Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Rav Moshe Schapiro zt”l

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
If someone were to ask: How does a talmid chochom look? How does he walk? How does he talk? How does he sound? How does he present himself? I would think of Rav Moshe Shapiro and paint a picture of him.
Everything about him spoke of greatness molded by Torah and gedolei Torah. He personified and represented the immaculate, impeccable, flawless tzuras ha’odom. He carried himself with perfect dignity, yet spoke to people with fabulous humility. He embodied the gadlus ha’odom of Slabodka and the atzilus and discipline of Kelm. His knowledge was prodigious. He seemed to know and remember everything.
How do you describe Rav Moshe to someone who never met him or heard him speak? You open Pirkei Avos and you study it. Mishnah after Mishnah describes Rav Moshe. Our Rav Moshe. The one who walked among us. The one who just left us. And we are bereft without the huge light that exposed and opened the Torah for so many.
Rav Moshe gave hundreds, if not thousands, of shiurim on Pirkei Avos and understood it on so many levels you never thought fathomable until you heard his shiurim and studied them.
And studied him.
He opened the da’as of his talmidim to the seforim and teachings of the Vilna Gaon and Rav Chaim Volozhiner; Rav Tzadok Hakohein and the Izhbitzer; the Maharal and the Ramchal; the Rambam and the Ramban; Abaye and Rava. In his shiur room, they came alive. Their words were alive. Their teachings were alive. As Rav Moshe's thoughts meshed with theirs, you were wowed and overcome.
Once, while delivering a shiur to us at Yeshiva Bais Binyomin of Stamford, CT, on a complicated calculation in Maseches Yevamos, Rav Moshe suddenly stopped speaking. The silence hung in the room as the talmidim waited for their rebbi to continue. Rav Moshe appeared lost in thought, concentrating on the cheshbon he was in the middle of working out.
Suddenly, he spoke.
“Rabbosai!” he exclaimed. “You should know that un Torah, without Torah, iz gornit, there is nothing!”
Then he returned to explaining the sugya.
That was Rav Moshe. Torah was everything to him. It was his world. It was the entire world. He was so enraptured by Torah that it took over his entire being, transformed him and left him in a state of ecstasy.
With one sentence, he invested a roomful of bochurim with a lifelong sense of appreciation for the power and meaning of every line of Gemara and each diyuk in Rashi, lifting the curtain and allowing them to see reality.
A friend was at a bus stop in Yerushalayim when he saw Rav Moshe off in the distance walking to the stop for his ride home to Bayit Vegan. The 21 bus that he needed pulled up at the stop, while Rav Moshe was still some distance away. Rav Moshe saw the bus and knew that his chances of making it were slim if he didn’t hurry.
My friend watched as Rav Moshe continued walking at the pace at which he always walked. Like he was a prince. He walked like a prince. He carried himself like a prince.
The bus driver noticed the respectable person headed for the stop and waited for him, but that is beside the point. Rav Moshe carried himself with an awareness of who he was and what he represented. With that bigger image in front of him, missing the bus was not the deciding factor in how he would walk. Though humble enough to travel by bus, the significance of his role and what he represented defined his actions, not the smaller issue of the inconvenience of missing a bus.
The embodiment of Kelm, Slabodka and the Torah itself.
Rav Moshe was an ish emes. He was all about the truth. Suffused with Toras emes, his measure was truth.
A kiruv activist once asked him how to sugarcoat something for people new to religion. He told the person that the only way to succeed is with the truth. Fiction won't accomplish anything lasting. Nor will stupidity, he hastened to add, lovingly and with his famous twinkle.
To him, sheker and shtus were closely related.
He didn’t get sucked in by the sheker of this world, and neither should we. His search for the truth, combined with his genius, brought him to unique heights in limud and harbotzas Torah.
Rav Moshe taught that there are two levels of knowledge. Human intelligence occupies a defined spectrum and is governed by certain parameters that limit thought. A person whose thinking is in the physical realm of this world has a choice: either think the way humans do or be a fool. However, as much as an intelligent person thinks, he is confined and can never rise above the here and now of olam hazeh.
We can choose whether to remain within the limited realm and knowledge a person can attain using human abilities, or to raise ourselves to a higher level of da’as, knowledge achieved through Torah (and nevuah).
A person can raise himself above the boundaries that govern human thought. It is through bechirah that a person can choose to accept upon himself a much higher level of thought and knowledge, achievable through attaching oneself to the Torah, which is min haShomayim and thus limitless.
One who attaches himself to Torah min haShomayim is the freest person. As the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (6:2) says, there is no person freer than he who studies Torah.
Although Rav Moshe didn’t say this, perhaps we can. The Mishnah (ibid.) concludes, “Vechol mi she’oseik b’talmud Torah misaleh,” the person who studies Torah is raised. The person who connects himself to Torah raises himself to a different level and a different plane.
Rav Moshe was that person. He was on a different level. His seichel was on a different level. His knowledge seemed boundless, for it was not contained by the normative human parameters. His feet were planted in this world, but his da’as was heavenly.
Rav Moshe would relate the teaching of Rav Tzadok Hakohein that the Torah pays a unique compliment to Yosef Hatzaddik. The posuk says, “Vayehi Yosef yefeh to'ar v'yefeh mareh” (Bereishis 39:6). Yosef is the only man the Torah describes as a person with “yofi,” beauty.
Why?
Rav Moshe would present a point like this, let it hang in the air, and then say, “Mah katuv kan?”
When he said, “Mah katuv kan?” you knew that you were about to be brought into a new world. You were assured that the topic would be examined from every angle, the depths plumbed, the clear waters underneath exposed, and all the talmidim would find themselves refreshed.
And that was what he did here. He quoted Rav Tzadok and proceeded to explain “Mah katuv kan?”
He began by saying that to understand “yofi,” beauty, you must first analyze its opposite, “ki’ur,” ugliness. He said that ki’ur is a word that denotes a lack of clarity. As he was wont to do, Rav Moshe quoted a posuk and a Rashi. Yaakov Avinu told his sons, Shimon and Levi, “Achartem osi lehavisheini” (Bereishis 34:30). Rashi (ibid.) explains the word achartem as “mayim achurim,” dirty, muddied waters. Yaakov was telling his sons, “My mind was clear and you sullied it [by what you did to Shechem].”
Rav Moshe continued plumbing the clear waters of Torah. He said that in discussing the laws of cooking on Shabbos, Chazal use the term “mitztameik veyofeh lo” to describe a food that has been fully cooked yet improves as it remains close to a heat source.
He analyzed that the word “yofeh” refers to the precision of two different forces coming together to create a reality that had been concealed. Raw food and fire worked together to create an edible dish. The process is “yofeh.”
Ki’ur, ugliness, is brought about when the truth cannot be seen, when differing forces create ruin, and when concealed depths are obscured.
Yosef took his strengths and unified them, so that they were all working towards one goal: namely, to bring together the twelve brothers and unite them harmoniously around Yaakov Avinu.
The Maharal states that the fact that Yosef looked like Yaakov, and his life was patterned after his father’s and they shared similarities, indicates that the semblance went beyond the superficial and facial.
Chazal (Bava Metzia 84a) say, “Shufrei deYaakov avinu mei’ein shufrei d’Adam Harishon.” Yaakov was blessed with the “shufra,” the perfect beauty, of Adam Harishon, who possessed the ultimate tzuras ha’odom.
When Chazal teach that Yosef “looked” like Yaakov, they were revealing that not only was there a clear physical resemblance between the two, but also that Yosef shared this spiritual quality with Yaakov. It went far beyond the physical realm.
This, Rav Moshe concluded, is the yofi of Yosef Hatzaddik, a beauty that allows the truth to come together. This is why the Medrash (Tanchuma, Vayigash 10) compares Yosef to Tzion, the holiest city. The gematria of Tzion is Yosef. They are both the meeting point between physical and spiritual, where heaven and earth cross. (See also Afikei Mayim, Bais Hamikdosh, Chapter 15.)
And both are beautiful. They are both embodiments of what is meant by yofi.
True yofi.
And this yofi, the splendor and majesty of man, of a soul that circulated among us, a figure familiar in Yerushalayim of today, was the middah of a man who was a rebbi to many.
Rav Moshe showed us the dimensions of man. He demonstrated how a person can be elevated, regal and great. He was one with the Torah, showing us its expanse and breadth.
We saw him and we understood greatness. We listened to his shiurim and realized the heights man can reach. Through him, we understood the virtue of the Alter of Kelm, the precision of the Brisker Rov, the depth of Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler. He was a keili, a vehicle carrying the lessons of the greatest rabbeim and distilling them for a superficial generation.
I learned by him in Stamford, when he spent a few years in America. We talmidim had a zechus. We were enthralled by his shiurim, the vastness of his Torah, the prestige and chashivus he radiated. As young as we were, we grasped the truth of the statement, “Man malki rabbonon” (Gittin 62a).
His magnificence extended even to the way he spoke, his sweetness and warmth, his perfect diction, expression and vocabulary, and the way he articulated each word. Even the way he paused and let silence grab hold of the room was significant.
I'll never forget how he said one particular posuk, and how much heart and sensitivity went into it.
It was at my vort, a simcha that took place a few years after my mother passed away at a young age. Our family would never be the same. Our mother took so much blessing, joy and love with her. A child without a mother, no matter the age, has a void in his heart that cannot be easily filled.
Rav Moshe got up to speak. He looked at me, he looked around, and then he quoted, in his distinct way of speaking, the words of the posuk, “Vayinochem Yitzchok acharei imo” (Bereishis 24:67). When Rivka entered Yitzchok Avinu’s tent, he was at last comforted from the loss of his mother. With Rivka’s arrival, the brachos of Sarah Imeinu - the candles that remained illuminated all week, the challah that warmed and nourished, and the cloud that hovered protectively - returned.
Rav Moshe didn’t elaborate, because he didn’t have to. He was bentching me that with the return of brocha, my life would once again be complete. I never forgot his warm words and generous wishes. Every year, when this parsha returns, I contemplate the moment referred to by the posuk.
He knew what was in my heart. He gave expression to the subtle thoughts running through my soul. He understood.
That was a moment that encapsulates Rav Moshe - so much heart, so much empathy, so much friendship, through Torah. He only had to recite the words and we were able to appreciate the sweetness that lies underneath each one.
He had the ability to open vistas. His shiurim were deep, clear and beautiful, and when he was done, it all made perfect sense and left you enriched. He always left you in awe and wanting more.
You looked at him and imagined the greatness of those whose Torah he shared - the Gaon and the Maharal and the Alter of Kelm - and you opened your mouth wide, as he laid out their concepts before you, k’shulchan aruch, and then fed to you these lofty ideas with a silver spoon. 
Vezos haTorah asher som Moshe lifnei Bnei Yisroel.
He was so elevated, so refined, yet so approachable. He didn’t only know how to talk to us. He also knew how to listen.
At the levaya, Rav Moshe’s son spoke of his father’s ability to listen to and identify with the downtrodden. “Abba,” he cried out, “you were the lowest of all, the biggest shafel. You got down to feel with every broken person you met.”
Because he was able to make himself appear to be the lowest, because he was able to bring himself to that level to impart Torah wisdom and life lessons to others, he was, in reality, the highest. He was the greatest. He could make himself appear low, but his brain and soul flew in the Heavens. He seemed regular, but he wasn’t. He was the embodiment of yofi, combining heaven and earth.
Just as Rav Moshe perceived the depth of a Rambam or a Ramban where others only saw black letters, so was he with people.
He would look at me with his gentle, wise eyes and ask, “Peeny, vos machst du?” And by the way he asked, I knew that there was no reason to answer, because he already knew.
Throughout the years, whenever I had the pleasure to meet him, it was always the same greeting, the same “Peeny,” the same ability to load that one word with so much empathy and understanding. When he took my hand and held it an extra moment, and looked at me with a penetrating and meaningful look, I felt that there was at least one person in the world who understood me.
Someone once asked me if I minded that he still greeted me as if I was still the young bochur he had taught in Stamford. “No,” I replied. “He still sees me as that wide-eyed, eager bochur whose mind and heart he filled. He still views me the same way.”
I know that I will never hear that “Peeny” again and it saddens me. It is so much harder to hold on to who we really are if those who reminded us are gone.
Before he would deliver a shiur, he would look around. His expression would shift as he seemed to rise higher before our eyes, entering a sacred world.
You walked out of Rav Moshe’s shiur with a new appreciation of the vastness, depth and expanse of Torah. And you walked out of his shiur and felt like shouting out Birchos HaTorah all over again, because it was a new Torah, and it embraced you and you embraced it.
Once, during a Shavuos shmuess, Rav Moshe began to describe how Torah ought to cause not just man's soul to rejoice, but even his body. He described the pleasure and delight of Torah and the ideal of being able to feel that enjoyment as if enjoying a good meal. He then cried out, “Men darf es untappen mit di hent. You have to be able to touch it.” He moved his hands up and down, as if grasping it. His audience of American yeshiva bochurim felt themselves being transported to a world where they, too, could touch the timeless truth of Torah and experience it as he did.
He had that ability.
Rav Moshe Mordechai Chodosh, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon in Yerushalayim, was in Monsey one year on Shabbos Chazon. As I walked with him, he told me of the time that Rav Moshe visited the Ohr Elchonon branch in the city of Tiverya.
Rav Moshe spoke to the bochurim in the yeshiva and was in a state of ecstasy. He quoted the Gemara in Rosh Hashanah (31a-b) which states that the last sitting of the Great Sanhedrin comprised of 71 members was in Tiverya. Rav Yochanan adds that the geulah will begin from Tiverya.
Rav Moshe explained that the Gemara (ibid.) states that Tiverya was “amukah mikulom.” Rashi says that the people of Tiverya were on the lowest level of the ten places the Sanhedrin exiled to. When the Sanhedrin ended up there, the Jews of the Holy Land had hit rock-bottom.
When the time of the geulah will arrive, the rebuilding process will begin there. The redemption will start at the lowest point in Eretz Yisroel and infuse it with kedusha as the land is prepared for the ultimate salvation.
Rav Moshe told the bochurim that by returning Torah to the forsaken city of Tiverya, they were contributing to the geulah of Klal Yisroel. For the first time in hundreds of years, Torah pulsates in Tiverya. Witnessing such a rebirth of Torah in the forsaken city brought Rav Moshe to a state of elation.
The Rambam in Hilchos Taanis writes: “A great city by the name of Beitar was captured. Inside it were many tens of thousands of Jewish people. They had a great king whom all of Yisroel and the rabbis believed was the king Moshiach. He fell into the hands of the gentiles and they were all killed. It was a great tragedy, as great as the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh.”
Rav Moshe explained that the tragedy was that their king, Bar Kochva, who could have been Moshiach, was killed. What could have been a period of redemption instead became one of destruction. Through their sins, an era that could have returned the Jews to the state they awaited since the chet hameraglim turned into tragedy.
We are so close to the redemption that we can hear the footsteps of Moshiach. We suffer from the chevlei Moshiach. Before Moshiach’s arrival, the tumah of the world increases, as the Soton fights to prevent his arrival. When the world will assume the state that Hashem intended, the koach hatumah will wilt. Amaleik will cease to exist after the geulah. So, in the period leading up to Moshiach, tumah rises and becomes strengthened, as the forces of darkness endeavor to prevent the Jewish nation from reaching the levels that Hashem intended.
Rav Moshe was niftar in the days of yarda choshech le’olam, on Asarah B’Teves. Rav Moshe was the one who could lift the veil to allow us a glimpse of reality, beyond the murkiness and shadows.
And now it is dark. He is gone.
He taught that the period leading to the redemption is referred to as ikvesa deMeshicha because just as the heel of the foot, the “ukeiv,” is largely numb and cannot feel much, so too, in this time period, our souls feel numb. Rav Moshe would quote the Yerushalmi (quoted in Tosafos, Shabbos 31a) which states that a farmer is “maamin bechayei olamim vezoreia.” He “believes in the Sustainer of world and plants a seed in the hard, dry ground.”
Rav Moshe would explain that when a seed is planted, it must first decompose and break down, unseen and nearly forgotten, before it is able to bring forth a living tree able to bear fruit. The same is with our nation. Hakadosh Boruch Hu is matzmiach yeshua, allowing Am Yisroel to grow from a broken seed.
Yarda choshech le'olam. Nistemu eineihem shel Yisroel. Let us hope that this is the darkness before dawn and that the seed that is our people is about to burst forth.
We must strengthen ourselves and seek to raise the levels of kedusha in this world so that it can overcome the kochos hatumah and permit Moshiach to reveal himself. It is plainly evident that tumah is spreading. It has a foothold everywhere. Many are entrapped in its clutches. The only way to fight back is through ameilus in Torah and maasim tovim. As the posuk states, “Tzion bemishpot tipodeh veshoveha betzedakah.” If we engage in righteousness and charity, we strengthen kedusha in the world and weaken the koach hatumah. When tumah is in its death throes, Moshiach can reveal himself and bring about the geulah.
If we remember the Torah Rav Moshe taught us, if we study the Torah of the leading masters and study their seforim, if we learn as if there is nothing else of any importance in this world, if we carry ourselves the way Rav Moshe did, if we treat others the way he did, if we raise our level and the level of those around us, we help bring light to the world. Light that chases away the darkness. Light that blinds the kochos hatumah and helps lead to the day when the world will be filled with that great light.
We will then merit “Ohr chodosh al Tzion to’ir,” the day when Moshiach ben Yosef is empowered with the strength and “yofi” of Yosef and allows Tzion to once again excel with its “yofi.” Moshiach ben Yosef will bring the world to a state of “yofi,” allowing the revelation of Moshiach ben Dovid. His arrival will bring with it the Bais Hamikdosh Hashlishi that will return Tzion to its state of “Tzion hametzuyenes” and “yofi,” as it connects elyonim and tachtonim.
May we merit that day speedily.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Neis Gadol Haya Poh

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
With a prolonged hiss, the last of the Chanukah lights flickered and went out. Pools of darkened oil, smudged glasses and used wicks are what remain of the eight nights. Each night we gathered our family and held a thin yellow candle to a wick and proclaimed our thanks to the One Who commanded us to light, praising Him for the miracles He performed for our people way back. We prayed that just as He performed miracles in the Bais Hamikdosh at the time of Chanukah, so will He perform spectacular miracles for us in our day.
Dovid Hamelech states in Tehillim (117), “Beshuv Hashem es shivas Tzion, when Hashem returns all to Zion, hayinu kecholmim, we will be as dreamers.”
The Izhbitzer Rebbe explains that the posuk comparing our reaction on that great day to dreamers is a reference to Yosef the dreamer, referred to as the “ba’al hachalomos.” Yosef was mocked, ridiculed and disliked on account of his dreams. His brothers threw him into a pit and sold him as a slave. To all, it seemed at that moment that the dreams had been quashed.
Years later, with the proclamation of two words, “Ani Yosef,” the brothers suddenly grasped the power and importance of the dreams. They understood that all the events that had transpired led up to this moment.
So too, when Hakadosh Boruch Hu will gather us and say the two words “Ani Hashem,” all will be clear. We will understand why everything happened. The significance of each pit, each blow, and each challenge will become clear to us.
Until then, we endure through the darkness as did Yosef. We are a nation that understands little but accepts much as we await that great day.
There are times when we merit a glimpse of clarity and realize that we have a loving Father Who watches over us and that nothing occurs by happenstance.
We may have experienced just such a time now.
We know that the letters on the Chanukah dreidel, nun, gimmel, hey and shin, stand for neis gadol haya shom, meaning a great miracle took place there. In Eretz Yisroel, where the miracle took place, the shin of the dreidel is replaced with a pey, signifying neis gadol haya poh, meaning a great miracle happened here.
This year, perhaps, we in America should have considered purchasing dreidels with those letters, for as we now know, a great miracle happened here. Poh.
It didn’t just happen now. The miracle has been happening over the previous eight years. We just figured it out now.
Two weeks ago, we looked on in alarm as the United States abstained on an anti-Israel vote at the United Nations. Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry delivered a lengthy anti-Israel speech couched as a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian quagmire.
On the way out, in the waning days of his administration, the president and his team have shown their true colors. They displayed for the entire world what they would have liked to have done during all their years in power.
It is a neis that they were held back from acting on their desires until now.
It is a neis that come January 20th, the Democrats won’t control the House, Senate or presidency, and will not be able to further their anti-Israel agenda. Hillary Clinton was so close to winning. Pundits, experts and savants confidently assured us that she would soon be in the Oval Office, building on the Obama legacy.
But Donald Trump won. His task will be to dismantle Barack Obama’s approach, especially as it pertains to Israel. 
Let’s objectively examine the issue of Israeli settlements, the ones that the world considers an impediment to peace, and see if we can reach an unbiased conclusion. Let us try to understand the recent UN declaration that the Jewish people have no claim to the Kosel, the Har Habayis, Ihr Dovid and other parts of Yerushalayim that our people have basically been “occupying” for thousands of years, way before the notion of a people known as Palestinians even existed.
We have been occupying Yerushalayim with our hearts and eyes, with our tears and written requests, with our hopes and dreams.
A minyan for Maariv was forming at a chasunah, and someone wondered aloud, as often happens, which direction was mizrach. Rav Yitzchok Hutner was walking by and smiled. “Turn in all four directions,” he said. “The one that makes your heartbeat quicken, that direction is mizrach.”
It has always been that way for us, wherever we were, be it Spain, Poland, Germany or Morocco. We were always looking home, to Yerushalayim.
Yet, the haughty John Kerry, descendant of an abdicated Jew, arrogantly lectures us and expects us to believe that the leading lights of democracy and fairness from Venezuela and Senegal, of all places, on their own, dreamed up the necessity for a resolution giving away the Land of Israel weeks before Obama exits the stage.
Kerry, who failed at everything he did while in his current position, has the audacity to lay down six cardinal principles for peace, as if they were never attempted. He makes you think that should his ideas be implemented, they would bring peace to the Mideast.
Before we even get to the question of settlements, is there anyone who takes the Palestinians seriously enough to believe, for a moment, that pacifying them with parts of the land of Palestine that they covet will bring peace to the Middle East?
Thanks to Obama, Kerry and Clinton, hundreds of thousands of Syrian citizens have been murdered, while many more flood the countries of Europe. Will coddling the Palestinians have any impact on that mess in the Middle East? How about ISIS, formed when Obama and Company created a vacuum in Iraq? It was allowed to fester because Obama would not seriously engage the radical Islamic terrorists. Did you hear Kerry speak about them? Obama, hard at work on the golf course, wasn’t even heard from during the few weeks that this sorry spectacle was playing out. For once, he let his actions speak louder than the words of the past eight years that he is so proud of. This doesn’t include the mess in Afghanistan, Iran and other countries.
Yet, of all the awful Mideast states, the one to focus on is the one that has faded from the public consciousness, as even Arab countries realize the vacuous nature of the Palestinian claims and the importance of a strong Israel in the chaparral neighborhood.
While the world now claims that so-called settlements are a “major obstacle to peace,” the fact is that the so-called Palestinians have been fighting the notion of a Jewish state on its historic land since long before Israel captured these territories in a war the Arabs launched in 1967. They were fighting to destroy the entire state of Israel, and had Hashem not caused a miraculous military victory of the few against the many, they would have succeeded. They haven’t given up. To them, Rechovot and Bnei Brak are just as occupied as Yerushalayim and Chevron.
In fact, when the League of Nations took control of the Mideast from the Ottoman Turks, they created the states of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Iraq. The original Mandate for Palestine apportioned to the Jews was the territory from the Mediterranean Sea deep into what is now Jordan. In 1922, the area of the proposed Jewish home west of the Jordan was reconstituted and the Jews were left with the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan. Both pieces were administered by the British.
Even after Winston Churchill removed 80% of the territory from the Jews and handed it over to the Arabs, the Arabs weren’t happy. Colluding with the British, they tormented the Jews living in Jewish Palestine, killing, maiming, robbing, and even once in a while conducting pogroms, massacring dozens, such as the horrific story with which we’re familiar, the Chevron Massacre in 1929.
When Israel was established in 1948, the neighboring Arab states all invaded. Though the new country was miraculously able to survive and hold off its enemies, it did lose territory. When the armistice went into effect, Jordan had control of the so-called West Bank and Egypt had control of Gaza. Jordan and Egypt actually occupied the lands that were Israel’s. Still seeking to eradicate Israel they went to war in 1967 against the small state. When the war ended six days later, Israel had miraculously recaptured the territory lost to the occupiers in 1949.
So, in effect, Israel had now freed the land from its occupiers. For some reason, the world refuses to see it that way and accepts the fictitious notion that Israel stole the land from the Arabs and is an illegal occupier of the territory. Even some of our own people are unaware of the history and believe that the West Bank is occupied.
In 2005, during the era of President George W. Bush, the land that constitutes Gaza was “returned” to the Palestinians in the hope of peace. Hamas grabbed hold of the territory and has used it since as a launching pad for missiles and rockets and three wars against Israel. The land-for-peace gambit failed. And settlements had nothing to do with it.
Left-wing Israeli political leaders Yitzchok Rabin, Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians basically everything they are officially asking for - and more. Bill Clinton, as president, convened a peace parley at Camp David in the year 2000. The result? The Palestinians walked away on the cusp of victory and returned home to unleash a vicious wave of terror attacks against innocent Israeli Jews.
Kerry himself negotiated for almost one year, finally giving up in 2014, when the Palestinians did all they could to demonstrate that they weren’t really that interested in making any accommodations with Israel after all.
Binyomin Netanyahu, the man the administration loves to hate because he has exposed them too often for what they are, acquiesced to Obama’s request and froze all settlement construction for ten months in order to bring the Palestinians to the negotiating table.
What happened?
Nothing.
President Obama, like other presidents who preceded him and attempted to bring peace to Israel, repeatedly promised that Israel has nothing to fear if they would give up land, and there would be peace, because he “would always have Israel’s back.” Bush did the same when he basically forced Israel to give up Gaza and hold elections there.
Obama and Kerry know all this. They know that the Palestinians don’t want a peaceful accommodation with Israel. They know of the terror the Palestinians have unleashed on Israel, the world and their own people; but in their irrational arrogance and hatred of Israel, they simply don’t care.
Kerry had the temerity to call for Israel to remove its security checkpoints, because they inconvenience the Palestinians who want to enter Israel. How can he ignore the reason those checkpoints were established in the first place - to keep terrorists out of Israel and away from its citizens? And yet, this pompous politician ignores the facts again just to make Israel appear to be a tyrannical occupying power.
Kerry also called for easing the blockade on Gaza, as if that were some type of humanitarian gesture. Someone should remind him that the blockade is there to prevent Hamas from acquiring even more weapons than they already have to attack Israel and further their goal of driving the Jews into the sea.
The Obama-Kerry-Clinton trio lies, distorts and ignores reality in order to stab America’s strongest ally and the only democracy in the Middle East. Is that leadership? Is that what the American people expect from their leaders? Like petulant children, they kick and smash everything in their way as they are led out of the classroom for misbehavior and failing grades.
It was these same hypocrites who drew a red line in the sand to protect the citizens of Syria and then stood by and did nothing to protect the masses who were mercilessly killed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies. And speaking of Iran, it is this same trio that rewarded the largest state supporter of terrorism with $150 billion and a deal allowing them to obtain a nuclear weapon with which to threaten the world in a decade.
The same trio stood on the sidelines as millions of refugees fled from Syria and other war-torn Arab countries, flooding Western Europe. The same European leaders who lecture Israel and voted for the American-led resolution against Israel sit atop combustible nations on guard of Arab terror threatening their citizens. They themselves are now experiencing what Israel has lived with for decades, yet their hatred of the Jewish people blinds them to the obvious reality.
The same trio caused ISIS to be formed and never engaged it in battle to destroy the nascent terror group that threatens the US, Europe and the world. They failed around the world and became a laughingstock in many capitals.
We ponder what the administration has wrought in its final days of power and we thank Hashem that they didn’t actively promote their corrupt, malicious and evil plans until it was too late to really get something going. They act like a tenant busting up an apartment as the eviction date approaches. Even the British prime minister, whose UN ambassador voted for the UN resolution, slammed Kerry. Theresa May said in a statement, “We do not believe that it is appropriate to attack the composition of the democratically elected government of an ally. We are also clear that the settlements are far from the only problem in this conflict. In particular, the people of Israel deserve to live free from the threat of terrorism, with which they have had to cope for too long.”
This same tone-deafness they display is, thankfully, what cost them the election. 
Americans who just suffered through the election campaign should not be surprised by Obama’s move. As it shifts further left, the Democrat Party is becoming increasingly anti-Israel. The re-energized Bernie Sanders was more upfront about his dislike of the Jewish state. While Hillary Clinton portrayed herself as a friend of Israel, anyone who remembers her term as secretary of state can easily recall the public tongue-lashings that Netanyahu received from her as she attempted to force Israel to take positions that were against its interests.
Her apologists ignored that uncomfortable part of her history and the intense pressure her husband applied at Camp David, but the Democrat platform she ran on exposed her for what she is.
President-elect Trump is an unabashed supporter of Israel and the father, father-in-law and grandfather of Jews. He delivered a masterful speech at the AIPAC convention, clearly laying out his position. Now that he has been elected, he has stood behind Israel, and, regarding the recent Obama-engineered fiasco, told Israel to hold out until January 20th, when he will enter the White House.
How did Trump end up here, reassuring Israel and its supporters? How is he relevant when the media, mainstream politicians and power brokers actively tried to defeat him and literally laughed at the idea that he might triumph?
We have a Father in Heaven Who protects us and arranges all that transpires in this world. We are thankful that He is removing enemies of Israel from positions of power, and we pray that things will look up in the future for Israel, the Jewish people, the American people, and the entire world.
It’s true that we have differences with the government of Israel, but our disagreements with the secular Zionists have no connection to the anti-Semitism that is currently on display. Make no mistake about it: When the nations of the world attack Israel, they are attacking Jews, not Zionists. The founders of Zionism believed that if the Jews would have a state, anti-Semitism would end. They were wrong. It has increased, albeit with different names and guises.
People were fed by the media that Trump is an anti-Semite, and during the campaign, many compared him to Hitler, as ludicrous and false a claim as that is. In fact, it is Obama, a decades-long member in a church led by a known Jew-hater who has delivered so many speeches laden with hatred for Jews and Israel (and America), who has shown a proclivity for Arabs since his election. Although some Jews might give Democrats a pass and concentrate their suspicions on Republicans, that doesn’t change the facts.
Obama objects to Jews living in their historic land, because Arabs can’t tolerate Jews living among them. The Arab country of Palestine, which he and others like him pine for, would be Judenrein, but if a lonely Arab or his donkey claims that their rights in Israel were infringed upon, it becomes an international incident.
We have been around long enough to know that when France, Germany and the entire world hide behind the august states of New Zealand, Senegal, Malaysia and Venezuela to condemn Israel, it is their old anti-Semitism rearing its ugly head. Their actions are not prompted by concern for a refugee people mistreated by an evil occupier. Anybody can see that. The actions of Obama, Kerry and the others betray an inbred bias that Hashem has kept dormant until now. What they have done is not a simple outgrowth of stupidity and intellectually dishonest thoughts, but a furtherance of a stymied agenda.
We proclaim at the Pesach Seder, “Shebechol dor vador omdim aleinu lechaloseinu - In every generation, our enemies set out to destroy us.” Oftentimes, thankfully, we aren’t aware of their plans, for “Hakadosh Boruch Hu matzileinu miyodom - Hashem saves us from them.”
As we read and review the news during these moments of post-Chanukah reflection, we are given one of those rare glimpses to clearly realize just how great is the kindness we’ve been shown by Heaven.
In the Yerushalayim neighborhood of Mekor Boruch, on the second floor of a non-descript building, lives Rav Avrohom Yehoshua Soloveitchik, rosh yeshivas Brisk. Up the well-worn stairs, in his dining room, there is a weekly Chumash shiur. Along with incisive p’shotim and radiant chiddushim, the Chumash shiur presents the crystalline hashkofah of Bais Brisk, stories and divrei Torah that shape a worldview.
Each year, during the week of Parshas Yisro, the rosh yeshiva relates a vort from his revered zaide, the Brisker Rov. I heard it from him over thirty years ago, but its message is still fresh in my memory.
The posuk tells of Yisro’s amazement at seeing the Mitzriyim punished “badovor asher zadu aleihem, according to their own wickedness” (Shemos 18:11). Rashi explains that this is a reference to the middah keneged middah of their punishment. Just as the Mitzriyim had meant to destroy Moshe Rabbeinu and the Jewish children through water, at Krias Yam Suf they were consumed by water.
Targum Onkelos translates “badovor asher zadu aleihem” as “di chakimu, according to their schemes.”
The Brisker Rov explained this with a story about a Russian minister who asked Rav Itzele Volozhiner to translate the posuk which states, “Hallelu es Hashem kol goyim shabchuhu kol ha’umim ki govar aleinu chasdo - Praise Hashem all the nations, laud Him all people, for His kindness has overwhelmed us” (Tehillim 117:2).
Why, the diplomat wondered, should the nations of the world praise Hashem for bestowing kindness on Klal Yisroel?
Rav Itzele replied, “Do we know how many plans were hatched against us in the seat of the government in St. Petersburg? Do we have a clue of how many diabolical plots were created to harm us and weren’t carried out? Only you and others privy to the deliberations and meetings know that as much as you planned and as perfect as your plans were, they were foiled by Heaven. It is only those who plotted and know what could have been who can appreciate that we were spared.
“Thus, hallelu es Hashem kol goyim, the nation of the world laud Him, because they recognize how He showered His kindness upon the Jewish people”
Yisro, the Brisker Rov explained, was one of Paroh’s advisors. He was part of the inner circle and knew what Paroh had in store for the children of Yaakov. He was uniquely able to appreciate the precision of Hashem’s judgment on our enemies.
We know very little of their plans, but from Obama’s nasty UN move and Kerry’s speech, we can recognize some of what Hashem saved us from. We see a bit of what they tried to do for the last eight years.
And so, even though the days of Hallel each morning are over for now, we can still shout, “Hallelu ...ki govar aleinu chasdo.”
News stories abound with a single theme: How come the press missed the boat on Trump? Some offer mea culpas, apologizing for getting it wrong. Some ascribe Trump’s victory to Russia, others to James Comey, and yet others to angry white men. Everyone has an excuse.
But we know Who is responsible.
As Yosef told his brothers in this week’s parsha (45:5), fear not about what you have done to me, because the schemes and plots of man are nothing but to fulfill Hashem’s will. It’s all Him.
Rav Velvel Chechik, one of the tzaddikei Yerushalayim who was very close to the Brisker Rov, would often repeat the famed kushya of the Bais Yosef and share an answer from the Alter from Kelm.
Why, if the neis Chanukah was that the oil of one night burned for eight nights, do we celebrate for eight days, if only seven of them were miraculous? The Alter said that the very fact that oil ignites is itself a neis. He ascribed this homiletically to Rabi Chaninah ben Dosa, who said, (Taanis 25a), “Mi she’omar lashemen vayidlok. The Creator must command oil to light.” So, the first night was also a miracle; the other seven simply exposed that miracle in a way that everyone understood it.
The last few weeks of the Obama presidency are an indication of the miracles we didn’t notice. The oil ignites and we don’t even stop to contemplate the wonder.
But now we see it. Ribbono Shel Olam, thank You.
During the weekly shmuess given by the Chofetz Chaim to talmidim, he would often reflect aloud, more in the way of a conversation than a lecture. One year, he began to discuss the story of Yosef Hatzaddik.
“He was like us, like a regular Jew,” said the Chofetz Chaim. “He was a beloved son, torn away from the comfort and warmth of family while he was still developing. He was humiliated, sold into slavery and jailed. But he triumphed. Not only did he triumph, but each one of the obstacles and nisyonos he faced brought him closer to success and happiness.
“So too,” concluded the Chofetz Chaim, “we are nearing the end of the golus of Am Yisroel. All of our travails and suffering will bring us to ultimate victory and light.”
May what happened here serve as a lesson to us.
May the nissim never stop.
May we quickly merit the geulah.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Renewed Resolve

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Weeks of immersing ourselves in the ma’asei avos, the encounters and stories of our forefathers, as we move through Seder Bereishis, leads us to the Yom Tov of Chanukah. Though a mitzvah derabbonon, there are many threads binding it to the Torah, with references and hints that foreshadow Chashmonai uvonov at various points in the Chumash.
In the vastness of the Torah we find astonishing connections between seemingly unrelated scenarios. The fascinating parallels between Yaakov Avinu and Chanukah are a prime example.
The Arizal revealed that the angel of Eisov struggled to damage Yaakov’s middah of hod. This is based on the chapter from the Zohar referred to as Pasach Eliyohu, which is printed in many Nusach Sefard siddurim to be recited before davening. In that chapter, Eliyohu Hanovi reveals that the thigh corresponds to the middah of hod. It was in that area of the body that the angel tried to hurt Yaakov. It was with this in mind that Chazal established eight days of hoda’ah on Chanukah.
We are taught that Yaakov Avinu was niftar on the first day of the Yom Tov of Sukkos, and we know that Mitzrayim enacted seventy days of mourning for him. Thus, the mourning period ended on the 25th day of Kislev.
Let us explore the connection between Yaakov Avinu and Chanukah and Parshas Mikeitz.
The posuk (Bereishis 32:11) states that Yaakov thanked Hashem for His blessings. “Katonti mikol hachassodim umikol ha’emes asher osisu es avdecha, ki bemakli ovarti es haYardein hazeh ve’ato hoyisi lishnei machanos - I crossed the Yardein River with my stick and now I have grown to encompass two encampments,” Yaakov declared.
What is the significance of the fact that he crossed the Yardein with his stick?
Perhaps we can examine the depth concealed in these words.
The posuk (Bereishis 28:12) states that when Yaakov awoke from his dream, he consecrated the stone upon which he had slept with oil and called the place Bais El. But didn’t Elifaz, son of Eisov, chase him down and take all his possessions? From where, then, did Yaakov have oil?
Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer says that oil came down from heaven and Yaakov used that oil to anoint the stone. Daas Zekeinim MiBaalei Hatosafos, however, answers that Yaakov hollowed out his stick and filled it with oil, so that wherever he would be, he could create some light and learn Torah. He used that oil to consecrate the stone.
This answer of the Daas Zekeinim offers us an understanding of why Yaakov used the words “ki bemakli ovarti es haYardein.” By saying that he crossed the Yardein with his stick, Yaakov was stating that the only thing he had with him was Torah. All he had was the oil, which allowed him to learn Torah.
Despite having spent 14 years learning at Yeshivas Sheim V’Eiver and then later in Lovon’s house, scrupulously observing all the mitzvos of the Torah as evidenced by Chazal’s explication of Yaakov’s statement, “Im Lavan garti, vetaryag mitzvos shomarti,” he was not harmed financially. In fact, he was blessed.
Chanukah was established to commemorate the miracle that occurred with the small flask of oil that was found with the seal of the kohein gadol and burned eight nights instead of one. Prior to that miracle, the entire Am Yisroel was under threat by the mighty forces of the mighty Hellenists. A small band of tzaddikim went to war with them and vanquished the enemy. The much smaller army triumphed and the Jewish people were once again able to study and observe the Torah.
Why, then, does our celebration seem to revolve around the miracle of the oil and not the military victory? Wasn’t that a bigger deal than finding a small flask of oil with which to light the menorah?
To answer that, we should bear in mind the commentators’ exposition that following the war with the Yevonim, the oil that was required for kindling the menorah did not really need a special seal, because of the rule of tumah hutrah b’tzibbur. It was permitted to use oil without a seal. But Hakadosh Boruch Hu performed a nes and led the Chashmonaim to a flask of oil, it bore the seal of the Kohein Gadol. Then, Hashem caused the oil in that small container to light for eight days until new oil could be pressed under supervision for taharah. Their diligence was rewarded and they had tahor oil for the entire period and did not have to use oil which the Yevonim defiled, (see Shabbos 21b).
We commemorate and celebrate that miracle with a unique halachic feature that foreign to other mitzvos: We have levels in the performance of the mitzvah: a standard level, then a mehadrin level, and, finally, the way the mehadrin min hamehadrin perform the mitzvah. This is because Chanukah celebrates the will of the Jewish people to enhance and upgrade our performance of mitzvos. We observe the mitzvos because that is the will of Hashem. Therefore, we seek to perform them in the best possible way. We were reminded of that in the time of the nes Chanukah and we live with that philosophy until this very day.
There are always people who seek to convince us that we don’t have to extend ourselves all the way. “There is no need to be punctilious in mitzvah observance,” they tell us. “You can observe the mitzvah in a much easier, cheaper fashion. Why go through all the effort of performing the mitzvah the extreme way - like they do in Brisk, for example - when you can be yotzei by simply following the laws?”
It’s become acceptable to mock those who embrace hiddur mitzvos, toiling to find perfect hadassim, exerting themselves to bake matzos and rejoicing in the effort, or reciting Krias Shema with punctiliousness and focus.
In Lita, it was common for poor bochurim to sleep on shul benches. Once, a group of baalei batim complained to Rav Yisroel Salanter about the yeshiva bochurim who slept in their shul. “Besides the fact that the shul is messy when we come to daven, the bochurim don’t smell all that pleasant. For them to sleep there represents a lack of respect for tefillah,” one of them said.
“It is very likely,” Rav Yisroel replied, “that the aroma of ameilus baTorah of the ameilim baTorah is more pleasing in Shomayim than the smell of your tefillos.”
On Chanukah, we are celebrating the answer, both the thrill of hiddur mitzvah and the strength of ignoring the mockers, scoffers and apologists. We know that what brings honor and joy in Shomayim is not always what brings us the best P.R. Nor is it always a feel-good cause or something that appeals to the masses.
We don’t have to apologize for being ehrliche Yidden. We cherish those who live to do mitzvos in the best possible way and invest their energy in Torah and ameilus baTorah.
“You don’t have to learn that much. A little in the morning and a little at night is enough,” our antagonists tease us. “You can be yotzei talmud Torah that way. Hashem doesn’t want you to be engrossed in study. He values everyone - the ignoramus and the world’s greatest talmidei chachomim - equally, so why knock yourself out?”
It is interesting that the very people content to just get by when it comes to mitzvah observance want and expect higher standards when it comes to their pursuits of this world.
The story is told of a well-meaning businessman who informed his son’s rosh yeshiva that he was removing his son from yeshiva and taking him in to the family business. “Look,” the father said, “I know my son. Even if he sticks around in yeshiva, he will never become the Chazon Ish anyway. So let’s be real.”
The rosh yeshiva smiled and responded, “I also know your son, and I can assure you that if he goes into business, he will never become Rockefeller!”
Somehow, excessive toil and concentration in the pursuit of the physical world is considered commendable. Derision is reserved for people who are very diligent and intense when it comes to spiritual pursuits.
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach once overheard a fellow in shul boasting about his beautiful esrog. After the people he was showing his esrog to complimented his beautiful choice, he challenged them to guess how much he paid for it. The guesses went higher and higher, but no one got it. Finally, with a big smile, the man proudly related that he had paid a mere twenty-five dollars for the gorgeous cheftzah shel mitzvah.
“I know that the demand is highest before Yom Kippur, and as Sukkos approaches, vendors are worried about being stuck with unsold inventory, so I waited until the very last minute, late in the afternoon of Erev Sukkos, to go and purchase my daled minim. My brilliance paid off and I was able to buy this for very cheap.”
After davening, Rav Shlomo Zalman sat down with the man and showed him the words of the Gemara in Maseches Beitza (16). He read him the machlokes there between Bais Shammai and Bais Hillel. If Bais Shammai saw a nice cut of meat early in the week, he purchased it for Shabbos, reasoning that he might not find a nicer one. The Gemara states that Hillel was different - “middah acheres hoysa lo” - as he always had faith that he would find what he needed before Shabbos.
Why, asked Rav Shlomo Zalman, does Chazal call this a “middah acheres, another way”? It would seem that Hillel had traditional bitachon, which allowed him to believe that things would work out well and he would be able to obtain the best foods for Shabbos.
Rav Shlomo Zalman gently explained that Chazal are teaching that Hillel didn’t just use this approach when it came to mitzvos, like honoring Shabbos. It wasn’t a lackadaisical approach. It was a middah acheres. It was Hillel’s personal attribute; he always assumed that Hashem would help.
“Someone who lives that way can use the same approach for mitzvos, too. But if you spent time selecting the right suit for your daughter’s wedding and you booked the hall early, or you invested time planning the perfect vacation, then apparently you don’t have that middah, so why for an esrog is it okay to wait for the last minute?”
On Chanukah, we get our priorities back. We recommit to exerting ourselves to be mehadrin Jews. By holding out for the oil with the seal of the kohein gadol, the Chashmonaim were declaring to the Jewish people not to be apathetic when it comes to tumah, taharah and kiyum hamitzvos.
This is why we celebrate the miracle of the shemen more than the military victory. Hard work and military triumphs are nice, but any nation can achieve that. Toiling for a mitzvah and laboring to do it perfectly is our legacy. It is a gift from the Chashmonaim.
Yaakov stated that because he traversed the Yardein with only the stick that enabled him to study Torah, and because he fulfilled the 613 mitzvos during the time he was in the home of the villainous Lovon, he was thus blessed with a large family and many possessions.
So too, Chazal established the eight days of Chanukah to remind us that loyalty to Torah and its ideals is what is paramount to us. There were many Misyavnim at that time who mocked the people who remained loyal to Torah and mitzvos. The chachomim wanted to establish for all time that more important than winning battles and more important than everything else is dikduk b’mitzvos.
Perhaps this is what is meant by those who say that the oil that the Chashmonaim found in the tahor flask was from Yaakov. It was that determination of Yaakov to observe mitzvos in difficult circumstances that inspired the Chashmonaim to hunt down a pure flask of oil and not rely on leniencies. It was in the merit of that dedication that the lights remained lit for eight days. Yaakov’s diligence in the middah of hod led to the annual celebration of eight days of hoda’ah.
Yaakov remained pure and undaunted, courageous in the face of all sorts of attacks. He emerged unscathed from Bais Lovon and divested himself from Eisov, all while maintaining his lofty shlichus as the ish tam yosheiv ohalim.
What, they no doubt wondered, is he doing for society? Why doesn’t he open a yeshiva, as his father and grandfather did (see Rambam)? Why does he worry so much about his children and their values? Why doesn’t he relax and allow them to be exposed to what was going on around them? What is he worried about? It will all work out well in the end.
We know the questions. We are still getting them. After all, we are Yaakov’s people.
Chanukah provides us with renewed resolve. The parsha gives us strength to remain loyal to what we learned from Yaakov.
We learn in Parshas Mikeitz that Paroh summoned Yosef from jail to interpret his dreams. Yosef informed Paroh that he was not gifted with special dream-interpretation abilities. He said that he was able to understand the meaning of the dreams of Paroh’s ministers strictly because Hashem had enabled him to. L’Elokim pisronam. The solutions come from Him.
Instead of taking credit for himself and portraying himself as the wise man Mitzrayim’s leader thought he was, Yosef was honest about how his power was obtained. He could have accepted the credit for the actions Paroh attributed to him, assuming that if he could impress the king, his legal situation would change and the king would free him from jail so that he may become a royal advisor.
However, having been brought up in the home of Yaakov, Yosef would not allow himself to be careless in speech and action. Just as his father was always cognizant of the Source of all power, Yosef lived with that awareness, too. Sheim Shomayim was shagur befiv. Yaakov had taken those first few drops of oil and consecrated the space, creating the kedusha of the eventual makom haMikdosh. As Yaakov started out, he promised that should he be blessed with wealth, “vechol asher titen li, aser a’asrenu Loch. I know, Hashem, that it is all from You.” As a faithful student, Yosef deflects his abilities to the Source of all. “I can do nothing,” he tells Paroh, “without Hashem helping me.”
Yaakov set out to build a nation with a makel in his hand. He had nothing but his faith, Torah and hidden oil.
Once, at the annual Chanukah gathering at Yeshivas Mir Yerushalayim, the rosh yeshiva, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, entered. The crowd knew that their rosh yeshiva was weak from illness. They were so enthused that they burst out in song. The scene was surreal. The dancing talmidim shouted themselves hoarse with devotion to the rosh yeshiva. Rav Nosson Tzvi himself, barely able to speak, exuded such love for the talmidim.
A question hung over the room: How? How could a man so limited by illness be able to say shiurim and shmuessen, give chizuk and advice, and spearhead programs and raise many millions of dollars to keep the yeshiva going? How was he constantly building and expanding? How could he inspire such enthusiasm?
Rav Yitzchok Ezrachi took the microphone and answered the question in everyone’s hearts. Looking at the rosh yeshiva, he quoted a posuk from the haftorah read on Shabbos Chanukah. The novi (Zecharyah 4:6) says, “Lo bechayil, velo bekoach, ki im beruchi amar Hashem... Not with strength, nor with might, but with My spirit, Hashem says.”
That is the secret of how we accomplish. Yaakov had only a makel. Yosef was in prison, alone, sold into slavery. He had no power, bilodai, he said. It’s up to Hashem.
They had nothing, but, nevertheless, Yaakov founded a nation, Yosef ruled over and sustained the world, and the Chashmonaim beat the most advanced army on earth.
Ki im beruchi. Chanukah is a time to allow our spirits to soar, courageous and proud to give honor to the mitzvos and the One who commanded us to fulfill them, lemehadrin min hamehadrin.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Praiseworthy

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
There are various terms used in Hebrew to refer to our nation. The one that is used most often is the singular “Yehudi,” or the plural “Yehudim.” In fact, the Nazis chose the German variation of the name Jude, pronounced Yoodeh, for placement on the infamous yellow star that Yehudim under their power were obligated to wear.
In Parshas Vayishlach (36:2-5), the names of Eisov’s wives are listed. However, Yehudis bas Beiri, who had previously been mentioned as the woman Eisov married when he was 40 years old (Toldos 26:34), is not included in the list of Eisov’s wives in this week’s parsha. Rashi (36:2) explains that the wife referred to in Parshas Vayishlach as Oholivama is Yehudis. Rashi says that Eisov changed her name to Yehudis in an attempt to fool his father, Yitzchok, into thinking that she was not a believer in avodah zorah.
Presenting her name as Yehudis was the best way Eisov could find to demonstrate to his father that she was not into avodah zorah and could be accepted into their family.
The Chiddushei Harim explains that the reason Yehudim is the eternal Jewish name is because when Leah named her son Yehuda, she said, “Hapa’am odeh es Hashem.” The name was a term of gratitude, thanking the Almighty for enabling her to give birth to this boy. Yehudim, Jews, are defined as a people who live to express the glory of Hakadosh Boruch Hu and their appreciation of Him.
The Arizal discusses the idea that each of the seven middos of Hashem’s hanhogah of this world corresponds to a different Yom Tov. The middah of hod, which is comprised from the same shoresh as Yehuda, relates to Chanukah.
Let us examine the connection.
Hod relates to the middah that defines the ability of the Jew to allow the Divine light to shine through him, submitting to a Higher Calling. His own essence is a vehicle to bring honor to his Maker. The Hebrew word hoda’ah has two definitions, admission and gratitude. The definitions are related to each other. A Yehudi admits that Hakadosh Boruch Hu created and watches over him, and for that he is always grateful.
The middah of hod, Divine splendor, is mirrored in man’s ability to allow his personal splendor, referred to as his p’nimiyus, to shine through. This is accomplished by the Yehudi subjugating his own identity and honor to the reality of Hashem’s Presence. One who practices hoda’ah is capable of allowing the middah of hod to reflect through his being.
Hod is the middah of Chanukah, a Yom Tov of hallel vehoda’ah, when we ponder and appreciate Hashem’s kindness towards us as we contemplate the lights of the menorah.
With this appreciation of the middah of hod, we can arrive at a new understanding of the tefillah of Al Hanissim which is specific to Chanukah.
The tefillah begins by saying that “in the days of Matisyohu ben Yochanon Kohein Gadol Chashmonai and his sons…the evil Yovon empire rose up against Your nation Yisroel to make them forget the Torah and to deter them from following Your laws.” Yovon sought to tear the Jewish people away from Torah and mitzvos.
The tefillah continues: “With Your great mercy, You stood by the Jews in their time of need. You waged their battles, defended their rights, and avenged the wrong done to them. You delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the sinners into the hands of those who occupy themselves with Your Torah.”
As it approaches its conclusion, the tefillah relates, “You made a great and holy name for Yourself in Your world, and brought about a great deliverance and redemption for Your people Yisroel to this very day.”
And then the tefillah ends with these words: “After all that, Your children went into the Bais Hamikdosh, cleaning and purifying it, kindling lights there, establishing the eight-day holiday of Chanukah, lehodos ulehallel leShimcha hagadol.”
Why is it that the only time the Chashmonaim are mentioned in Al Hanissim is almost in passing, as if providing a time frame for when the story of Chanukah took place? There is no mention of anything the Chashmonaim did. It is as if they played no role in everything that transpired.
On Motzoei Shabbos, there is the custom to light two candles and eat the melava malka meal. People recite beautiful tefillos and bakashos. One particularly magnificent zemer speaks of the saintliness of Eliyohu Hanovi, who will redeem us from the bitter exile. The rhythmic song/prayer pays tribute to the “ish soch acharov, Hashem Hu Ha’Elokim,” a man who caused others to proclaim Hashem’s greatness.
Rav Yitzchok Yedidya Frankel, the rov of Tel Aviv, shed light on the depth of this particular phrase.
One of the more spectacular moments in the extraordinary life of Eliyohu Hanovi was the showdown on Har Hacarmel. Under the influence of the wicked King Achav, the Bnei Yisroel had fallen to a very low level. While maintaining a belief in Hashem, they also worshiped the heathen gods of Canaan. Eliyohu challenged the ovdei avodah zorah to a contest between himself and the 450 prophets of the Baal. King Achav accepted the challenge (Melochim I, 18:19).
Eliyohu proposed that each side - he and the nevi’ei haBaal - slaughter a bull as a korban. Each one would place theirs atop their mizbei’ach, while leaving the firewood there unlit. The group to whose mizbei’ach a fire would descend from heaven to consume the korban would be acknowledged as the correct religion for all to follow.
Word quickly spread and multitudes converged on Har Hacarmel to witness the showdown.
Eliyohu offered the nevi’ei haBa’al to go first, since they had the overwhelming majority of followers. That wasn’t hard to figure out. Eliyohu was all alone. They took one of the bulls, slaughtered it, prepared it for their mizbei’ach, and then proceeded to call upon their god Baal all through the morning. They jumped, chanted and danced, cutting themselves until they bled, in the manner of their worship. “Yet there was neither a sound nor any response from heaven” (Melochim I, 18:25-26). Their altar remained unlit.
At noon, Eliyohu mocked the priests of Baal, asking if their god was asleep. They continued their efforts until the time of Mincha, to no avail. There was no response.
Then Eliyohu Hanovi invited the people to draw close and he made his preparations. At the moment of Mincha, he shechted his korban, placed it upon the mizbei’ach, and recited a prayer “that this people may know that You...are G-d.”
Hashem sent a streak of heavenly fire to consume the korban, the wood, the stones, the dust and the water. The posuk recounts that the people saw this and fell on their faces, calling out, “Hashem Hu Ha’Elokim.”
Imagine the scene. It was Eliyohu Hanovi’s finest hour, as he stood firmly and courageously facing hundreds of prophets and a powerful king, undaunted. He performed a miracle in full view of the people. No doubt, the prestige enjoyed by Eliyohu was great. The people were in awe of him and his abilities. They were overcome with emotion and longing for repentance.
Yet, their reaction wasn’t to extol the virtues of Eliyohu and exclaim that Eliyohu is a tremendous tzaddik, baal mofeis, and miracle worker for the ages. They didn’t shout out Eliyohu’s praises as you would imagine they would have. Instead, all who had gathered for the showdown reached the same conclusion and proclaimed in unison what would become an eternal declaration of faith: “Hashem Hu Ha’Elokim!”
In fact, that was the greatest tribute to Eliyohu Hanovi, who knew that the role of a Yehudi is to act as a conduit to cause people to focus on the Source of miracles and might.
With this, we can understand the tefillah of Al Hanissim and the avodah of Chanukah.
The Chashmonaim were the conduits for the miracles that led to freeing the Jews from the domination of the Yevonim. But they made sure that the celebration was about Hashem, not about them. Their mesirus nefesh in battle brought about the proclamation that “Hashem Hu Ha’Elokim.” The victory didn’t come about because the Chashmonaim were effective warriors and baalei mofeis. Their mission was to lead to a condition of lehodos ulehallel leShimcha hagadol, and therefore they were victorious.
This is the middah of hod, splendor, which allows the truth to shine through. Man becomes a vessel, transparent and unnoticed as he reflects the light of Hakadosh Boruch Hu. This is the avodah of Chanukah and, perhaps, the meaning of the Al Hanissim prayer.
The story of Chanukah wasn’t about the Chashmonaim and their military accomplishments. It was about making great the name of Hashem. The reverberations of that victory echo through the generations.
Homiletically, perhaps that is also the reason we chant “ein lonu reshus lehishtameish bohem” as we light the menorah. We sing about the fact that it is forbidden for us to derive any benefit from the lights, because those lights are being mefarseim the neis that occurred to signify that Hashem Hu Ha’Elokim. The miracles weren’t performed to prove our greatness or for our benefit. The neiros burn brightly, giving off their clear luminescence, proclaiming our acknowledgement that Hashem is the One and Only Power.
As we light the neiros Chanukah, we recite the brochah, “She’osah nissim la’avoseinu bayomim haheim bazeman hazeh.” The holy seforim explain the reference of the brochah to “bayomim haheim bazeman hazeh” as alluding to the idea that the same force that enabled miracles back then, bayomim haheim, returns every year at this time, allowing for nissim of our own in our time, bazeman hazeh.
We can all tap into that power. We can become people of hod, focusing on bringing glory to the One Who made us, not keeping it for ourselves. If we do that, we will succeed in our missions and merit miracles. Look around at people involved with the klal, in chinuch yaldei Yisroel, in building, teaching and supporting Torah, those who put their own interests aside and work lesheim shomayim are those who succeed.
When Rav Yitzchok Hutner assumed the leadership of Mesivta Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin, Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz called a meeting of his board of directors at Mesivta Torah Vodaas. He indicated a map and drew a line between Brownsville, where Chaim Berlin was located, and Williamsburg, home to Torah Vodaas. He gerrymandered the districts.
“All the boys who live on this side of the line will enroll in Chaim Berlin,” said Rav Shraga Feivel. “That’s their new yeshiva. We will not be accepting them anymore.”
And then, after this act of selflessness, he looked at two of his generous board members, Reb Yehuda Leib Falik and Reb Eliyohu Fruchthandler, and said, “And you two will join Rav Hutner as his baalei batim!”
Rav Shraga Feivel generated miracles, because it wasn’t about him. It wasn’t about his yeshiva. There was no me and no my and no mine. It was all about Hashem.
The renaissance of Torah after World War II arrived might well be traced to selfless decisions such as that one. Mesirus nefesh, the negation of self for a greater cause, generates extraordinary results. Speak to people who have succeeded in planting Torah; being mekarev Jews; establishing talmidim; building successful schools and yeshivos, and you will detect selflessness at the root of their hatzlocha. Work for Hashem and He will help you; work for yourself and you will find out the explanation of the posuk in Koheles (19:1), which states “Lo lechachomim lechem.”
The Bach at the beginning of Hilchos Chanukah (Tur, Orach Chaim 270) writes that there was a gezeirah to permit the Yevonim to torment the Jews and attempt to separate them from Torah observance because Klal Yisroel was weak in their avodah.
Their laxity in avodah resulted in the gezeirah to take away the avodah from them. When they did teshuvah and demonstrated that they were prepared to be moser nefesh for avodah, as they did for the mitzvah of hadlokas hamenorah, Hashem sent their salvation through the Chashmonaim, who, as kohanim, were ba’alei avodah.
In our generation, people of commitment are few. Scoffers are louder, more numerous, better connected, and more adept at generating publicity than we are. Yet, we remain undaunted.
We know that the lights ignited by Aharon Hakohein in the Mishkon are as bright now as they were back then. We know that the lights lit by his descendants in the Bais Hamikdosh are still giving off light in our day.
And we know that the power of the miracles performed in the days of his descendants, the Chashmonaim, are effectual during the days of Chanukah. We can tap into that power.
Our mission in this world is to serve Hashem with temimus, each person in his own way. Our job is not to win every battle, but to remain focused on our task, doing what we can to bring about kiddush Shemo Yisborach. We judge success not by headlines and public accolades, but by a barometer that has nothing to do with the here and now.
Those of us who are motivated by pure motives, don’t engage in improper behavior, chicanery and subterfuge to further our goals. Just as the Chashmonaim held out for pure oil to concentrate the Beis Hamikdosh, people who work lesheim shomayim don’t use impure means to fuel their enterprises.
The posuk in Mishlei (6:23), states “Ki ner mitzvah vetorah ohr,” mitzvos are candles and the Torah is light. In order for the Torah to light and shine, it has to be fueled by proper fuel. When the funding sources are not in conformance with the mitzvos, the Torah will not take hold and will become exhausted and flame out.
We are not the focus of our life missions. It is not about temporal praise and honor to us, but rather about bringing honor to Hashem by being mekadeish Shemo Hagadol. We fail to be impressed by the fleeting flattery of fork-tongued people, mocking us behind our backs, as they smile broadly to our faces. Yehudim are not pragmatic about their Yiddishkeit, even if that means being sidelined and marginalized by the wealthy and powerful.
The Telzer rosh yeshiva, Rav Elya Meir Bloch, lost his family and yeshiva in the inferno of Europe, but he forged on, determined to plant Telz d’Lita in America. He reestablished the Telzer Yeshiva in Cleveland, then a stronghold of secular Judaism, with not more than a few talmidim.
During the early period of the yeshiva, as he was struggling mightily, Rav Elya Meir made a local appeal for funds. Very few people participated and the response was dismal. Someone advised him to soften his message and speak kindly about those whom he perceived to be enemies of traditional Torah values. If he would do so, the man told him, he would gain more support from the local community and might even be able to convince some families to send their boys to learn in Telz.
Rav Elya Meir wouldn’t hear of it. “Nowhere does it say that the Ribbono Shel Olam needs me to be a rosh yeshiva, and whether or not I have financial support or talmidim is His decision,” he said. “However, I do know that Hashem needs me to be an ehrliche Yid, even one without talmidim. That part is not up for negotiation or compromise.”
It wasn’t about him. He didn’t build a yeshiva for himself. It was about Hashem and his Torah. If he was the right shliach, he would succeed, and if he didn’t, then it wasn’t meant to be. But no matter what happened, his principles, honesty, forthrightness and fidelity to a hallowed creed were not negotiable.
We have to remain focused, dedicated shlichim to the One Who sent us here and not become impressed by the modern-day pragmatists and Misyavnim. We don’t need to be victorious to win. We need to hold our heads upright, moving forward and ignoring the enticements and mockery that we are old-fashioned, misguided and stubborn. Their inducements do not lure us. Their lies do not impress us. There is but one truth and it cannot be compromised.
There was no doubt that there were many good Jews who disagreed with the Misyavnim, and were horrified by their actions, but they lacked the confidence to cry out. They shrugged and looked away, thinking they had no choice but to accept the new reality.
The Chashmonaim had the courage to identify the danger for what it was. They weren’t impressed or swayed by the advanced Greek culture and the false smiles of entreaty. They weren’t intimidated when they were mocked for being out of touch and not with it.
The Gemara in Maseches Shabbos states that the Chanukah lights must burn “ad shetichleh regel min hashuk,” until everyone has gone home and there is no one left in the street to see the neiros and remember the neis of Chanukah.
Yehudim see the neiros Chanukah and are reminded that no matter the nisayon of the day and the powers stacked against them, if they follow the will of Hashem, they will triumph. They witness the menorah burning brightly on Chanukah and remember that although the Chashmonaim were vastly outnumbered and universally mocked, they remained loyal to the truth of Torah and were thus able to defeat the forces of darkness aligned against them.
There are poskim (Moadim Uzemanim 2:141) who rule that if there are no Yehudim in the street when the menorah is lit, the brachos cannot be recited. Akum are not bnei hoda’ah. The purpose of lighting is pirsumei nisa, to publicize the Chanukah miracle in order to bring about hallel and hoda’ah. Only Yehudim recognize their place in creation and are thankful for it.
When Yehudim see the lights of Chanukah, the middah of hod shines through, causing us to engage in hallel and hoda’ah. We recommit ourselves to the mesirus nefesh required to execute our roles of spreading the light of Torah throughout the world. We are thankful and joyful.
May this be the last year we are mefarseim the neis in golus.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Alone, But Not Lonely

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
The Torah reports this week on a mano-a-angel tussle. Man and angel wrestled until daybreak, the forces of good and evil locked in an eternal fight. The dust from their battle rose to heaven, reaching the Kisei Hakavod.
What was special about that nighttime struggle? The Torah (Bereishis 32:25) tells us, “Vayevoseir Yaakov levado vayei’oveik ish imo.” Yaakov was alone and Eisov’s angel confronted him. He worked to defeat Yaakov, but he could not. Finally, in desperation, he struck Yaakov’s gid hanosheh.
According to Kabbolah, when Eisov’s agent saw that he could not hurt the tzaddik, he reached for those who support him. He sought to rip Yaakov’s tendon to weaken the tamchin d’oraysa, the base and foundation of Torah throughout the ages.
The sar shel Eisov couldn’t accomplish that either. Yaakov was left limping and hurting, but he emerged from the encounter armed with the blessing of a malach.
These parshiyos are laden with the perpetual relevance of maaseh avos siman lebonim; lessons for us in exile. We study the accounts and feel our history. The Torah tells us that Yaakov was “levado,” he confronted the malach of Eisov alone.
That has been our story throughout the exile. We have faced Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, the Spanish inquisition, the Crusades, pogroms, czars, neighbors, governors, prosecutors, terrorists, armies and everything in between. We have walked in the valley of death, into gas chambers, ghettos, and auto-de-fes, always with faith, always alone as a nation, but never lonely. Fighting darkness alone, together.
We have been bruised, just as Yaakov was, but we are here despite all that Eisov and his descendants have done to us throughout the ages. We flourish today, gloriously benefitting from the kind golus in which we now exist.
But that doesn’t mean everything is easy. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a war of attrition. There are losses, and it is difficult to uphold the banner of Torah. Sometimes Eisov appears in the guise of a friendly brother. Sometimes he sends henchmen and at times he appears as his evil self. We have to be on guard when we face him, for even when he smiles, we are in golus, and even when he stretches out his hand in friendship, we never know what lies in the shadowy recesses of his heart. We are always wary.
To succeed, bnei Yaakov have to join and work together, support each other with more than pachim ketanim.
And always, the tamchin d’oraysa, the backbone of our nation, those who support Torah with their resources, those who provide time, those who offer encouragement and hope, make our success possible.
The sar shel Eisov identified them and saw their potential. He knew that when Yaakov’s voice would be weakened and the kol Torah stilled, Eisov would rise. Without those who enable others to learn, there would be no Torah. Eisov sought to tear them down, to rip them off their pedestals. Thankfully, he failed.
Yaakov persevered.
Yaakov succeeded in spawning a family and a nation where Torah has a home and thrives despite the odds, because we stand together, the ones who learn Torah and those who support and appreciate Torah.
Reb Moshe Reichmann, a modern-day hero of hachzokas haTorah, who inspired a generation of tamchin d’oraysa, once flew to New York to meet a potential business partner. He arrived at the office of the investor at the appointed time, and the secretary indicated that he should be seated in the waiting room.
He sat there for quite some time, the minutes passing by as he waited.
Finally, the door to the inner office opened and the host glanced out at the waiting area and saw Moshe Reichmann.
“Mr. Reichmann!” he exclaimed, “I had no idea you were here. I would never have kept you waiting.”
He turned to his secretary, furious. “Why did you keep him waiting and not tell me that he is here?”
The secretary looked at the bearded gentleman and shrugged. “I thought he was a visiting rabbi. I had no idea it was Paul Reichmann.”
Mr. Reichman reached for his coat.
“Wait. Come in. Where are you going?” the host asked.
Reichman apologized and politely explained why he was leaving. “Someone who would allow a visiting rabbi to wait endlessly, without even offering him a drink, is not a partner for us,” he said.
Torah has flourished because we have had gedolei Torah and inspired mechanchim ready to share the light and power of Torah, and they have been able to succeed because of those in the background, the ones who looked at “visiting rabbis” and saw greatness.
A rich man arrived in Sanz to ask the Divrei Chaim for a brocha. The rebbe asked the man where he was from. When he told him that he was from Lemberg, the rebbe asked if the melamed in Lemberg had secured the money he needed to marry off his daughter.
“What is the rebbe talking about?” the man asked.
The rebbe explained: “A month ago, the melamed of Lemberg was here. He told me that his daughter had become a kallah and he had obligated himself to a dowry that he could not afford. The other side was threatening to break off the shidduch if he didn’t come up with the money. Do you know if the melamed was able to work something out?” asked the rebbe.
“How should I know?” the rich man wondered. “I know the melamed and he is a fine man, but I had no idea that he has a daughter and that she is engaged and that he doesn’t have the money to marry her off.”
“I don’t understand,” said the rebbe. “I am here in Sanz and I know about the melamed and his situation. How can it be that you are in Lemberg and you have no idea?”
“He came here and told the rebbe, so the rebbe knows,” said the man. “He didn’t tell me, so I don’t know.”
“You never ask what is doing by the melamed?”
“I’ll tell the rebbe the truth,” the man answered. “There are people who are yentas. They know everybody’s business. I am not like that. I work hard all day and then, after I get home in the evening, I go to the bais medrash to learn when I am able to.”
The rebbe pressed on. “It’s a great thing that you learn when you can. Let me ask you a question. The Torah says that a man came to battle Yaakov, ‘vayei’oveik ish imo.’ Rashi says that the man was Eisov’s angel. Regarding Yosef, as well, the Torah (Bereishes 37:15) tells us that a man met him, ‘vayimtzo’eihu ish vehinei to’eh basodeh.’ Yosef was lost in the field and a man found him. There Rashi says that the man was the malach Gavriel.
“So, regarding Yaakov the Torah says that an ‘ish’ met him, and with respect to Yosef it says that an ‘ish’ met him. Why regarding Yaakov do we know that the man was the samach mem, the angel of Eisov, yet regarding Yosef we say that the man was the praised angel Gavriel?
“I’ll tell you the answer. The malach sent to Yaakov finished the mission for which he was dispatched and wanted to leave. Yaakov stopped him and asked for a brocha, but he said that he was too busy, as he had to go and say shirah.
“Any angel who is too busy with his shirah to give a Jew a brocha is a samach mem, a black angel. Regarding Yosef the posuk says, ‘Vayisholeihu ha’ish leimor mah tevakeish.’ The angel took interest in Yosef and his condition and sought to help him. That ‘ish’ is a holy malach.”
If we care about Torah, we need to show it by caring about those who labor in its vineyards far from the spotlight. There are noble and valiant people among us who are barely holding on. There is grandeur in what they do and how much they accomplish.
Just because the person struggling to make ends meet lives around the corner and not in some distant place doesn’t mean that there is no mitzvah to help him. Money, a visit and a kind word are the fuel that keeps the engine of Klal Yisroel running.
There are many ways we can help people who are doing Hashem’s work, but the first thing we have to do is care. They should never feel lonely. No Jew should ever feel that he is all alone and nobody cares about him and his situation.
People can’t keep up. Parents are over-taxed and tuition is a huge burden. What can we do to assist them?
It is very disconcerting to fight daily battles virtually alone in order to keep a mosad alive. It is lonely and discouraging to fight to make a difference in Jewish lives when no one seems to care.
People who learn or teach Torah in the morning, teach English in the afternoon, and then tutor at night, as do their wives, who also work admirably to keep their homes clean and the children happy. They shouldn’t be made to feel that their sacrifices and dedication are unnoticed and unappreciated.
The lonely young man who runs a community kollel and kiruv center makes a serious impact upon his surroundings, but when he appeals for help, all he gets is a shrug of the shoulder. We are overwhelmed, overcommitted and overburdened. But what about him? We should walk the path along with him. We must show that we care. That the cause of Torah is important to us.
And what about the people who give chizuk to those who need it, who help make sure that things run properly, who ensure that no kids are left without a school, who work with the abused and neglected, who give time and respect to those at the bottom of the totem pole?
When the posuk says, “Vayevoseir Yaakov levado,” and Chazal infer that Yaakov and his progeny survive when they are alone and separate, it means separate from Eisov. We must be together, live together, and work together with our own, connecting with those who need our help. We have to care about and for them. That is the only way we can survive in golus and the only way we can get out.
Too many people are preoccupied with the mundane things in life and resist the need to ponder life in a more serious way. Then, every once in a while, we get a painful reminder that we are still in golus.
One day, a car pulled up near Rav Avigdor Miller as he walked on Ocean Parkway. The window rolled down. “Dirty Jew,” screamed a redneck. “You’re a Jew. That’s what you are!”
Rav Miller smiled serenely and bowed. “Yes, and thank you for the reminder. I needed that!”
Although we certainly know that in terms of oppression, this golus is better than any Klal Yisroel has endured and we are very appreciative of that, but golus it is. And since it is so comfortable here, we may have forgotten that we are in exile.
In order to work our way out of golus, we have to recognize that we are in golus.
I recently came across a book on Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach written by an “expert” on chareidim. The author is quite bothered by the fact that Rav Shach constantly quoted Chazal regarding Eisov’s hatred of Yaakov as an undeniable matter of fact. He’s bothered, because that means there is nothing that can be done to earn the world’s love. The state and the army, the former UN ambassador, the eloquent speaker and debater who occupies the prime minister’s seat - none of them can change this fact.
The more they hate, the more we band together.
Eisov understood that if he could not weaken us, his end would come and he would be the loser.
Yaakov urged Eisov, “Ad avo el adoni Sei’ira, (Bereishis 33:14).” Go ahead of me. I will walk slowly because of all the work I still have to do until I reach you in Sei’ir.
We will yet meet there, Yaakov assures him.
When? Rashi explains that the time will come when “Ve’olu moshi’im beHar Tzion lishpot es Har Eisov” (Ovadia 1:1), in the times of Moshiach when the savior ascends Har Tzion to do judgment with the Mountain of Eisov.
We are all on a journey; Yaakov walking his way, Eisov his.
The meeting will come soon.
And then we will all get to go home.
Free at last.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

On Sparks and Stones

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
We are enthralled each year anew as we learn the parsha describing Yaakov Avinu’s dream, his years in Lavan’s house, his marriages, and the birth of the shevotim. Ever since our earliest years, we’ve sat riveted by the account of many stones joining together to become the single rock upon which Yaakov rested his head. We were generally taught that Yaakov slept on Har Hamoriah, site of his father’s Akeida and the future site of the Botei Mikdosh.
The sun set early and all of Eretz Yisroel folded under him, as Hashem promised him the land and assured him that He would watch over him and would bless him with many descendants.
Yaakov awoke in the morning and was overcome by the awesomeness of the promise he had received as he slept. He awoke and said, “This is a holy place. Hashem is in this place and I didn’t even know.” He consecrated the stone upon which he had slept and promised to give Hashem ten percent of his possessions.   
Yaakov traveled on to Charan, where he came upon shepherds sitting aimlessly with their flocks around a watering hole. They explained that they had to wait until all the local shepherds would come and then all of them would together push off the huge rock that covered the underground cave filled with water. When Rochel arrived with her sheep, Yaakov summoned the strength to roll off the boulder by himself.
Yaakov was the av of golus. What transpired to him on his way from Bais Lechem to Charan was the introduction to Yaakov’s first foray into exile, as he began his journey into golus.
He walked until dark and then lay down to rest in a place seemingly devoid of holiness. Upon awakening, he realized that “ein zeh ki im bais Elokim, this is a place laden with kedusha, the house of Hashem and the gate to heaven.”
Yaakov Avinu was essentially giving us the keys to survival in golus. We chance upon places that seem desolate, barren of any good. We view them as unable to receive any holiness, much less be a home for kedusha and people who seek to live exalted lives. The places are as inert as stone.
The golus experience is tragic, a family torn apart and spread across the world. We have endured all types of oppression and pain over the course of this journey. On the surface, it seems that we’ve been removed from the realm of the Divine, pushed into a world without holiness.
But we come to realize, as Yaakov Avinu taught us, that even the darkest places in the world are potential homes for kedusha. A stone can become a mizbeiach. Ein zeh ki im bais Elokim. This is the secret of survival in golus.
We don’t give up on any place or any person. There was a time when everyone believed that nothing good could take hold in America. They believed that anyone who immigrated to this land was doomed to a dark life of emptiness, and for many years that was the case. But eventually, Hashgocha orchestrated for giants who had learned the lesson of Yaakov to come here. They planted yeshivos where people said no Torah could grow. They insisted on shmiras Shabbos where there was none. They convinced parents to send their children to receive a Torah education when doing so was mocked and vilified as old-fashioned and wrong.
And look at what we have in America now: frum communities from coast to coast, Torah blossoming on a massive scale. How? Why? Because some of Yaakov’s children didn’t go to sleep when they got here. They didn’t view the place as stone cold. They believed that any place, anywhere, can be transformed into a Bais Elokim.
Not only in America, but around the world, Torah is found in places no one ever thought possible. Wherever Jews who remember Yaakov’s lesson go, the brocha he received that night in his dream of “uforatzta yoma vokeidma vetzafona vonegba” is being realized on an unprecedented scale.
No matter where our people end up, they build, they believe, they plant and they grow. And while doing so, they uncover and reveal sparks of holiness in the largest cities, the smallest towns, and the lightest and darkest corners of the world.
We never give up on anyone. We never say that he or she is beyond repair. We never say that they are beyond hope, as inert as stone, as dark as a seemingly forsaken place, for we know that there is holiness and good everywhere. Our task is to find it and cause embers to flare up into flames.
The anthem of golus­ is “achein yeish Hashem bamakom hazeh.” Never think you are alone. Never think you are forsaken. Never think anyone is too far gone. Never think that there is a location that cannot be transformed into a place where we can live and flourish.
We are all familiar with Rav Chaim Volozhiner’s prophecy that America would be the final station of Torah in golus. When we uncover enough watering holes here, we get to finally go home.
We have been spread across the world, and wherever we’ve gone, we’ve established botei Elokim, spreading kedusha and Torah where naysayers said it couldn’t be done. The cycle repeated itself every few hundred years. Jews would grow accustomed to their host country after having brought as much kedusha to that land as possible. The country rose up against them and once again the Jews were on to the next bleak outpost. Finally, we are here, spreading Torah across the fruited plain, awaiting that great day of “vehaya Hashem lemelech al kol ha’aretz.” 
We often lose sight of those who refined and purified the American landscape enabling the Torah world to rise. The great impact of the famed post-war giants sometimes overshadows the silent, hidden avodah of those who came before them and first uncovered the “achein yeish Hashem” on these shores as well.
The going was rough in those early turn-of-the-century days, as millions of Jews escaped the poverty and pogroms of Eastern Europe and came here looking for a better tomorrow. They settled in cities and towns all across the country, initially eking out a living as peddlers and shopkeepers. The ruach was stone cold. The water pits were blocked and refused to open.
With the peddlers came rabbonim who sat and learned by themselves and with the people. They wrote seforim and corresponded with the giants of Europe. They fought for Shabbos and Jewish education. Oftentimes they failed and many were lost, but they increased the kedusha here. The zechusim created by limud haTorah accumulated, balancing out the klipos hora and allowing frum people to live and thrive here. They cleared the air of spiritual pollution to the degree that shuls and yeshivos could be built, and botei medrash and kollelim could flourish all across the country.
In Omaha, Nebraska, lived Rav Tzvi Hirsch Grodzensky, cousin of Rav Chaim Ozer Grodeznsky, who toiled in Torah. In Boston, Rav Zalman Yaakov Freiderman presided over huge kehillos and made sure that there would be kashrus and rabbonim in Massachusetts, as he learned and taught Torah. Rav Eliezer Silver of Kovno ended up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and from his pulpit there, he influenced the entire Torah world.
Travel across this country and you’ll find Jewish cemeteries in the strangest of places. You think you’re the first frum Jew to ever drive through some forsaken town off the beaten path and then you pass the bais olam and realize that neshamos were moser nefesh to find sparks of kedusha in that location and prepare the country for its spiritual rebirth and the world for Moshiach. 
Generations of such people, who came to the final golus from Europe, brought with them Torah and mitzvos, sometimes leading very lonely lives. Others were more fortunate. Whether they learned into the wee hours of the morning in the Rocky Mountains or led quiet tishen on Friday night in places very far from Mezibuzh, they were slowly but surely pushing away the rocks that blocked the water of Torah from spreading. History might not be aware, but everything that came after those pioneers is because they uncovered the holy spark of “achein yeish Hashem bamakom hazeh,” and our existence here proves that.
Rav Moshe Mordechai Shulsinger writes that during one of Israel’s wars, people went to Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach asking for areas in which they should improve to help the war effort. He offered two suggestions. The first was to recite the first brocha of Birkas Hamazon from a bentcher. The second idea was not to be “fartayned” all day. “Don’t be perpetually aggrieved,” he said. “Some people go through every day of their lives with complaints against everyone. ‘They didn’t do what I told them to do.’ Or, ‘They didn’t ask me how to do it. If they would have asked me, the whole thing would have come out so much differently - and better, of course.’ People have complaints against their spouse, parents, children, rabbonim, rabbeim, moros and chazzan. They think that other people tried hurting them, harming them, and insulting them. People become bitter, angry and upset and get into fights.”
Stop, Rav Shach advised. Stop complaining. Stop seeing the incompetence of those around you and start seeing the blessings.
“A person can spend his day in kapdanus and bitterness,” Rav Shach would say.
Don’t say that this is an empty place. Don’t say that the water is buried beneath a rock too heavy to move. Don’t say that everything is bleak and hopeless. Rather, think, “Achein yeish Hashem bamakom hazeh.” Open your eyes and see the potential. See the good. See what the good people do and want to do, and help them remove the stones and pebbles in their lives.
A person who lives with the awareness that the Master of the Universe maps each step and writes every chapter lives with emunah and simcha, for he knows that whatever happens, there is one reaction: achein, behold, yeish Hashem bamakom hazeh. Wherever it is, He is there too.
A while ago, some yungeleit went to speak to Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman. A member of their kollel was niftar, lo aleinu, and they wanted to be mekabel something in his memory. They had various ideas, but wanted the rosh yeshiva to suggest an appropriate kabbolah.
Rav Shteinman listened to their proposals. Then he spoke. “Those are all very nice ideas, but I think you should try something else. You live in a relatively new neighborhood, where people move in and new buildings are rising. I think that everyone in the kehilla should sign a letter being mekabel that no matter what, they will avoid neighborly disputes. Your upstairs neighbor might be doing construction and it will be very noisy for a few months. Your neighbor down the hall might close in his porch and obstruct your view. Instead of fighting, step back and contemplate the brocha that led to that construction. Think of a growing family that needs more room, or more space for an overworked mother, bringing menuchas hanefesh to another family. That kabbolah will be an eternal source of merit to your friend’s neshomah.”
Yaakov Avinu throughout this parsha faces all sorts of challenges. He travels, lonely and impoverished, and arrives with nothing. He faces Lavan’s trickery and deceit, and then toils under a blazing sun, and in fierce cold, for a selfish boss.
Never do we see him with ta’anos, focused on the great evil being perpetrated against him. He never assumes the role of nirdaf. He isn’t busy with Lavan’s spite.
He saw the Hand of Hashem there, too. “Achein yeish Hashem bamakom hazeh.”
Thus, he emerged from Bais Lavan with all the brachos in the world, rich in family and possessions.
During the last Sukkos of Rav Yitzchok Hutner’s life, months before his passing, he received hundreds of visitors. Talmidim and their families descended upon his Yerushalayim apartment to pay their respects.
He was weak, and the deluge of people was difficult for him to manage. He spoke with each one, and he was visibly worn out at the end of one Chol Hamoed day.
“Why does the rosh yeshiva allow people to come? Why not just close the door tomorrow and post a sign that the rosh yeshiva isn’t taking visitors?” asked a concerned talmid.
“Veil ah mentch, because a person, iz ah sheineh zach, is a beautiful thing,” Rav Hutner answered.
A person is crafted by Hashem, a wondrous, spectacular creation, and each person has value. To close a door on a person is to lose out on beholding the glory. It wasn’t about the inconvenience or difficulty, for achein yeish Hashem bamakom hazeh. Every person carries some of that kedusha.
In that spot, the very place where Yaakov revealed Hashem’s Presence, the Bais Hamikdosh will stand, the ultimate testimony to the fact that along the entire journey, the long path through golus, He accompanied us: He was there, leading us home.
All along, dark and confusing as it may be, we have it within us to stop and say, “Achein yeish Hashem bamakom hazeh.” What a great way to live, always being positive, looking for the good everywhere, and planting the seeds of Moshiach.
We all possess the strength to roll away the stones that block our paths and the paths of others. Let’s do it.