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 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.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

It’s All About Words

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Parshas Mattos, one of the three parshiyos that are always read during the Three Weeks, bears lessons for us to improve our behavior in golus and merit our share in Eretz Yisroel, which the Torah apportions in this week’s parsha.
The parsha begins with the laws of nedorim and shavuos, different types of vows and promises a person makes, and the obligation “not to defile your words and do whatever you said you would” (Mattos 30:3).
In our society, words are cheap. They are thrown around aimlessly and carelessly, sometimes in a bid to impress and sometimes just to pass time. In the Twitter generation, everything is superficial, including words. They are conduits used to express thoughts and feelings that contain facile meaning and no depth. Little thought goes into what is said and thus words carry no weight.
This country just experienced two political conventions. People known for oratorical skills read speeches prepared for them and loaded on to a teleprompter. The words expressed opinions that often betrayed what that person has actually done and plans to do. But it didn’t make a difference, because they sounded good and expressed what the audience wanted to hear at that moment. It is not even clear that the crowd cared whether what was being said reflected the truth. As long as it sounded good and had applause lines and some red meat, they were happy.
Millions sat in their homes, watching and listening to those speeches. As long as their party was the one speechifying, they clapped and chanted, giving little thought to the content and impact of those words, should they ever be acted upon or taken seriously. Everything was superficial and thoughtless, words tugging at the emotions and ignoring the intellect.
The headlines the next day focused on the buzzwords and catchphrases, lauding the combination of words that sounded best or worst, depending on the candidate that particular media organ wished to promote.
A failed president offered soaring rhetoric, as if he has presided over eight golden years in the White House. His remarks were eloquent, so the people clapped without giving much thought to the veracity of his words.
A stream of insiders stood at the podium vouching for Hillary Clinton’s integrity and leadership. They couched lies in elegant phraseology and the people clapped.
But we know that words are so much more than that. Words are life itself.
The Ribono Shel Olam created His world with asarah ma’amaros, ten utterances. The Baal Shem Tov explains the posuk in Tehillim of “Le’olam Hashem devorcha nitzov bashomayim” (Tehillim 119) to mean that words used to create are still enduring. The heavens are still sustained by the words that fashioned them, and the water’s existence is a result of that continuing ma’amar. Words are life.
An object is called a dovor in Lashon Kodesh because it is sustained by His word.
There was a time when people valued each word, when they perceived the inherent value of every utterance. Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach said that his uncle, Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, once described his bar mitzvah celebration to him.
After davening on the day he turned thirteen, Rav Isser Zalman’s father, Rav Boruch Peretz, and three friends celebrated by partaking of cake and schnapps. The men sat around a table, extended their best wishes to the bar mitzvah bochur, enjoyed a lechayim, and went on their way.
Rav Boruch Peretz explained why he asked those three people to join him. He said that at the bris of little Isser Zalman thirteen years earlier, these three friends had all wished mazel tov to him and added the words, “Im yirtzeh Hashem, we will frei tzach at his bar mitzvah.” They expressed the common prayer to merit rejoicing at his bar mitzvah. He had replied “amein.”
Rav Boruch Peretz felt that those words might have the status of a neder. Therefore, when the time to celebrate the bar mitzvah arrived, he invited them to the celebration.
Rav Shach would say that back home in Lita, ah vort iz geven ah vort. People of depth appreciated the depth and meaning of each word. Words carried weight, and for thirteen years, Rav Isser Zalman’s father walked around carrying that weight so that the words would be honored.
A salesman paid a call to a manufacturer in the city of Nordan in Germany and was astonished when he saw a picture of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch hanging on the office wall of the firm’s Gentile owner. He asked what the story was behind that picture. The man explained.
“My father had a court case many years ago with a Jew from this town. The judge found that the Jew had to swear to affirm the veracity of his words. The custom back then was that the oath had to be taken in the presence of known clergyman, so that the claimant wouldn’t lie. The local rabbi was Rabbi Hirsch, who was the rabbi in nearby Emden. He was brought in to administer the oath.
“Rabbi Hirsch came to town on Friday and stayed over the weekend. He lectured in the synagogue on the Sabbath. My father snuck in to hear what he would say. The rabbi spoke about the seriousness with which a Jew may take an oath and that it is better not to swear at all.
“My father was so taken by the speech that after the Sabbath he went to see the rabbi and told him how impressed he was with his words and would forgo the need to have his opponent swear in court, even if that would mean that he would lose his case against him.
“The Jewish man who was supposed to swear in Rabbi Hirsch’s presence in court to validate his claim also went to visit the rabbi after the Sabbath. He told him that the speech made a serious impression on him and that he would rather lose the case than swear.
“And that is why the rabbi’s picture hangs in my office.”
Words are taken seriously.
When Rav Leib Chasman was a bochur in Kelm, the local esrog merchant showed him a magnificent esrog. The next day, the esrog-soicher tracked down the bochur and told him that he had found an even nicer esrog than the one he had showed him the day before.
The merchant was shocked when the customer said he would buy the first one.
He explained that the day before, he had decided to purchase the first esrog, “so while there is a hiddur mitzvah to buy the nicer esrog, I decided to fulfill the hiddur mitzvah of ‘vedover emes bilvavo.’”
He treasured not only spoken words, but those unspoken as well.
We’ve lost that. In our society, words should have meaning. Meaning also has to have meaning. We must not be superficial. The world is too dangerous a place for us to act without information and without thought. Too often, we express opinions and act based on feelings and not facts, emotions and not intellect. To do so is folly and can have drastic consequences.
Words affect us and other people. We have to be careful not to use insulting words or derogatory innuendo; a seemingly innocuous comment, can be extremely hurtful and cause people to lose sleep and self-worth. To end the golus and help return the Bais Hamikdosh, we should think before we speak and ensure that our speech is neither hurtful nor insulting.
An elderly Belzer chossid, Reb Yisroel Klein, survived the Nazi labor and concentration camps. He told Rav Gamliel Rabinowitz the zechus that he believed saved him.
One day, he saw a person who was so hungry that he was hallucinating and losing his grip on reality. His stomach was bloated and his eyes were rolling in his head. The man had obviously not eaten in days. He was standing at a garbage pail, using his last strength to desperately search for crumbs of food.
Reb Yisroel saw the sad scene and approached the man, who seemed as if he was at death’s door. He said to him, “Reb Yid, tell me how I can help you.”
The man was shocked to encounter some humanism in a place of murder, death and destruction. With limited remaining strength, he softly responded, “Epes essen. Something to eat.”
Mr. Klein had also not eaten for a few days and was in no position to help the starving man by giving him food.
“My dear brother,” he said to the man, “I have nothing, not even a crumb. We are both in the same boat. But there is one thing I can give you, and that is love. I love you, for you are a Jew, just like me.”
With that, he grabbed onto the man’s limp body with both hands and kissed him. They both were overcome with emotion and the tears began to fall. In a choked voice, Reb Yisroel said to the man over and over again, “Ich hub dir leeb. Ich hub dir leeb. I love you. I love you.”
And so they stood, wrapped together, one Jew bringing another back to life with a few simple words.
As they parted, Mr. Klein told his new friend, “Know this: Even here, in this miserable place, the Ribono Shel Olam loves us and hasn’t forgotten us. Let us keep in touch and strengthen each other as long as we are here.”
Reb Yisroel saved a life with four words: Ich hub dir leeb. He had no food, no water, and no clean clothing to share. The only thing he had were words. With but a few words, he nourished and sustained his fellow inmate, enabling him to hold on to life. And in that merit, he also lived.
Last week, in the middle of a telephone conversation with Reb Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin, the line was suddenly disconnected. Another fact of life for those unfortunate souls in our federal correctional system. They wait on line for a chance to place a phone call, and then their connection to the outside world goes dead.
I felt bad for him and then went back to what I was doing. For him, it was a bigger deal. The next day, we reconnected. He said that when the line went dead, he was very sad. “I was waiting to talk to you, and when I finally got through, you were gone and I was alone again.”
I asked how he gets over those feelings and remains in good spirits. He matter-of-factly responded, “When we got disconnected, I was sad, so I ran to my Gemara and began learning. Torah lifts me up. Learning Torah makes me happy.”
The power of words.
A man isolated from family and friends, deprived of a connection to his loved ones, Reb Sholom Mordechai is sad because of a conversation cut short. When cut off from those treasured words of love, he finds comfort in the holy words Torah and comes alive once again.
The bnei Gad and bnei Reuvein appeared before Moshe Rabbeinu and told him that they wanted to establish their homes and nachalah on the other side of the Yardein and not in the Promised Land. For hundreds of years, Jews had been waiting to return to the land promised to their forefathers. For forty years, these very same people wandered in the desert on their way to this land. When the time to enter the land arrived, these shevotim said that it wasn’t for them.
Moshe rebuked them for their words, which had the ability to cause members of other shevotim to fear entering Eretz Yisroel, afraid of the wars that must be fought and the land itself (Mattos 32:6-7).
They phrased their request improperly.
Later (Rashi 32:16 ), Moshe pointed out another error that they made as they spoke of their plans. They promised to “build pens for their cattle and villages for the children” to grow up in. Their words indicated skewed priorities by not mentioning their children first.
Perhaps, had they appreciated the power of words, they would have escaped the wrath of Moshe Rabbeinu.
Eight hundred years later, when Sancheirev sent the Jews into exile, Reuvein and Gad were the first to go, eleven years ahead of their brethren who lived in Eretz Yisroel (Rashi, Melochim II, 17:1), because their forefathers didn’t take the time to properly gauge their words (see Rashi in Mishlei 20:21 on the posuk of “nachalah mevoheles barishonah, ve’acharisa lo sevorach”).
Words have the power to break and the power to repair. Words heal and words sicken. Words bring people together and words separate people. The words we use have lasting repercussions.
As we complete the laining of the parshiyos this week, we exclaim together, “Chazak chazak venischazeik.” We cry out a resounding message to each other and to ourselves. We repeat one word that is laden with power: Chazak. Be strong.
This Shabbos, we complete another sefer in our march towards the Torah’s conclusion. We internalize the chapter of the Bnei Yisroel’s sojourn through the midbar and try to learn the lessons that this seder has presented so that we may be strong and strengthened. We say chazak. Study the words of the Torah and you will be strong. Share the words of the Torah and you will be strengthened. Say it together again and again. Appreciate the power of words and use them properly.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Pinchos Focused

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Parshas Pinchos weaves together themes and ideas that seem unconnected. The parsha opens with the enduring act of zealotry by Pinchos, born from an inability to stand by while evil was being perpetrated. The same act that caused others to become so traumatized that they didn’t know what to do caused Pinchos to be bold and courageous.
Pinchos grabbed a spear and literally eradicated evil. His act lives on for all time as one of passion and commitment, epitomizing the instincts and reactions of a servant of Hashem.
The parsha continues with a count taken of each individual Jew in Klal Yisroel. It then discusses the bnos Tzelafchad and their petition for a portion in Eretz Yisroel, and concludes with halachos of the Yomim Tovim. These topics, though seemingly unrelated, combine to teach a lesson.
Mekubolim explain that the entirety of creation is divided into three dimensions: olam, shanah, and nefesh, space, time and man. Each realm has its climax. Yom Kippur is such a time, for all three meet at the height of their abilities when the kohein gadol, the highest level of man, enters the Kodesh Hakodoshim, the holiest place on earth, on the most sacred day.
Kedushah means investing each of the three dimensions with meaning. Each person has a mission, every place has its use, and every day has its avodah.
Pinchos created a new reality, rising to new heights, transforming himself through his selfless, altruistic act. He took a stand when others did not, and in doing so, he formed a covenant with Hashem.
The parsha reinforces this message with the counting of the Bnei Yisroel. Every Jew counts. Everyone can do what Pinchos did, acting as a lone soldier, demonstrating the strength of character and devotion to bring glory to Heaven. Each individual has intrinsic value. The counting reminds every person that he has the ability to make a difference. You matter. Every person matters.
You can affect more people than you ever thought possible. You can be living at a time when people are confused and confounded, not knowing which way to move. They are frozen by fear and insecurity. Stay focused on your goal. Don’t be deterred. Don’t be distracted. It may be difficult and it might earn you temporary ridicule, but when all are lost, leaders rise from among the crowd and show the way.
That is the power of each nefesh.
Eretz Yisroel, the apex in the realm of olam, has unique spiritual properties, power and potency. The daughters of Tzelafchad, appreciating the significance of the land, pined for a share.
Yomim Tovim are the greatest days of the year. People who appreciate their abilities, seize the moment and seek a role and portion in holiness, appreciate Yomim Tovim as a time for sublime joy.
The avodah zarah of Baal Peor diminished man and caused him to believe that humankind is a small being with limited abilities that he is unable to face or overcome (see Chasam Sofer in this week’s parsha). Thus, the yeitzer hora reduces people to the level where they think they are inconsequential, their actions are inconsequential, and whatever they think or do has no meaning or importance.
The Soton couples that with his ability to create diversions and cause people to lose focus of the important matters in life. He confuses people and causes them to be stressed and defeatist, unable to contend with the vagaries of life. They become lost and dizzy, unable to remain grounded and stable enough to deal with situations, and remember that all that befalls them is ordained by Hashem. Those who have faith remain calm, composed and properly balanced. Their confidence gives them the strength to do what must be done in order to perform the actions necessary to right the situation.  
Pinchos maximized his abilities and withstood the entreaties of the yeitzer hora to stand by the side and let someone else do what had to be done. Because he perceived the value and opportunity inherent in life, he did not become flummoxed when he witnessed tragedy unfolding.
It is because of Pinchos, and people like him in every generation, that our nation has endured to this day and is able to appreciate and celebrate Yomim Tovim. Others have cowered, compromised and capitulated, diluting the abilities of olam, shanah and nefesh.
When people arrived on the shores of America, many said that it’s too hard to build Torah here. They claimed that it’s unrealistic to expect American children to be Torah Jews and they gave up. They compromised on Shabbos, kashrus and everything else. They lost their children and didn’t really have much themselves. But in communities where there was a Pinchos, who said, “We can do it. We can lead Torah lives here. We don’t have what to fear,” Torah Judaism took hold, yeshivos were built, kosher standards were adhered to, and Shabbos became a day of halachic rest and an opportunity for kedushah of olam, shanah and nefesh.
There is a common misconception that taking a stand means being negative. Kannaus is often misunderstood as pessimism. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Those who are fired up with Torah and seek to live lives of kedushah are optimistic about their abilities. They are optimistic about Am Yisroel and the future. They refuse to be reined in by the pessimists who say it can’t be done; not here, not now.
They serve as a beacon of light and strength for all to look up to and emulate.
Pinchos took a stand, which created a bris of sholom that continues and endures. Parshas Pinchos is the parsha of Yomim Tovim, because taking a stand guarantees better and happier times. People who rise up to the occasion are those who make a difference.
My uncle, Rav Berel Wein, born and raised in Chicago, sadly witnessed Orthodox Jewry in decline, as the older generation of European immigrants looked on hopelessly while their children chose a different path.
He wrote about a speech that changed his life and impacted his life’s ambitions and thoughts. It was at a banquet for Beis Medrash LeTorah in Chicago in the early 1950s. The guest speaker was Rav Pinchos Teitz of Elizabeth, New Jersey.
Rabbi Wein recounts, “Most European rabbis used speaking engagements to bemoan the state of American Jewry, especially in comparison to the glory days of Eastern European Jewish life. Not Rabbi Teitz. He spoke of a coming revolution in American Jewish life; of a growing and vital Orthodoxy; of the triumph of the day school and yeshiva movements; and he predicted that Orthodoxy would diminish the influence of Conservative and Reform movements, not vice versa. His optimism made him a heroic figure in my eyes, and he remained such over many decades.”
That, too, is a story of Pinchos, of taking a stand. Rav Pinchos Teitz spoke of hope, optimism and opportunity. He cried out that Yom Tov was coming, and to merit those days the people had to remain loyal to Torah. He set up a school in Elizabeth and educated the next generation in the Torah path, and many were saved.
There were others, like Rav Shmuel Kaufman zt”l, who was niftar last week. Not seeking fame, glory or financial reward, they spread across this country, opening schools and staffing them, showing the correct way to educate fine people to live lives of Torah and Judaism. Their efforts spawned a rebirth here, and because of heroes like him, cities like Detroit, Chicago Cleveland and so many others are flourishing islands of Torah, beacons of kedushah, goodness and happiness for the rest of the country. 
Rabbi Wein once visited a philanthropist in what New Yorkers would call a mid-sized out-of-town city on behalf of the yeshiva he headed almost twenty years ago. The wealthy man complained that while he used to support his shul and the local school, now there was a new thing coming to town called a “kollel,” whose leaders also came knocking on his door for a donation. “Who needs them?” the man questioned. “We have such nice shuls here. What do we need this kollel thing for?”
Rabbi Wein answered with the wisdom of someone who had seen what happened to dozens of shuls in his native Chicago. “My dear friend,” he said as he put his arm on the man’s shoulder. “Kollel is the way of the future. It is that kollel that will maintain the neighborhood and bring young families here. It is the kollel where people will visit to study Torah. It is the kollel that will be a magnet for everything good in this town and many others. You’d do yourself well if you would support it.”
It seemed so far-fetched that he couldn’t bring himself to support it. He lacked the vision and optimism to believe that Torah would bring them back and hold them. He was pessimistic and didn’t get it. But today, that man’s children and grandchildren enter the kollel to study Torah and increase their levels of kedushah.
Pinchos didn’t talk about not tolerating injustice. He acted upon the problem. He didn’t conduct a poll or focus group before deciding. He didn’t run around asking his friends how it would look. He just did it. And because of that, the plague stopped and we are here today.
Pinchos was not a leader of his nation, but his actions obligate all of us. There are moments, places and times for us to stand up and make a difference.
Perhaps there is no time of year for this avodah like the Three Weeks. Kol hamisabel al Yerushalayim, anyone who mourns the destruction of the holy city and Bais Hamikdosh, zocheh veroeh b’simchasah, will merit seeing its joy. We have to use these days to contemplate what we are lacking and make these weeks significant and meaningful. Too often, people are content to let the season pass so that they can get back to regular life. Chazal, however, admonish us to make these days important by being misabel, so that we will enjoy Yomim Tovim to the fullest when Tisha B’Av joins the chagim.
A person who is involved in an accident, or suffers serious illness and temporarily loses mobility, must remain optimistic about his latent strength and abilities in order to endure therapy and recuperate. They cannot allow themselves to be deterred or to give up hope because of the difficulties of maintaining a tough discipline.
Life is tough and full of challenges. Those who remain optimistic and see the Hand of Hashem in all that befalls them are able to muster the courage to persevere and succeed. Those who mourn Yerushalayim and use these days to help rebuild it through the arrival of Moshiach will merit to witness and partake in that joyous day when the redemption arrives.
Let us all remain focused on the goal.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Living With Terror

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Do you remember when terror attacks only happened in Israel? Do you remember when nobody thought it was possible for Arab terror to strike in America? Do you remember when the French, British and American governments blamed every terror attack in Israel on Israeli intransigence? Do you remember when cars were ramming people to death alongside Israeli roads, while the rest of the world sat by silently?
It wasn’t that long ago.
The West refused to believe what their eyes were witnessing in Israel. They blamed it on the Jews and continued to deal with Arab states as if they were comprised of normal, peace-loving citizens, worshipping a religion of peace.
Since the administration of the current American president came to power, the ball was dropped in Iraq and Syria. Deals were made with Iran. The administration pulled troops out of Iraq and wound down efforts in Afghanistan, which gave birth to ISIS. By refusing to wipe them out, the Obama administration enabled them to grow to the point where they are able to strike anywhere they want, seemingly at will, causing mayhem, death and destruction in proud Western countries.
Western leaders were warned. Western people were warned. They saw what happened to the peace -loving, industrious, fine people of Israel who sacrificed for peace. Yet, their anti-Semitism blocked them from objectively comprehending the rationale for what was taking place in Israel and extrapolating that lesson for their own countries.
Instead of understanding the enemy and taking the fight to them, America and others created conditions in Libya, Iraq and Syria where terror groups could grow. Instead of killing them when they were small and nascent, the West permitted them to gain strength and grow.
Now, there seems to be an attack taking place almost every week. The current American administration is still in denial and in a defensive state, rather than an offensive one. There are virtually no ground troops anywhere fighting ISIS. The world is a powder keg, just waiting for a spark to set it afire in war. Europe is flooded with Muslim refugees, among them ISIS fighters and other Islamic terrorists. Civil war brews beneath the surface, as EU rules leave many countries buckling under the weight of their new citizens.
Photos of the murder truck in France pockmarked with dozens of bullet holes are symbolic of our world; big and strong and full of holes.
With maddening attacks taking place on a regular basis, there is an ever-present feeling of concern here, in Israel and around the world.
Balanced and clear vision is necessary to navigate life’s paths. However, we live in a world of fantasy, where leaders ignore facts and remain stuck to their agendas and narratives, as fallacious as they are proven to be. Terror chases terror, each attack more dreadful than the one that preceded it, striking fear in people who previously feared nothing. They look to their leaders for direction and find a vacuum.
The president of the United States ran for office on a promise to bring people together, cure partisan gridlock in Washington, open government to the people, be transparent and fair, and restore America’s glory. What he turned out to be is a demagogue who seeks to divide people. Race relations in this country are now in their worst state since the riots in the sixties.
The president has, in his own words, led from behind. He dithered while Syria disintegrated, he slept while the country’s Benghazi consulate was under attack, and then he lied about it and sought to cover up what transpired. He forced Mubarak out of Egypt and then handed the country to the Islamists, whom he coddled and supported as they attempted to destroy the country.
The man whose career’s trajectory was aided by his oratory skills failed to bring the people together. He continues to fail to explain the problems the country is facing from radical Islamists, while blaming American terror attacks on guns. He seems to dwell in an alternative universe.
The media was able to portray former President George W. Bush as incompetent and convince an overwhelming majority of Americans to vehemently oppose him. They destroyed the candidacy of Mitt Romney, a decent man, and are now trying to eviscerate Donald Trump, with half-truths and lies. Meanwhile the president and his former secretary of state are constantly portrayed in a good light and are actively promoted. Despite everything President Obama has done to change the culture of this country, while engaging in divisive rhetoric, empowering both domestic and foreign terrorists, saddling the country with unprecedented debt, caused a great racial divide, opened the borders and overseen a weak economy, to name a few, he is supported by a majority of people in this country. The Democrat standard-bearer to replace him, still leads in national polls despite all her missteps, trails of untruths, carelessness and corrupt baggage.
An uninformed and misinformed public can be misled. In times like these we must stay informed and be intelligent about what is transpiring around us. We cannot rely on tweets, headlines and simplistic, superficial information. Decisions must be based on real facts.
In Parshas Bolok, we read how thousands of years ago, Bolok was worried about the size of Am Yisroel, who he feared would conspire to destroy him and his nation. Having heard from his enemy, Midyon, with whom he formed a coalition in order to overcome the hated Bnei Yisroel, that the strength of the Jewish people lies in their mouths, he procured the services of Bilam to curse them (Bamidbar 22:4, Rashi ibid.). Bilam appeared to be reticent about performing the job for Bolok, acting as if he would not defy Hashem. It was a charade. When he was promised sufficient money and fame, he saddled his donkey and set out to plot the destruction of the Jewish people.
His posturing is reflective of today’s time, when leaders pronounce reassuringly that they are driven by pure intentions, motivated to serve the people. Then they simultaneously engage in behavior detrimental to the safety of the countries they lead.
Bilam was confronted by his donkey that berated him for his disloyalty to the one on whose back he rode so often. Chazal teach that the peh of the ason, the mouth of the donkey, was created on the first Erev Shabbos following creation. The Ramban and the Seforno teach that there was a message in the beast’s expressiveness, teaching Bilam that the gift of speech he was blessed with was from Hashem. The same One Who enabled him to speak enabled the donkey to do the same. He was thus warned not to attempt to deviate from the wishes of Hashem and not to curse Am Yisroel. He continued along his way, but instead of curses, his mouth uttered blessings.
People are confused and wonder how they can tell the Bilams of the world apart from those who not only preach fidelity to Hashem’s will, but actually follow it. How do we know who speaks with a glib, cynically forked tongue, and who is honest, holy and deserving of respect and support?
The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (5:19) tells us how to differentiate between the talmidim of Avrohom Avinu and those of Bilam.
It is interesting that instead of the Mishnah teaching how to differentiate between Avrohom Avinu and Bilam Harosha, Chazal delineate the differences between their students.
Rav Yechezkel of Kuzmir explained that while it may have been possible to be fooled by Bilam and his demeanor, analyzing his students and followers reveals the truth about the man and his goals.
Often, purveyors of fiction cloak their lies with half-truths to fool people and gain credibility for their messages. Doing so creates difficulty differentiating between the genuine and the phony. With patience, the intentions of the leader become obvious. Avrohom became “Avinu,” spawning a nation of rachmonim, bayshonim and gomlei chassodim, paragons of decency, virtue and humility. Bilam became the role model of their antagonists, the hero of those governed by ayin ra’ah, ruach govoah, nefesh rechovah, selfishness, pettiness, greediness and arrogance.
The Mishnah is teaching us not to focus on what the leaders say and how they present themselves, but rather to look at the effects of their words and actions. They may proclaim that they are all about peace and love, but beware if their actions lead to strife and hate. They may proclaim that they seek to rid the world of evil, but their actions betray their words.
As an eternal people, we are blessed with an eternal memory. Nothing is forgotten. Nothing is overlooked. The Mogein Avrohom (Orach Chaim 580:9) cites the custom of fasting on the Friday preceding the Shabbos when Parshas Chukas is lained, because that is when twenty-four cartloads of Gemaros were burned on the streets of France in 1244.
Several leading rabbonim dreamt that the fast should be observed on that Friday and not on the date upon which the terrible chillul Hashem transpired. “Zos chukas haTorah,” the chok of Torah is that the nations of the world torment us because of the Torah. As Chazal say, the mountain upon which the Torah was delivered is named Har Sinai because it is from where sinah, hatred, of Jews came down to the world.
With emumah and bitachon, we accept that the pain we endure is caused by the Av Harachamon for reasons most of us cannot fathom. It is part of the chok of Torah. It is part of the chok that is the life of the Jew.
Since the days of Bolok and Bilam, we have been singled out for destruction, yet we have persevered. There are periods of din and periods of rachamim. At all times, we seek to engage in conduct that arouses the middah of rachamim in our Av Harachamim. We engage in acts of kindness and charity and look at each other with kindness.
The parsha ends with the plague that was unleashed by Bilam, who flooded the Jewish nation with the daughters of Midyan. Pinchos was a man of action, not words. The pesukim recount that the Jews stood around Moshe at the entrance to the Ohel Moed, and cried. Pinchos saw the same thing, but he rose from the group, took a spear and did what had to be done. Action. Not words.
Bilam feared what the people of Moav would say about him and went along with the plan to have the Jews cursed, though he knew it was wrong. Pinchos did what the Torah demanded. He did what had to be done, though people would say that he was negative and cynical. He didn’t care that people would say he was a divider, not a uniter, and that he was a murderer. “Who does he think he is?” he knew they would remark. But he didn’t care what people would say about him. He cared about following the word of Hashem.
The Torah decides which actions cause unity and what causes division. Ridding the world of evil strengthens life and ends strife. Standing by, weeping and offering platitudes causes plagues of destruction.
During these times of ikvesa diMeshicha, we need men and women of action, not fear; togetherness, not division; healing, not hurt; rejuvenation, not stagnation; and passion, not apathy.
When he was four years old, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rav Yosef Yitzchok Shneerson, asked his father, the Rashab, Rav Shalom Ber of Lubavitch, why a person was created with two eyes.
The Rashab asked the lad if he knew the difference between the letters shin and sin. “Sure,” he answered. “The shin has a dot on the right side. The sin has a dot on the left side.”
“My son, that is why you have two eyes,” the Rashab said. “There are some things that you have to view with your right eye and others that you must view with the left eye. You always look at a Jew with the right eye. Candies and toys you look at with your left eye.”
A Jew is important. A Jew is to be treasured. Always look at a Jew with the right eye. Always view him kindly. Candies and toys are of lesser importance; for them, the left eye suffices. Be from the talmidim of Avrohom, viewing others with an ayin tovah.
As we approach the sad period of the year we refer to as The Three Weeks, it is incumbent upon us to view things with the right eye, recognizing what is going on around us, being kind and forgiving, and seeking to foster achdus and love.
We need to mourn the destruction of Yerushalayim and really pine for the arrival of Moshiach. As Chazal say (Taanis 30b), “Kol hamisabeil al Yerushalayim zocheh veroeh besimchasah - Whoever mourns Yerushalayim will merit to see the joy of its redemption.” In order to merit being part of the redemption, we need to engage in activities that demonstrate that we feel the loss.
We can adopt the custom of reciting Tikkun Chatzos, at least during The Three Weeks, demonstrating our sense of loss and begging Hashem to bring us home. For those who find it difficult to recite the chapters of the Tikkun without comprehending the holy words, Dr. Daniel Steinberg, a dentist from Queens, took the obligation of mourning the churban seriously and prepared an English translation, which can be accessed by going to
We know what caused the destruction of the Botei Mikdosh. Part of being misabeil on Yerushalayim is to rectify those actions. We must cut out sinas chinom, baseless hatred, which afflicts our people. We need to bring people together and work to foster achdus, erasing division and the pettiness that causes it. We have to treat all people like brothers and sisters, doing what we can so that no one goes to bed sad and spends their days in gloom.
Bilam sought to curse us, but when he looked out at the masses of Jews camped in the midbar, he was overcome and said, “Mah tovu ohalecha Yaakov.” How great are the tents of Yaakov, filled with Torah and chesed, maasim tovim and shalom, brotherhood and ayin tovah. As the world spins out of control, we need to reinforce those tents. We need to reach out to our brethren, befriend the lonely, and strengthen the weak. We never really know who is lonely and who is weak, so we need to be friendly and supportive to everyone. We need to feel good about ourselves. We need to get excited about Yiddishkeit and be happy. We need to have a bounce in our step and a smile on our faces. Life is fragile. Life is short. Let’s make the most of it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Get Fired Up

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
This week’s parsha opens with the high ideal we are to live with: “Zos chukas haTorah, adam ki yomus ba’ohel.” The people whose souls are fused to Torah throw off physical mantles. They concentrate their lives on Torah and seek to shun activities that do not contribute to spiritual growth.
The first Rashi of the parsha quotes the Medrash Tanchuma, which states that the Soton and nations of the world mock us and ask for the rationale of this mitzvah. Therefore, says Rashi, the Torah spells out that Parah Adumah is a chok, a gezeirah min haShomayim, and we are not permitted to question it.
The nations of the world, and those who mock us and attempt to steer us from the path of our forefathers, question us and our practices. They say that the mitzvos are backward and without reason. We don’t answer them. We don’t try to explain it to them. We reinforce to ourselves that we are following the word of Hashem, which is a chok. This way, we are able to succeed and flourish in a world of sheker.
A lion once encountered a chicken and began to choke it. “Why are you trying to kill me?” the chicken called out to the lion. “I never hurt you. You don’t know me. Why are you doing this to me?”
The lion looked at the poor little chicken it held in its grasp and responded, “Do you know why I am doing this? Because I can!”
Thankfully, today the attitudes of many of our neighbors have changed and the Jewish people are afforded freedom around the world. But for centuries on end, the nations of the world  treated us the way that lion treated the chicken. They tortured and tormented us. They doubted our loyalty and intelligence. They asked us many questions. The Torah tells us not to bother answering, and not to engage in debates. Their intent is only to mock us; we gain nothing by engaging them.
Additionally, Torah, as the ultimate wisdom, doesn’t operate with the conventional rules. The logic of the Torah defies explanation. We accept chukim as well as mishpotim, recognizing that we are bound to the chok, the bond of Torah living, which goes beyond reason and logic.
Torah greatness and fidelity aren’t born of brilliance, but of toil, purity and diligence. Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach zt”l would often quote from the sefer Sheim Hagedolim, which says that before Rashi set out to write his landmark peirush, he traveled extensively to ascertain whether a better peirush than he envisioned existed. It was only after he was unable to find any extant exposition explaining the Torah that he set out to write the classic peirush that has endured until this day.
As Rashi wrote his work, he fasted hundreds of taaneisim to ensure that his words would help propel people to the truth.
Rav Shach would weep as he would recount this, because to him, this anecdote represented all that is right and true about our mesorah. It underscores the fact that chochmas haTorah isn’t about reason alone, but also about humility coupled with commitment to the truth and mesorah.
Rav Aharon Kotler, in Mishnas Rav Aharon Ahl HaTorah (Parshas Korach), discusses the important role of shevet Levi in Klal Yisroel, separated for greatness from the rest of the klal, performing the avodah of the Mishkon and ruling on halachic matters, as the posuk says, “Yoru mishpotecha leYaakov veSorascha l’Yisroel” (Devorim 32:10). In order to perform their duties and maintain their lofty spiritual levels, they were not given land portions in Eretz Yisroel along with everyone else. This way, they were not encumbered with taking care of their property. For their livelihood, Hashem had the rest of the people give maaser rishon to the Leviim and 24 matnos kehunah to the Kohanim.
Rav Aharon asks that since this is the case, why were the Bnei Yisroel easily able to circumvent their terumah and maaser obligations? In effect, shevet Levi was at the constant mercy of their brethren. This could not have led to a calm situation, especially considering the fact that the reason for the terumos and maaseros - and that they didn’t own property - was so that they would not be worried about earning a livelihood.
Rav Aharon answers that since their role was to provide leadership in many areas, there was a danger that they would become haughty and view themselves as being on a different plane than everyone else. If they would be financially secure and not dependent on others, they would look down at others, which would cause them to be baalei ga’avah, detached from the people.
Since humility is a prerequisite for Torah growth, were they to become haughty they wouldn’t be able to achieve greatness. Additionally, in order to pasken properly, siyata diShmaya is required. Since Hashem detests those who are conceited, as the posuk states, “Toavas Hashem kol gevah lev,” they would lose their ability to properly understand Torah and rule on matters of halacha.
Therefore, they are provided for by the masses, but in such a way that forces them to maintain their humility. A person requires 48 levels of ethical perfection in order to succeed in Torah. Greatness in Torah is a gift from Hashem, conferred upon men of faith and humility. Torah is attained differently than any other knowledge.
Not only is greatness in Torah thought achieved differently than in other subjects, but communal leadership decisions are arrived at in a different way than they are in the outside world.
In the days of the czar, a dictate closing all chadorim and forcing all Jewish children to be educated in government schools was handed down. Many meetings were held to find solutions. At one such meeting, it was proposed for a delegation to travel to a minister who was born Jewish but had totally strayed from the path. He was involved in the passing of the edict, and it was suspected that he was actually the author of the new law.
One of the attendees at the meeting identified him as Minister Schapiro and noted that he hailed from a respected rabbinic family. “In fact,” said the man, “Rav Yaakov sitting here with us today is related to him. Perhaps he should travel to the capital and meet with the minister. He can remind the minister of his yichus and appeal to him to rescind the law.”
All eyes turned to Rav Yaakov, who wasn’t sure that it was the right course of action. “If I introduce myself to him as a relative, he might be receptive,” Rav Yaakov said, “but bringing up my grandparents might be a source of embarrassment to them, tying them with their offspring, this rasha.”
Everyone was silent until the Kuzmirer Rebbe responded, citing a posuk: “Moshe Rabbeinu sought to travel across the land of Edom on the way to the Promised Land. He reached out the Edomite king, a grandson of Eisov. He said to him, ‘Ko omar achicha Yisroel, so speaks your brother Yisroel.’ Rashi explains that Moshe told the king of Edom, ‘Achim anachnu, bnei Avrohom. We, as children of Avrohom, are your brothers.’ So we see that to prevent a crisis, it is permissible to cite a common relationship to a tzaddik.”
Rav Yaakov was convinced. He undertook the mission to his assimilated relative and succeeded.
The Ozherover Rebbe zt”l would cite this story as an example of the principle of daas Torah, always looking back and finding sources for a course of action, never relying upon one’s own logic.
A group of askonim had an idea to solve a crisis that their community was facing. They met with a communal leader, who told them that the idea sounded fine to him, but that he would consult with Rav Shach before providing a final answer.
When presented with the plan, Rav Shach immediately shot it down. He said, “I saw from the Chofetz Chaim that their solution is improper.”
The group was convinced that they had thoroughly analyzed the issue and arrived at a perfect solution. They were sure that it wasn’t explained properly to Rav Shach, so they arranged to meet with the Rosh Yeshiva and discuss their solution to the pressing communal crisis.
Rav Shach told them, “I will not debate your arguments, and for all I know, your thoughts might be correct. But Klal Yisroel is not led by conclusions and thoughts of smart people. Klal Yisroel is led by mesorah, tradition. If the mesorah from the Chofetz Chaim is that we don’t engage in something like that, then we don’t do it, no matter how smart it seems, for following our mesorah is the smartest course of action.”
Too often, we see people who think they are smarter than the Torah. We see people who are consumed by a problem and believe that they have the perfect solution. They fail to properly consider it, as they are convinced of their intelligence and leadership abilities, but they are wrong. They are conceited and therefore lack the siyata diShmaya required to arrive at proper decisions. They ignore the mesorah and how gedolim who came before them acted. They think that the times have changed and the methods of realizing goals are different. They disregard the way that the greats of the previous generations conducted themselves and how they dealt with similar situations in their respective eras. 
None of us is qualified to think that he has the solutions to problems that face us. No one, as smart as he thinks he is and as pressing as the problem he faces is, has a right to present plans that differ with our mesorah. Doing so causes mayhem and fails to solve problems. The logic may be compelling, but it is still wrong.
People in our day are led astray by those who claim to understand the reasoning for different halachos and temper them to mesh with the times. Such thinking is what gave birth to the Conservative and Reform movements, which caused many to deviate from halacha and mesorah, leading millions of Jews astray. It sounds funny to us that they maintain institutions that they refer to as “yeshivos” and have halachic decisors who write so-called teshuvos in halacha, as if they are following the Torah.
Once you begin to rationalize the commandments and inject human understanding of them and their concepts, you begin compromising them and sullying the holy with a simple thought process.
There are those who assume that they have mastered Torah, and are therefore qualified to rule as they understand, ignoring precedent, and the impact of their ruling. Such people have failed in their leadership roles.
Critical thinking and analysis lacking yiras Shomayim, a sense of mesorah and humility result in individuals who destroy instead of build, obscure instead of reveal, and cause others to repel the Torah instead of drawing closer to it.
Our fellow Jews in the Open Orthodoxy movement, who follow in the path of the founders of the Conservatives, have fallen into this trap. Insistent as they are on being termed Orthodox, we must never stop denying their claim, because, in fact, they are not Orthodox in thought, practice, attitude or approach.
They inflict damage in the shuls and schools that naively hire their members, thinking that they are loyal to Torah and mesorah. We must persist in calling them out as the impostors they are. Their teshuvos and drashos mock tradition and halacha, and are fanciful attempts to have the Torah conform with current progressive thought, bearing little relation to the reality of Torah thought and interpretation.
Rav Elchonon Wasserman explained the posuk of “Tzidkoscha tzedek le’olam” (Tehillim 119:142) to mean that man cannot fathom the depths of Hashem’s justice, for society and its concepts are ever changing. What is considered just in one generation is viewed as unjust in the next. But “veSorascha emes,” the truth of Torah is everlasting. It neither changes for the times nor conforms to them.
Zos chukas haTorah. Torah is a chok. Torah is neither about impressive dissertations nor social welfare and contracting with a good PR firm. It is about following the will of the Creator as expressed in Torah Skebiksav and Torah Shebaal Peh. That’s just the way it is.
Chazal say (Taanis 30, et al), “Kol hamisabel al Yerushalayim zocheh veroeh besimchosah.” In order to merit enjoying the rebuilding of Yerushalayim, one must mourn its destruction.
Eis tzorah hee leYaakov. It is a dangerous time for our people. We witness the repeated wanton murder of our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisroel and watch as the world blames us. We see women’s groups ply their fiction at the Kosel, wearing tefillin and reading from Sifrei Torah. These people, who publicly defile the Shabbos, enjoy non-kosher food, and ignore all the Torah’s commandments, promote a new agenda and threaten the spiritual holiness of Israel.
Last week brought new displays of the failings of the justice system in the United States, beacon of freedom to the entire world. The heads of the FBI and the Justice Department, the highest enforcers of the rule of law in the land, contorted to exonerate a former secretary of state who is the leading contender for the presidency, from serious charges concerning her handling of the nation’s security. With twisted logic that recognized her reckless carelessness, lies and potentially criminal actions, they failed to indict her. People concluded that apparently justice is not blind and not everyone receives equal treatment in this land.
Breakdown of law-and-order reached a new low, as police killed two black men and five policemen were murdered in retaliation in Dallas, Texas. The nation searches for leadership, as the current White House occupant and the two who aspire to succeed him are not trusted and loathed by large numbers of Americans.
When justice is man-made, there is always going to be inequality, mistakes, and feelings of division, for the system is inherently only as good as the mortals who formulate the laws, and enforce and adjudicate them.
Rav Binyomin Zev Yaakovson of Copenhagen wrote that when his travels took him to Lithuania, he found himself at an asifah headed by the Chofetz Chaim and Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky. The Chofetz Chaim addressed the gathering and said the following. In this world, Jews are divided into groups. There are Litvaks and there are Chassidim, and within each group, there are sub-groups. There is this rebbe and that rebbe, this yeshiva and that yeshiva, this derech and that derech. These divisions are outgrowths of the olam hasheker, he said, but in Shomayim, they aren’t interested in these divisions.
In Shomayim, he explained, there are five types of Jews: There are kochadike Yidden, boiling hot Jews; vareme Yidden, warm Jews; lebleche Yidden, room-temperature Jews; kalte Yidden, cold Jews; and derfroirene Yidden, frozen Jews.
No community or grouping has a monopoly on anything. In each one, you can find these five types of Jews. The task of every Jew is to be a kochadike Yid, a Jew who boils with enthusiasm for Torah and mitzvos, and not one of the cold ones.
Zos chukas haTorah. Get fired up for Hashem. Be excited about Torah and filled with joy when you perform a mitzvah. Live life happily, seeking perfection and acting properly. Be warm towards others and towards yourself. Be warm with appreciation for the gifts Hashem has blessed you with. Accept the Torah and its laws with enthusiasm and joy. Don’t look to compromise on anything. Don’t seek explanations and understandings for those things that defy comprehension. Know that they are products of the infinite wisdom and kindness of the Creator. It is up to us to implement them and make the world a better, warmer and more hospitable place for ourselves, our brethren, and humanity at large, enabling us to welcome Moshiach, may he come in our day.