomplish, and to think about the Torah that will be studied and spread in the building that he labored to build for the past two decades, overcoming opposition, bureaucratic red tape and financial challenges. 
Sometimes, we fail to see the larger picture. We get locked into the moment, seeing only that which is immediately in front of us. Now, at year’s end, we have to take a step back and look beyond our immediate field of vision.
A chossid endured the painful loss of a child and was unable to cope with the anguish. He traveled to the Kotzker Rebbe for comfort and solace.
As the man was a talmid chochom, the rebbe began the conversation by speaking to the grieving man in learning. The rebbe cited a Rambam and discussed difficulties he had with it. The visitor was able to explain the seeming contradictions and show the rebbe how the words of the Rambam were laden with meaning.
Seeing that the man was able to answer his questions on the Rambam, the rebbe brought up difficulties he encountered with a Tosafos. Again, the fellow had a nice p’shat.
“Yes, but what about the Rashba,” asked the rebbe.
“It’s not shver,” the man answered. “I’ll show you why.”
The rebbe looked at him and said, “So the Rambam has an answer, Tosafos has a p’shat, and there is no difficulty in understanding the Rashba…
“Don’t you think that there is an explanation, as well, for the decisions of the Ribbono Shel Olam?”
The chossid was comforted.
It often takes time, but we are given glimpses to bolster our emunah. There is always an answer.
In Chevron Yeshiva, I noticed the name “Zev Wolfson” over the main entrance. Mr. Wolfson was emphatic about not having his name on buildings, so I knew that there was a story here. I asked Rav Chevroni about it.
“Let me tell you a story,” he said. “When my father built this campus, there was a crisis. Overnight, the price of cement and other building materials rose sharply, putting the task of constructing the buildings beyond reach. There was so much money already sunk into the buildings, and he was unable to raise more. He was unable to go on. All his contacts had been tapped and nobody was interested in contributing more.
“Everything was in jeopardy. The yeshiva could have closed.
“He reached out to Mr. Wolfson, who responded that he would pay to put up the buildings. He saved the yeshiva. He literally saved the yeshiva.
“As the chanukas habayis approached, my father invited Mr. Wolfson to participate in the celebration. After all, without him, there would be no buildings. My father really wanted him there to publicly express his appreciation. Besides, Mr. Wolfson deserved to see the fruits of his dedication. But he refused to come. My father asked him a few times, and each time the answer was the same: ‘No. No. No.’
“Finally, it was the day before the chanukas habayis. My father was very emotional about meriting to complete the buildings and move into them. He felt that Mr. Wolfson should be there to share the same feelings of satisfaction. He called Mr. Wolfson’s office to speak to him. ‘He’s not here,’ the secretary said.
“‘Where is he?’ my father asked.
“‘I don’t know,’ said the secretary. ‘He left and said he’d be back in two days. He said that he can take no calls.’
“That was that. My father gave up. He called after the two days to report to Zev on how the chanukas habayis went. He said, ‘Zev, you really should have been there. You would have had such nachas.’
“The philanthropist responded, ‘Who says I wasn’t there? I was there. You convinced me that I had to be there. I came. I stood in the back. I watched. I enjoyed every minute. And then I flew home.’”
Zev Wolfson appreciated what he had and why Hashem gave it to him. He sought neither power nor glory, but rather worked to take inventory and build. He lived his life to its fullest by always challenging people to do more and to do better to increase Torah and G-dliness in the world. He always challenged himself to do better and seek out people and institutions to help.
That’s what we need to do in the final “seven minutes” and seven days. We need to step back, and without ego or other negios consider what we have been blessed with over the past. Think about what we have been given. Think about what we can do with what we were given. Think about what we have accomplished. Smile and say thanks to Hashem for the year that is ending.
Hashem, bless us during the coming year, for we are chafeitzei chaim, appreciative, believing and confident that we will use the blessings for their intended purpose.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Tune In & Tune Up

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
As we begin the study of this week’s parsha and encounter the narrative of “aishes yefas toar,” we wonder if there is more here than meets the eye. And there is. While the course of action for a man who went to war, emerged victorious, and then chanced upon a yefas toar is applicable and contains many directions and actions to follow, there is also a message for all of us, especially during the month of Elul.
Kadmonim and mekubolim raise the curtain and provide an understanding of the pesukim that describe the parsha of yefas toar and how she goes about adapting to a new life.
The parsha begins, “Ki seitzei lamilchomah al oyvecha - When you will go out and wage war with your enemy” (21:10). The Ohr Hachaim (ibid.) explains that the posuk refers to the battle for which man was placed in this world. The soul is dispatched to withstand tests.
And she shall remove the garment of captivity from upon herself: This will be through ridding oneself of sin, teshuvah and submission to Hashem. Then be misvadeh and cry for the betrayal from your father and mother and detachment from them.
She will weep for her father. This is Hakadosh Boruch Hu.
She will weep for her mother. This is Knesses Yisroel.
For one month. This is the month of Elul, the period of teshuvah.
The Ohr Hachaim’s source is the Zohar Chodosh (Ki Seitzei 72:1), which is also quoted in Yesod Veshoresh Ha’avodah (Shaar Hamayim).
The Arizal (Likkutei Torah, in this week’s parsha) offers a similar explanation. He says that “Ki seitzei lamilchomah” refers to a person who has decided to do teshuvah. He is setting out to do battle with his enemies, namely his yeitzer hora and the limbs that betrayed him and caused him to sin.
Unesano Hashem Elokecha b’yodecha. Hashem will cause you to beat the yeitzer hora.
Vera’isa bashivyah aishes yefas toar. This refers to the neshomah.
Vegilcha es roshah. He should remove bad beliefs from within himself.
Ve’asisah es tziporneha. He should cut out luxuries.
Vehaisirah simlas shivyah. The covering that is fashioned by sin should be removed.
Uvochsa es aviha. This refers to Hakadosh Boruch Hu.
V’es imah. This is Knesses Yisroel.
Yerach yomim. This is Elul.
Rav Tzadok Hakohein of Lublin (Pri Tzaddik, Ki Seitzei 2) quotes Rav Simcha Bunim of Peshischa, who commented that understanding that this parsha refers to man’s eternal battle with the yeitzer hora is not homiletic drush and remez, but actual p’shat poshut, the simple explanation of the pesukim.
So, as we study Parshas Ki Seitzei and read it aloud this week, it should be clear that these pesukim are meant to help usher us into the sacred portals of avodas yemei Elul. We read about a man doing battle for Am Yisroel and a woman mourning her old home, but, essentially, on a different level, we are reading about teshuvah and Elul.
Elul is everywhere. You just have to know how to find it.
What should be our frame of mind during these days?
We are familiar with the teaching of Chazal that “bemakom sheba’alei teshuvah omdim ein tzaddikim gemurim yecholim la’amod.” Those who return to Hashem stand at a higher level than great tzaddikim who never sinned. On the face of it, this is a difficult concept to behold. Why should someone who sinned be on a higher plane than someone who never deviated from the word of G-d? We tend to understand the concept in terms of the fact that the baal teshuvah traveled a long journey, and despite having fallen, he had the strength to raise himself from the depths, allowing him to return a cleansed and holy person, while a tzaddik who never sinned did not have to overcome such obstacles.
Perhaps we can suggest a different understanding.
The Eitz Yosef on the Medrash at the beginning of Parshas Eikev discusses the process of teshuvah and redemption. He says that we don’t have to complete the act of teshuvah in order to merit the redemption. It is sufficient for us to show that we have become inspired to repent and begin to undertake teshuvah, and Hashem will begin the geulah.
Teshuvah is a motion, a small shift back to the right direction. When we display a genuine desire to do teshuvah, Hakadosh Boruch Hu sees this and comes to assist us on the way back.
The posuk in Tehillim (103) says, “Kirechok mizrach mimaarav,” as far as the east is from the west, “hirchik mimenu es peshoeinu,” that is the distance Hashem has removed us from our sins. Rav Nosson Dovid of Shidlovtza explained that the distance of east from west is essentially not much. You stand facing east and then you turn around and are facing west. So too, with teshuvah, you turn to go in a new direction and you are considered as having a new destiny.
Rav Chaim Volozhiner explains in Nefesh Hachaim (1:12) that when a person performs a mitzvah, he begins the action and Hashem helps him complete it.
We can posit that the person who is seeking to repent merits special assistance from the Ribbono Shel Olam. When he turns away from sin and shows interest in repenting, he begins the arduous process and Hashem helps. This is why teshuvah is the only mitzvah regarding which Chazal tell us that Hashem says, “Pischu li pesach kepischo shel machat, open a hole the size of the eye of a needle, and I will do the rest.” He becomes involved in a Jew’s attempt at returning, helping him navigate the difficult path.
Thus, we can understand the meaning of the teaching that “bemakom sheba’alei teshuvah omdim,” the level of the person who has performed teshuvah, is higher than that of the tzaddik who never sinned. That is because the baal teshuvah merited Hashem’s assistance. Hashem has, so to speak, stood beside him and grasped his hand. He has felt the Divine Presence. Hashem has been part of his journey, so his “makom,” his place, is elevated.
It follows, therefore, that Elul should be a happy month, for it is the month when we begin walking down that holy path. As we study the sifrei mussar, think about how we are doing, turn inward, engage in introspection, and contemplate our future, Hakadosh Boruch Hu comes to help us. He is here, at our side, waiting to help us back.
We have to show the will.
Perhaps the Torah chose to reveal the secrets of teshuvah, depicting the desperate cries of the neshomah as she pines for her father and mother, her return to purity and holiness, in the parsha of yefas toar to demonstrate to us a lesson through the central character, the soldier who finds a foreign woman in the spoils of war. He is so weak that he is not embarrassed to bring this strange woman back home with him. The Torah is telling us that even a person like him can do teshuvah. Even someone who has sunk that low can turn from a life of lust to a life of holiness. Even he can merit Hashem walking beside him, leading him to the light of teshuvah and a blessed life.
This is the secret of Elul. The Baal Hatanya taught that during this month, the king is in the field. During the rest of the year, subjects must work to obtain an appointment. They must wait, fill out forms and use all the connections they have in order to get a moment of time with the leader. During Elul, the king circulates among his subjects, hearing their voices and concerns.
During Elul, Hashem is nearby, ready to extend a hand, a yad lashovim, drawing us close and inviting us to come back home. But we have to be there, ready to hear the invitation and accept it.
When Hashem sees you want to do teshuvah and haven’t forgotten your neshomah, He becomes overjoyed and grabs your hand with great excitement to bring you where you belong.
Rav Shlomo Reichenberg recounted how he ended up in yeshiva after being sent to Kibbutz Chofetz Chaim when he was brought to Israel as a young Holocaust survivor in 1945.
“I went to the office and asked to be transferred to a yeshiva. They readily agreed and suggested two yeshivos for me, Ponovezh in Bnei Brak and Kol Torah in Yerushalayim. I made my way to Bnei Brak and found the one story building that was the Ponovezh Yeshiva at the time.
“When I walked through the door a man stopped me. ‘Who are you looking for,’ he asked.
“‘Rav Kahaneman,’ I answered.
“‘That is me. What can I do for you?’
“I told him that I wanted to come study in the yeshiva. He asked me where I had come from, and I told him I had arrived from Bergen Belsen. He asked me where I had been before the camp and I told him that I was in the Veitzin Yeshiva, near Budapest.
“‘Do you remember anything from what you learned there,’ he asked.
“I became afraid for I sensed that he was going to test me in order to determine whether he should accept me into the yeshiva. I told him that he should ask me a question to see if I remember anything. He asked me which was the last mesechata, and I said Chulin.
“‘Can you tell me a machlokes between Rashi and Tosefos in this mesechta?’
“I told him one. When I finished, he kissed me on my forehead. He then took my hand in his and proceeded to drag me through the streets of Bnei Brak until he stopped at a small building. He knocked on the door and walked in. It was the house of the Chazon Ish.
“The rov was overcome with emotion. The words spilled out of his mouth. ‘Rebbe, I met this boy who is a concentration camp survivor. I asked him if he could tell me a machlokes between Rashi and Tosefos and he did.
“He then began to say, ‘gadlus hatorah, gadlus hatorah,’ and couldn’t catch his breath. Then he turned to the Chazon Ish and said, ‘If a concentration camp couldn’t make a Jew forget Torah, then definitely Torah will never be forgotten.’
“After the rov calmed down, he told me to stay there and talk to the Chazon Ish. The Chazon Ish was very interested in hearing about life in the concentration camp. I sat there talking to him for two hours. When we finished talking, he said to me, ‘This is your new home. The door is always open for you…”
Everyone has moments that can get him going. There are many times in life when there is a call to you, a message with your name written on it, coming out of nowhere. You can either pick up on it and experience something life-altering or you can ignore it, let it slip by, and lose a chance for eternity.
Read any book of stories about baalei teshuvah and you will find the moment when someone touched a college kid and a light went on. They were invited in and they accepted the invitation. “Do you have a place to eat tonight?” “Did you put on tefillin today?” One thing led to another, and it was as if there was something there guiding the person in the direction of a religious life. They backpacked through Asia, then went to Israel for some reason, and ended up at the wall. They were all alone when they came, but when the Lev L’Achim guy asked if they want to find out what Torah is, they said yes and gave him their name and phone number.
They came alone with their backpack, but left surrounded by the ohr hamakif, the spirit of G-d hovering over them.
Rav Todros Miller of Gateshead Seminary recounted the tale of an English girl who brought her car to a London mechanic. Testing the vehicle, he turned on the engine. Emerging from the speakers was an audio recording of a shiur delivered by Rav Mordechai Miller, of Gateshead Seminary, on sefer Shaarei Teshuvah.
The mechanic was transfixed by what he heard, and when the girl returned to retrieve the car, he asked her to bring him some tapes from that rabbi. Influenced by those tapes, the man became a complete baal teshuvah. Random words emanating from a car as he poked under the hood touched him and caused him to ponder his existence. He could just as easily have tuned out and pressed on with his work, engaging in the usual shop talk.
Instead, he listened for just a moment. A chord was struck deep inside of him. At that moment, as his heart opened, he was flooded with the ohr hamakif of which Rav Chaim Volozhiner speaks. He was on the road to teshuvah, a Divine force propelling him forward.
When we hear those voices, when teshuvah is calling, we have to make sure not to hit ignore, but to tune in and tune up.
After all, as the pesukim this week remind us, the neshomah comes down to this physical world from its encampment at the feet of the Kisei Hakavod, the holiest place in all of creation. It struggles to acclimate to a hostile world, longing for the kedushah it once knew and felt. It cannot adapt, as it is tested and tormented daily. It becomes tainted, it forgets, and it loses its outward shine.
And then there is a jolt. A spark. And it remembers. It reaches for the heavens once again and discovers that in this world, it really is possible to attain the kedushah it remembers. It is possible to be enveloped in holiness, to live a life of G-dliness and remain untainted by idle pursuits, a drive for more money, or a lust for power and dominance. At that moment, he begins to be a baal teshuvah and the original shine returns, building up to a sparkling luster.
We go through life, one day following another. Let us appreciate our gifts. Let us appreciate the neshomah we have. Let us look to help improve the world. Let’s not be satisfied with a little Torah here and there. Let us daven like we really mean it. As we breathe, let us appreciate each breath, and when we experience a breathtaking moment, let it be a jolt to remind us who we are, what our task is, and where we are headed.
Let’s live lives that make it worth the struggle. Let’s act so that the ohr hamakif hovers over us, protecting us from all comers, creating a cocoon of holiness for us to thrive in.
It’s Elul. Take advantage!

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

The Gardeners

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
This week’s parsha opens with demands for justice and truth. The parsha is filled with messages of conviction, justice, clarity and honesty, including establishing a functional court system, with empowered judges and submissive litigants.
We learn about the mandate to appoint a king, who follows the rules and is held to high standards. The kohanim, who occupy leadership positions, also must follow a precise code of conduct.
The prophet also must live up to high standards. Charisma, eloquence and passion are of no importance if his words don’t radiate fear of heaven.
We see in the parsha how our system of justice embraces the accidental murderer, providing a haven for him as well.
There are halachos that protect business owners and ensure that every Jew lives within a framework of perfect justice. When we are forced to engage in battle, the military seeks fighters who embody the ideals of honesty, refined character and courage.
The parsha closes with a resounding lesson about the inclusiveness of our system. The lonely traveler who traverses the town becomes a communal responsibility. We are obligated to look out and care for him. Should tragedy befall him, the elders of town gather to atone for his death, proclaiming that they are not culpable for his death. We must all atone for his blood.
A single thread is woven throughout the parsha, welcoming us to this month of Elul, with its avodah of self-improvement and cheshbon.
Being part of creation obligates man. Hashem created the world with a certain harmony, as different aspects of creation complement and feed off each other. The Torah and the way of life it prescribes reflect the perfection that comes about when every Jew does his part in caring for others and acting responsibly and honestly when dealing with their fellow man.
Someone who visited the Chazon Ish left behind his walking stick. The Chazon Ish wrote a letter to the man, asking him to come retrieve it, because he could not be calm in the room as long as someone else’s possession was there. The Chazon Ish’s sensitivity to the laws of Torah was so real that he couldn’t bear the thought of having someone else’s property in his room. He reacted as we would to an ugly sight or unpleasant smell.
For some, this may be a difficult concept to imagine. The frontrunner for the most powerful position in the world is a woman who seems to live with a single credo: that rules don’t apply to her. Truth has long been cast aside in the desperate Clinton rush for money and power.
The fact that she has the greatest chance of getting elected speaks volumes about the state of the country and the value system of its citizens. She is supported by every mainstream politician, media outlet and business leader, who are petrified that Donald Trump’s election would change the way things are done in this country. Anyone who interacts with Washington fears that electing the crusading outsider will even the playing field, costing them power, influence and income.
The greater question is how all this affects us. How does it impact the way we view the world and lead our lives and communities?
The Apter Rov was once called to serve as a dayan in a din Torah. Very quickly, it became apparent which litigant was in the right and which was lying. The liar realized that his plan was exposed and that if he didn’t do something fast, he would be found guilty and forced to pay up. The only way he could win, he figured, would be to bribe the judge.
Knowing that the Apter Rov would never accept a bribe, he placed a large amount of cash in the Rov’s coat pocket, figuring that the Rov would know who put it there. The man assumed that the Rov would quietly keep it and adjudicate the case to his benefit.
A short while later, the Rov said that he must take a break. What had seemed to be such a simple case, was not anymore. He was bothered by the sudden twist in his understanding of the case and needed fresh air to rethink the arguments. He went to his chambers and put on his coat to go outside for a stroll. It was a cold day, so he stuck his hands into the coat pockets for warmth. He was astonished to find money in one of the pockets and immediately returned to the room of the bais din, declaring that he could no longer rule on the case. He had become tainted.
The Rov wasn’t only righteous and G-d fearing. His soul was so trained against dishonesty that even though he did not know that a bribe was given to him, the fact that money was placed in his coat pocket without his knowledge affected him. He knew intuitively that something was wrong. Honesty and ehrlichkeit are so much a part of him that he could not function once the money was in his pocket.
The Torah insists that we live honestly by ensuring that those selected to lead us are paragons of virtue. There are no shortcuts, loopholes or backroom deals.
Just a few months ago, a prominent rov was speaking to Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman, when another gentleman, the coordinator of a large gemach, entered the small room. The rov, wishing to encourage the askan, introduced him to Rav Shteinman. “The rosh yeshiva should know that this Yid is a tzaddik. He issues halva’os (loans) to so many talmidei chachomim.”
Rav Shteinman reacted immediately. “I hope you don’t have any money from him on loan,” he said, “because, in that case, the compliment you just gave him is a form of ribbis devorim.”
The rov marveled at Rav Shteinman’s response, repeating it again and again. “I am an active dayan,” he said, “experienced in financial dinei Torah, but I wasn’t sharp enough to sense that my comment could be a violation of halacha. Yet, the aged tzaddik, who is attuned to perfect din, feels it right away.”
Rules do apply. And you must follow them to become a leader in our world.
When people follow the instructions of someone like Rav Shteinman, they are not merely agreeing with his ideas. They are expressing something much deeper. They are saying that the instincts, thought process and reaction of a gadol are rooted in Torah. They affirm that his mind is attuned to the Torah’s will, and therefore his vision is refined enough to see further.
Having leaders like that is the reason our nation is still here after so many challenge-filled years of exile.
Our mesorah has carried us through the ages. Like yesterday morning and this morning, tomorrow morning and the morning after we will affix to our heads tefillin in the color, shape and structure taught to Klal Yisroel via a halacha l’Moshe m’Sinai. Every day, we affirm the veracity of tradition when we place those boxes on our arms and heads. And when we bind them to the minds and hearts of our bar mitzvah boys, we say to them, “Dear son, know that with this, you, too, are connected to Har Sinai. This is our secret. It is the secret of our survival.”
Hillary Clinton leads in the polls because people are fickle and weak. The religion of the day is open-mindedness and tolerance, tinged with an unhealthy dose of apathy.
We know the story all too well.
The Torah in this week’s parsha (17:18-20) commands us, “Shoftim v’shotrim titein lecha bechol she’arecha.” We are to appoint judges who will properly and correctly administer fair justice, never accepting bribes of any kind or showing favoritism.
Throughout our history, we have been blessed to be led by “shoftim v’shotrim,” gedolim who stood tall and strong in demonstrating honesty and safeguarding the halacha and mesorah.
There has been always been pressure from some to make changes and conform to a modern zeitgeist. There are the usual claims that the rabbis aren’t open-minded and refuse to fall into line with whatever fad or idea is popular.
The rabbonim continue to lead, as they have since the time of Moshe. The foreign ideas pile up and clutter the dustbin of history. Just like Korach, they seek to appeal to the emotion and present specious arguments cloaked in demagoguery, seeking to cause populist revolts. They all meet the fate of their progenitor, Korach. 
When the Reform and Haskalah movements began, the Chasam Sofer was fearless in his opposition to them. He was undaunted by the populist push emanating from the rabbis who campaigned to loosen the rules, with the promise that doing so would make Judaism more welcoming and accepted. When prominent rabbis of the day thought that organ music would be a welcome addition to the shul, the Chasam Sofer responded with the passion of a lion whose cubs are being attacked.
We tend to imagine the original Reform Jews as bare-headed amei ha’aretz, unlearned and uncouth. In fact, it wasn’t so. To the masses, they appeared to be pious and scholarly. It was only the leaders blessed with keen insight and sensitivity who saw through the charade.
The paradigm false messiah, Shabsai Tzvi, appeared to be a great sage, well-versed in all matters of Torah and Kabbolah. He spawned a movement of many followers, including the vast majority of the Jewish people, who were taken by his charm, knowledge, welcoming promises, and seeming love for the common man. A wave of teshuvah followed, as people sought to prepare for his final revelation. He was lauded wherever he went and praised for his scholarship and for bringing people to elevated spirituality.
Rav Yaakov Sasportas warned that Shabsai Tzvi was a false messiah who would cause much damage to the Jewish people. It was his stubborn insistence and leadership that prevented many from going astray when Shabsai Tzvi became an apostate.
Aharon Choriner was a talmid of great men, and appeared to be a religious talmid chochom. However, when the gedolim of his day read his seforim, they set out to delegitimize him. They saw that despite his outward religiosity, he had, in fact, broken with the mesorah.
Alluding to the infamous Mishnaic apostate named Acher, the Chasam Sofer referred to this man as “Ach’er” (an acronym of his name, Aharon Choriner, and the title Rabbiner), and waged war against the man and his writings.
In his will, the Chasam Sofer urged his children not to study the writings of Ramad, a.k.a. Moses Mendelsohn. Like Acher, Mendelsohn appeared to the masses to be a sincere, learned individual, who wrote a wonderful beiur on the Torah. Yet, included in his final wishes, the Chasam Sofer warned that he and his works were dangerous and found the need to admonish his offspring one final time not to look at his works.
“Shoftim v’shotrim titein lecha bechol she’arecha.” You should place good judges at every gate. And also at every opening, every breach, and every place where those who wish to change Judaism seek to enter. Install a shofeit there, install a shoter there, and allow them to stand tall and proud as they defend the Torah from all comers.
Generations later, the Chasam Sofer’s light shines brightly. His name and teachings are quoted hundreds of times each day in study halls and religious courts around the world. His approach and attitude, and those of many other leaders like him, shape many of our positions.
The people he fought are long gone. Their chain has been broken, their offspring swallowed by the society to which they sought to endear themselves.
In Vilna, there lived a Maskil, Avrohom Dov Lebensohn, who was known as Adam Hakohein. A poet and writer, he tried influencing a bright young orphan, seeing him as a potential force for the Haskalah movement.
The young man rejected his efforts. By spurning the lure, he charted for himself a saintly path. You know him, and Jews for all time will, for he went on to author a sefer called Chofetz Chaim and led the yeshiva in Radin. He would become the gadol hador, for his generation and succeeding generations as well.
Like his grandfather, Aharon Hakohein, he loved Jews. He was oheiv es habrios umekarvan laTorah. He found positive attributes in others, as he viewed them with an ayin tovah. The sage was a loving father to his people.
Actually, there was a Jew for whom he had no sympathy. When referring to Adam Hakohein, he would add the words “yemach shemo” - a curse, from a man who was a fountain of blessing and overly cautious with his words.
The Chofetz Chaim had seen how the dangerous Maskil had moved into the open “sha’ar” of a lonely orphan’s heart and tried to claim and sway it.
Today, our shotrim stand tall.
Efforts to tamper with and change Judaism to fit current trends are alive and well. Our Open Orthodox friends at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah are getting increasingly confident, as they continue to chip away at the foundations of Torah living. They see that the world remains silent in face of their revisionism.
Their Talmud expert, Ysoscher Katz, chair of Chovevei Torah’s department of Talmud and director of its Center for Halakhic Studies, is a darling of the liberal Jewish world. After all, look at him. He hails from a Satmar home. Despite that cloistered past, they say, he is progressive, he engages with modern Jewry, and he is “open-minded.”
It would do Katz well to study what happened to all those who came, as he does, to save us from ourselves, to usher us into a new era.
Last week, in honor of the Satmar Rov’s yahrtzeit, he mocked him, writing that “If Emerson was right that inconsistency is the sign of a great mind, then he was a genius. He was a bundle of contradictions.”
Never mind the Rov’s brilliance and holiness. Forget about how much time he spent studying and how much he knew. Ignore his deep understanding of all facets of Torah. Mock him because his views don’t mesh with your revisionist view of Judaism.
Katz concludes his missive by saying that the Rov was “great and greatly flawed. Unless we think that [his] competing traits cancel each other out…a flawed tzadik ceases to be a tzadik.”
With that, the towering giant is cut down to size by the uber-intelligent freethinker.
Such talk is nothing new for the person who feels a “deep sense of betrayal by Maimonides” and writes of his “rejection of the Maimonidean ethos.” The Rambam, who wrote with ruach hakodesh, and who is at the root of mesorah and halacha for every generation since the publication of his Divine work, is “disliked” by an arrogant, wayward son who preaches talmud and halacha in a school founded to steer Jews away from the strict rulings of the Rambam and all those who followed him.
He bemoans “the terror of religiosity,” apparently caused by parts of the Torah for which we must “suspend our moral compass.”
The champion of theological wisdom and sensitivity writes, “The Charedi stridency is…wrong and unjustified. When people are teetering on the edge, contemplating suicide, and wondering how they will make sense of who they are, we need to welcome and embrace them. Rejecting them is harsh and hurtful.
“Halakha has specific guidelines for how to adjudicate such cases. The charedi poskim repeatedly make a mockery of those rules. Denouncements and threats of excommunication have lately become de rigueur. Every time they disagree with the way a sensitive Modern Orthodoxy attempts to grapple with the complexities of observance in the 21st century, they denounce, condemn, and expel on a whim. In the process, they disregard halakha, completely ignoring the procedural laws governing such processes.”
When a deranged religious man by the name of Yishai Schlissel stabbed marchers in a pride parade, Katz wrote, “I know Schlissel. Not personally, but I know the personality. I grew up in the Haredi community and am familiar with that type of mentality. When I was still part of that community, I was not that different. While I left that community long ago, I remember what drives its members.”
And what is it with chareidim that so unnerves him and – according to him - leads deranged people to kill?
“Haredi society is based on an elaborate hierarchy of values that organizes and frames members’ lives. First and foremost in that lineup of ideals is kedusha (sanctity). Religious sanctity and spiritual purity are the Haredi communities’ most important values, carrying both religious and material importance. They believe it makes their communities spiritually healthy and physically safe.”
Lest you think that this is being taken out of context, read his justification for operating outside of halacha. It’s all the fault of the Litvaks. He writes, “The tragedy of MO (at least the American version) is that at its inception, its leadership adopted a litvish/rationalist ethos. Consequently, law, logic and reason became the sole arbiters for what’s acceptable or not acceptable, endorsed or not endorsed. In the halakhic context, it means that values and practices have meaning only if they originated within the narrow confines of halakha.”
So, it is halacha and the Lithuanian influences on Yiddishkeit that ruin it. Even Modern Orthodoxy can’t save Judaism from drifting off to extremism and irrelevance, because it was influenced by Litvishe rabbonim and roshei yeshiva. What’s needed are broadminded, caring, people such as him, who recognize that in order for Judaism to be passionate and inspiring, “the parameters… must be broader and much more comprehensive. There’s room for customs, practices and ritual observances even if they originated outside of conventional halacha.”
Halacha gets in the way of everything good, according to Katz. It is time, he feels, that we shunted it aside for practices that we determine are loving, inspirational, accepting and more in keeping with the times.
According to Katz, it is people such as the Rambam who get in the way of progress and cause religious Jews to drop out. “The skyrocketing attrition rate in Modern Orthodoxy has absolutely nothing to do with Open Orthodoxy,” he avers. “The reason so many of our youth are leaving MO is because of the rabid Maimonideism of its standard bearers, not because of Partnership Minyanim,” which trample on the boundaries of halacha and Orthodoxy.
And just to provide another opening into the view of this man’s soul, he writes that “Chazal were the R’ Riskins of their time. They too were committed to creating a Yiddishkeit which is in constant dialogue with their ethical sensibilities. They read Torah with a critical lens, and whenever they encountered a perceived injustice, they did whatever they could (within legitimate boundaries) to undo the challenging misread.”
Our good friends in Satmar have a mesorah from their great rebbe, Rav Yoel, who taught them to speak up, to point out hypocrisy, and to be confident, courageous and honest even when confronting powerful people.
Where, I wonder, are they? How are they allowing a product of their system, armed with a chassidic semicha, to continue making a mockery of our mesorah? The time has long passed to revoke the semicha that gives him his title and admit that, as happened over the years, a talmid she’eino hagun slipped through their system?
Bechol she’arecha, in every opening. We must stand guard, vigilant and proud. Why? Because the Torah tells us to. Why? For the same reason the Chasam Sofer fought the Reform. Why? For the same reason the Chofetz Chaim fought the Haskalah. Why? Because if we don’t, their innovations will take hold and we will have to fight vigorously to uproot them.
The Brisker Rov, it seemed, was always pointing out dangers, pointing out the flaws in various streams of Jewish thought. Even Torah Jews wondered why he couldn’t just sometimes agree with the mainstream.
Someone asked the Rov why he chose to resist. He responded with a story about a group of people who were walking through a splendid public garden, admiring the beautiful landscaping and magnificent colors. One man walked alongside the path, and as the others marveled, he found what to criticize. Where they saw a gorgeous flowering bush, he saw a broken branch. As the people were lost in the beauty of Hashem’s creations, this man was pointing out wilting flowers, a dead tree, and weeds here and there.
Finally, the people had enough of his negativity. One of them shouted at him, “Stop complaining and focus on the beauty.”
“You don’t understand,” the fellow replied. “You are all visitors. You can and should enjoy. I, on the other hand, am the gardener. My job is to keep this place perfect. My job is to inspect and maintain, to see what needs to be corrected and keep the garden beautiful.”
We are that garden, still here, still flourishing after all these years. There are dead trees all around, yet we thrive. There are flowers that are wilting and need tender care. There are weeds that must be plucked before they spread and rob nutrition from the plants.
Because we are vigilant, because we have gardeners charged with protecting us, we endure and proliferate.
Bechol she’arecha, at every gate. Let’s rise, as one, with our leaders at the head, and face this threat as we have faced all the others, confident in our past, present and future.
Let us all do what we can so that we may be able to proclaim, “Yodeinu lo shofchu es hadom hazeh.” Let us be able to say that we did all we could to root out the weeds and repair the sickly branches. We were loyal to our responsibilities, skillfully laboring to grow and cultivate the precious plants, flowers and trees that together form the great people we are so proudly a part of.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Seeing with Clarity

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
We are now in the period known as the Shivah Denechemta, the seven weeks of consolation, which follow the three weeks of mourning. These seven weeks, culminating with the Yomim Noraim, are a time of contemplation, as we review our past and draw conclusions for the future. Although the word nechomah means to console, the state of consolation is not simply achieved. To arrive there, the mourner contemplates the loss, reviews the past, and determines how to carry on in the future. That is accomplished by coming to terms with what transpired, appreciating what is not here, and realizing that a new perspective is needed to be able to continue leading a successful life.
While the Shivah Denechemta are commonly perceived as being designed to console for the loss of the botei mikdosh, these seven weeks of nechomah are also part of the teshuvah process we will now undergo.
The relaxed pace we have been enjoying the past few weeks represents an excellent time for introspection; considering the state of our lives and the choices we have made, which will lead us to nechomah as we make resolutions for the future. 
This week’s parsha (Devorim 11:26-28) states, “See, I am giving you today blessings and curses. You will be blessed if you listen to what I command you today. The curse will befall you if you do not follow the mitzvos of Hashem and veer from the path that I am commanding you today.”
The language of the posuk is intriguing, for it doesn’t say that Hashem will bless those who follow the Torah and curse those who ignore it. Rather, it says that you will be blessed if you follow and cursed if you don’t.
The Medrash Rabbah quotes Rabi Elozor, who says that after Hashem revealed the mitzvos asei and mitzvos lo sasei at Har Sinai, He no longer delivered reward and punishment on a one-by-one basis. Rather, one who sins is automatically punished and one who acts properly is automatically blessed. The nature of the world changed. It is now built into the briah that a sinner is confronted by evil, while the good person can expect good in his life.
Thus, we understand that Hashem is advising us and reminding us of how to gain a blessed life. If you engage in immoral pursuits that provide you with immediate gratification, know that the enjoyment is only temporary and that you’ve caused yourself to be subjected to curses and unfortunate happenings in the future. If you are thoughtful, honest and proper, and suppress your urges for improper pursuits, you may forgo a fleeting pleasure, but you will have gained for yourself much good and blessing.
Someone once asked the Steipler Gaon how it is that people can merit salvation and blessing without asking for it. For example, a person was driving on an icy road when it slid and was about to roll down the embankment. Catastrophe seemed imminent, but the car miraculously stopped at the cliff’s edge. The driver didn’t have the time or presence of mind to ask for rachamei Shomayim. The questioner wondered where the hashpa’ah of chessed that saved the driver’s life came from.
The Steipler explained that the person or the parent of someone who merits a miracle, rose above a particular nisayon. Overcoming a nisayon is a means of acquiring a miracle and placing it in reserve, so to speak, for when it will be needed.
A person rises above their nature by recognizing Hashem’s dominion over the world and acceding to His wishes. When the person does that, he creates a corresponding effect in Shomayim, and Hashem will block nature for that person to show that He controls the world.
Mitzvos create a life of blessings. By accepting Hashem’s rule, people earn nissim, which sit in their account until they are needed.
Parshas Re’eh is read every year at the onset of Elul, the month of introspection, when we seek to achieve blessings and good lives for ourselves and our loved ones. The parsha reminds us that the way we think and act affects us. Just as we can expect to become ill if we were to ingest poison or eat foods that are unhealthy, so too, engaging in acts that the Torah frowns upon brings scorn to man.
It is interesting that each one of the three pesukim quoted above adds the word hayom, today. There is clearly a lesson here for us. Perhaps the pesukim are cryptically telling us that we should feel as if we are being taught this lesson each day anew. We should view each day as if it is the day Hashem commanded us what to do and what not to do. We should understand the lesson that the observance of mitzvos enhances our lives and their negation causes grief and pain for those who ignore them.
Hayom, it is new. It is fresh. Every day, we need to think about it. We mustn’t grow apathetic or view these lessons as something way in the past. We mustn’t allow the lesson to grow tarnished and rusty. Every day, we need to be rejuvenated and act with vigor and joy as we realize that we have been granted life and the ability to sustain and improve our lives.
Refreshed from the summer, with regained vitality, buoyant with energy, we can be excited about every new day. Hayom, today, is the day we are going to be back on track. Today is the day we are going to get it right. Today is the day lethargy ends and spirit returns. Today is the day we will begin piling up brachos. Today is the day I will concentrate on choosing life.
The way to achieve this mindset is by disciplining our thought process to contemplate and consider our path, wondering where we are headed and whether there are changes we could make that would enable us to be on a better path and accomplish more.
Rav Elchonon Wasserman travelled to America in the 1930s to raise funds for the Baranovitcher Yeshiva that he headed. Someone suggested that he visit an old childhood friend of his who had come to America and found success in the garment industry.
The rosh yeshiva went to visit this old friend, who was overjoyed to welcome him. Rav Elchonon was dismayed to see that his old cheder comrade was living a life devoid of Torah and mitzvos, but he waited for the opportune time to express his grief. He dutifully followed around his old friend, as he proudly gave him a tour of the large factory and its various machines. Finally, they returned to the boss’s office. “Nu, Reb Choneh, how can I help you? What brings you here?”
Rav Elchonon showed the industrialist his frock. “My buttons have become faded and brittle,” he said. “I thought you could help me replace them.”
The owner jumped up and led Rav Elchonon to the tailoring room, where new buttons were affixed.
“But really, why did you come to America?” the owner asked.
“For buttons, I told you,” Rav Elchonon.
The owner was bursting with curiosity, but Rav Elchonon would say no more.
A few days later, the garment manufacturer showed up at Rav Elchonon’s lodgings, eager to speak with him. “My friend, please tell me why you came here. I must know. It can’t be that you crossed the ocean and came to America just to fix the buttons on your coat. There has to be a better reason. I can’t figure out what it is.”
Rav Elchonon looked at him for a while and then said, “Do you remember anything from cheder?”
“Sure,” the gentleman responded.
“Do you remember the Gemara in Chagigah that tells of the distance between heaven and earth?”
“A bit,” said the man.
“You are correct in assuming that I would not undertake a long, exhausting journey across the ocean merely for some buttons, just like I can’t accept that your neshomah traveled such a long distance not for Shabbos, kashrus, Torah or tikkun hamiddos, but just to make buttons!”
Rav Elchonon forced the man to think about the past and the present, and how much he had veered from the life he led in the old country. By discussing the buttons, he sought to encourage the old friend to contemplate his future and rearrange his priorities. He sought to enable him to achieve nechomah.
The middah of maximizing life, living with cheshbon hanefesh, and maintaining a drive to spiritual accomplishment should define every Torah person. Two icons who exemplified this attitude passed away last week. Shlomo (Steven) Hill and Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis understood the value of each moment, the potential of each soul, and the power of words.
Steven Hill rose to the apex of secular achievement through using the medium of word and expression. He was a born entertainer, who had the ability to connect with people, stimulate their minds and emotions, and call forth laughter or tears. When he began contemplating his existence and found his way to the truth, he forged a new path. He wasn’t a young man, but he persevered, clear and certain about his goal. He pursued the truth and didn’t let it go.
He reinvented himself, moving to quiet Monsey to raise a family in tranquility. He moved away from the whir of Hollywood to serve Hashem with a pure heart. Over the years, he funded many projects, but few knew of it.
His son once asked his famous father how he kept his charitable acts secret. Reb Shlomo pointed upwards and said the two words that were his motto: “He knows.” Nothing else mattered. Once he achieved the clarity that comes along with truth, the ratings, crowds and reviews no longer held the same allure.
Rebbetzin Jungreis used dynamism, charisma and energy to convey her message. She had seen the worst of man during the Second World War and experienced pain and destruction. Considering what she had witnessed and pondering her future fueled her determination to reach lost souls. She achieved her nechomah through indomitable will, a burning drive, passion and enthusiasm. From then until her passing, she taught and preached faith and optimism. She lived a life of Torah and earned a blessed life.
Across an ocean, the world shook. An Italian town that stood for centuries was destroyed in a flash in a horrific earthquake. We mourn the loss of life, the pain and destruction. The pictures that depict what transpired provide us with the inspiration to contemplate Hashem’s might. In a moment, the world of thousands came crashing down.
As Elul approaches and the fickleness of man and his journey comes into focus, we clear our minds, take a deep breath, and prepare for the intense days that await us. Nechomah.
Those who came before us discovered how temporal this world and its successes are. They devoted their lives to internalizing the Malchus Hashem, following his mitzvos and embodying his middos. They knew what was consequential and what was trivial. Their lives centered around creating blessings and miracles for themselves. We still live off the accounts of the avos, imahos and our parents and grandparents throughout the ages.
Like them, we can also be great. We can also contemplate why we made the journey from beneath the Kisei Hakavod and thus be blessed with life. We can achieve true nechomah. All we need to do is “Re’eh,” to see for ourselves our situation and potential and then start living.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Light Up the Summer

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
The Husyatiner Rebbe was like an angel. A grandson of the Ruzhiner Rebbe, he was one of the first rebbes to settle in secular Tel Aviv, seeking to draw Jews back to their heritage and strengthen those who were wobbly after the Holocaust. His saintly countenance mesmerized those he sought, while his gentle smile softened them and allowed his words to pierce and enter their hardened hearts.
His final request before passing away was to be taken outside. The medical personnel attending to him thought that he was too weak and infirm to leave his house. The rebbe insisted and was finally led outside to the street.
Visibly relaxed and calm, he raised his eyes toward the heavens and appeared newly energized. Contemplating the vast blue sky, he whispered, “Malchuscha malchus kol olamim umemshaltecha bechol dor vador.” His face radiant, he repeated the posuk several times.
Then, after casting one final look at the sky, he returned to the house, where his holy neshomah left him. He had parted from this beautiful world.
The canopy of heavens spreads above us, a sea of glory and brilliance.
The summer’s pace affords us the chance to breathe deeply and appreciate our blessings and proclaim, “Malchuscha malchus kol olamim.”
This season is one of the happiest times in the year. Last Shabbos, we heard the comforting call of “Nachamu nachamu ami,” as we soaked in the consolation with the onset of the Shivah Denechemta.
The Maharsha states that the double language of the posuk, “Nachamu, nachamu,” is utilized for the same reason Chazal quote the Tannaim who witnessed the churban together with Rabi Akiva. After becoming upset at what they saw, Rabi Akiva comforted them. They 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 emerge from the site of the Bais Hamikdosh. They saw the present; Rabi Akiva saw the past and future. Remembering the prophecy, he saw in the sad presence a source of consolation for the future.
Rabi Akiva was drawn to Torah because he wasn’t encumbered by the present. He had the ability to see beyond what his eyes were witnessing. He saw a stone and dripping water, and he observed how drops of water were able to penetrate such a hard substance. He watched, contemplated, and then understood. If water can break through rock, he mused, then Torah can impact a person as well, despite age and background.
He saw the Torah of creation, the splendor of the world, and all its lessons, and he applied it to himself and to others.
Comforted after re-experiencing the churban, we follow the example of Rabi Akiva, viewing nature and applying lessons of strength and consolation to ourselves. Like the rebbe who had experienced the destruction of the Holocaust and the return of multitudes of Jews to their land; we go out to see the world and perceive “Malchuscha malchus kol olamim.”
In Parshas Eikev, Moshe Rabbeinu continues admonishing the Jewish people for their waywardness. 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, we would have been wiped out a long time ago. Yet, we grow fat and comfortable, strong and haughty, and convince ourselves that our superior intellect and strength enable us to achieve success. It takes a downturn for us to be forced to admit our fallibilities.
When we read the pesukim of Parshas Eikev, we see 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 remained 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.
For 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. Without cogent perspective, one can easily get sidetracked, with trivial concerns skewing his entire mission. When the trivial becomes important, the important becomes trivial.
We live in an age when, all too often, perception trumps reality and people who are adept at creating perceptions win, while those who don’t get it, lose. Proper focus and clarity of vision are essential for every aspect of existence. Nations topple when their leaders lack vision, and political leaders can fall to the most inexperienced challengers when their vision becomes skewed.
Good Jews are able to maintain the proper perspective; no matter what storm is swirling about them. They remain calm and resourceful, for their faith remains unshaken. Meah Shearimniks say, “In Yerushalayim, we open the doors for Shefoch Chamoscha, and they remain open until the shamash slams them to wake the people for Selichos.”
More than a witticism, it’s a remark that conveys that there is no break in the period from Pesach through Rosh Hashonah. Each season brings its task, culminating in Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur, when we reach our apex.
Summer is not a downtime. It is a season with a different format and pace to get us to the same place. In the soft rustle of leaves, the lapping of waves, and the gentle summer rain, we hear the message that our tasks are never-ending.
This 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.
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.”
In this week’s parsha, we are told, “Hishomer lecha, pen tishkach es Hashem Elokecha” (8:11), exhorted not to forget about Hashem for even a moment.
Summer, with its new perspectives, settings and vistas, presents new ways to remember who created the world we know and what our role is in protecting it. On Shabbos Nachamu, we concluded the haftorah with a call to find Hashem. Tzaddikim have taught us that the first letters of the first words of the posuk of “Seu marom eineichem ure’u mi bara eileh - Raise your eyes to heaven and see who created all of these” (Yeshayah 40:26) are the letters of the word Shema. There is a kabbolas ol Malchus Shomayim of closing your eyes and there is a kabbolas ol Malchus Shomayim of opening your eyes.
This “Shema” is the avodah of vacation time. See the sky…and who made it. Behold rushing waterfalls and hear the song of “adir bamarom Hashem.”
On Rosh Chodesh Elul, 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. You wish you could move there and live there full-time. Your vacation site seems so 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 put 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.
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 retreat 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.
As we travel to see different scenes and fresh horizons, we possess an ayin tovah. As we vacation, we are 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 that once beheld a large Jewish population. Now, all that is left are signs with Jewish names: Goldstein’s Paint Shop, Levin’s Furniture Store, and Katz’s Deli. The Jews are found in the cemetery, their intermarried offspring in McDonalds. We find the local shul, despite being in disrepair, to be so charming, and should there be an old rabbi left there, we think he is so majestic. The streets are peaceful, the people endearing.
Yet, if we cared to adjust our attitude, we could see the same chein in our own homes, shuls and shops, and everything else in our everyday lives.
There is one final lesson to the name of the parsha. We live in ikvesa deMeshicha, the heel of the generations. It is an unfeeling generation, devoid of emotion and passion. Some people find it difficult to taste the flavor of Torah or sense the awesomeness of a Shabbos meal and the blessings of our way of life.
On vacation, we have the peace of mind and headspace to focus, contemplate and see the truth. We can fill the heel with light. Let’s do it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Achakeh Lo Bechol Yom Sheyavo

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
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 which followed, rendered 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 sat on the floor, reciting sad liturgical poems depicting the blood-letting, destruction, emptiness and hardship that have befallen our people.
As the homeless do, we sat on the floor pondering our fate, thinking about the important things in life as we ignored many creature comforts. We wondered what we can do to get ourselves back home. We prayed for better days and resolved to do away with sinas chinom and its causes.
When Tisha B’Av ends, we begin to live normally once again. We are reinforced with the faith that the redemption will soon come and the golus will end. In effect, mourning and appreciating our condition give rise to hopes of salvation. When we forget how far we are from where we should be, we begin admiring the exile, reveling in its physical attractions, sights and sounds. We become outwardly gleeful, but increasingly empty on the inside.
Once we remember that we are in golus, the consolation can begin. Last week, we read Parshas Devorim and heard the plaintive wail of Eichah. We lain Parshas Va’eschanan and identify with Moshe Rabbeinu’s desperate desire to behold the Land, to touch its soil and to fulfill its special mitzvos. And then the pleasant chords of Nachamu tug at our souls, as we echo Moshe Rabbeinu’s prayer with much eagerness.
We want it so badly, and we wonder how to get there.
Moshe Rabbeinu davened 515 (the gematria of the word va’eschanan) separate tefillos that he merit entry into Eretz Yisroel. We wonder: If Moshe’s requests were denied, how can we possibly have a chance?
By examining Hashem’s response to Moshe, we can gain an understanding of our abilities to achieve a positive result.
The posuk (Devorim 3:26) states that Hakadosh Boruch Hu instructed Moshe to stop davening, saying, “Rav loch, al tosef daber eilai od badovor hazeh.” The Vilna Gaon (Chumash HaGra, ibid.) explains that Hashem commanded Moshe to stop praying for entry, because he was not to enter the Land.
The Gaon opens a window into the power of tefillah; explaining that tefillah was empowered by Hashem into teva, the nature of the world, to be listened to by Him. Tefillos that are heard have the natural ability to bring about change and erase decrees. Because Hashem did not want to change nature, he asked Moshe to stop davening.
How comforting it is to know that our tefillos have the ability to effect change and correct the course of our lives.
Thus, not only is the haftorah comforting, but Parshas Va’eschanan is as well. It is a parsha of nechomah. The first word, “Va’eschanan,” is translated as an expression of tefillah, but Rashi indicates that since the word “chinom” is at its root, it has an underlying explanation as the ability to make requests of Hashem even though we may not be worthy of receiving what we are asking for. We all have the ability to daven, as Moshe did, and be answered, even if we are not worthy.
You just gotta believe.
We know that the second Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed because of sinas chinom, commonly translated as baseless hatred. Let us examine the Gemara that discusses why the Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed to gain an understanding of sinas chinom, so that we can rectify the sin that causes our exile to continue.
The Gemara in Maseches Yoma (9b) states: “The first Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed because the Jewish people engaged in the sins of avodah zora, giluy arayos, and shefichas domim. However, during the period of the second Bais Hamikdosh, when the Jewish people busied themselves with Torah, mitzvos and gemillus chassodim, the churban was caused by sinas chinom. From here you see that sinas chinom is equivalent to the three cardinal sins that caused the first churban.”
The Netziv (Hemek Dovor, Devorim 4:14) cites the Yerushalmi (4b), which adds some explanation for the churban of the Bayis Sheini: “We know that at the time of the Bayis Sheini, they delved into Torah study and were very scrupulous in their mitzvah observance and maser…but they loved money and hated each other for no apparent reason.” Therefore, the Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed.
The Netziv explains that the Yerushalmi is indicating that at the root of sinas chinom lies a love of money. In other words, the hatred described as sinas chinom is brought on by jealousy of those who have more money.
This jealousy is essentially a lack of emunah. It belies a fundamental distrust in the notion that Hashem gives everything and apportions the lot of every being. He alone decides who gets more and who gets less.
If we would yearn for Hashem’s Presence, there would be no room in our hearts for divisive feelings and hate, because we would recognize that to feel that way is to contradict belief in the Creator’s dominion. One who appreciates Hashem’s master plan rejoices in his lot. He recognizes that all that he has is from Him. Those who cause him pain are Heavenly messengers. The challenges he is confronted with are presented by Hashem. Knowing that helps him get through difficult situations and overcome impulses of hatred and anger.
The Vilna Gaon establishes this in Even Sheleimah (3:1-3), where he writes that “bitachon and being satisfied with what we have are at the root of all middos tovos. These attributes are the marked opposites of wants and desires,” which consume man. The main attribute that a man can strive for is bitachon… All sins arise from wanton desire, as they say that all ten of the Aseres Hadibros and the entire Torah are summed up in the dibbur of ‘Lo Sachmod.’ The middah of histapkus, being satisfied with what you have, is the opposite, and is at the root of the whole Torah, representing the complete belief of not worrying today about tomorrow.
“A person who has proper bitachon but transgresses the most severe sins is better than someone who is lacking in bitachon, for the latter will come to jealousy and hatred, and even if he delves into Torah and performs good acts, he only does so to create a nice reputation.”
This explains the Bavli and Yerushalmi in Yoma. The Jews at the time of the second Bais Hamikdosh were engrossed in learning Torah and performing mitzvos. They were even engaged in performing charitable acts. But their core was rotten. They were driven by selfish desire for more money and more possessions. They didn’t do good deeds because they cared what Hashem would say about them, but because they wanted people to praise them.
They hated each other, because each one saw in the other person blessings he didn’t have. The other guy had a bigger house, bigger wagon, and more money. Their bitachon was lacking. They didn’t believe that what they had was apportioned by Hashem, and thus their root was crooked and corrupt.
Yeshayahu Hanovi (Yeshayahu 1:1) expressed the words of Hashem: “What do I need your korbanos for, says Hashem… I don’t want them.” Hashem desires the sacrifices of those who believe in Him and follow His word because of that belief. He is not interested in the offerings of hateful unbelievers. (See also Devorim 23:19, which states, “Lo sovi esnan zonah umechir kelev bais Hashem Elokecha...ki so’avas Hashem gam shneihem.”) Therefore, the Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed and waits for us to rectify what lies at the root of that negative trait, in order for it to return.
A mother who dishes out supper to her children is offended when they squabble over who received a larger or smaller portion. She loves them all and provides for them everything they require. When they suggest otherwise, it is an indication that they don’t appreciate her love and all she does for them. The Master of the World gives us all what we need. Believers have no reason to hate. The Bais Hamikdosh, the place of the Shechinah in this world, was destroyed because the hatred among the Jewish people indicated that the nation negated the significance of the Divine home amongst them.
The person with bitachon can rise above pettiness and extend kindness to everyone. He can judge others favorably and really love every Jew. He is not challenged when others succeed financially and he doesn’t. He is not overcome with grief when insulted or hurt. Competition doesn’t eat away at his soul. He isn’t driven by an insatiable need for attention, honor or control. People of faith know that Hashem provides for them, as He does for everyone else, and their obligation is to satisfy Him and find favor in His eyes. They know that all that exists and all that transpires is because the One who created the world willed it so.
This lies at the root of the segulah of Rav Chaim Volozhiner to concentrate on “Ein od milvado” in times of danger. Acknowledging that what will happen is from Hashem is to throw yourself upon Him. Bitachon is the segulah for a yeshuah, because it emboldens us to daven with conviction and confidence. We turn to Hashem in tefillah for what we need and are satisfied with the response.
The fact that tefillos help is included in the world’s very nature.
Thus, Va’eschanan and Nachamu are bound together. There is nothing more comforting than a worn Tehillim or an old siddur. We turn to that old sefer with crumpled pages over and over again, for it reminds us of who we are and where we turn, not only in times of need.
There was an old, broken man who lived in the Bais Yisroel neighborhood of Yerushalayim. Life was rough, but he had an illustrious neighbor, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Mir Yerushalayim. Every so often, the man would go to the rosh yeshiva’s home and share his woes, unburdening himself.
Once, Rav Nosson Tzvi asked him, “Tell me, I hear so many problems and I feel for you, but do you ever experience the kindness of Heaven? Do you ever feel rachamei Shomayim?”
“Yes,” the fellow conceded, “I have things in my life that bring me pleasure.”
The rosh yeshiva looked at him. “I’d like you to try something. Here’s a notebook. I want you to write down whatever goes right. Whenever you feel Hashem’s love, make a notation. Write the things that make you happy. Then, when things are tough and you feel down, take this notebook and open it. Tell me how it goes.”
Within a few weeks, the neighbor returned with the happy news that the notebook had changed his life. His focus had shifted.
He recognized that “nisecha shebechol yom imanu” is not merely something you utter without much thought while saying Birkas Hamazon, but an immutable fact. With that perception, he, like true baalei bitachon, gained a new outlook on life that brought him much happiness.
Emunah and bitachon bring nechomah. They lead to proper tefillah, satisfaction and love.
Renowned Holocaust survivor Reb Yossel Friedenson would often tell of the time he and a friend were working alongside each other in a concentration camp. The friend heard a thin, pale girl shout out from the women’s camp on other side of the fence that she desperately needed a sweater. The friend told Reb Yossel what he had heard. He suggested that perhaps they could get their hands on a sweater and sneak it across the fence to Mrs. Freidenson to give to the girl.
A few days later, they came across a sweater as they were sorting clothing confiscated from inmates and victims of the gas chambers. They concealed it for the freezing young woman. Reb Yossel, who was permitted to meet with his wife, slipped her the sweater.
The next day, a message came back. That emaciated inmate wasn’t asking for a sweater. She was screaming across the fence for a siddur! Skin and bones, shivering and worn out, she didn’t need a sweater for warmth. She needed a siddur to warm her soul and body.
She knew the sod of tefillah. She knew that to survive in that unnatural, awful place, she had to turn to tefillah, the natural key to salvation.
Tefillah provides the ultimate nechomah.
Yeshayahu Hanovi proclaims, “Nachamu, nachamu ami, take comfort My nation, yomar Elokeichem, your G-d says. You are My people. You are My nation. Recognize that and you will be comforted, for I shall comfort you.”
As we finish reciting the Kinnos, after a morning spent lonely on the floor, reading the sad words written throughout the ages, we unite in song. We proclaim the words, “Eli Tziyon v’oreha. Zion wails as a woman about to give birth.” We state that we have learned our lesson. We recognize where we have gone wrong. With hearts united, we say together: No more hate, no more jealousy, no more lack of bitachon. From our pain, we will give birth to a renewed people finally redeemed. From our pain, the Bais Hamikdosh will rise in the heart of Zion.
Let us rid our hearts of hatred, pettiness, jealousy and machlokes. Let us appreciate what we have and stop looking at what other people have. Let us abandon our love of money and drive for increasing affluence. Let us increase our love, satisfaction and faith. Let us do all we can to eradicate sinas chinom in all its guises from among us.
Achakeh lo bechol yom sheyavo.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

With a Heart Full of Love

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Parshas Devorim, which we read this week, like the entire final seder of the Torah, represents Moshe Rabbeinu’s farewell message to his people. The parsha introduces us to the seder that describes the sojourn of the Bnei Yisroel in the midbar and ends with prophetic words concerning their entry into Eretz Yisroel.
The Jewish people went on to settle the land, erected the Mishkon in Shilo, built the Botei Mikdosh, experienced two churbanos, and were then tragically evicted from the land promised to them. They were sent into golus, where we remain until this day. We will reach our desired state of shleimus when we are gathered from exile and permanently brought to Eretz Yisroel with the geulah.
Rabbeinu Bechaya (Devorim 1:1, 30:3) explains that the main role of Eretz Yisroel will also only be realized after the final redemption. Our people lived in the land for a temporary, relatively short period. After Moshiach returns us to the Promised Land, the purpose for which the world was created will be realized. Thus, the final pesukim of the Torah connect to its beginning in Bereishis, for the permanent return to Eretz Yisroel is akin to the creation of the world, which will then begin realizing the purpose for which it was established.
Similarly, Chazal teach, “Sofo na’utz b’sechilaso,” the end is tied to and rooted in the beginning. The paths, peaks and valleys of our existence combine to lead to our destiny.
Seder Devorim begins with Moshe Rabbeinu rebuking his people, for in order to merit geulah and entry into Eretz Yisroel, they had to engage in teshuvah. As the Rambam says (Hilchos Teshuva 7:5), “Ein Yisroel nigolin elah beseshuvah,” Klal Yisroel will only be redeemed if we engage in proper and complete teshuvah.
Since Moshe loved his nation and selflessly wanted them to be able to enter the land that Hashem promised to their forefathers, he admonished them with love and respect so that they would accept his tochachah. He spoke to them in a way that preserved their self-esteem (Rashi, Devorim 1:1; see also Rambam Hilchos Teshuva 4:2), because he knew that for people to accept mussar, it is usually advantageous to maintain their dignity.
It’s not as if Moshe wasn’t aware of their obstinate and disrespectful nature. Rashi (ibid.) explains that he spoke these words of mussar only after the entire nation had gathered in one place. Moshe knew the nature of these people and wanted to prevent loathsome characters from being able to proclaim that had they been there, they would have spoken back to and challenged Moshe. Therefore, he gathered them all together, indicating, “If you have what to say, say it here to my face.”
Despite his keen understanding of their displeasing behavior, his speech was laced with love and respect. The role of parents, teachers and leaders when reproaching is to do so without destroying the person, while providing clarity about the correct path, and conveying confidence for the future.
It is commonly noted that we read this parsha before Tisha B’Av because it contains Moshe’s admonition beginning with the word “Eicha,” which we lain in the same tune as Megillas Eicha on Tisha B’Av.
Perhaps we can suggest that another reason is to teach us how to give mussar and bring people home. It is not by demeaning them, yelling at them, or making them feel utterly useless. It is by carefully crafting the corrective message and infusing it with love, demonstrating that it emanates from a loving and intelligent heart.
Man is created with a heart and a brain, impulses and emotions, competing character traits, and a complicated psychology and thinking process. In his youth, he requires parents and teachers to set him on the proper path, and teach him Torah, responsibility and manners. He needs to be shown and taught how to think and how to act. Man has successes and failures as he goes through life. Due to his very nature, he often requires course corrections by those who care about him.
Torah and mitzvos help him battle the ever-present yeitzer hora, but that is not always sufficient. Every generation has unique temptations. The further we get from Sinai, the harder it is to deal with them. Just like Noach in his day - Chazal say, “Noach hayah tzorich sa’ad letomcho” - we all need help to make it and can’t do it on our own.
To the degree that others recognize this, they can be sources of support and constructive chastisement.
It is interesting that this month of Jewish tragedy is referred to as Chodesh Av, which is the same as the word meaning father. Perhaps we can say that it is a reminder to us to reprimand those whose sins prevent us from realizing the redemption, with fatherly love; treating others as a father would and lending them a shoulder to lean on to contemplate their situation, and a hand to help them climb and rise.
It is a reminder to act as Moshe did, admonishing in a way that could be accepted so that the people would merit exiting their golus and entering the land of geulah.
Another understanding of the name can be gleaned from a story about the Divrei Chaim of Sanz, who lost a child and was distraught. The rebbe was overcome at the Friday funeral, but although he was clearly devastated, when Shabbos began, his face glowed with its usual radiance and joy.
Chassidim asked the rebbe how he was able to find the strength to rise above the pain. He offered a parable of a person walking along a street and suddenly felt a pat on his back. Startled, he turned around, only to see that what he felt was actually a loving pat from his father. 
“I felt the blow,” said the rebbe, “but then I saw who it was from: my beloved Father.”
The Torah teaches us to understand difficult moments by recognizing that “just as a father punishes his son, Hashem punishes Klal Yisroel” (Devorim 8:5).
We are to understand that when we are hurt, it is an act of love, not anger. A parent disciplines because he wants to prod his child to growth and success. Even when the admonishment is painful, it is understood to be in context of parental love and hope.
So, during Chodesh Av, we read this week’s parsha, in which Moshe Rabbeinu, the av lenevi’im, the most effective rebbi we have ever had and the eternal Jewish father figure, demonstrates how a loving father offers rebuke.
In order to bring people to teshuvah, which will bring us to the ultimate geulah, we need to preach as Moshe preached, and rebuke and reprimand as he did.
An examination of the posuk beginning with the word “Eicha,” reveals the state of the Jewish people at the time of Moshe Rabbeinu’s talk with them. Far from a great people simply lacking in refinement, they were actually rambunctious apikorsim, who would mock Moshe and incessantly quarrel among themselves (Rashi, Devorim 1:12).
Yet, Moshe saw greatness in them and worked to bring them to the level that would allow Hashem to end their golus and bring them to Eretz Yisroel. So too, in our day, if we are mochiach with love, treating all Jews as brothers and sisters, and care about them, we can also help bring the nation out of golus and into geulah.
Rav Simcha Bunim Cohen was a young bochur when he first met Rav Moshe Feinstein. A resident of the Lower East Side, he entered the MTJ bais medrash for the first time to daven Minchah and approached Rav Moshe. The rosh yeshiva was engrossed in a sugya, so the bochur waited patiently for him to raise his head from the seforim in front of him.
Finally, Rav Moshe noticed the young boy standing there and extended his hand to him. He said, “Shalom Aleichem,” and asked him his name. After some small talk, Rav Moshe rose from his seat and led the bochur by hand to the back of the bais medrash. “Come,” he said, “let me show you where the siddurim are. It’s your first time here, so you probably don’t know.”
After showing him where the siddurim were kept, the elderly gaon began taking the boy down a set of stairs.
“Where are we going?” Simcha Bunim asked.
“I want to show you where the bais hakisei is,” said Rav Moshe.
The bochur was overcome by the effusive love that the gaon hador showed him, a lesson he shall never forget.
The love of a leader, a rebbi, a rosh yeshiva, for a young bochur he didn’t even know, like a father for his child.
The boy went home to write in his diary how impressed he was and that he would make it his business to return to see Rav Moshe again. Within a few days, he was back. He went on to establish a special relationship with Rav Moshe.
Several years later, he was learning at the Mir Yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel and felt that it was time to return home. His rebbi, Rav Nochum Partzovitz, suggested that he would benefit from remaining in the yeshiva for one more zeman. When Simcha Bunim demurred, Rav Nochum proposed that he address the question to Rav Moshe Feinstein.
A few days later, Rav Moshe handed a tape with a recorded message to Rav Simcha Bunim’s father. Rav Moshe advised him to stay in the Mir for another zeman. “If Moshiach comes,” Rav Moshe said, “we will meet in Yerushalayim. If chas veshalom not, I guarantee you that I will be here when you return to New York.” Then he recorded on the cassette tape a 15-minute ma’amar of chizuk for the young bochur.
Simcha Bunim took the tape to Rav Nochum and they listened to it together. As they heard Rav Moshe speak, tears streamed down Rav Nochum’s face. He was overwhelmed and overcome as he listened; he couldn’t stop crying. When it was over, he explained how touched he was by the love of the elderly gadol hador for a young bochur thousands of miles away.
The love of Moshe, the love of a leader for his flock, the love of a rebbi for a talmid, ensuring that he would do the right thing and feel good about it.
A paradox appears in the words of Chazal: “Yehi beischa posuach l’revacha - May your home be open wide before the masses.” Yet, we’re also taught, “Yehi beischa beis va’ad lachachomim - May your home be a gathering place for talmidei chachomim.”
Which is the correct way to run a Jewish home?
Rav Meir Chodosh answered that the home should be open to all who need entry, but the mandate of the host is to ensure that all who enter depart his dwelling a little wiser than when they entered.
Unconditional love and acceptance, with a mission to educate. And it is possible to do both.
Such was the legacy of the mussar giant, Rav Meir Chodosh. His home in the Chevroner Yeshiva, breeding ground for generations of talmidei chachomim, was marked by the carton of cookies that sat in the kitchen next to the steaming urn. The treats were set up for the bochurim of the yeshiva, who were encouraged to enter and partake of coffee, tea and cookies 24/7.
The ideals of the Chevroner mashgiach lived on and were embodied by his son, Rav Moshe Mordechai Chodosh, who passed away last week after a short illness.
Through example and message, his parents raised him to appreciate that the highest calling is helping others. As one of the yeshiva’s most respected and accomplished bochurim, he was the first to offer shalom aleichem to a newcomer. He was always ready with a smile and kind word to lift sagging spirits.
He exuded sweetness and warmth, personifying the human touch. He was relatable and pleasant. His shiurim were outstanding in their crystalline clarity and sparkling simplicity. The yeshivos he headed were not only for metzuyanim, nor for struggling teenagers, nor for those in between. They were for all of them. Bochurim. Bnei Torah. He welcomed them all and loved them all.
I came to know him when I was learning in Brisk and living in the Ezras Torah neighborhood, where his nascent yeshiva was located. Decades later, after his yeshiva greatly expanded and he established and led many others, as a renowned rosh yeshiva with legions of talmidim, he had the same ever-present, warm smile and welcoming countenance.
When he became ill and was told that he would be placed in isolation so that the advanced treatment would work, he first returned to his yeshiva to deliver a final, parting shiur. The sight was so amazing and awesome that we chronicled it in the Yated with a front page report. The image of that final shiur will live on for a long time.
He stood in front of the bais medrash like the lion of Torah he was, resplendent in his glory, epitomizing the greatness of Slabodka, personifying its message of gadlus ha’adam, displaying the love of a great soul at its apex, enveloped in Torah, surrounded by beloved students.
Seemingly oblivious to his physical condition, that image of the rosh yeshiva, smiling as he carefully dissected and laid out a sugya, transmitting the mesorah and beauty of Torah to the next generation, helping develop the minds and thinking of beloved talmidim for one last time, was similar to Moshe Rabbeinu’s parting from his flock on his last day.
The image of that soft smile, brilliant mind, faithful soul, and hadras ponim radiating yiras Shomayim and Torah will embolden his many talmidim and others as they face challenges and seek motivation throughout their lives.
When the shiur ended, the talmidim rose and lined up for a final encounter, to sear the image and message on their growing, maturing neshamos in a beautiful, heart-breaking, reflection of this week’s parsha. “Eileh hadevorim asher dibber Moshe.”
His passing was itself a shiur, and those who hear the song of history can’t help but appreciate that this also was his mesorah.
When Rav Simcha Wasserman sought to establish a yeshiva in memory of his sainted father, Rav Elchonon, he looked for the perfect rosh yeshiva to head the institution and teach talmidim.  Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach suggested that Rav Moshe Mordechai Chodosh was the man for the job.
Rav Chodosh led the yeshiva to great heights, never forgetting whose yeshiva it was. He marked the yahrtzeit of Rav Elchonon and made Rav Elchonon’s Torah a centerpiece of his shiurim. Like Rav Elchonon, who viewed himself as a rebbi to young bochurim, Rav Moshe focused on his shiurim.
And now there is another feature of Rav Elchonon’s greatness that he emulated.
Rav Elchonon gave up his life al kiddush Hashem in spectacular fashion, urging his fellow kedoshim to “Prepare to die with pure thoughts, so that we may ascend to heaven as perfect korbanos. Let us walk with our heads held high. Let no one think a thought that would disqualify his offering. We are about to fulfill the greatest mitzvah, the mitzvah of kiddush Hashem.”
His tragic end was the modern-day equivalent of the death of the great Tanna, Rabi Akiva.
As Rabi Akiva prepared for his end at the hands of the evil Romans, his talmidim wondered, “Rabbeinu, ad kan? Is this what’s demanded of man, to approach such brutal sadism with a smile?”
The Piaseczna Rebbe explained that the talmidim weren’t asking a hashkafic question because their faith was tested. They weren’t pondering the secrets of the universe. What they were really asking Rabi Akiva was how they could tap into his faith. They were asking their rebbi to convey to them what inspired him so that they, as well, would feel it. They were asking for a parting shiur.
Rabi Akiva left this world before the eyes of eager talmidim delivering one final lesson. Rav Elchonon entered the pantheon of great men who gave their lives al kiddush Hashem delivering a shiur with his passing.
Rav Moshe Chodosh learned the lesson taught by the sainted Baranovitcher rosh yeshiva and delivered a shiur in kiddush Hashem before his passing.
Misas tzaddikim is as difficult as the churban of the Bais Hamikdosh. We cry for all of them, for rabbeim and their talmidim, for fathers and mothers and children, for rabbonim and their kehillos, for communities and their leaders, for the shopkeepers and scribes and beggars.
So much Jewish blood has been shed. So much heartache has been felt throughout the centuries in exile. On Tisha B’Av, we sit on the floor and plaintively ask, “Lamah lanetzach tishkacheinu?” For how long will death endure? For how much longer will we linger in golus?
When will You say that enough is enough, ad kan?
Help us follow in the paths of Moshe Rabbeinu and the Moshes of every generation. Help us love all Jews and bring them back. Help us show them the way so that we can all finally go home.
Hashiveinu Hashem eilecha venoshuvah, chadeish yomeinu k’kedem.