Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Selfless


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz



The American media is distressed, because the president lectured a disrespectful reporter and then revoked his credentials. The media bosses and colleagues defended the grandstanding reporter and bashed the president. After holding a press conference for 90 minutes and answering 87 questions, all the issues the president discussed were forgotten. One headline emerged from a long session with the president designed to elicit information for the American people. That lone oft-repeated story pertained to the president telling the reporter that he is a rude person who is an embarrassment to his media bosses, who defended the insolent behavior.



The White House press corps, on a regular basis, produces negative coverage of a president they despise, though the job of a reporter is to present objective coverage of the news. The liberal bent of the media is nothing new. The shameless way they bash the administration is. There is incessant grandstanding, with reporters viewing themselves as superior to the leader of the free world and entitled to debate him as they pose adversarial questions.



Their behavior is reflective of the arrogance of a generation raised on feelings of entitlement. People across the country feel that by dint of pedigree, portfolio or will, they are entitled to boss others and call into question actions of responsible, trusted leaders.



Today, it’s all about hits and attention. People who ought to know better provide platforms for irrational thoughts and behaviors in the interest of gaining attention for themselves and their publications. The sense of responsibility that in the past prevented unreasonable people and ideas from getting a hearing is all but gone.



We come from much better stuff. We have to demand better.



The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 71:5) relates that Leah, who thanked Hashem when giving birth to Yehudah, excelled in the attribute of “hoda’ah,” and therefore gave birth to people such as Yehudah, who admitted that Tamar was correct, Dovid, who said, “Hodu laHashem ki tov,” and Doniel, who said, “Loch eloa avhosi mehodei umeshabach anuh.”



Rochel, who did not reveal to Yaakov that her father was actually giving him Leah in marriage, excelled in the attribute of shtikah, and her children followed in her ways. Binyomin knew that his brother Yosef had been sold but did not reveal the secret even though he was not bound by the oath not to disclose what happened to Yosef. Shaul did not reveal that Shmuel had discussed the royalty with him, even though doing so would have brought him much pleasure. Esther did not reveal to Achashveirosh that she was Jewish.



Leah thanked Hashem, as did her offspring Dovid and Doniel, but the example of Yehudah is not an exact match, for he didn’t thank anyone. He admitted that Tamar was correct and he was wrong. In Hebrew, the same word can be used to refer to admission and appreciation.



Rochel knew that Lovon had substituted her sister Leah in her place on Yaakov’s wedding night, but rather than cause her sister embarrassment, she did not reveal the switch to Yaakov, who had worked seven years for the privilege of marrying Rochel. For all she knew, Rochel was thereby forfeiting her future as a wife to Yaakov and matriarch of Klal Yisroel.



The examples cited by the Medrash to indicate that her offspring followed in her way do not seem to match what she did. None of the people quoted by the Medrash gave up anything when they did not reveal their secret. Why, then, are their acts of silence traced to the middah of shtikah as personified by Rochel?



Perhaps we can explain that the lesson the Medrash is teaching us about the middos of our imahos is that they placed the needs and concerns of other people ahead of their own. By remaining silent and helping Leah, Rochel put the feelings of her sister before her own needs.



The attribute of being selfless and subjugating themselves for the greater public good, was evident in Binyomin, who didn’t reveal the brothers’ secret about Yosef. He thus allowed the drama to play out and Yosef was able to prepare a place of refuge for the shevotim and their families. Shaul did the same by not revealing what Shmuel told him about becoming king, though he no doubt would have derived much enjoyment by sharing the news. He suppressed the basic human desire for honor and demonstrated that he was indeed worthy of the leadership position.



Mordechai told Esther not to let Achashveirosh know of her heritage, so that she would be able to play a leading role in saving the Jewish people from the evil designs of Haman. Rather than seeking the easy way out, she followed Mordechai’s instruction and went on to become an eternal Jewish heroine.



The greatness of their middah of shtikah was not so much their silence as it was sacrificing their own benefits for the benefit of others. This middah of Rochel was evident throughout her life and also following her passing. Leah was buried with Yaakov in the Meoras Hamachpeilah, and although it was not by her choosing, Rochel’s place was forfeited so that at a later time she would be able to help her descendants as they were sent into exile.



In order to be grateful, a person has to recognize that he has benefited from someone who made it possible for him to obtain whatever it is that he is grateful for. A haughty person thinks that he deserves everything and never thanks anybody for anything, for it is beneath his dignity to acknowledge that someone had something that he didn’t have and that person allowed him to benefit. Being able to express gratitude necessitates a measure of humility.



The following is repeated so often that it has become a cliché. Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky would keep pebbles in his drawer. He would say that they were there so that when he did a favor for someone, he could give the person a pebble. “That way,” he explained, “instead of throwing a stone at me, he would throw a pebble and it would not be as hurtful.” People often have trouble acknowledging a favor that was done for them and expressing heartfelt appreciation. So great is the difficulty to appreciate a measure of indebtedness to others that oftentimes the recipient of the benevolence develops hatred toward his benefactor.  



Leah proclaimed, “Hapa’am odeh es Hashem,” upon the birth of Yehudah, for she felt that she had received more than what she was entitled to. Dovid thanked Hashem for all he had received in his life, recognizing that it was all due to the beneficence of Hashem. Doniel thanked Hashem and said that his intelligence and strength were Divine gifts. These individuals recognized that what they possessed was not theirs by right, but was rather given to them by Divine providence.



When Leah’s first son was born, she called him Reuvein. Rashi (Bereishis 29:32) cites the Gemara (Brachos 7b) which states that Leah said, “Reu – See the difference between my son and the son of my mother-in-law. Her son, Eisov, sold his bechorah to Yaakov and later sought to kill him over that. My son, Reuvein, had the bechorah forcefully taken from him by Yosef. Not only wasn’t he jealous, but he ran to save him when the brothers sought to kill him.”



Leah wasn’t bragging that she was better than her mother-in-law. Rather, she was proud that her son forsook his birthright for the greater good of the Divine plan that Yosef be considered the bechor instead of him. He wasn’t jealous and didn’t create controversy. Instead, he happily accepted what Hashgocha had dealt him and was mevatel his own ego and wants.



Both Leah and Rochel had the middah of bitul, the ability to negate their own self-worth. Humility is the basis for other good middos and the commitment to work to help others. If you are humble, then you are able to be unencumbered by your physical desires and serve as a source of good and comfort for others. A person who puts his/her own interests last is one who excels at being not only a leader, but also a parent, sibling and teacher, as well as quite anything else that involves interacting with other people.



This is why Leah and Rochel are the epitome of Jewish mothers.



This attitude was also evident in their maidens. The posuk states that when Rochel was barren, “Vateileid Bilha shifchas Rochel – Rochel’s maid Bilha gave birth to a second son of Yaakov.” Rav Aharon Hakohein, son-in-law of the Chofetz Chaim, explains that the reason the posuk notes again that Bilha was Rochel’s maid, is to show that even after Rochel gave her as a wife to Yaakov and she bore him two sons, she still handled herself with humility as a maid toward Rochel. Bilha did not behave as Sorah’s maid Hagar did after giving birth to Avrohom’s child. Rather, as befitting a mother of shevotim, she was humble and respectful.



The Alter of Kelm says that the reason the avos were shepherds was because that task allowed them to improve their middah of humility, which leads to the middah of mercy. A pretentious person loves and cares primarily about himself. He doesn’t sympathize with or feel the pain of others. Therefore, they tended flocks of sheep, leading and feeding them with care and according to their specific needs. If they were kind to animals, certainly they would be compassionate and considerate in their interactions with Hashem’s chosen people.



When Eliezer tested Rivka to determine whether she was a suitable match for Yitzchok he waited to see if she would offer to water his camels. He was checking to ascertain whether she possessed the middah of selflessness which personified the imahos. Would she perform chesed with an animal, incapable of expressing appreciation for the kindness. Could she put her own interests and feelings aside and busy herself with a stranger’s animals. 



Avrohom and Sorah spent their lives reaching out to people and teaching them about the Creator, because they cared about others and sought to improve them. Avrohom and Sorah were the paragon of chesed, negating their own comforts and wants in order to benefit others who were much lower than them spiritually.



Rav Elya Chaim Meisel was one of the leading giants of Torah and chesed in his day. He was participating at a meeting of leading rabbonim and one of his colleagues disagreed with him. The other rabbi mocked Rav Elya Chaim and said that though he is a gaon in Torah, his involvement with tzedokah and chesed causes him to frequently interrupt his learning and bitul Torah.



Rav Chaim Soloveitchik was at the meeting. He defended his illustrious colleague and said, “A rov who closes his Gemara to engage in charitable acts, even when the Gemara is closed it is as if it is open. A rov who doesn’t close his Gemara at a time when he should be engaging in chesed, even when his Gemara is open, it is as if it is closed.”



Selflessness and sacrificing what you would rather be doing to help others, is at the heart of greatness.



Rav Moshe Feinstein was traveling in a car together with other people. It was a rainy, foggy night and the driver missed a turn. One of the passengers complained that the ride was taking so long because the driver didn’t turn where he was supposed to. Rav Moshe remained silent. A short while later, he was looking out the window and commented on how dark and treacherous it was outside. “It’s a wonder the driver can see where he’s going,” he said.



The driver later remarked that he knew that Rav Moshe made that comment to assuage his feelings and noted that the fact that he didn’t say it as an obvious response to the unhappy passenger made it that much more comforting.



Great people are considerate of the feelings of others.  



A baal chesed and a good Jew does not view himself as holier or better than anyone else. All are equal in the eyes of Hashem, regardless of their I.Q. or financial standing. Everyone is treated with kindness and care.



Being humble, loving and generous are traits our forefathers and foremothers passed on to us. We subjugate our egos for the benefit of others. We recognize that if every person had his /her way, a community could not flourish. We all contribute to the better good, though at times that involves pain and discomfort. We recognize that we cannot always have our way and that it is necessary for the minority to acquiesce to the wishes of the majority when they are grounded in Torah.



When people who are unqualified feel that they have the right to debate the most powerful democratic leader in the world and create dissension among the populace, something is wrong with society. When misguided individuals assume leadership positions, the danger that their twisted ideology and theories will impact the masses becomes very real.




Deleterious behavior is rooted in bad middos. Let us study the examples of the avos and imahos of Am Yisroel, as well as those who preceded us, and perfect the way we think and act so that we can improve our lives and help prepare the world for the grandchildren of Rochel and Leah, Moshiach ben Yosef and Moshiach ben Dovid, to redeem us.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Kol Yaakov


Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

In this week’s parsha, we are introduced to Yaakov and Eisov, whose struggle endures until the End of Days.

The differences between them were apparent already prior to their birth. One sought to escape to the bais medrash and the other was interested in avodah zorah. Yaakov was a tzaddik tomim, while his wicked twin brother, Eisov, couched his behavior and presented himself as an upright person.

Yaakov distinguished himself through speech. He spoke softly, with respect, humility and empathy, as did his father, Yitzchok, and grandfather, Avrohom. Eisov had no use for anything holy and glibly sold his bechorah to Yaakov for the symbolic price of some lentil soup. He lived a heathen life, though he conducted himself virtuously around his father.

After selling the bechorah, Eisov did not regret his action. The Torah informs us, “Vayivez Eisov es habechorah – And Eisov mocked what had been bequeathed to him.”

Baalei mussar say that this is indicative of the reaction of people whose silly actions set them back. When a child loses a game, he invariably says, “I don’t care that I lost. It was a dumb game anyway and I didn’t even try to win.” Bad people find excuses for losses and always attach blame for their miscues to others.

An intelligent person regrets his mistakes and admits that he missed an opportunity. Eisov lacked the capacity for introspection. Instead of pondering what he had done, he mocked the whole thing, quieting whatever soft voice of sincerity he had, before it could lead him to repent for what he had done.

The parsha tells us that while it appears that Yitzchok appreciated Eisov, the difference in speech and manner between his two sons was obvious to him. When Yaakov came to receive the brachos of “Veyiten lecha,” Yitzchok was confused because he discerned a sincerity and heart in the voice. Although Yaakov was wearing the coat of Eisov, he spoke in the manner of Yaakov. “Hakol kol Yaakov.” Eisov, while begging his father for a brocha, was plotting Yaakov’s murder. His words were superficial, and not reflective of what lay in his heart.

Words are everything to the offspring of Yaakov. Our manner of speech defines us. How we speak, the words we choose, and our tone of voice all matter. We are to be refined, disciplined and respectful. We respect people whose words are soft and thoughtful, not brash and irreverent. We respect and promote men and women of truth, whose fidelity to honesty and tradition grounds them.

We should not follow loud bullies, those with the quick put-downs and glib tongues. Negativity and cynicism may sound shrewd and bring popularity to the one who uses his intelligence to mock others, but the one worthy of our respect is he who labors, speaks from the heart, and seeks to find and do good. His life is one of accomplishment. It is he and people like him who embody the ideals of Am Yisroel.

This country just experienced an election in which one party made it seem as if they were the party of virtue, values and honesty. They bashed the other for incivility, as they called for the masses to taunt politicians of their opposition wherever they can be found. They colluded with their media allies to make it appear as if a wave was afoot, hoping that enough people would accept the lies and bluster and give them their vote.

Pollsters who had one party ahead throughout the campaign, suddenly saw many races tightening and too close to call as decision day approached.

Politicians speak words of compassion, justice and law, but use their power to further their own agendas and lull the populace into accepting the abrogation of trust.

While living in the golus of Eisov we must ensure that we do not adopt his perfidious and disrespectful nature. Though we are under the heel of Edom, we have to distinguish between authenticity and fiction and remain loyal to the truth. We should not become like those who suppress the truth for ulterior motives. We should never support immorality, even when that approach seems expedient.

In this week’s haftorah, the novi Malachi repeats to the Jewish people Hashem’s words, “I love Yaakov and Eisov I hate…” As for the kohanim, “Amar Hashem Tzevakos lochem hakohanim bozei shemi,” they failed to demonstrate proper respect for Hashem and the Mikdosh (Malachi 1:2-6).

Underpinning the reprimand, and perhaps the connection to this week’s parsha, is the fact that the kohanim earned their role and mission as a result of Yaakov’s purchase of the bechorah. When the bechorim did not conduct themselves properly, kohanim were chosen to replace them as attendants to Hashem.

The sale of the bechorah was rooted in the fundamental difference between Yaakov and Eisov. Yaakov was a man of respect, while Eisov epitomized ridicule and scorn. As the posuk says of Eisov, “Vayivez Eisov.” His personality was one of derision. Thus, if the kohanim had fallen to the level that they became “bozei Hashem,” embodying Eisov’s characteristic of the middah of bizayon, they were demonstrating that they were no longer worthy of inheriting the gift bequeathed by Yaakov to serve in the Bais Hamikdosh.

We are identified by three traits. We are rachmonim, bayshonim and gomlei chassodim, people of mercy, bashfulness and kindness. We are invested with sensitivity and compassion, and the words we use, our tone of voice, and our approach have the ability to awaken those traits.

Good parents, friends, mechanchim and communicators appreciate words and the difference between a soft, gentle tone and an angry one.

The secret of using words well is believing in the intrinsic holiness of the people you are speaking to. As the wisest of men wrote, ma’aneh rach, soft words, have the potential to be meishiv cheima, turn away anger, because they open the heart of the antagonist and allow the message to enter.

People of sensitivity see this. Eisov doesn’t see past the surface. He sees a red soup and refers to it by its color, saying to Yaakov, “Haliteini na min ha’adom ha’adom hazeh... Al kein kara shemo Edom” (Bereishis 25:30). Eisov and his offspring are referred to as “Edom,” because he referred to the lentil soup as “edom.”

By referring to the soup by its color, he exposed his own superficiality. He didn’t know anything about the soup other than that it has an appealing color. That was enough for him. He forsook his future for the momentary pleasure of something superficially appealing.

Edom, as a nation, fails to perceive beyond what it can touch and feel. Hence the fascination in our world with looks, color and presentation. There is no depth that’s meaningful to them beyond the surface image.

As we live in Golus Edom, it behooves us not to become enamored with the external, but to be sensible, careful and have depth. We mustn’t be misled by empty rhetoric and half-baked theories. We have to be honest with ourselves and others in all we do.

As children of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov, we are all shluchim to continue their mission. We are to care about each other and speak with love and soft words people can understand and accept. We should never speak with animosity, hate or sanctimonious judgmentalism, no matter what it is that we are discussing. As believers, we must be positive and hopeful, treating all people the way we want to be treated, no matter the occasion of our interaction.

Let us not be influenced by the dominant lies of the day. Let us use the yardstick of Torah to assess the prevailing trends around us and find the moral courage to stand up for the truth, no matter how unpopular it may be. Let us purify ourselves so that we are worthy of living lives of truth. We need not fear speaking the truth about what is right.

Just last Shabbos, the world was reminded of the evil that lurks in hearts of hateful men. Ever since we have become a people, we have been mocked, vilified, chased from place to place, hunted and killed. America is a kind golus and our people have been accepted and treated quite well. It wasn’t always this way, and there are notable and numerous exceptions. The outpouring of condemnations of what took place in Pittsburgh and the national expressions of support for the Jewish people offered measures of comfort. But the culture of hate being purveyed by people who profess to be lovers of all people does not bode well for us.

We need to treat each other better. We need to be respectful when dealing with people with whom we come in contact. We need to act as our avos did. We need to study the parshiyos of Bereishis with the depth they deserve and not be content with a superficial reading. There are many lessons there to enhance our lives.

The Mishnah in Maseches Peah states that the reward for performance of mitzvos bein adam lachaveiro is delivered in this world as well as the World to Come. The Rambam in his Peirush HaMishnayos explains that when one person helps another, he makes the world a better place. Not only has he helped that person, but at the same time he has shown the beauty of benevolence, inspiring that person to be kind and gracious with others. The baal chesed has thus not only improved one person’s life. The impact of his action will help many more, and he will have made the world a much better place in which to live.

His reward is that he will have a better place in which to live.

We can all make our block, our school, or our community a much better place. Instead of complaining, if we would treat other people the way our avos and imahos did, we would improve ourselves, our communities and our world.

Let’s start with proper speech and respect. Let’s behave in a way that demonstrates that the Kol Yaakov defines us.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Tragedy


Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

The Jewish world is still in a state of shock over the murdering of 11 Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue. People wonder how such a terrible event could happen in our time in this country. How has this happened in the modern day and age to American people, in an American city, in a synagogue?

We have always known hatred. Anti-Semitism has been with us ever since we became a nation. But somehow, we thought that such crimes could not happen here. We thought that America was different, that America was safe. Shootings, pogroms and attacks on Jewish gathering places were things of the past. We thought that only Europe is unsafe, and that only the Gaza border, Yerushalayim and the West Bank are dangerous.

Now we know that it can happen anywhere and at any time. A sick person can load a gun and walk into a Jewish place of worship and wantonly kill. We can’t stop him. Everyone is all worked up now, issuing statements to the media condemning the violence and anti-Semitism, and calling for increased security and sensitivity training. Time will pass and the memory of the Pittsburgh shooting will fade, but its effects will last for a long time.

A line has been crossed. Our safety can no longer be taken for granted. The protective bubble that deluded us into thinking that such things only happen to other people in other places has been punctured.

We live in frightening times. Hatred and rancor have taken over the country. Politics has descended into an uncivil state, affecting the country’s discourse and behavior. People can’t simply disagree. Instead, they descend into rabid hate. It is no longer enough to speak ill of people who think differently than you. It is now necessary to destroy them. Democrats are no longer as supportive of Israel as they were. How can they be? After all, Trump is all in for the Jews. Socialists seem to be steering the Democrat Party, and Israel isn’t their thing. Nor are Jews.

If we think about the changes that have come over this country the past couple of years, we can become worried about the future, so we choose to continue going about our daily lives, consumed with inconsequential matters. We don’t read the news seriously; we don’t want to know what is really going on. We rely on snippets of information. Anecdotes and sound-bites replace intelligent knowledge.

There is currently a collapse of society and moral standards, coupled with a climate of division and rancor that can lead to frightening results. The Pittsburgh shooting and last week’s mail bombs were carried out by evil, deranged people. They are indicative of a world gone mad.

To be sure, America is the best host our people have known, and moments of silence and mourning vigils were held across the country. The Pittsburgh Steelers football team amended their logo with a Magen Dovid to express the city’s outrage at the tragedy. We need to be thankful and appreciative of the country in which we live and the ideals it espouses. The Jews in Pittsburgh were killed for one reason, because they were Jews. The irrational hatred of our people reaches back for millennia, though it is on the rise, there is a measure of comfort to see it almost universally condemned following the murders.

Jews around the world are preparing to commemorate Kristallnacht, keeping alive the memory of the Nazi attack that unleashed historic murder and hatred. Many of the speakers, no doubt, will claim that never again will such a tragedy take place, because today there is a Jewish state and an army that fight for the Jewish people.

The insincerity of that statement hasn’t stopped people from making it. Despite the State, Jews are under constant attack around the world and in Israel. Iran continues to strengthen. Hezbollah and Hamas on Israel’s borders are arming for a coming war. Bombs of all types fly into Israel from Gaza. Nobody can stop balloons and kites, children’s playthings, from being used as merciless implements of terror. European Jews live in constant fear and anti-Semitic acts in the U.S. have risen 57% over the past two years.

What are we to do besides increasing security? Our world suffers from a lack of solidarity and commitment to each other. We need to rectify that. Where do we start?

This week’s parsha details the search for a wife for Yitzchok Avinu. Avrohom sends his trusted servant Eliezer to his homeland to find a suitable mate. Eliezer goes beyond what can be expected of a messenger and formulates special tefillos and tests to ensure that Avrohom’s will is carried out. Thanks to Eliezer’s loyalty, Yitzchok found his life partner and was able to continue the glorious chain begun by his father that has spanned the centuries to this very day.

Eliezer’s behavior is contrasted in the parsha with that of Efron and Lovon, who sought to take advantage of Avrohom. They professed to be concerned about Avrohom’s welfare while plotting to take advantage of him. They were seeking to exploit his desperation.

Both Lovon and Efron made their marks on history as infamous charlatans. They are remembered for eternity as liars and cheats.

We must live by Avrohom’s standards of decency and honesty, despite the daily challenges we face. So often, we are tested to determine whether we will behave like Lovon or like Eliezer. There is a little of Efron everywhere. One can always find people who seek to take advantage of others for some gain. People are often tempted to twist the truth just a little in order to gain the upper hand. People promote themselves as virtuous to disarm others and to facilitate their exploitation.

The children and talmidim of the Avrohom Avinus and Yitzchok Avinus of this world achieve immortality and earn the loyalty and servitude of people such as Eliezer. Those who follow in the ways of Efron and Lovon are eventually exposed and become figures of eternal derision.

It is not always easy to be loyal to a cause or to a person. Life has a way of severely testing our moral fiber. Those who remain loyal to their ideals no matter how difficult it becomes are the ones who endure. They are the winners in the deadly contest of good versus evil.

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 97a) quotes a teaching from Tana Devei Eliyohu that following creation, the first two thousand years of the world were filled with emptiness. Rashi (ad loc) explains that the world was empty because the Torah was not yet given. There were 2,000 years from the time of Adam Harishon until Avrohom Avinu began studying Torah.

Rav Moshe Feinstein asks how the Gemara can say that there were 2,000 years without Torah, since Noach studied Torah and established a bais medrash under the leadership of Sheim and Eiver.

He answers that Sheim and Eiver didn’t do any recruiting for their yeshiva. They didn’t go out to the world to try to interest people in studying Torah. People who on their own were searching for the truth went to the yeshiva and studied with them. Avrohom, on the other hand, traveled from place to place and sought out good people. He spoke of the fallacies of the prevailing way of life in their day and introduced people to the way of Hashem and Torah.

This was essentially the chesed path of Avrohom. He didn’t only act charitably to people who appealed to him for assistance, but went out of his way to find people who needed help. This was evidenced in last week’s parsha, when he left his home and sat under the desert sun, seeking out passersby to whom he could display kindness. He didn’t just study Torah by himself, but sought others with whom he could share the secrets of a blessed life.

The closer a person is to Torah and the more he studies mussar and works on his middos, the more inclined he is to think about other people and to be kind and considerate. He seeks to go in the ways of Hashem, who is merciful and kind – rachum vechanun – as we discussed last week. Such a person is a boruch. He is blessed. Those who veer from Torah and are distant from Hashem and His ways are selfish and inconsiderate. Such people are arur, evil and cursed.

The Maharal (Nesivos Olam, Gemillus Chassodim; Gevuras Hashem 4) explains this in his terminology. Man is comprised of spirituality, tzurah, and physicality, chomer. A person who is chomer is selfish and only takes; he doesn’t give. That is the nature of the physical realm. The more a person is tied to his spiritual side and the more he has rid himself of physical inclinations, the more he is a giver and not a taker.

Chazal teach, “Lo am ha’aretz chossid - A person unversed in Torah cannot be virtuous” (Avos 2:5), because he is held down by his physicality, which doesn’t allow him to be kind and good.

The posuk (Bereishis 9:25) states, “Arur Canaan,” the Canaanites are cursed, because they are a people of strictly chomer.

This is what Avrohom hinted at when he told his aides prior to the Akeidah (Bereishis 22:5), “Shevu lochem po im hachamor - Remain here with the donkey.” Chazal say that he told them to stay with the chamor, because they are a nation compared to the chamor, as their makeup is comprised strictly of chumriyus, pure physicality.

Avrohom was the first to throw himself into Torah, perfecting himself to the level that he divorced all chumriyus. He was therefore totally selfless and occupied with chesed, reaching out to many others to fill the emptiness of the world with Torah and goodness. He was able to impact the world and make it a much better place, allowing the light of Torah to penetrate the darkness and eviscerate the tohu.

We, in our day, must follow in the path of Avrohom and reach beyond our comfort zones to do chesed and teach Torah. The world is suffering from a plague of darkness, vile myopia, devastating immorality, lethal stupidity, deadly hatred, and predatory selfishness. It is incumbent upon us to light up the world and make it a much better place with Torah and chesed, just as our ancestor Avrohom did.

We don’t improve the world by issuing statements. It is almost as if nothing that happens of any consequence means anything anymore. Everything becomes an excuse to post shallow, trite aphorisms and stale talking points.

The parsha opens with the passing of Sorah Imeinu at the age of 127. We are all familiar with the Rashi that states, “Kulan shovin letovah – All her years were equally good.”

It would be superfluous for Rashi to hint that her years were all equally good because they were free from sin, since this is already stated in the previous Rashi: “Bas kuf kebas chof lecheit.” Sorah was free from sin.

If it means that all her years were good, we know that they weren’t. The day she was snatched from her husband and brought to Paroh certainly wasn’t a good one. The day she was kidnapped by Avimelech was surely terrifying. The day she saw Yishmoel being metzacheik with Yitzchok could not be described as a good one. The days that Hagar caused her pain were not good ones. Of course, she accepted whatever was thrown her way, but that alone does not turn bad days into good ones.

The explanation may be that Sorah Imeinu was the personification of goodness. She was so good and so concerned about other people and the welfare of the world that she seized every opportunity to act positively. Her days were filled with chesed and tzedakah.

She didn’t just stand by and say, “Why doesn’t someone do something?” When she sensed an opportunity for improving the world, she grabbed it. When she saw someone who needed help, she didn’t just offer them advice about where to go and what to do. She brought them into her tent and took care of them herself.

Because she was so intrinsically good, she spent her days and years engaged in goodness. She spread kindness and G-dliness wherever she went. In every situation and in every predicament, she discovered the means to increase decency in the world.

When Rashi describes her years as “kulan shovin letovah,” the tovah is not only a noun and an adjective, but a verb. All her years were spent consistently performing acts of goodness. That is the mark of a person whose essence is good.

Chazal say, “Avrohom megayeir es ha’anoshim veSorah megayeres es hanoshim.” Avrohom and Sorah were mekareiv tachas kanfei haShechinah thousands of people. Yet, when Avrohom became aware of the behavior of Lot’s shepherds, he distanced himself from his nephew. He could no longer live together with him in peace. They separated and Lot moved to Sedom.

It is not enough to just do good things. We also have to separate ourselves from evil and seek its destruction.

Rashi in last week’s parsha comments on the posuk (19:4) which states that all the people of Sedom surrounded Lot’s house. Rashi says that no one in the city protested their actions. The Sifsei Chachomim points out that it is impossible for thousands to surround one home. Rashi is alluding to the fact that we all have an obligation to protest evil, and those who fail to do so are punished as if they committed the crime.

Since nobody in Sedom protested those who were besieging Lot’s house, all Sedomites were accomplices in the demonstration against the guests who visited their town.

The people of Sedom who said, “It’s only a few deranged people at Lot’s door,” urging others to ignore them, were punished as if they themselves stood with the unhinged citizens of their city.

The Shulchan Aruch states, “Yisgaber ka’ari la’amod baboker.” The Mishnah Berurah explains that when you wake up in the morning, do not complain that you are tired and do not find excuses to remain in bed. Fight like a lion to rouse yourself and begin a day of service to Hakadosh Boruch Hu. Even if you collapse from exhaustion and fear that you cannot go on doing good, understand that you must persevere. Pick yourself up and carry on with your responsibility of spreading goodness in this world.

Rivka was chosen as a wife for Yitzchok because of her kindness. Eliezer thanked Hashem and said, “Atah hochachta…” (24:14). The Seforno (ibid.) explains that he was saying, “You, Hashem, taught her to be kind.” Rav Chaim Friedlander explains in Sifsei Chaim that Rivka learned to perform chesed by realizing that Hashem created the world so that He can engage in kindness to man and His other creatures.

Never give up. Never get down. Never say, “I am too old, too young, too poor, too rich, too tired, or too hungry to work to make this world a better place.” Remember that your obligation is to be a rachum vechanun. Never lose sight of the traditions of kindness and compassion passed down by our forefathers. Never wander too far from the path of light into the swamp of darkness. Be kind.

When the Tzemach Tzedek was a young married man, he was in the home of his grandfather, the Baal Hatanya, with his family. While he was learning, a baby began to cry. He was so involved in his learning that he continued to study as the baby howled louder and louder.

The Alter Rebbe was upstairs in his study when he heard the baby’s cries. He went downstairs, lifted the baby from his carriage, and handed the child to his grandson. The Tzemach Tzedek apologized for not hearing the baby. “I am sorry,” he said. “I was concentrating so deeply that I didn’t hear anything.”

“Yes, my dear grandson,” the rebbe responded. “I was also studying and was just as areingeton as you were, but I heard. Remember what I am about to tell you: Any Jew, no matter his level, must hear the cries of another Jew, regardless of how small he might be, and interrupt what he is doing to help the one who is crying.”

In Pittsburgh and elsewhere, Jews are crying. Let us hear their cries and seek to help, comfort and soothe them.

May we hear of no more tragedy and merit only good tidings.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Kind


Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz 

The parshiyos of Sefer Bereishis are replete with inspirational accounts of the avos and imahos that impart lessons for us to apply to our daily lives. The stories of Chumash overflow with teachings that have molded our people.

In Parshas Vayeira, we are introduced to the lofty chesed that characterized Avrohom Avinu. The Torah tells us that Avrohom interrupted a conversation with Hakadosh Boruch Hu to care for three wayfarers who were passing his tent.

Although the Torah does not say anything about Avrohom’s conversation with Hashem, it provides a lengthy description of how he cared for his guests, each word of the pesukim is full of hints derived by Chazal.

The Torah is not simply a collection of stories. Everything that appears in the Torah is there to teach a lasting lesson. Apparently, Hakadosh Boruch Hu’s conversation with Avrohom contained less of a message relevant for Jews through the ages than the message of the importance of hospitality learned from Avrohom’s interactions with his guests.

Avrohom was conversing with Hashem when three desert nomads appeared on the horizon. He ran towards them to see if he could be of assistance. He didn’t know that they were malochim. He didn’t know that the Torah would write about this incident so that people for all time could learn how to conduct hachnosas orchim.

How would we have reacted in that situation? How do we act when we are doing something and a collector comes by?

Anyone can be nice to a likeable person. The test of greatness is how we treat ordinary folk who are different than us and for whom we have no special affinity. How we treat people when we are overwhelmed with our own needs attests to how deeply committed we are to the path of our forefathers.

Avrohom ignored his own needs and treated each transient as if he were important.

So we learn how to act positively and care for others from Avrohom, but where did Avrohom learn it from and from where did he derive that it was proper to interrupt a conversation with Hakadosh Boruch Hu and ask Him to wait for him while he cared for the guests?

The Gemara (Shabbos 127a) quotes Rav Yehudah in the name of Rav, who derives from Avrohom’s conduct that “gadol hachnosas orchim m’kabbolas pnei haShechinah - hachnosas orchim is greater than speaking with Hashem.” The Gemara does not explain how Avrohom knew that.

It seems to defy comprehension. If we were ever to merit for Hashem to speak to us, would we interrupt our conversation to feed a nomad at our door? If we had an important guest, would we leave him to help someone we didn’t know?

The Rambam quotes the teaching of Rav Yehudah in Hilchos Avel (14:1-2), and a reading of his words sheds light upon our question.

The Rambam opens Chapter 14 of Hilchos Avel by stating, “It is a mitzvah miderabbonon to visit the sick, comfort the mourner, hotzoas hameis, hachnosas kallah, lelavos orchim, to gladden a chosson and kallah, etc. These are all included in gemillus chassodim shebegufo for which there is no limit to what we are to do.”

He continues that “even though these mitzvos are miderabbonon, they are included in ‘ve’ohavta lerei’acha kamocha.’ Anything that you would want others to do for you, you should do for other people…”

He then goes on to detail more of the laws of hachnosas orchim that are derived from the way Avrohom Avinu dealt with his guests as recounted in this week’s parsha.

We can suggest that since the source of the root of the mitzvah of hachnosas orchim is from the mitzvah of ve’ohavta lerei’acha kamocha, to treat others the way you want others to treat you, Avrohom felt obligated to interrupt what he was doing to help the three people wandering in the desert under a blazingly hot sun.

Every person, when sick and in pain, hopes that people will stop what they are doing and care for him. Every person who is lost in the desert, hot and thirsty, wishes that the people in the house they see up ahead will open the door and let him in. Every person in pain wants anyone who can relieve their discomfort to drop what they are doing and rush to his rescue.

When you are hungry and lost and need a drink and directions, and the person who can help you happens to be busy at the moment, you might understand that he doesn’t want to be interrupted, but you think that in your case, that person should make an exception. He should step away from what he is doing for a minute and tend to you.

Since that is the case, the mitzvah of ve’ohavta lerei’acha kamocha demands that you treat other people that way. From this perspective, Avrohom derived that he was obligated to interrupt his conversation with the Shechinah to care for the guests. He felt obligated to set aside his own desire for attaining greater spiritual heights so that he could perform the mitzvah of caring for others.

In so doing, he forged a legacy that would follow the Jewish people through the generations.

We have to absorb that lesson and recognize the importance of every single person and his or her needs. We need to put ourselves in their place, feel their pain, and do whatever we can to alleviate their suffering.

All through life, people experience ups and downs. It is not always possible for us to solve the problems of our friends and family as they go through hard times, as we are not always equipped with the resources to rectify the situation. We can, however, offer messages of support.

When people go through hard times, it gives them consolation to know that other people care about them. Even if we aren’t all blessed with the gift of always being able to find the right words, we ought to be able to find ways of expressing our solidarity and friendship.

People who seek shidduchim and others who require assistance need us to pay attention to them in an un-patronizing way. They need and deserve more than lip service. The mitzvah of ve’ohavta lerei’acha kamocha obligates us to put ourselves in their place and do whatever we can to help them.

When someone is trying unsuccessfully to get their children accepted into a school and they turn to us for assistance, we can either ignore them, or explain to them why they are wasting their time, or send them to someone else. But what we should do is feel for them, put ourselves in their place, and do for them what we would want someone to do for us if the tables were turned.

Avrohom Avinu showed us that. Just as nothing was beyond his dignity, nothing should be beyond ours. Just as he interrupted what he was doing to help his fellow human being, so must we help people desperate for someone to come to their aid.

In Parshas Chayei Sarah, we see the difficulty that Avrohom Avinu experienced in finding a suitable shidduch for his son, Yitzchok. Avrohom sent his servant, Eliezer, on a mission to find a suitable mate for Yitzchok. Eliezer swore that he would follow Avrohom’s directives about where to look for the right girl.

The Torah spends so much time recounting how Eliezer went about his task that the Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 60:8) states, “Yofeh sichoson shel avdei botei avos mitorasan shel bonim.” The parsha of Eliezer offers so many lessons regarding how we are to lead our lives that the Torah elaborates on everything that Eliezer thought, did and said.

The purpose of the Torah relating the episode of Eliezer is to instruct us in middos. The reason these stories are retold is not to make for interesting, charming tales for youngsters to repeat at the Shabbos table. They are meant to be studied on a deep level and used as a practical guide in our own lives.

Eliezer was determined to find a girl blessed with middos tovos for the son of his master. He used his situation to test her and ensure that the girl who would marry Yitzchok possessed a refined character and excelled above all in her dealings with others.

Eliezer displayed a sincere dedication to his master coupled with deep faith in Hashem despite all of the difficulties inherent in the situation. In fact, in referring to Eliezer, the Medrash (ibid. 60:1) states that the posuk in Yeshayah (50:10) which states, “Asher holach chasheichim v’ein nogah lo – Who went in darkness and who has no light,” refers to Eliezer when he was on his mission to find a shidduch for Yitzchok.

Even when it seemed entirely dark and there was little hope that he would be able to fulfill his master’s request, Hashem lit the way for him. The Medrash states, “Hakadosh Boruch Hu hayah me’ir lo bezikim ubevrakim – Hashem lit the way for him with lightening.” When the person of faith appears to be lost in the dark, the light of Hashem will burst forth as lightning through the darkness and dread.

Sometimes, people involved in shidduchim grow so despondent that they give up all hope. A good study of this week’s parsha and its Medrashim can help instill in us the faith necessary to endure the shidduchim period and other trying times. In every other difficult situation, we must always remain optimistic and maintain hope. The dark clouds will eventually part for men and women of faith and their world will be brightly lit.

We must never let anyone rob us of hope. We are entitled to dream of brighter and happier days. As long as we can keep hope alive, we will not lose sight of our goal and will remain loyal to our ambition. For when we lose hope, we have lost everything. We must not lose our faith and optimism.

Eliezer learned from Avrohom to never quit and to maintain faith in Hashem. If we don’t do more than scratch the surface of these parshiyos, we will be overlooking the Torah’s teachings intended to help refine our characters and infuse our lives with holiness. That timeless wisdom will draw us closer to G-d and to our fellow man. It will infuse us with holiness and strength.

Let us all endeavor to expend the effort to increase our study of Torah. We will thus be better able to help ourselves. We will be more sensitive and attuned to those around us, and better equipped to ease their pain and hardship.

The Shela writes that Avrohom learned kindness by studying the actions of Hashem, who created the world to benefit man. He learned that he was obligated to be charitable and kind from the posuk of “veholachta bidrochov – and you should go in Hashem’s ways” (Devorim 28:9).

The Rambam (Hilchos Dei’os 1:6 and Sefer Hamitzvos 8) cites the lesson from the posuk of veholachta bidrochov that just as Hashem is merciful, so should you be, and just as He is a tzaddik, so should you be, and just as He is a chossid, so should you be.

Following in the merciful ways of Hashem is not just a good idea and something meritorious. Rather, it is a mitzvas asei de’Oraisa and is incumbent upon all Jews to follow.

The posuk (18:19) says, “Ki yedativ lemaan asher yetzaveh es bonov v’es beiso acharov veshomru derech Hashem laasos tzedakah umishpot - For I know [Avrohom] that he will command his children and the people of his house to follow in the ways of Hashem to be charitable and just.” The Gemara (Yevamos 79a) states that from this posuk - laasos tzedakah - we see that the Jewish people are kind, and that is one of their three attributes, namely, that they are merciful, bashful and kind.

We are to deal with people mercifully, with kindness and compassion. Being a tough guy who deals roughly with people, without pity and concern, is incompatible with living as a Torah Jew. Being harsh and merciless is incongruous with our Torah and tradition. Even when we must provide a negative response to someone’s appeal, we can do so compassionately, with love and care, just as we would want someone to deal with us.

If we do so, we will earn the blessings that were given to Avrohom Avinu and prove ourselves to be the type of people he would have been proud of.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Strength


Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Avrohom Avinu was born into a culture of idol worshipping. He was the first person since the time of Noach to recognize that the world has a Creator and did not spontaneously form.

The Medrash compares Avrohom’s awakening to that of a traveler who came upon a birah dolekes, a large, magnificent mansion on fire.

He saw the grandeur of the magnificent building, the work that went into it, the marvelous architecture and brilliant construction, and he knew that it could not have come into being on its own. Someone owned it, someone built it, and someone cared for it. Where was he? Why was he letting it burn?

The owner called out to him and said, “I am the owner of this home.”

So too, Avrohom Avinu would go around saying that the world must have a leader who runs it. Therefore, Hashem appeared to him and said, “It is I who is the owner of the world.”

This Medrash seems to indicate that Avrohom was the first person in his time to conclude that the world has a Creator who put it all together.

Avrohom was born 1,948 years from the founding of the world. Since Adam lived 930 years and Noach lived 850 years, essentially Avrohom and the people of his time were only a couple generations removed from the world’s creation. Therefore, it stands to reason that people who were concerned with the truth could have been aware of the world’s history and its creation.

If so, we are to understand the chiddush of this Medrash to be that Avrohom was not the first to realize that the world could not have come into existence by itself, but rather that he was the first who analyzed the world around him and concluded that not only must the world have a G-d who created everything, but in order to properly function, that G-d must control everything.

The Rambam (Hilchos Avodah Zora, chapter 1) explains that in the generation of Enosh, people surmised that since Hashem created stars to shine and serve Him, His desire was for the stars and otherworldly bodies to be praised and respected. People began constructing temples in which to bow to the stars, praise them and offer them sacrifices, in their mistaken belief that such was Hashem’s desire.

This practice was further corrupted, as priests developed images for the people to worship and pray to. As time went on, people forgot about Hashem and attached godly power to stars and idols they fashioned. There were only a few people who stood out by their recognition of Hashem as master of the world. These included Chanoch, Mesushelach, Noach, Sheim and Eiver.

That’s how it was until Avrohom came along. He changed everything. With no one to teach him, he recognized that everyone in his time was mistaken. He came to the understanding that there is one Creator who created the world and controls it. He engaged in conversation with people in Ur Kasdim and was able to answer all their questions. After Avrohom convinced many people that he was correct, the king tried to kill him. Miraculously saved, he escaped to Choron and from there traveled around to convince people about Hashem. He gained many thousands of followers and wrote seforim for Yitzchok to study and teach.

Avrohom was intrigued by the world. The more he studied it, the more he realized that it was impossible for everything to be happening by itself. There was more to it. The Alter of Kelm explained that it was Avrohom’s search for the true good that led him to find Hashem. As he recognized that the world at that time was mistaken in what they believed was good, he worked to find the proper path in life.

His search led him to discover Hashem as the root of all things, of life and of all good and contentment. He understood that the more he attached himself to Hashem and followed His ways, the more improved his life would be. At a young age, he raised himself above the people around him and began living on a different level.

He had identified something much deeper than the burning home seen by the traveler. For him, the world bore a message. It was calling out to him. He, alone among all humanity, heard the call. From that moment on, he was never the same.

Wherever he went, he spoke of a Creator, as he tried to open people’s eyes. He had seen the extraordinary truth and couldn’t understand how people were going about their lives as if there was no Creator.

After Avrohom had proven himself to be a faithful follower of Hashem, he was tested and told to leave the ancestral area where he was born and raised, and to head to a foreign land, where he would be blessed.

He was tested yet again, because shortly after he and his wife, Sorah, arrived in The Promised Land, a hunger ensued, forcing them to travel to Egypt. Rashi (Bereishis 13:3) teaches that during their return trip from Mitzrayim, Avrohom and Sorah stayed at the same lodgings they had visited on their way in.

Rashi says that one of the reasons Avrohom returned to the same places was “leshaleim hakafosav,” to pay his debts. The Chasam Sofer explains that as they descended to Mitzrayim, Avrohom and Sorah were mocked and ridiculed. People asked them where the Master of the Universe is and why He can’t provide food for them in Eretz Canaan. Those people said that either there is no master or He is unable to care for His followers.

On his return trip, laden with possessions, Avrohom went out of his way to meet the scoffers and show what the Creator had provided for him. There was so much more to life than they realized. Avrohom was compelled to tell them what they were missing.

Avrohom and Sorah were tested, and the strength of their belief sustained them through their travails and times of deprivation. They believed that what befell them was orchestrated by Hashem, who, as the ultimate good, intended everything that transpired for their benefit. Their belief was rewarded.

The power of their belief is what empowers us to withstand the pressures and downturns we face today. For all time, Jewish people have been able to maintain their faith in the face of the most trying circumstances. We know that there is a Creator who controls the world and seeks our benefit. If we maintain our belief, we will be richly compensated with satisfaction and blessing.

After the wealthy Avrohom returned to Canaan with his nephew Lot, who was blessed because of his relationship with Avrohom, their shepherds quarreled, as Lot’s were dishonest.

Avrohom told his close relative and disciple to leave, instructing, “Hipared na mei’olay - Please separate from me” (Bereishis 13:9). “Sorry,” he was saying, “but we are headed in different directions. If you go left, I’ll go right, and vice versa.”

A few pesukim later, the posuk (13:14) states that “acharei hipared Lot mei’imo, after Lot had parted from him,” Hashem blessed Avrohom. After Avrohom separated from a person consumed with pettiness and dishonesty, he became worthy of more blessing (see Rashi ad loc).

Lot’s shepherds were not able to get along with those of Avrohom Avinu, and Avrohom decided that they had to separate. He could not bear the thought of entering into a dispute with Lot and told his nephew to choose an area where he preferred to live.

Lot saw that the Kikar Hayardein was blessed with fertile abundance, so he chose to move there. In his eagerness to amass more wealth and power, he didn’t care that he would be living amongst the wicked people of Sedom. When Avrohom reproached him about the behavior of his shepherds, Lot did not apologize or seek direction. He was quick to take leave of Avrohom, the holiest and kindest man alive, and went to live with the most wicked and selfish people ever to walk the earth. They were wealthy and cool, and Lot couldn’t rush fast enough to become one of them.

We know the end of the story. Sedom was destroyed, and its inhabitants and their wealth were obliterated. Lot was saved in the merit of Avrohom Avinu.

We are affected by outer appearances. Promises of fame and glory tempt many people. Instead of seeking depth and goodness, we rationalize and fall prey to the lure of Sedom. The glitter dazzles and causes us to ignore what is beneath the veneer.

We are now in the season of beautiful foliage. People travel long distances just to view and photograph gorgeous trees. It is as if throughout the summer, when the leaves are basically the same color, they are bland and boring. When fall arrives and the leaves evolve from green to brilliant red, bright orange and shiny yellow, everyone is taken by the blast of beauty.

However, the exhibition doesn’t last long. In fact, the colors are a sign that the end is coming. The brilliant red indicates that the leaves are about to die, fall off, and be swept away to eternal oblivion. The bright colors are a sign that the leaves are about to meet the fate of Sedom and all of Lot’s friends and neighbors there.

Let us not fall for the glamour of those whose values lead them away from that which is fine and noble. Let us learn the lessons handed down throughout the generations from Avrohom Avinu. Let us be strong enough to withstand temptation and to face adversity without becoming pessimistic and dejected. Things don’t always appear to be going right, but with patience and faith, just as rain yields blessings and growth, so does everything that Hashem causes to happen to us.

Let us appreciate the green foliage and smile on rainy days as on days when the sun shines.

As we read these weeks’ parshiyos hashovua, the pesukim, Medrashim and meforshim remind us who we are and where we come from.

They are our biros dolkos, beckoning us to enter and soak in the light.

Let us concentrate on what is important. Let us live lives of greatness, goodness and purpose. May we all be blessed with the blessings of Avrohom and Sorah.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Crisis


Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

We begin the study of Parshas Noach and we cringe. We read that the world became corrupt – “Ki malah ha’aretz chomos” – and it sounds like our woarld today. Behavior never imagined a few years ago is front and center, inescapably flaunted.

Accusations are accepted as fact, reputations ruined by insinuations. People are guilty until they can prove their innocence to a lynching populace and media. Justice is no longer just, and fairness is a word with no meaning. Intelligent thought is so yesterday, and rational conversations are as rare as discussions based upon facts.

People are targeted, intimidated and trashed. People act out of fear and are afraid to speak out and confront bullies who dominate them. Only the politically correct are permitted to speak; others are vilified and not tolerated and vilified. People are afraid to be frank and truthful lest the thought police destroy them. People are divided and at each other’s throats; friends who disagree become enemies.

Our culture has become overtly hedonistic, as people worship and pursue pleasure. Honesty, decency, helping others and contributing to the common good are not cool. Accomplishments don’t count anymore. Vanity is in and modesty is out.

Regrettably, our communities are not immune. The same ills confronting the general world are all too apparent in ours. We cannot closet ourselves. Ignoring the world’s depravity makes it more dangerous, as it seeps in through insipid ways. We must face the truth and confront the decadence before it sweeps us up as well.

In the headlines over the past few weeks were daily depictions of what happens when politicians abandon simple basic principles of fairness to advance an agenda. From the day the candidate for the Supreme Court was nominated, before his past and his rulings were studied, the Democrat party leadership announced that they would vote against him. They didn’t have to know anything about him other than his party affiliation and the man who nominated him and they knew that he was unfit for office.

A circus developed as they searched for ways to torpedo the nomination. Never was his judicial leadership questioned, even as everything else about the man who had seemed the perfect candidate was publicly destroyed. After decades of an exemplary public life, uncorroborated stories were splashed in front of the country as fact to tarnish an opponent.

Thankfully, most of this took place over Yom Tov and we were otherwise occupied, but the stain on the nation as well as the ensuing acrimony and division remain. There is no need for us to become engrossed with the details, but there are lessons to be learned about public and private behavior.

The sorry saga portrayed how ego and the deep desire for power can sink man. The Sefas Emes (556) writes that the Chiddushei Horim related in the name of the Kozhnitzer Maggid that the reason the parshiyos of Kayin, the dor haflogah and the dor hamabul are included in the Torah is because every person possesses the failings that caused those three periods of destruction.

Chazal teach (Avos 4:21) that “kinah, jealousy, ta’avah, lust, and kavod, the drive for honor, motzi’m es ha’adam min haolam, cause man’s death.” Kayin was brought down by kinah, the dor haflogah by kavod, and the dor hamabul by ta’avah.

By studying their failings and what transpired to them, we are reminded to rectify ourselves.

Just last week, we studied in Parshas Bereishis the creation of man, formed when Hashem blew His spirit into a clump of dirt, “afar min ha’adamah” (Bereishis 2:7). A combination of dirt and G-dliness, man has the ability to rise to the heavens, yet he can also sink to the dirt. The physical body and spiritual soul are in a constant struggle. Our challenge is to allow the soul to control the body.

Hashem waited ten generations from Adam until Noach. Until Noach, man had become dragged down by his physicality. Noach was the first glimmer of hope. When he was born, his father declared that this child will bring us comfort and help us derive food from the ground, which Hashem had cursed following the sin of Adam Harishon (Bereishis 5:29 and Rashi ad loc.). In his younger years, Noach was of great assistance to mankind, as he developed farming tools and implements, but he was destined for greater things.

While Noach found favor in the eyes of Hashem, licentiousness overtook man and the populace was overcome by the pursuit of physical gratification and self-indulgence. As the base tendencies overcame man, the world became full of tumah. Hashem decided to kill all living beings, destroying a civilization defiled by evil and decadence, allowing Noach to give the world a second chance and a new beginning.

This week’s parsha reintroduces us to Noach, defining him as an “ish tzaddik tomim hayah bedorosav” (6:9). We accept the Torah’s testimony as fact, and for all time Noach is known as a righteous person. But the rabbis disagree whether Noach was only great in comparison to his generation, when everyone else was evil, or if he would have been considered great in a righteous generation, such as that of Avrohom Avinu, as well. We wonder about the need to minimize the greatness of the man through whom Hashem refashioned the world.

The Chofetz Chaim (Chofetz Chaim Hachodosh) answers the oft-repeated question and says that those who point out that Noach was only great in his time want to teach us that a person who behaves properly in an inferior generation is considered a tzaddik tomim. Observing the type of world we live in is not an excuse for us to give up and say that we cannot be great.

Everyone can achieve greatness. Everyone can achieve greatness, no matter their surroundings and the cultural milieu in which they find themselves.

Living in a period such as ours obligates us to strengthen ourselves and work to support Torah and goodness. The value of - and reward for - engaging in meritorious acts to improve ourselves and our brethren in times such as these is so much greater than in times when such efforts are not as vital. Those who remain apathetic and self-centered risk being affected by the decadence and forfeit their chance at living a blessed life.

But there is the dichotomy of man. As great as a man is, he can never rest. At the beginning of the parsha Noach was referred to as an ish tzaddik, but later he became an ish ha’adomah. Life is a constant battle. We must always remember that and dedicate ourselves to what is real and eternal. If we forget our obligation, our resolve becomes weakened and we lose.

Rav Yeruchom Levovitz notes that many of the stories of the Torah involve people’s battles with the yeitzer hora (Daas Torah, Noach 8:21). A person can’t say that he doesn’t want to be involved in fighting his whole life, for man is born with a yeitzer hora (Rashi, Bereishis 8:21).

All through life, we are confronted by a choice of life and good, or evil and death (Devorim 30:15). There is no middle ground; there is no option for neutrality. We either do good or we do bad. We must choose. We can be an ish tzaddik tomim or an ish ha’adomah. It is up to us.

If we remain cognizant of the greatness we can achieve, we can succeed despite the many prevalent challenges. We can err and slip, but we have the ability to raise ourselves and prevent the failure that leads to destruction and death. With proper faith, we are able to confront all of life’s provocations.

Like Noach, we can act with moral clarity and decency, improving the world and ourselves. We can be dedicated to winning battles for ourselves and others and earn the blessings of the tzaddik who is blessed with chein and protection.

When Rav Meir Shapiro erected the building of Yeshiva Chachmei Lublin, which he headed, he was burdened by crushing debt that would have broken a smaller man. He always maintained his faith that Hashem would help him in his mission to teach Torah and never faltered.

On the day the yeshiva moved into the building, his beloved students gathered around him for some words of inspiration. He told them that his perseverance in getting the building completed was a credit to Chaikel the water carrier. He explained.

The Mishnah in Rosh Hashanah (16a) teaches that man is judged on Rosh Hashanah. The Gemara (ibid.) cites Rabi Yosi, who says that man is judged every day.

The Baal Shem Tov explained that there is no dispute. He illustrated this with a story about Chaikel the water carrier.

One day, Chaikel passed the home of the Baal Shem Tov. The founder of chassidus asked him how his day was going. Chaikel unhappily responded that he worked too hard and earned too little.

The next day, Chaikel again passed the door of the Baal Shem Tov, who again asked him how he was doing. Chaikel happily told the rebbe that thanks to Hashem, he still had strength to earn an honest living.

The Baal Shem Tov explained that the money a person will earn throughout the year is decided on Rosh Hashanah (Beitza 16a), but every day a person deals with his fate differently. One day he is sad about it and one day he is happy with his lot.

“I was like Chaikel,” said Rav Shapiro. “There were days when the difficulty of my task weighed on me and setbacks weakened me. But the next day, I became encouraged when considering that I was constructing this magnificent yeshiva, and with joy I was once again empowered.”

In our lives, as well, the daily pressures are ever present. Challenges test us. Problems seem to set us back. If we maintain our faith and proper perspective, we can overcome all obstacles and thrive.

May we be blessed with the strength of body and purpose to be tzaddikim in our day.