Feel the Pain
Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
There is a war going on. Jews are getting killed. Stabbed. Murdered. Shot. Day after day, the numbers are adding up. Sometimes, they are killed one at a time, other times in groups. Knifed, sprayed with bullets or rammed with a car. And that is very tragic. Sad. Awful. There is a growing trail of blood, leaving their families and communities devastated.
It’s heartbreaking. But do you know what is also sad? That many don’t seem to care. People were davening Minchah in Tel Aviv and an Arab waiter from a restaurant next door knifed two men to death and tried to slaughter more. V’ein ish som al leiv. Nobody knows about it. Nobody is broken up about it.
An 18-year-old boy studying in a yeshiva in Beit Shemesh went to bring meals to soldiers and was shot dead by an Arab terrorist, another young life snuffed out, a young man with so much potential cut down.
The tears should be flowing, the sadness and pain engulfing us, yet, somehow, we’ve become immune, the flow of tragedies becoming news stories rather than personal messages. They become things to pass around without seriously contemplating the deep personal tragedies.
The Torah states that when Moshe Rabbeinu, who had grown up in the palace of Paroh, left and saw the suffering of his brothers in Mitzrayim, “Vayar besivlosam – And he saw their pain.” The Chiddushei Horim adds a component to what Moshe saw. He writes that “sivlosam” hints to the idea that his brethren had begun to be “soveil” what was transpiring. They were tolerant of the sad reality and accepted it as a fact of life.
When Moshe saw that, he perceived that they were in real trouble and that it was time to begin agitating for their release. They had begun to accept the culture and atmosphere of being enslaved in Mitzrayim.
We see what’s happening today and we wonder if, perhaps, G-d forbid, we have started to be soveil this new reality. We glimpse at the articles, peek at the pictures if they are not too gory, shake our heads and move on. Instead of mourning the loss of yet another young life, we send around emails wondering why President Obama was waiting to condemn the senseless murder of an American citizen in Israel, as if we need his condemnation to validate the truth. What difference does it make if his staff writes up a pithy sentence? Will that change anything? The emails we should be sending around and the thoughts we should be thinking should be focused on what we can be doing about the slaughter of our people that is going on and how it obligates us. People felt better when the Patriots held a moment of silence in memory of Ezra Schwartz Hy”d before Monday night’s game, as if that somehow gave validation to Jewish pain and suffering and as if that’s what was needed. Jews proudly emailed clips of the moment of silence
A couple was killed on Erev Rosh Hashanah and their deaths resonated, tearing hearts across the Jewish world. People spoke about it everywhere and cared. Then the terror spread to Yerushalayim and the message began hitting home. But then the violence continued. And continued. Over time as these despicable acts continued, with every day bringing a new tragedy - more orphans, more parents sitting shivah, and more blood on the streets - we have become so overwhelmed that we no longer react.
It doesn’t help that the free world, which never cared much about Jewish blood in the first place, has now become preoccupied with the ISIS terror unleashed in Europe and ignores what is happening in Israel. Our hearts go out to the French people and victims of terror worldwide. We bemoan the leadership that allowed ISIS to be born and develop into a major threat over the past seven years. We wish that the world would recognize the threat engulfing it and declare war upon the evildoers, without politically correct reservations.
But that doesn’t absolve us from focusing on the real issue and the weighty implications for us. As bnei Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov, we have to recognize that Jews in particular are being singled out for slaughter. We must feel their pain and think about what we can do to help alleviate the suffering. Each one of us is charged with doing our part to bring this tragic chapter to a close.
What, exactly, is our part?
Parshas Vayishlach represents a guidebook on relations with the world. Chazal state that chachomim who traveled to Rome would carefully study this week’s parshah before setting out on their missions. As our chachomim throughout the ages studied this parshah and Yaakov’s behavior before confronting the exile, we must do the same.
The Ramban writes that the parshah “contains a hint for future generations, for all that transpired between our forefather Yaakov and Eisov will happen to us with Eisov’s children, and it is fitting for us to follow the path of the tzaddik (Yaakov).”
Throughout the generations, the children of Eisov sometimes present themselves as achim, brothers, concerned about our welfare, and other times their evil intentions are more apparent.
No matter how they present themselves, our response to Eisov remains constant. We deal with Eisov the same way Yaakov did, so it is important for us to properly analyze Yaakov’s actions and statements.
The posuk says, “Vayishlach Yaakov malochim lefonov el Eisov ochiv” (Bereishis 31:4). Yaakov sent malochim to his brother, Eisov, to let him know that he was returning to the Land of Israel, seeking a peaceful brotherly reunion.
What was the message Yaakov sent to his wicked brother to convince him to retreat from his threats to inflict bodily harm on Yaakov? He told the malochim to tell Eisov, “Im Lavan garti, although I lived many years with the wicked Lavan, taryag mitzvos shomarti, I observed all the 613 mitzvos.”
The parshah and the dealings between the brothers have historical significance. They are written in the Torah for us to learn from as we navigate our golus experience. There are several issues that bear explanation in order to understand the message Yaakov sent Eisov. Yaakov chose to send malochim, actual angels, rather than human messengers. Why? And since when does man have the ability to send angels on missions with messages? Secondly, why would the wicked Eisov care that Yaakov was able to maintain his lofty levels while living by Lavan? Of what interest was it to him that Yaakov had observed the 613 commandments?
Chazal teach that the performance of mitzvos creates malochim. Every mitzvah creates a malach. The Vilna Gaon taught that since every word of Torah studied fulfills a mitzvah, it follows that every word of Torah we study creates a malach. Who are those malochim? What is their task? Those malochim surround us and protect us from harm.
Yaakov was telling Eisov, “You won’t just be fighting me and my family. If you go to battle against us, you will be fighting the malochim created by the 613 mitzvos I fulfilled even in the house of Lavan. Lest you think that I fell under his influence and created malochim mashchisim (destructive angels), be forewarned that I am the same Yaakov ish tom you knew back home. Im Lavan garti, vetaryag mitzvos shomarti. There will be thousands of malochim defending me as I enter your turf. Beware.
There is a story told of a religious traveler who, during a trip, entered a convenience store, where a bare-headed clerk rang up his purchase of some chips and a soda. Thanks to his accent, the customer identified the clerk as an Israeli. He smiled and said to him, “Shalom aleichem.”
The clerk, though an Israeli, had little interest in his heritage. In fact, he had come to America to escape from Jews. He was quite upset to have been outed by a co-religionist and responded by saying, “Don’t greet me and don’t share this shalom aleichem stuff with me. It’s wrong.”
“Why is it wrong?” asked the surprised traveler.
“Because ‘aleichem’ is plural and I am only one person,” said the man.
The customer smiled and nodded. “You are right, but I am not only extending my greetings to you. The rabbis teach that every Jew is surrounded by two malochim at all times. Thus, I use the plural when I greet the three of you.”
The conversation over, the clerk frowned and turned to the next customer.
A few months later, the traveler passed through the same town again and decided to stop at the store. Maybe he’d meet that Israeli again and maybe he would be able to reach his heart. He entered and saw the clerk there, sporting a baseball cap.
The clerk’s eyes shot open when the frum man entered. “You’re back? You have no idea of the trouble you caused me and what you did to my life.”
The traveler prodded him to explain.
“I can’t get out of my head what you told me about the angels,” the clerk said. “I left work and went to eat supper at McDonald’s like I usually do, but I couldn’t eat. I sat there and thought about those angels. How could I eat a cheeseburger with angels at my side? How could I offend them that way?
“Ten times a day, I get annoyed by those angels. In short,” the clerk concluded, “you’re ruining my life with those angels. They don’t let me do anything!”
Yaakov had many more malochim at his side, and if Eisov wouldn’t respect Yaakov, his life would be upended.
There is no protection stronger than that of Torah. Those who study Daf Yomi recently learned the Gemara (Sotah 21a) which teaches, Torah and mitzvos are magna umatzla,” Torah and mitzvos protect a person. Torah study and mitzvah observance create a fortress, an impenetrable protective wall. At the yeshiva of Sheim V’Eiver, Yaakov merited learning Torah without hesech hada’as, and in the house of Lavan, he learned Torah “b’af,” through suffering and challenge. He rose above the distractions and oppression, creating malochim the entire time. Try as he may, Eisov would not be able to escape that fact.
“Im Lavan garti vetaryag mitzvos shomarti. Know this, my brother, Eisov: I continued learning and performing mitzvos even under Lavan, so you will not be able to defeat me.”
A talmid of Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach once noticed an old yellowed notebook on a high shelf in the rosh yeshiva’s room, hidden away, out of sight. The talmid lifted it and presented it to Rav Shach. “The rosh yeshiva is probably looking for this notebook,” he said. “I found it in a strange place.”
“No, thank you,” Rav Shach told him. “Please return it there. I wrote those chiddushim many years ago, but I am no longer confident that they are completely emes.”
“Then why keep the booklet at all?” asked the talmid.
“Because I was very sick when I wrote those chiddushim and it has special chein to me. I recall the sweetness of Torah shelomadeti b’af, consisting of Torah learned through times of challenge. I want to keep it nearby.”
The Chofetz Chaim participated in the construction of a hospital in Radin. At a meeting of sponsors, wealthy philanthropists each announced how many beds they would sponsor. They turned to the Chofetz Chaim and asked how many beds he would sponsor.
“Fifty,” he said.
“Oh, wow,” the board members said, impressed.
The Chofetz Chaim explained that the Torah studied by the bochurim in his yeshiva protects the town and prevents illness and suffering. In their zechus, the town would require fifty fewer hospital beds.
Torah saves lives. Malochim created by observance of mitzvos and limud haTorah stave off punishment, creating a security fence that saves lives and prevents pain and suffering.
So what can we do? We can create malochim. We can sponsor hospital beds. We can respond to each horrific report by making a real difference, by forming a legion of malochim mamash of our own.
Every time we learn, every time we do a mitzvah, every time we daven, we have to do so with an awareness that we have the ability to impact the balance of power in this world.
We have to care. We have to feel the pain. We have to know that we are all brothers and sisters, despite differences of language, country and custom.
Last week, two men were killed as they davened Minchah. We are not prophets and cannot discern the ways of Hashem, but when things happen, we know that there are lessons there for us. Let us examine the tefillah of Minchah.
The Gemara in Maseches Brachos states, “Tefillos avos tiknum,” the avos instituted the three tefillos we pray each day. Avrohom instituted Shacharis, Yitzchok instituted Minchah, and Yaakov instituted Arvis, or Maariv.
Avrohom was the av hamon goyim. He was the first to call out in Hashem’s name. This is signified by Shacharis, the prayer said at the beginning of the day. He introduced the idea of sanctifying the day by starting the morning with tefillah.
Yaakov was the first of the avos to go into extended golus. Yaakov also had the most difficult life of the three avos. From the womb until his passing, he was beset by trouble. The tefillah he instituted is recited in the dark and signifies that even in times of darkness, a Jew never gives up. He maintains his faith and can exude holiness. It also signifies that a Jew can bring holiness into the darkness of exile.
Yitzchok instituted the tefillah of Minchah, which is recited in the middle of the workday. Minchah signifies that a Jew can make the mundane holy. By breaking off in the middle of work to daven, a Jew demonstrates that his priorities are in order. He knows that success in business comes not from his own skill, but from Above. He also demonstrates that he can raise his level of kedushah even while engaging in regular workday activities.
The Gemara (Brachos 24) derives that Yitzchok instituted the tefillah of Minchah from the posuk in last week’s parshah which states, “Vayeitzei Yitzchok losuach basodeh lifnos orev.” The Gemara translates this to mean that Yitzchok went out to daven in the field towards evening.
Tosafos asks how Yitzchok was permitted to daven in the field, since the halachah is that one should not daven in an open field, where it is difficult to concentrate. Tosafos answers that the place where Yitzchok was davening was not really a field. It was Har Hamoriah. The Gemara in Maseches Pesachim (84) states that Avrohom referred to that hallowed place as a “har,” a mountain. Yitzchok referred to it as a “sodeh,” a field, and Yaakov called it a “bayis,” a home.
Apparently, in keeping with the avodah of Yitzchok Avinu, the posuk purposely referred to the place where he initiated the avodah of tefillas Minchah as a sodeh. Yitzchok Avinu’s chiddush was that tefillah is indeed possible even as a Jew is deeply immersed in trying to earn parnassah. He can - and must - take a break from his consuming business affairs and turn to Hashem. To hint this to us, the posuk from which we derive the obligation of davening Minchah refers to Har Hamoriah as a sodeh.
Despite what we are doing throughout the day, we pause in the middle of it and daven. We show that we understand our purpose in life and that we can raise ourselves to the level of tefillah even in a sodeh, not only when we are wrapped in tallis and tefillin, but also when we are in our work clothes. We have a higher purpose than Eisov and live on a higher plane.
If Jews are killed during Minchah, perhaps it signifies that we must work harder to maintain our levels of kedushah in a tumultuous world full of temptation and licentiousness.
Let us work on ourselves to raise our levels of mitzvah observance, Torah study and arvus. Doing so will help us elevate ourselves from the sodeh to Har Hamoriah and wipe away the pain from all who are suffering.