Wednesday, November 26, 2014
by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
The Jewish world is still in a state of shock over the last week’s Har Nof massacre of kedoshim utehorim. People wonder how such terrible events can transpire in our time. How has this happened in the modern day and age? How has a shul filled with people who woke up early to daven become a host of tragedy of historic proportions?
We are all familiar with pictures from the Holocaust period. As gruesome as they are, we are able to view them and they don’t really make a mark on us. The pictures of what transpired in Har Nof cause much more grief to us. Why? Because the pictures from decades ago we can explain away. We can say that it happened seventy years ago. Hitler was a once-in-history phenomenon. The Kishinev pogrom was so long ago that most people don’t know anything about it.
But that such things can happen today, to American people, in an American neighborhood, in a shul? That means it can happen to us, r”l. It is way too close. It causes us to fear for own safety. It punctures the bubble in which we have placed ourselves, deluding us into thinking that such things only happen to other people in other places. We feel the pain and the anguish. We see the blood and we become sick.
We live in really frightening times. If we think about it too much, we can become depressed, so we continue to go about our daily lives, worrying about inconsequential matters. We don’t read the news; we don’t want to know what is really going on. We rely on snippets of information. Anecdotes and sound-bites replace intelligent knowledge.
Jews are not slaughtered without reason. We neither know nor understand the Heavenly reasons, but we do know that the four kedoshim were taken as korbanos for Am Yisroel. We note that each one was an exceptional person. We note, as well, that the murderers stopped on their own after killing those four people. Nobody stopped them. No security forces entered the building to put an end to their act. Their shlichus was to bring four korbanos, and when they completed their mission, they ran out of the shul and were shot dead by police, who had taken a full seven minutes to arrive.
On Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av, we recite with great emotion the piyut of “Eileh Ezkerah,” which describes the death of the ten Tannoim who were killed by the evil Romans. In the famous stanza, we say, “Tiheir Rabi Yishmoel atzmo ve’alah lamarom.” There was a terrible gezeirah and Am Yisroel wanted to know how to deal with it. We recite the heavenly conversations preceding the ghastly acts.
While we are not privy to the conversations of last week, we can be sure that they took place. We aren’t blessed with paytonim of old who can powerfully express deep thoughts in a few timeless words. We don’t have among us people on the level of Rabi Yishmoel, who can rise to speak to the malach Gavriel and discuss a particular gezeirah. However, we must believe that what happened is not by circumstance and that the four kedoshim were carefully selected for their task of being mechaper for us.
Hashem sends us reminders to prod us to repent, but we forget them. How many of us remember the kidnapping this past summer of the three boys, enough to give it much thought? How about the attack on Yeshiva Merkaz Harav? How about the 12 bus on the way back from the Kosel? How about the beautiful baby, Chaya Zissel Braun a”h, who was killed a month ago?
Tragedy shakes us up a bit and then we get on with life. Perhaps that is the doing of the Soton, for he seeks to prevent us from engaging in teshuvah to prevent serious tragedies from occurring in the future. We are sent reminders, because we continuously forget the previous reminders.
We make small talk about what is going on in the world today and the cosmic significance of the events around us, but their affect on the ultimate geulah is lost upon us. We are oblivious, seeing things superficially and only with regard to how they pertain to our little world.
We have to know that to the extent that we recognize that all that happens is by Divine decree and plan, to that degree Hashem watches over and protects us. The sefer Chovos Halevavos states at the beginning of Shaar Habitachon that Hashem removes his protection from one who puts his faith in others and only protects those who place their faith in Him.
In Shaar Cheshbon Hanefesh, the Chovos Halevavos states that one who puts his faith in Hashem is rewarded. Hashem “opens his gates of understanding, reveals to him secrets of His chochmah, places an eye on him to guide him, and will not abandon him only to his own powers and abilities.”
The Rambam in Hilchos Taanis writes that it is a mitzvas asei to cry out and blow shofros for every tzarah that befalls the Jewish community. This is one of the paths to teshuvah. When a tragedy befalls the community, everyone must acknowledge that it is due to their sins. However, if instead of crying out they ascribe the threat facing the community to “the way the world works,” such an attitude is an outgrowth of the middah of achzoriyus and ends up deepening and multiplying the tragedy.
The purpose of tragedy is to inspire us to do teshuvah.
The Ramban at the end of Parshas Bo writes that the purpose of creation was for man to acknowledge that Hashem created the world and to serve Him wholeheartedly. This is also the purpose of raising our voice in prayer, the purpose of botei knesses, and the reason for the zechus of tefillah betzibbur - to enable people to publicly gather and acknowledge their Creator.
We must realize, says the Ramban, that the foundation of the Torah is that every occurrence in this world is a miracle brought about by Hashem. Nothing happens at random. Nothing can be attributed to the forces of nature or “the way the world works.”
One who doesn’t believe this has no share in Toras Moshe, the Ramban affirms. People who observe the mitzvos will succeed, and those who don’t will be punished with destruction.
He also teaches that the daily hidden miracles are more evident when you examine the actions that affect the entire community. As the posuk says (Devorim 29:23-24), “And the nations of the world will say, ‘Why did Hashem do this to the Holy Land?’ And they will answer, ‘Because the Jews let go of the covenant that was made with Hashem, the G-d of their forefathers.’”
The Ramban explains this is the foretelling of the destruction of Eretz Yisroel, which will be understood by the nations as a punishment for the Jewish forsaking of the Torah.
However, if we think about what is happening now in Eretz Yisroel and examine the sources, what we find is a much deeper perception of the news and maybe even more frightening than it appears superficially.
We have been in several goluyos since sinas chinom destroyed the Bais Hamikdosh, but the golus of Yishmoel is totally different. The Maharal writes in his sefer Ner Mitzvah that Yishmoel is the only one of the subjugating nations whose malchus and strength are his own. Yishmoel derives his koach from Avrohom Avinu and from milah; he doesn’t depend on Am Yisroel to falter in order for him to rise. [See also the Ramban in Parshas Bolok, 24:21, and the Maharal in Netzach Yisroel, perek 21.]
In last week’s parsha, we read that Yitzchok told Eisov, “Ve’al charbecha tichyeh ve’es achicha taavod vehoyo kaasher torid uforakta alo mei’al tzavorecha” (27:40). Eisov is only strong when we are weak.
This idea also appears in Rashi at the beginning of the parsha on the posuk of “ule’om mile’om ye’emotz verav ya’avod tzo’ir” (25:23). When one falls, the other rises.
Thus, when we are oppressed by Eisov’s offspring, we know that the way to overcome them is by engaging in teshuvah and maasim tovim. However, in addition to teshuvah and Torah, which is “magana umatzila,” to overcome Yishmoel we need bitachon and tefillah.
Rav Chaim Vital, the prime talmid of the Ari Hakadosh, writes in his Sefer Eitz Hadaas Tov (Tehillim 124), “There are four exiles, Bovel, Modai, Yovon and Edom, but at the End of Days, Yisroel will be in golus Yishmoel, as stated in Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer (32) and in Medroshim and in the Sefer HaZohar at the end of Parshas Lech Lecha… This exile will be more difficult than the others. This is why his name is Yishmoel, because ‘yishma Keil veya’aneim,’ Yisroel will cry out during that golus and Hashem will listen and respond to them.
“Yishmoel will rule over the world and over Yisroel… and attempt to wipe out the name of Yisroel from under the sky as if it never existed… They will cause Yisroel great tzaros, the likes of which have never before been seen.”
The posuk in Tehillim in which Dovid Hamelech says, “Lulei Hashem shehoyah lonu bekum aleinu adam azai chaim bela’unu,” alludes to this era. “If Hashem had not been with us when men rose against us, we would have been swallowed up alive.”
B’Acharis Hayomim, during the period of the End of Days leading up to the arrival of Moshiach, the Jews will realize that they have no way to save themselves and have no choice other than to cry out to Hashem. And He will answer them. Rav Chaim Vital writes, “We will have no hope or recourse other than our trust in Hakadosh Boruch Hu that He will save us from their evil hands.”
His words resonate with the immediacy of today’s news. We indeed have nowhere and no one to turn to other than Avinu Shebashomayim. Yishma Keil. The nation rises, never resting, focused on its goal throughout the millennia.
In his peirush on Sefer Tehillim, Rav Chaim Vital writes that the final golus, that of Yishmoel, will be worse than any previous golus. The Yishmoelim will go from being tent-dwelling desert nomads to ruling over the entire world and Israel, and they will cause us unprecedented grief. They will seek to kill us. Without Divine intervention, they would be able to implement their plans to murder us all, r”l.
What is happening now with the offspring of Yishmoel is preordained. In order for us to prevail over Yishmoel, we must raise our voices in tefillah. His name does not hint that if we are strong and battle him with chivalry, we will defeat him. His name does not hint that if we engage him in diplomacy, we will outwit him. His name proclaims that the only way to defeat him is through tefillah.
In his kuntrus Kol Dodi Dofeik, Rav Aharon Dovid Goldberg, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Telshe in Cleveland, compares this power of Yishmoel to that of Mitzrayim during the period of the Jewish enslavement there. The Medrash Tanchumah (Shoftim 14) states that Hashem wanted the Bnei Yisroel to daven for redemption, and therefore He allowed the Mitzriyim to torture them. When they cried out to Hashem, He redeemed them.
We must place our faith in Hashem and daven not be subjected to further attacks, and quickly merit the geulah. In truth, we have no other choice. The prime minister of Israel declares after each successive terror act that he will respond with a “yad kashah.” But he neither does nor can. The security officials admit there is nothing they can do to stop the current wave of terror.
Only we can stop it.
The Gemara in Maseches Avodah Zarah (2b) states that at the end of time, when Moshiach comes, the nations of the world will protest the punishment they are about to receive for their treatment of the Jews. They will all proclaim that everything they did was only to benefit the Jews and their service of G-d and Torah.
The Gemara says that Poras, Persia, will cry out that everything they did was to help the Jews. “We built many bridges, conquered many towns and waged war,” they will say, “to enable the Jews to learn Torah.”
We understand the grounds for claiming that they built bridges and other infrastructure to enable the study of Torah, but how does waging war help the Jews learn Torah?
Perhaps this can be understood to mean that they waged war in order to scare the Jews into doing teshuvah and engaging in Torah study.
Poras, Persia, is the present day state of Iran. When the ruler of that country rises up and repeatedly proclaims, publicly, to the entire world, that he intends to destroy Israel, we can believe him that he intends to do so. When he continues his maniacally feverish race to arm himself with nuclear weapons to carry out his bloody intentions, the world stands by and pretends to engage in a process to curtail his ambitions. Yet, he continues on, every day getting closer to attaining his goal. In the current round of meetings over their weapons, the US has all but conceded that Iran will be able to obtain a nuclear weapon.
We must raise our voices in passionate prayer that Hashem spare us from the evil intents of the anshei Poras, Yishmoel and Edom.
We should use every opportunity to study more Torah, better ourselves, and do more for the downtrodden to create more zechuyos for our people. And we must continue to build and support Torah.
Learning the parshiyos of Sefer Bereishis, we find the world’s antipathy toward Jews began when Avrohom Avinu determined that the world had a Creator. The loathing of Jews has continued throughout the generations ever since.
Avrohom’s own father wanted him dead. Nimrod tried to burn Avrohom alive. That pariah status was transferred to his descendants, beginning with Yitzchok Avinu, who was treated as an outcast by his neighbors.
Wherever Yitzchok went, as related in last week’s parsha, his wells were filled. In those days, without wells, one could not live. Yitzchok was therefore constantly on the move, encountering a hostile reception wherever he went. Though blessed with wealth and was an unquestionably kind, peaceful and spiritual man, nobody wanted to have anything to do with him. They drove him away by plugging up the sources of his water supply.
In this week’s parsha, we learn how Yaakov Avinu was repeatedly lied to and tricked out of what was deservedly his. After working for Lavan for two decades, Yaakov is finally instructed by Hashem to return home. He gathered his wives, his children and his flocks and departed for home.
Lavan caught up with him and accused him of stealing his property and running off like a thief. Yaakov responded by confronting Lavan, the paradigm con-artist, with the history of his subterfuge and dishonest dealings. Yaakov listed everything he had done for Lavan during his years of servitude to him. He enumerated all the ways that Lavan had robbed him, reminding him of how he altered the terms of Yaakov’s employment one hundred times in order to shortchange him.
The Brisker Rov would point out that none of Yaakov’s arguments had any impact on Lavan. As if he hadn’t heard a word, Lavan insisted on his right of ownership over all that Yaakov had. The posuk (31:43) quotes him as saying, “Habanos benosai vehabonim bonai vehatzon tzoni vechol asher atoh ro’eh li hu.”
The posuk doesn’t record Yaakov’s response to Lavan’s claims. The Torah, however, recounts that when Lavan finished his tirade, Yaakov took a stone and held it up as a matzeivah. He sent his children to gather stones, and they took the stones and fashioned a “gal,” a mound, and had a meal there (31:44-45).
Our avos demonstrated for us how we are to respond to those who plot our downfall, seeking to destroy us and accusing us of the very crimes they themselves have perpetrated against us.
Despite the enmity and harassment, Avrohom continued to gain more adherents to the concept of One Creator to whom man owes an accounting for all his deeds. Yitzchok moved on and dug new wells. Yaakov carried on with his mission of raising twelve Shivtei Kah.
Yaakov set out to build. When Lavan chased Yaakov and refused his entreaties, Yaakov told his children to gather stones and construct a gal. He was demonstrating for us that had Avrohom allowed himself to be cowed by the people of his day, he would have relinquished the role of progenitor of Am Yisroel. Had Yitzchok permitted the Pelishtim to deter him by blocking his water supply, he would not have merited being part of the glorious chain begun by his father. Had Yaakov succumbed to Lavan’s abuse, he never would have left his father-in-law’s home and wouldn’t have raised the twelve sons who formed the nucleus of our people.
Our strength is Torah. Our goal is Torah. Our life is Torah. No one can take that from us, as hard as they try. As long as we remember that lesson, we will be strong, safe and victorious, and the path we have forged will lead to the ultimate redemption, may it be soon, in our days.
Now, more than ever, we must arm ourselves with the weapons of the spirit bequeathed to us by Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov of proper tefillah, emunah and bitachon.
May the day soon arrive when we will all sing together, “Mizmor shir leyom haShabbos,” beviyas haMoshiach Tzidkeinu bekarov.
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
We Mourn Again
By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Once again, we are numb and at a loss for words. Lines we thought would never be crossed have been trampled. Jews the world over woke up to hear the awful, heart-rending news. Jews davening in a Har Nof shul were shot and stabbed to death. For seven minutes the mashchis was given reshus to spill holy Jewish blood. So many pesukim came to mind, “shofchu domom kamayim sevivos Yerushalayim.” “Im yeihoreig b’mikdash Hashem…” We have experienced so many awful deaths in Eretz Yisroel, but rarely like this. The pictures are difficult to look at. They send a shiver up and down our collective spines and cause our souls to flutter.
A Jew dead on the floor wrapped in his tallis and tefillin in a pool of blood.
We are speechless. We have no words. Our eyes are downcast, sad, empty. In shuls across the world Yidden davened silently, with tears streaming down their cheeks. Is any place safe? Is there anything we can do to end the madness? We are shaken and sullen.
Once again the peaceful silence of a Yerushalayim street is shattered by shrieking sirens. Once again people realize that they have no one to rely upon to protect them other than Hashem. The pain is overwhelming. The closest image that comes to mind is the 1929 shechitah in Chevron.
What do we say? How do we react? What are we supposed to think in times like this? This intifada began with Arabs ramming their cars into train stations, so concrete blocks were erected to prevent more attacks. The Iron Dome stopped the rockets. The security wall stopped the terror. Or so they thought. Now they will place an armed guard at the entrance to every shul. Will that stop the bloodshed? “Im Hashem lo yishmor ir shov shokad shomer.” We have to recognize that it is neither concrete blocks, nor walls, nor guards, nor the Iron Dome that protects us.
We have no choice but to presume that we required karbanos to ensure our existence. We have no choice but to deduce that we must mend our ways.
“Hisbonan!” proclaimed the novi Yeshayahu in Chazon Yeshayahu. “Awaken! Look around you! Realize what is going on! Contemplate that you are living in troubled times and do something about it.”
The Rambam at the beginning of Hilchos Taanis writes his immortal Jewish response to calamitous events. It is a mitzvas asei, he states, to cry out when a tragedy strikes. It is one of the ways of doing teshuvah. When confronted by affliction, Jews cry out and demonstrate that they know the catastrophe was caused by their wrongful actions. They lament their improprieties, admit their indiscretions, and thus merit a cessation of their misfortunes.
However, if they don’t cry out and do teshuvah, but instead say that what transpired was a natural occurrence and part of the pattern of this world, they are acting contemptibly and their frustrations will continue to increase until they get the message and mend their ways.
The Brisker Rov would point to the saga of Yonah Hanovi. As the sea voyage grew unnaturally stormy, with fierce winds and deadly waves, the passengers gathered and asked, “Shel mi hara'ah hazos lanu - Who is the cause of these conditions?” Yonah's response was clear and unequivocal: “Ki yodeia ani ki besheli hasa'ar hagadol hazeh aleichem - I know good and well that it's all my fault. Throw me overboard, the storm will abate, and the ship will sail safely in calm waters.”
Who were the other passengers? They were a group of drunken sailors. Yonah was a novi Hashem. Yet, says the Brisker Rov, Yonah’s response to the sinking ship was the instinctive reaction of an oveid Hashem. If something bad is happening and we don’t know who’s at fault, the Jew says, “It's my fault. I must accept blame and repent.”
We no longer have nevi’im to point out where we have gone wrong. But the mitzvas asei that the Rambam discusses in Hilchos Taanis is just as relevant today as it was in the days of the Rambam and the nevi’im, and throughout Jewish history. Our reaction to cataclysmic events must be along the lines delineated by the Rambam and the Brisker Rov. We cannot go on nonchalantly, unaffected by current events.
There are communal sins and there are private ones. There are failings that we must address as a community, and there are those that we must do penitence for ourselves. We can’t simply tell ourselves that the tzaros come because of this problem or that issue and then move on. Attributing these terrible events to collective guilt is, in a way, an easy way out, because what we're saying is, “Don't look at me. Shalom alai nafshi. Look at the other guy. Look at everyone else.”
We have become immune to tragedy to a certain degree. Do you remember the first time a bus blew up in Eretz Yisroel? Everywhere, everyone was inconsolable. People were beside themselves in agony, incredulous that innocent people going about their daily lives met such an awful fate at the hands of bloodthirsty Arabs. It was like an atom bomb hit. Then it happened again, and again, and again, and people got used to it. Another bomb, yet another bomb, and yet another bomb. How many times can you tear yourself apart? You become immune. “Oh, another bomb. Oh, more people died. Oh, an innocent mother. Oh, how terrible.” And then we went back to life as usual, as if nothing happened. And then it gets worse and worse.
Then it was a famous doctor who helped save so many lives. He was killed by an Arab terrorist, who also took the life of the doctor’s daughter, who was to get married the next night. It stuck out. People were shaken up. And then we forgot. And so it continued.
Just a few years ago, almost an entire family was butchered in the peaceful Shomron village of Itamar. It was awful. A lovely family was murdered in their beds. What unspeakable tragedy. What heartrending pain.
Hashem’s ways are mysterious. The cries and sobs melt hardened hearts. How much pain can one people bear? How much suffering is enough?
Chevron Yeshiva, Netanya Hotel at the seder, the 12 bus, 841 bus, too many buses to count,
Merkaz Harav bochurim, Naharia school children, Sbarro, Ben Yehudah, Yaffo, Dr. Appelbaum,
Hillel Café, Entebbe, Sderot, Rechov Shmuel Hanovi; yeshiva boys kidnapped and killed in cold blood. When will it end?
Wordsmiths are tongue-tied.
Holocaust survivors who thought it was finally all in the past, are reliving horrors, suffering flashbacks. The world stood by silently when babies and innocent people and rabbonim and kedoshim were killed, now again, the world is quiet. Equating the suffering, and of course blaming the Jews.
Not much changes other than back then it was Edom and Amoleik, Now it is Yishmoel. He celebrates the massacre across Eretz Yisroel, distributing sweets to children, inculcating and strengthening the culture of death and terror. The world is silent.
A couple weeks ago a three-month-old baby was killed in Yerushalayim. How awful. How heartrending. Stabbings, stonings, murder by vehicle. One after another. We read about them, hear about them, at best, shed a tear and then go on as if nothing happened. These occurrences don’t change us. They don’t change our views on life, the way we deal with each other and ourselves. That has to change.
We have become immune to so much, that Hashem has now sent us warnings we cannot ignore.
We've suffered the loss of a pure child - tinokos shel bais rabbon shelo pashu, of a giyores, as pure as a tinok shenolad and talmidei chachomim muvhokim wrapped in tallis and tefillin.
One fortress after another crumbles in front of us and we should seek to rebuild them.
How does one build a wall? What agent is used in a spiritual rampart?
In the special tefillah that we recite only once a year, on Tisha B’Av at Minchah, we say, “Ki Atah Hashem ba'eish hitzata, uva'eish Atah asid livnosah - You, Hashem, destroyed the Beis Hamikdosh with fire and you will rebuild it with fire.”
Is fire destructive or constructive?
The answer is that fire is both. There is fire of sinah and fire of kinah. There is a fire of hatred and a fire of jealousy. Fire can ruin and demolish. But fires of holy yearning, of sincere desire to grow, and of kedushah can achieve the very opposite.
With fire it will be rebuilt.
We can transform the very substance that caused our downfall into the catalyst for rebuilding. It's our destiny. As bad as things are, in an instant they can change. Ilmalei nofalti lo kamti - If I never fell, I couldn’t get up.
We are in a bad state, suffering from multiple blows, but with some tears at the right time, we can merit a revelation of samcheinu kiymos inisanu and be returned to the primal state of happiness.
The posuk in the long and bitter tochacha in Parshas Ki Savo foretells of a painful time when the Jews will be cursed for their depraved behavior. The posuk states,
“Shorcha tavuach le'einecha, velo sochal mimenu - Your ox will be slaughtered before your eyes and you will not be able to eat from it.
Chamorcha gazul milfanecha velo yoshuv loch - Your donkey will be robbed from before you and it will not return to you.
Tzoncha nesunos le'oivecha, ve'ein lecha moshia - Your flocks of sheep will be given to your enemies and you will have no savior” (Devorim 28:31).
Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein writes that meforshim point out a most unusual feature of this posuk. The exact words of the tochacha, when read backwards, have an entirely opposite message.
Moshia lecha, ve'ein le'oivecha nesunos tzoncha - A savior you will have and your flocks will not be given to your enemies.
Loch yoshuv, velo milfanecha gazul chamorcha - To you it will return and your donkey will not be robbed from before you.
Mimenu sochal, velo le'einecha tavuach shorcha - You will eat from it and your ox will not be slaughtered from before your eyes.
We can transform a curse into a brochah, dark times into good times.
Al churban Bais Hamikdosh,
Ki horas vechi hudash,
Espod be’chol shana veshana
Al hakodesh, ve’al haMikdosh.
Over the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh
That was razed and that was trampled
I will lament each year, every year, a new lamentation
Over the holiness and over the Mikdosh.
-From the kinnos of Tisha B’Av authored by Rabi Elazar Hakalir [Kinah 24]
We mourn the loss of the Bais Hamikdosh, we mourn over Yerushalayim, and we mourn the exile of the Shechinah. We mourn the millions of Jews who died.
Our grief over the slaughtered members of Klal Yisroel goes back not just 2,000 years to the churban of the second Bayis. It goes back 2,500 years, to the churban of the first Bais Hamikdosh. We cry for the kohanim and elders who expired in the streets, for the babies, and for the young women and men who fell by the sword.
Their blood merges with the blood of the millions more murdered by the Romans during the second destruction. Into it flows the blood of the untold numbers killed in Persia and Arabia in the centuries following, and later in the darkness of the Middle Ages.
“Mi yitein roshi mayim,” weeps the author of the kinah for the martyred Jews of Worms, Speyer and Mainz, murdered nine hundred years ago in the First Crusade. Apparently little has changed. Today again we can write kinos and weep over senseless, heartless, savage cruelty.
Into the stream of spilled Jewish blood flows still another river, adding to the blood and tears of the Six Million and the tragedies of the 21st century and the Jews who have been murdered in Eretz Yisroel on busses, in cars, in their homes and in the street, by bombs, bulldozers, guns, axes, knives and everything in between.
For every generation that does not see the building of the Bais Hamikodosh in its day, it is as if it was destroyed in its day.
And to our sorrow - the sorrow of every generation - the wounds of the people of Bais Yisroel are felt fresh each year in more than ancient memories.
The destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh was the starting point of the exile. The millions of tragedies and losses we have endured in the golus since then are all traced to that day.
We are all aveilim now as we mourn the Jews whose holy bodies lay in the Yerushalayim shul. We mourn them as we mourn those whose lives were ended in the Kovno Ghetto and Auschwitz and all those who suffered horrible deaths throughout the ages.
We mourn all the episodes of machlokes that have resulted from the golus we are in and the loss of the Urim Vetumim and the yedios haTorah that have become weakened through the ages of Diaspora.
Every year that the Bais Hamikdosh has not been rebuilt, there is so much more to mourn. We can easily be overcome with sadness and melancholy as we reflect on our sorry state. But we must not grow despondent. We must channel that gloominess to drive us to repent for our sins which cause us to remain in this golus state of limbo. We should reflect on the sinas chinom that prevents the arrival of Moshiach and resolve to become better people.
Connected and Charged
by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
We read in this week’s parsha about Rivka’s difficult pregnancy. She is informed that “shnei goyim bevitneich,” she would be giving birth to two distinct personalities, Yitzchok and Eisov, who would lead two separate nations.
Yaakov was the epitome of goodness, while Eisov is always pointed to as the embodiment of evil. The pesukim describe their differences somewhat cryptically, and Chazal expound upon what took place.
Eisov is described as an “ish yodeia tzayid, ish sodeh,” a hunter, while Yaakov was an “ish tam yosheiv ohalim,” a fine person who spent his time in the tent of Torah.
On the day that Avrohom Avinu passed away, Yaakov prepared the customary “nozid” of lentils for the mourners to partake of when returning from the cemetery. Eisov returned “oyeif,” tired from committing sins and murder in the fields. He asked Yaakov to let him eat the red mix, “ki oyeif anochi,” because he was tired. The posuk concludes, “Al kein kara shemo Edom – Therefore, they called him Edom.”
While it is commonly understood that he was given the name Edom because he preferred to partake in the red soup than serve as a bechor in the Bais Hamikdosh, we must understand why the posuk interrupts the discussion of his desire for the red food to tell us that he was oyeif, tired.
Yaakov responded that he would serve him the red soup if he would give his bechorah to Yaakov in exchange. The posuk describes this with the words, “Vayomer Yaakov michra kayom es bechorasecha li.”
Eisov was overjoyed by the deal. He mocked the bechorah and noted that he would die anyway, so it was of no use to him.
The exchange between Yaakov and Eisov contains the ideologies that would separate the two until this very day. In their dialogue and subsequent barter, the lines that separate the nations for eternity were drawn.
To Eisov and his progeny, life is temporal and fleeting. The goal towards which they expend their energy is maximizing physical enjoyment. They think that nothing is more valuable than fleeting pleasures. Eisov tires himself working for those momentary splashes of joy. However, when it comes to matters of lasting value, he is lethargic and uninterested because they do not grant instant physical pleasure.
A person is referred to as an oyeif when he becomes tired from engaging in idle pursuit – or worse – and his energy is spent when it comes to doing real stuff. A student who spends the night playing silly games instead of studying and sleeping, is too tired the next day to study and conduct himself properly.
Thus Eisov was named Edom, and his nation is referred to as Edom for all time, because his desire for the red soup - and the lopsided barter he agreed to in order to obtain it - express his essence; Eisov and the Edomites trade the holy and eternal for temporal pleasure.
The opportunity of bechorah was an investment that would offer future spiritual benefits. The inherent gifts of avodah and closeness to Hashem, serving as the nation’s representatives in the Mishkon, were in the distance. Eisov didn’t possess the energy to see that far. He saw the soup, he smelled it, and he quickly enjoyed it as he moved on to fulfill his next temptation.
To Eisov, something that cannot be immediately touched and tasted has no value. The subtle and the sublime are traded for that which is here and now. Eisov lives only in the moment for the moment.
We now understand the adjectives in the posuk as laden with meaning and significance. When the posuk states “vehu oyeif,” it means more than the fact that Eisov was tired. His essence was such that when it came to matters of importance, he had no patience. He was exhausted and he was drained. He lacked in spirit and in verve.
This is reinforced by the phrase used in the posuk to describe the sale: “michra kayom.” It was a sale for today, because Eisov’s vision was limited to that which fit with his need for immediate gratification.
Yaakov was never tired. He remained vibrant, fresh and young, with the feeling that a person has at the dawn of a new day, when he is just getting started, aflame with the sense of possibility and optimism that comes with the start of a project or endeavor. He saw far into the future. He visualized the fires of the mizbeiach, the joy of a korban being accepted, and the sanctity of the makom haMikdosh. He was able to “taste” it right then. He felt it. He saw a bigger picture than “kayom.” When he realized the value of every moment and every mitzvah and every word of Torah, he was energized.
In making that decision, he invested us, his children, with the ability to stay young - ki na’ar Yisroel ve’ohavehu - and to remain fresh.
Imagine a marathon runner nearing the finish line. He is sapped, drained, thirsty and hot. But he sees the finish line and his spirits are up. He looks ahead, more excited and energetic, as his eyes behold his goal.
A nation of people who had the strength to walk into fires in Spain and gas chambers in Germany, and face the less glorious mesirus nefesh of turning their backs on the world, ignoring the call of the street and the lure of the outside culture each day, draw their strength from that vision. They embody the rush of power that comes from visualizing a goal.
Thus, the posuk states, “Vekovei Hashem, those who hope to Hashem, yachalifu koach, are constantly re-energized.” Their hope and faith invest them with life, spirit and stamina.
Being a Yid means being connected and charged. That is the legacy of Yaakov Avinu.
One morning, when Rav Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev was reciting the Birchos Hashachar, one of his chassidim noticed that Rav Levi Yitzchok waited a long time before reciting the brochah of “shelo asani goy.” He asked the rebbe about this. The rebbe explained that when he awoke that morning, something was lacking. He didn’t sense the same burst of energy and joy that he did every morning upon arising. His eagerness and excitement about the new day were lacking. He therefore needed increased meditation to attain the level necessary to recite the brochah.
Rav Mordechai Zuckerman was a humble tzaddik with a glowing countenance and unassuming ways who lived in Yerushalayim not long ago. A talmid of Kelm, he sought to hide his greatness and act as if he was a regular, simple person. He would go to the local makolet - grocery to purchase his food and would stand on line with everyone else. Once, as he stood on line waiting to pay for his items, a fellow customer held up a bag of milk he had taken from a box on the floor and asked the makolet owner, “Zogt mir Reb Pinny, is the milk fresh?”
With the dry wit unique to the Yerushalmi Yid, Reb Pinny responded, “It was fresh when it arrived here.”
Rav Zuckerman lit up. He turned to his friend, Rav Avrohom Sh’or Yoshuv, who was next to him on line, and said, “Reb Avrohom, did you hear what he said? That is our story too. We arrive in this world fresh. It is our job to do what we can to remain fresh. Just like the milk is refrigerated at a low temperature to maintain its freshness, we must likewise do what we have to in order to remain ‘frish.’”
The tafkid of creation, summed up in a single sentence.
Rav Elyokim Shlesinger was a close talmid of the Brisker Rov and other gedolim. One chol hamoed he brought his young sons with him as he went to visit the Chazon Ish. The boys were unable to follow the scholarly conversation, and as children are wont to do, they began to jump around. As there were no toys in the Chazon Ish’s humble room, the boys jumped from the bed to the bench, and back on to the bed, without landing. Whoever could jump the most times without falling would be the winner
Their father was embarrassed by their behavior and apologized for their rambunctiousness. The Chazon Ish smiled indulgently. He watched them with obvious joy, and then blessed them.
“Kinderlach, azoi vi ihr shpringt fuhn tisch oiff’n bank, un fuhn bank tzum beht, Just as you are jumping from the table to the bench, and from the bench to bed, so too, one day you should jump from the Gemara to the Rif, and from the Rif to the Rambam!”
The Schlesinger children grew up to become respected talmidei chachomim, who ignite a beis medrash with a kushya and enliven those near them with a he’ara on the Rambam.
And the secret of their chiyus might well lie in the vision of Rabbon shel Yisroel, who understood that spirited natures are a gift; energy is a tool of growth.
Last week, while visiting Toronto for a simcha, I met Reb Avrohom Shmuel Gross, who told me that a rebbi in the local cheder asked him for a story that he could tell his class in honor of the yahrtzeit of Rav Zuckerman, which was last Thursday. Reb Avrohom Shmuel told the rebbi about the time Rav Zuckerman addressed a group of bar mitzvah-aged boys and told them that they must always be frish. Reb Avrohom Shmuel was astounded that a ninety-year-old man was speaking to young boys in that fashion. At his advanced age and at their young age, the most important message he could impart to them was to remain fresh and vibrant.
Indeed, it is a most important message for us all, no matter our age or our physical condition. A person who is alive, who appreciates the gifts Hashem has given him, and who understands “mah chovaso ba’olamo” never tires or tarries. Every moment is an opportunity for nitzchiyus, not to be wasted or squandered. Adrenaline kicks in every time they do a mitzvah, take a step, daven and learn. They are alive.
Reshoim, who by definition lack this appreciation, are kruyim meisim. Even when they are alive, they are dead. They are spent, lethargic and burnt out.
Anyone who attended Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv’s shiurim in his later years felt that spirit of life, as the man who could barely walk even when aided, would sit down in his chair and come alive as he delivered his shiur, quoting from sources throughout Shas, Rishonim and Acharonim. People would fire questions at him, and he would rapidly respond. He was the “youngest,” most vibrant, and frish person in the world.
Many talmidei chachomim with whom we are familiar can become overwhelmed by the day’s activities and pressures, yet when they sit down in front of a Gemara, they come alive. They are energized and electric with anticipation and joy as they study the word of Hashem. They are the offspring of Yaakov, who didn’t sleep for the fourteen years he studied in the yeshiva of Sheim and Eiver.
Rav Aharon Paperman, an American-born talmid of the Telshe Yeshiva in Europe, served as a chaplain during World War II and was part of an army unit that liberated one of the concentration camps. When he entered the camps, he saw emaciated Jews who were more skeletons than human beings. When he met one of those human skeletons, Rav Paperman’s heart filled with rachmanus. The man was wearing nothing other than the striped uniform that hung loosely on his emaciated figure. Rav Paperman approached him and asked, “Reb Yid, what can I get for you? Perhaps you want a sweater to protect you from the cold, a pair of shoes, or maybe something to eat?”
“No,” replied the man. “I don’t need any of these things.”
Rav Paperman persisted, “Can I get you something? Anything?”
Looking at him, the Yid said, “Do you really want to get something for me? What I really need is a Gemara Bava Kama!”
Rav Paperman was stunned at the purity of this Jew. He had just been through the seven levels of Gehennom, but the only thing he wanted was to once again embrace a Gemara Bava Kama and learn from its life-giving words. He understood that the ultimate elixir that would make him better was learning Hashem’s Torah.
As a captain in the army, Rav Paperman commandeered a jeep and procured a Bava Kama for this starving neshomah. The simcha on the man’s face energized Rabbi Paperman as he continued his life-sustaining efforts.
That’s staying frish.
No matter what our surroundings are and no matter what challenges are thrown our way, Hashem has blessed every one of us with the ability to keep our internal fire of Torah burning, ready to burst into a glowing flame at any moment. Let us do what we can to grow that fire, day after day, week after week, and year after year, expending our energies on matters of substance and meaning.
Let us endeavor to always remain focused on a goal, ambitious and driven, young and vital as long as we are able to on this earth. If what we are doing is worth doing, then it is worth doing right and energetically, and giving it all we’ve got.
Let us never become lazy, lethargic or tired, focusing on mere momentary impediments.
We are charged with completing a mission.
Let’s do it.