Wednesday, June 20, 2018

To The Max


Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

In this week’s parsha, we learn about the parah adumah, identified as a chok, a mitzvah without a reason we can understand. Rashi explains that the Torah clearly states that the mitzvah is a chok so that the Jewish people will not seek explanations for the commandment when the nations of the world mock the mitzvah.

Don’t seek to explain it to them, for neither you nor they will ever understand the reason. Apparently, all through the ages, gentiles have been mocking Jewish service and mitzvos, and Jews have bothered answering them, mistakenly assuming that by doing so they would temper anti-Jewish feeling.

The Torah is the basis for laws of jurisprudence in civilized countries, yet we are constantly vilified by citizens of those very countries and characterized by old anti-Semitic stereotypes as dishonest shylocks. Wherever we have been, we have been mistreated and held to a double standard. Dialogue and debates never succeeded in winning over the hearts and minds of haters.

Yet, we persist in trying to prove the justice of our cause, hiring public relations experts and attempting to explain our way of life to those motivated by age-old bias. We need to have enough self-confidence to be able to ignore the senseless cries and know that there is not much to be gained in articulating who we are when dealing with irrational, ingrained, hatred.

In fact, the Torah quotes Moshe Rabbeinu as stating, “Behold, I have taught you chukim and mishpotim as Hashem commanded me, you shall observe and follow them, for they are your wisdom and knowledge in the eyes of the nations, when they will hear of these chukim, and they will say, ‘This is a wise nation’” (Devorim 4:5-6).

Our laws and mitzvos, whether understood or not, are the bedrock of our lives, culture and religion, and we have nothing to be embarrassed of when we are faithful to Torah. Take a look at current events and see where true justice lies.

Americans who have always believed in the country’s justice system were dumbfounded, disheartened and disappointed when they were briefed on a long delayed Investigator General’s report on the investigation of the FBI and Justice Department into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server for classified information.

The report is over 500 pages, in which then-FBI head James Comey is accused of being insubordinate. Other FBI officials are quoted making strong anti-Trump statements. A long list of mistakes and poor judgments are cited. In the end, the IG concludes that there is no proof of any bias in the handling of the investigation.

Comey arrived at a similar conclusion in his investigation as FBI director in the Clinton case. He laid out a thorough and provable criminal case, only to conclude that there were no grounds on which to press charges against Mrs. Clinton.

Trump supporters read the IG report and conclude that once again, the Deep State won. Just as Clinton was freed with no charges, Donald Trump has been hung out to twist in the swamp for the past two years.

As soon as Comey and his associates covered for Hillary, they set out to create the Trump charges in order to destroy the person who was democratically elected by the American people to lead the country.

Comey doctored the Hillary report to make sure that her actions were not labeled as criminal. He did this by substituting the word “careless” for “grossly negligent.”

To us, it makes no difference, but to lawyers, those words represent the difference between innocence and guilt. Hillary’s emails had a big C on them, marking them classified. She said she thought it was just a letter of the alphabet with no meaning, and the tough guy head of the FBI charged with investigating crimes and treating everyone equally in the face of the law believed her.

She was acquitted by Comey; the exoneration was written many weeks before she was interviewed. Her aides were given immunity without testifying. Comey then proceeded to put together the investigation into the supposed Russian collusion case.

FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, who were involved in the exoneration of Clinton, were placed on the new investigation into candidate Trump. The same group that concluded that Hillary was innocent decided that Trump must be stopped.

The Justice Department held back from Congress the text messages that Peter Strzok sent, assuring his friend and co-agent Lisa Page that he would do everything he could to stop Trump from getting elected. He also wrote that he was acting in that way to take out an insurance policy in the unlikely event that Trump would be elected, but since he didn’t say straight out that he hates Trump, there is no bias.

All of the text messages from August 8, 2016 were released to Congress, except this one exchange: Page was worried: “Trump’s not ever going to be president, right?” Strzok reassured her, “No he’s not. We’ll stop it.”

One of the FBI agents involved in the Clinton investigation wrote this the day after the election: “Trump’s supporters are all poor to middle class, uneducated, lazy… that think he will magically grant them jobs for doing nothing. They probably didn’t watch the debates, aren’t fully educated on his policies, and are stupidly wrapped up in his unmerited enthusiasm.”

Agents mocked Trump supporters, but that doesn’t show bias. You don’t have to be a forensic scientist to know that when an FBI lawyer investigating the president writes, “Viva la resistance,” and when Page writes that Trump is a loathsome human, that they are anti-Trump and want to do him in.

Strzok said that the election results should show 100 million votes for Clinton versus zero for Trump. He said that he would stop him from becoming president, and that if somehow Trump won, he would be impeached.

Trump supporters see the report as a whitewash by the Deep State which President Trump was elected to sweep out, but the swamp creatures are proving much more entrenched than anyone thought.

Democrats stand by and cheer, and the people’s confidence in the justice system is at an all-time low. Many Republican beneficiaries of the system cheer on the corrupt swamp, some quietly and others more proudly, and hope it will prevail.

We need people who believe in truth, justice and consequences. We need people who care enough about truth and justice to join the battle against corruption and fiction. Perhaps it was always this way. Let’s hope it wasn’t.

Ten years ago, we first became acquainted with the justice system when we dug into the Rubashkin case and followed the indictments, court proceedings, conviction and jailing of a fine person. Others castigated us - some still do - for doubting the judicial system.

The time has come for us to rise and say, “We have had enough. We want real justice.”

A couple of months ago, James Comey published a book on leadership, morality and loyalty. He was treated like a conquering hero by the media, as they helped him hype the book and himself. Marketed as a paragon of virtue, he has shown himself to be a farce and a lie.

This goes beyond politics, beyond Republicans and Democrats. It goes to the heart of this country.

Meanwhile, special counsel Bob Mueller’s investigation into the president’s firing of Comey continues. Was the president obstructing justice when he fired Comey? The Deep State says he was. Though Comey was found to have acted stupidly, was insubordinate, and had poor judgment, the mainstream press and politicians believe that he should have been allowed to continue in his position as America’s top lawman.

In the end, what becomes obvious is that Hillary violated the Espionage Act and Comey protected her from an indictment so that the Democrats would not have their shoo-in for election replaced and the campaign upended. At that time, and all through the period covered by the report, everyone involved believed Clinton would win the election. None of them gave Trump any chance. In fact, the IG did not find even one email praising Trump, though there was one mocking Clinton. He did find that there appeared to be a “willingness to take official action to impact Trump’s prospects,” something he says is “antithetical to the core values of the FBI and the Department of Justice.”

Irrespective of whether the laws of the land are properly enforced, we are to abide by them and observe them faithfully as loyal citizens of this country, which provides for us a welcome home.

We must always conduct ourselves in a fashion that promotes kiddush Hashem and never cause a chillul Hashem.

In this week’s parsha (Bamidbar 20:7-13), we confront the sorrowful occurrence of mei meriva, where Moshe and Aharon were commanded by Hashem to speak to the rock and ask it to give forth water. Instead of speaking to it, Moshe hit it with his staff. Hashem told Moshe and Aharon that because they weren’t mekadeish Him in the eyes of the Bnei Yisroel, they shall not merit bringing the Jews into the Promised Land.

A careful examination of the posuk and Rashi’s explanation, says Rav Elazar Menachem Shach, shows that Moshe and Aharon were faulted not for causing a chillul Hashem, but for not bringing about as great a kiddush Hashem as was possible. The fact that an inert stone was able to give forth water for the nation and their animals in the desert was in itself a miracle (see Ramban, ibid.). They were faulted because speaking to the stone would have brought about a greater kiddush Hashem.

Rashi explains that the Jews would have been able to make a kal vachomer. They could have realized that if a stone that neither speaks nor hears, and has no need to earn a living, follows the word of Hashem, certainly we should.

Thus, the punishment of Moshe and Aharon was brought about because they didn’t cause as great a kiddush Hashem as was possible.

Rav Yitzchok Eizik Chover, famed disciple of the Vilna Gaon, writes in Ohr Torah (27, 29, 81, 145) that because Moshe hit the stone, it became difficult to study and understand Torah. Forgetfulness in Torah study set in and Moshe Rabbeinu died early, causing the wells of Torah to dry up. From then on, there was machlokes in understanding Torah and arriving at the halacha.

He says that if Moshe had spoken to the rock, the Torah would have been revealed in totality. It would not be as difficult to understand, there would have been no golus, the Bais Hamikdosh would not have been destroyed, and Hashem would not lead us through hester ponim.

We note that all this came about because Moshe and Aharon failed to use the opportunity to be fully mekadeish Hashem.

In our lives, as well, we must use every opportunity to be mekadeish Hashem as much as possible. Sometimes, people defend their actions and say that they acted properly and did not cause a chillul Hashem. That doesn’t suffice. We must dedicate ourselves to kiddush Hashem to the max in ways that leave no doubt about our commitment to the Torah’s chukim and mishpotim, to each other, to the public welfare, to the laws of the land, and to what is right and just.

Zos chukas haTorah. That is our mandate.


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Eye on Jealousy

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz 
The age-old question is asked every time the parsha of Korach is studied. Korach was wise, talented and capable, with leadership abilities and illustrious yichus. What caused him to revolt against Moshe and Aharon in a battle he would definitely lose and earn for himself nothing but eternal damnation? Many answers are given.
Chazal, quoted by Rashi on the words “rav lochem” (16:7), provide an understanding of Korach’s thinking. They explain his motivation: “Eino hitaso,” his eyes led him astray. He foresaw great progeny coming from him and deduced that he could take on Moshe and emerge victorious.
Perhaps we can focus on the language of Chazal of “eino hitaso, his eyes led him astray” indicating that it was Korach’s eyes that led him to fail so miserably. Although he was a smart and capable person, he was unable to focus on his own lofty role and special Divine shlichus. Instead, he insisted on looking at his cousin, Moshe Rabbeinu, and at his special role. Had Korach remained focused on his own job and his own position, he could have succeeded in fulfilling his calling. Consumed by looking at Moshe, he became overcome with jealousy, believing that Moshe had usurped what should have been his. His constant eyeing of Moshe gnawed at his ego and destroyed him.
An envious person cannot handle when someone else has something that he wants and is referred to in the language of Torah as a “tzar ayin.” One who is able to accept that other people have what he doesn’t is referred to as a “tov ayin,” a person with a good eye. This is because Chazal, in their expert understanding of the human psyche, perceived that the destructive traits of envy and jealousy begin taking root in people with their eyes. Looking at what other people have or don’t have begins the process that leads to bitterness and self-destruction.
Eino hitaso might well be referring to this destructive habit. His eyes did him in.
This would also explain the connection of Parshas Korach to Parshas Shelach, which ends with the mitzvah of tzitzis. The posuk there states, “Velo sosuru acharei levavchem v’acharei eineichem” (15:39). Rashi explains, “Ha’ayin ro’ah vehalev chomed vehaguf oseh es ha’aveiros.” At the root of sin is the wandering eye.
Korach didn’t follow that admonition.
A talmid asked Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach questions pertaining to the halachos of mezuzah. He explained to his rebbi that he had purchased an apartment and had some questions pertaining to hanging mezuzos. Rav Shlomo Zalman asked him several questions about the apartment’s layout, the apartment’s location, and when he was moving there.
Not long after the young couple settled in to the new dirah, they had a surprise visitor: Rav Shlomo Zalman himself. The family was very happy that the famous rosh yeshiva and posek had come to visit them in their new apartment. Rav Shlomo Zalman asked to see all the rooms, including the storage area and the porch, commenting favorably about each feature of the new home. After wishing them well, Rav Shlomo Zalman left. While the family was humbled by the experience, they were curious as to what they had done to merit the visit. Rav Shlomo Zalman was quite busy and wasn’t in the habit of visiting his talmidim in their homes.
After a few days passed, the talmid asked Rav Shlomo Zalman why he had come to visit his new home. The rosh yeshiva explained: “I know that the pressure of buying an apartment weighs heavily on yungeleit, and until a family has an apartment of their own, they are stressed. You purchased a beautiful new apartment in a desirable location, and I knew that there would inevitably be others who would have a hard time with it, wishing that they, too, could find as good a place to live as you have. I was worried that, perhaps, chas veshalom, someone might have tzoras ayin towards you, so I came to look, simply to rejoice in your good mazel and to invest the apartment with an ayin tovah.”
The inability to positively view the success of others stems from a deep problem. A person who lives with the reality that every person’s situation, success and status are controlled and monitored by Hakadosh Boruch Hu does not become overwhelmed by feelings of jealousy. A believer knows that there is no place for being envious of what other people have, because everything that everyone achieves and attains is Divinely ordained. I have what Hashem feels is right for me and my neighbor has what is right for him. A person who is embittered by his neighbor’s larger house and his associate’s promotion to a higher position does not really believe that Hashem runs the world.
We read in the parsha that Moshe told Korach (16:11), “Lochein atoh vechol adoscha hano’adim al Hashem ve’Aharon mah hu...” Moshe accused Korach of assembling to wage battle against Hashem. From a cursory reading of the parsha, it appears that Korach’s dispute was with Moshe. How was Moshe able to accuse him of fighting Hashem? Korach seemed to have issues with his contemporaries, not with Hashem.
According to our explanation, we understand very well why his battle against Moshe was essentially a revolt against the Ribono Shel Olam. Korach was consumed by jealously of the leadership positions of Moshe and Aharon. Since Hashem decides who should be the leader of the generation with whom He wishes to speak and who should be the kohein in the Mishkon, there is no room for complaint against Moshe and Aharon.
By complaining about Moshe’s leadership and Aharon being the kohein gadol, Korach exposed himself as an apikores who didn’t believe that Hashem runs the world. He was denying Hashgochah Protis. Therefore, Moshe admonished him for battling Hashem, for that is in essence what he was doing.
Interestingly, Rashi, on the posuk of “rav lochem,” which we previously cited to quote the Chazal of “eino hitaso,” says in a second exposition, “Dovor gadol notaltem be’atzmichem lachlok al Hakadosh Boruch Hu - You took upon yourselves a great task, arguing against Hashem.”
Perhaps the two thoughts are connected. Because eino hitaso and jealousy were at the root of Korach’s conflict with Moshe, he was battling not only Moshe, but Hashem.
• • • • •
Rav Yisroel Salanter’s Mussar Movement changed the way Jews treat each other and interact with the world. There is a tradition that the revolution was sparked by Rav Yisroel’s reaction to a pitiful incident.
The legend goes that there was a man named Yankel, who was a simple shoemaker in a small town. He was illiterate and unable to study much. He could barely daven or recite Tehillim.
One day, he received a message that there was a letter on fancy stationary waiting for him at the post office, postmarked from the big city. He rushed over and asked the postal clerk to help him read the letter. As the clerk read on, the initial frown on Yankel’s face morphed into an ever-increasing smile. The letter informed him that his wealthy, childless uncle had passed away and left his fortune to Yankel the shoemaker.
Yankel hurried home to inform his wife about their newfound wealth. He was overjoyed by how their life had just taken an unexpected turn. His wife rejoiced in the good news, but advised him to proceed with caution. “Yankel,” she said, “don’t just take the money and spend it on luxuries, because, eventually, it will run out and you will be back to fixing shoes. Go to the big city to claim your inheritance and then we will speak to the local g’vir and seek his advice on a business to invest in.”
Wisely, Yankel listened to her suggestion and brought the money to a reputable local financier to invest for him. Within a short period of time, he was earning enough to be able to bid his shoe repair shop a final goodbye. He lived on his investment income and grew wealthier by the day. With nothing to do, he began to frequent the bais medrash, where he would pay young scholars to learn with him. First they taught him how to read, then to daven, and then to read Chumash. Eventually, he was learning Gemara. He felt good about himself as he steadily progressed.
The years passed. His sons were enrolled in various yeshivos, where they were good students. His upward trajectory, which included advancing in learning and doing very well financially, earned him growing respect in the small town.
One day, a shadchan proposed the rov’s daughter as a suitable match for Yankel’s son. The two sides agreed, and the town rejoiced with the news of the match between this prominent individual and their revered rov.
The entire town celebrated, with one exception. Way back when, next to Yankel’s shoe repair shop, was a blacksmith. The two had been friendly, sitting on their stoops when business was slow, whiling away the hours in conversation.
The blacksmith was never able to accept the fact that his neighbor, the shoemaker, had risen to prominence, while he had remained a simple laborer, working long hours and struggling for every penny. He would look on bitterly as Yankel would deliver a shiur or speak in learning with scholars.
Finally, it was the day of the wedding and the townspeople gathered to celebrate the momentous occasion. The chupah was a grand spectacle, as befitting the rov’s daughter. Yankel stood tall and proud, his face glowing with a surreal light. The glass was broken, shouts of mazel tov filled the air, and the music began to play.
Yankel closed his eyes tightly, as well-wishers gathered around him, and he thought about Hashem’s benevolence toward him. Here he was, a talmid chochom, a g’vir, and, to top it all off, a mechutan with the rov.
Yankel opened his eyes and prepared to joyously greet his guests. There was a crush of people around him, and at their head was his old friend, the blacksmith.
“Yankel,” he shouted above the music, loud enough for everyone to hear.
He reached under his coat and held up a pair of torn shoes for all to see. “Hey, Yankel, how much would you charge me to fix these shoes here?”
People looked on in horror. Yankel stood there, deflated, the joy seeming to rush out of him. The bitter, vicious ploy had worked. The blacksmith had come at the most glorious moment of Yankel’s life and reminded him that he was really nothing more than a very lucky shoemaker.
The blacksmith’s cruel tactic was the talk of the evening. The next day, Yankel passed away of a broken heart.
The story spread like wildfire and was retold in horror across Lithuania. When Rav Yisroel Salanter heard of the cruel and callous action of the blacksmith, he decided that a revolution teaching the importance of tikkun hamiddos was necessary. He took the task upon himself and the rest is history.
Rav Nota Zenwirth, one of Yerushalayim’s tzaddikim, would retell the story and offer his own insight. He would say, “Do you know why Rav Yisroel was shaken so badly by the story? No, it was not because of the bad middos of the blacksmith. It was because of the bad middos of Yankel, the baal simcha.”
He would explain: “Here was this accomplished man - learned, wealthy, blessed with nachas from his children - and yet the opinion of someone else, the nastiness of a small person, had the ability to affect him so badly that it literally killed him. He should have been able to simply ignore what the poor, sad person had done. ‘Why can’t you look at what you have and ignore him?’ That he wasn’t able to do so, and that no one expected him to, is what convinced Rav Yisroel of the necessity of the Mussar Movement.”
• • • • •
The Torah relates that after the ketores offerings of Korach va’adaso were refused, Elozor Hakohein hammered out the pans in which they were prepared and used them to cover the mizbei’ach so that the Bnei Yisroel would remember “velo yihiyeh keKorach vecha’adaso, not to be like Korach and his group” (Bamidbar 17:5).
Most of us aren’t vicious hate-mongers and we view ourselves neither as acting “like Korach” nor as remotely afflicted with his bad middos. We wonder why it was necessary to have a constant reminder not to be like Korach.
When we read the story that gave birth to the Mussar Movement, how many of us understood that the impetus for the revolution in personal conduct and ethics was that Yankel should not have paid attention to what the blacksmith said? That should be an indication that we should be dedicating more of our time to studying seforim that deal with moral behavior. No, we are not as evil as Korach was, but if we permit our eyes to mislead us, we possess in our consciences the seeds of personal failure.
Let us all count our blessings, appreciate what we have, and know that Hashem has a unique plan for each of us. We each have everything we need to thrive and flourish as avdei Hashem. Our situation is different than anyone else’s and we gain nothing by gazing disapprovingly at what other people have. We also need to possess the strength of character to ignore the comments of vacuous people.
Everyone has different maalos and chesronos, different kochos and different nisyonos. How we deal with them is what our lives are all about.
May we all merit the brachos of “tov ayin hu yevorach (Mishlei 22:9).

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Scouting for Greatness

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

In this week’s parsha, we encounter the tragic episode of the meraglim sent to scout Eretz Yisroel. The posuk relates that the perpetrators were all great men. The mission ended in disaster, with ten of the twelve spies erring terribly, causing much pain and suffering for the Jewish people.
For all time, these individuals are remembered with derision. We wonder how ten great men, chosen by Moshe Rabbeinu to conduct a review of the land Hashem had promised to the Avos, could have gone so wrong. What lies at the root of their sin, and how were they able to convince the nation that their trek to the Promised Land was doomed?
How was it that the people who experienced Yetzias Mitzrayim and Kriyas Yam Suf lost their faith? The same people who recently experienced the tragedy of the Eigel and begged forgiveness, who complained about the monn and were plagued by the slov in last week’s parsha, still doubted the ability of Hashem to fulfill His promises. How are we to understand that?
The first Rashi in the parsha holds a key to comprehending this. Quoting from the Medrash Tanchuma, Rashi explains that the parsha of the meraglim follows the parsha of Miriam because Miriam was punished for the gossip she spoke about her brother Moshe, and although these wicked people witnessed this, they failed to learn anything from it.
The common explanation of this is that witnessing the painful consequences of Miriam’s lashon hora should have deterred the meraglim from speaking lashon hora on the Land of Israel. How, many commentators ask, can one extrapolate from Miriam’s episode that speaking ill of a country is as sinful as speaking ill of a person?
Perhaps we can understand this by examining the root of lashon hora, commonly explained to mean gossip. The roots of this sin are more destructive than simple chitchat.
At the end of Parshas Beha’aloscha (12:1-2), the posuk states that Miriam and Aharon spoke about Moshe concerning his wife. “And they said, ‘Did Hashem only speak to Moshe? He also spoke to us!’” The posuk does not recount what they said about Moshe’s wife, but it says that they minimized their brother’s greatness. They compared themselves to Moshe, as if to say, “What’s the big deal? Who does he think he is? Hashem also talks to us. He doesn’t only speak to him.”
The essence of lashon hora is minimizing the accomplishments of other people. People will admire someone for having reached some level of accomplishment. The baal lashon hora throws a damper on it by bringing up a tale whose message is that the person is not really great. He also has failings. If we wanted to, we could succeed just as he did.
The meraglim should have learned from Miriam what happens to someone who disparages and minimizes greatness. They failed to learn that negativity and cynicism are not compatible with greatness. They should have seen that such behavior is frowned upon by Hashem. For even if the details are true, nevertheless, since it diminishes the subject’s esteem in another’s eyes, he has spoken lashon hora.
At the root of lashon hora lies a desire to destroy the respect one person holds for another.
Thus began the chain of events that is at the root of the churban Bais Hamikdosh and the reason we have not yet merited redemption.
Aharon and Miriam were tzaddikim on a high level of avodah and it is not for us to criticize them or their speech and actions. The Torah relates what took place not for us to pass judgment on them, but so that we can learn from the episode to avoid the temptations to diminish anyone or anything.
The downfall of the meraglim, selected by Moshe for this shlichus, was their failure to learn not to approach matters with a negative view. They spoke against the Land of Israel, which Hashem had praised. They said that it was an “eretz ocheles yoshveha,” a land that eats its citizens. Then they said that the people who live there are strong and would make life difficult for the Jews. 
They minimized the greatness of the land and the promises of Hashem. They drove a wedge between Moshe and Am Yisroel. They caused the nation to have doubts about the greatness of Hashem. Therefore, for eternity, these individuals are referred to as resho’im.
Such acts are similar to the conduct of Amaleik, a nation held up as a paradigm of evil because, as the posuk relates, “asher korcha baderech,” they caused the Jews to lose their enthusiasm on the way to Eretz Yisroel. After Matan Torah, when all the nations of the world saw the splendor of Hashem and feared Him, Amaleik attacked us. Amaleik tried to dilute the fear of Hashem that had begun to spread across the world.
Amaleik’s crime emanated from the same root as the crime of lashon hora, and thus they both cause churban.
Reinforcing the concept that lashon hora and Amaleik are rooted in the same shoresh of evil is the Gemara in Maseches Megillah (13b), which quotes Rava as saying that there was no one who knew [how to speak] lashon hora as Haman did. This arch villain minimized to Achashveirosh every positive attribute the Jews possessed. As is well-known, Haman was a progeny of Amaleik and well-versed in that evil nation’s ways.
Haman said that the Jewish people are “mefuzar umeforad bein ha’amim.” He sought to depict the Jews as lacking unity.
Another indication of this idea is evident in the peirush of Rabbeinu Bachya on Chumash. In Parshas Shemos (2:14), the Torah relates the first episode involving Moshe, Doson and Avirom. Moshe saw the two of them fighting and said to them, “Rasha lomo sakeh reiyecha.” They responded, “Mi somcha l’ish… Who made you for an ish, minister and ruler above us? Will you kill me the way you killed the Mitzri?”
Moshe Rabbeinu responded by saying, “Now the matter is known.” Rashi cites the Medrash, which explains that with their statement, Moshe understood why the Jews deserved to be enslaved.
Rabbeinu Bachya quotes the Medrash and says that the reason the Jews were still enslaved was because they had baalei lashon hora amongst them.
Why was their sin considered lashon hora? They did not tell anyone other than Moshe himself that they had seen him kill the Mitzri.
Perhaps we can explain that Moshe Rabbeinu’s comment was in response to their statement questioning Moshe’s standing: “Mi somcha l’ish…” It was their attempt to minimize him and his greatness to which Moshe was referring when he said that the reason the Jews were still in Mitzrayim was because of lashon hora. Negativity and calling into question the greatness of leaders or other people are causes of golus and impede geulah.
The meraglim set out to map the land that Hashem had promised to their forefathers generations before. Twelve leading men of the Bnei Yisroel were given a mission to appraise the Promised Land. They could have approached every sight with the perspective that they were meriting to finally be in the land of destiny, where Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov had lived. It was the country their forefathers had fought and prayed for, the eternal home of the Jewish people.
But they didn’t look at Eretz Yisroel as being gavoah mikol ha’aratzos. They didn’t view Chevron and Yerushalayim as being different than other cities and towns in countries around the world.
They traversed the Holy Land as if it were Greenland. They looked at the fruits for which Eretz Yisroel is praised as if they were the products of a simple agrarian state. They didn’t hear Hashem’s promises reverberating as they traveled throughout the land. Instead, they found fault in everything they saw.
They spoke poorly of the land because they viewed it as just another country. Their sin was two-fold: They denied the greatness of the land and they denied the Divine promise. They were thus resho’im
A rosha seeks to tear down great people and bring them to his level. An ish builds people and raises them. A rosha sees people trying to build something and mocks their efforts; he can only discourage. An ish offers encouragement to strengthen others for the challenges that inevitably lie ahead.
A rosha is a naysayer. An ish says, “Let’s do what’s proper and we will succeed.” 
A rosha says, “Don’t bother trying.” An ish says, “Let’s make our hishtadlus. Hashem will do the rest.”
The lesson of the meraglim calls out to us in our day as well. When you see people struggling to grow, encourage them. When you see people working on a project for the communal good, strengthen them. When called upon to assist noble individuals, worthy projects, yeshivos and communal endeavors, respond as Calev did and say, “Yachol nuchal lah.”
When you assess a situation or a person, do so through the periscope of Torah. When dealing with other people, recognize that they were created b’tzelem Elokim and possess a nefesh and neshomah. When you see a student failing, imagine how great he can become and treat him that way. He will grow and succeed. 
Treat people the way you want to be treated. Concentrate on the positive and not the negative.
Chazal derive from the posuk (Vayikra 19:15), “B’tzedek tishpot amisecha – to judge your fellow justly,” that we are to judge every person favorably. The teaching is difficult, for if we are commanded to judge truthfully, how can we always judge a person favorably, there are times when people are wrong. 
The Chidushei Horim answers that the main obligation of the posuk is to be just and refined; a person who is, will inevitably judge others favorably. 
Rav Gershon Kitover, the Baal Shem Tov’s brother in law, was going to live in Eretz Yisroel. On the way, he stopped off in Turkey. While there, people suggested that he visit a local tzadik. As he approached the home of the tzadik, Rav Gershon noticed that the neighborhood was populated with people of a low spiritual level. Upon meeting the tzadik, he asked how he was able to live among such people.
The tzadik answered quite simply that he didn’t know how someone could think that he is at such a pure level that he can take his mind off working on himself and look at others and find fault with them. 
Thus we understand the posuk, “B’tzedek tishpot amisecha,” when you are convinced that you are just, you can judge others. 
Rav Elchonon Wasserman taught that an indication of a person’s greatness and appropriateness for a public position is the degree of his selfishness. The greater a person is, the less selfish he is, and inversely, the smaller a person is, the more selfish he is. 
He explained that this is why Moshe Rabbeinu, who the Torah describes as the greatest man of all time, was also the humblest of all men.
When choosing a public servant, it is necessary to find a person whose primary goal will be to enhance the community and not to further his own personal situation.
The meraglim, though great men, succumbed to selfish desires. They reasoned that if the Bnei Yisroel would enter the Holy Land, they would lose their current positions, (Mesilas Yeshorim,  Chapter 11). Therefore, perhaps subconsciously, they interpreted everything they witnessed in a twisted manner.
As bnei and bnos Torah, we must be able to analyze a situation without any personal biases. A person who arrives at an issue with prejudice cannot be expected to think clearly and will offer bad advice. Let us be unselfish and selfless in all we do. Let us have faith, emunah and bitachon in our daily lives, so that we feel fulfilled and content, not viewing others jealously and with negativity.
Let the promises of the Torah and nevi’im ring in our ears as we go about our daily tasks, so that we may all be blessed to be brought to Eretz Yisroel with the coming of Moshiach tzidkeinu bekarov.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Reconnected

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz


The airplane I am on taxis along the Newark Liberty Airport runway. Rain washes the windows and I think to myself, “That’s the last rain I’ll be seeing for a while. Where I am headed, the sun shines strongly all day.”

I lift a newspaper, scan the headlines, and a line pops out at me: “…Hamas, which the US and Israel consider a terrorist group.”

I wonder: What does the rest of the world consider animals who kill men, women and children with no compunction? What do Germany and England consider them? Do they not read? Do they have no knowledge at all?

Yet, the nations and media of the West are upset that Israel defended itself against thousands of people determined to crash its border and kill Jews.

Have they no shame? Is their anti-Semitism so strong that it overweighs simple common sense?

Is everything permissible when the target is a Jew, or President Trump, with bonus points when with one statement you can condemn both?

Having seen enough, I put away the paper and settled in for the flight to Eretz Yisroel for the Yom Tov of Kabbolas HaTorah.

We finally arrive in Yerushalayim, put our stuff down, and immediately feel at home.

Erev Yom Tov, we walk through Meah Shearim and Geulah, watching multitudes of people of all ages prepare for Yom Tov. They dart from store to store, making sure that they will have all they need for the “two-day” Yom Tov of Shabbos and Sunday.

People select flowers from sidewalk vendors as though they are choosing an esrog, making sure that they are getting the nicest bunch of flowers available to adorn the Yom Tov. There is a happiness and seriousness involved in ensuring that Yom Tov will be observed as best as possible.

Every day in Yerushalayim is special, Shabbos even more so, with Yom Tov taking on its own special glow. Despite the intense heat, thousands made their way to the Kosel on Shavuos morning, rivers of people converging on the holy site from all over the city, the sounds of the tefillos rising on high at the place from where the Shechinah has never departed.

During the day of Yom Tov, you see families walking across town, just as you are, to spend time with family and friends, ignoring the heat and oppressive sun. I’d rather be in Yerushalayim drenched from sweat than back in New York soaked from incessant rain. Adorable children without a care in the world take over the streets, playing a variety of games and taking their riding toys for spins up and down the hills of the holy city.

Following Yom Tov, we try something different and head south towards the Gaza border with my friend, Meir Eiseman, to see for ourselves what is going on there. We visited small border towns as well, including the one-makolet-town of Yated. Not much was going on there. Maybe it was the 100-degree heat. More likely, nothing much happens there at any time. We found the border basically deserted, with a few hidden tanks here and there and some bored soldiers seemingly just hanging around. Nobody stopped us or asked any questions as we drove around.

Truck traffic is quite brisk at the Kerem Shalom crossing point into Gaza, with massive tractor trailer trucks bringing in all sorts of supplies, despite reports to the contrary. Cement trucks are busily emptying their loads at a reinforced underground wall under construction, designed to deter Hamas tunnels. We see the barbed wire fences and fields burnt and destroyed by Hamas Molotov kites and thank Hashem that the damage isn’t more severe.

We enter Sderot. The last time I was there was a few years ago, when it was under rocket bombardment. Then the citizens were fearful, waiting for the barrages to end. Today, the rockets seem to be a distant memory. We visit religious sites and then look for some food.

We find a “Mehadrin” bakery and ask them about local kosher eateries. They tell us about a chumus/techinah store around the corner. We had passed it and it didn’t seem too kosher, so we ask them about its kosher status. The proprietor responds, “Maybe they got a rabbi to give them a petek [certifying that the store is kosher], maybe they didn’t, but you should go there, the chumus is really excellent.”

A sad commentary on the way so many people view religion.

We drive some more and come across a food store with a big “Mehadrin” sign. We park and enter, but it’s already 4:00 and the owner wants to go home. “Ani holeich habayta,” he says with no feeling. We say shalom, buy some water, and are back on the road again.

We continue on to Yerushalayim via Kfar Etzion, stopping to take selfies at the new American embassy and to the nearby Tayelet, for gorgeous views of the city. Then it’s time for Mincha.

Wednesday, we stayed in Yerushalayim. We started our “tourist” day at the Kosel, davening for family and friends and simply basking in the experience of being there, watching all types of Jews interact with the Creator.

For many years, remembering the fierce protests that took place over archeological practices at the site, I couldn’t bring myself to visit Ihr Dovid. Some thirty years have passed since then and it was time to see what is there.

We learn Nach and are familiar with some of the places referred to there, but aino domeh shmiah l’re’iyah. When you see remains of buildings dating back to the periods before and after the Bais Hamikdosh, your heart beats differently.

The trek makes history come alive. Walking on the same stone road that was trod upon by the Tanno’im and hundreds of thousands of people going to be oleh regel tingles your essence.

You look at the stones and feel them, as if some kedusha can transfer from them. You see the existing walls of small stores that lined the way, selling supplies for the olei regel and perhaps small animals to use for korbanos. And it all becomes real. You imagine it all taking place and are overcome by the scene playing in your head.

You look around and see giant rocks that the Romans knocked off from the top of the Kosel as they were laying waste to everything holy. The rocks sit there, frozen in time.

We walk some more. As we come to the steps which lead to Shaar Chulda, through which most people would enter the Har Habayis, we see an area full of mikvaos, dating back to the time when people would purify themselves before climbing the steps to enter the Bais Hamikdosh. Some of those very steps are still there, allowing us to climb and imagine what was and what will be.

All this right in the shadow of the Kosel. So many of us have passed by much of this and not known what we are missing out on, as we just walk by and look down at the excavations. We see words inscribed on one of the stones of the Kosel down at its southern end. With some help, we make out a prophecy of the novi Yeshayahu scratched into the ancient stone by a pilgrim like us, no doubt, who couldn’t contain his exuberance at witnessing the hallowed remainder of the Bais Hamikosh.

The anonymous person wrote, “Ure’isem v’sos libchem, v’atzmoseichem kadeshe tifrachnah - You will see it and your heart will be overcome with joy and your bones will grow as grass,” apparently based on the posuk in Yeshayahu (66:14).

Interestingly, the Malbim explains the posuk to mean that until now, you believed that the hopes for the future would be realized, but now, as you see it for yourself, your hearts will be so full of joy that it will spread to your weary, withered bones, which will be restored to live like luscious grass.

We have not yet merited the geulah which we await, but being able to feel our history come alive and stand at the makom haMikdosh brings us all a measure of joy and vitality as we await the final and complete redemption, when that place will once again be filled with life and be a center of kedusha.

We return to the Kosel plaza to daven Mincha, infused with much kavonah, fueled by recharged emunah and bitachon in our past, future and present.

In the taxi on the way back, we hear an interview with one of the American astronauts, as he reflects on his experiences in outer space. He said that as he looked at the perfect order of the universe from on high, he realized that “all this could not have come about from two pieces of dust bumping into each other. Anyone who sees what I saw must conclude that there is a Creator.”

Not that we need his testimony, but it was yet another reminder on a day that served to reinforce so much of what we know.

I visit Rav Dovid Cohen, the rosh yeshiva of Chevron, with whom I have become close. We speak of messages necessary for today’s generation. He reinforces the need to learn source seforim on emunah and bitachon, as well as the Slabodka dictum of gadlus ha’odom, reminding people that everyone, not only the brilliant and gifted, can reach spiritual heights. Too many give up on themselves needlessly and enter a downward spiral. He was happy to hear that these are topics we regularly address in the paper.

Thursday, I visited some others and traveled to Rechovot to see the Torah and kiruv empire built and maintained by an unassuming tzaddik, Rav Tzvi Shvartz, under the flag of Lev L’Achim. Most tourists don’t venture there, though it is not far from Yerushalayim, Beit Shemesh, Bnei Brak and other religious centers, but spending time with Rav Shvartz is always invigorating and refreshing. His energy, optimism and the many hundreds of baalei teshuvah families he has brought to Torah and mitzvos inspire all who visit. He is a fountain of dynamism, wisdom and stories, which he never tires of sharing.

I sit with my dear friend, Rav Eliezer Sorotzkin of Lev L’Achim and Chinuch Atzmai and his father-in-law, former Chief Rabbi Yisroel Meir Lau, the greatest living symbol of the Holocaust. With great pain, he speaks of the masses of Jews being lost to the spiritual holocaust of assimilation. He cites a study conducted by two Hebrew University professors, who proved that the Jewish population in the United States today would have been 35 million based on normal birth rates. Instead, only 3-1/2 million people in this country self-identify as Jews.

While the numbers of Jews remaining loyal to their faith are markedly better in Israel, once a secular Israeli leaves Israel for the golah, the chances of his children marrying within the faith are almost zero.

I listen to him and wonder why it is that we aren’t more active here in introducing lost brothers and sisters to their heritage, instead of watching millions of them slip away from Yiddishkeit forever. I’ve asked many people and have never received a satisfactory answer.

On Friday, I go the Machaneh Yehuda shuk, where I am enthralled by the sights, sounds and smells. Masses of people, religious and not, fill the outdoor market, buying fruits and vegetables, meat and chicken, fresh spices, olives, pickles, baklava, challah, cake and everything in-between for Shabbos. There is an energy and a verve as people go about their shopping, making sure to buy the best for Shabbos. Jews from around the world come to watch the organized chaos and be touched by all of it.

No matter how they look and dress, they are Jews thinking about and preparing for Shabbos. There is hope for the future. There is sanctity in the way they choose peaches, tomatoes and a watermelon for Shabbos. Witnessing it restores faith that all is not lost and there is a real chance to bring them back.

I am lost in my thoughts when a few boys brought to Israel by Birthright interrupt to ask a few questions and to take a selfie. They felt a connection. It may even last.

I spend Shabbos with my children in Kiryat Sanz, Yerushalayim, along with hundreds of others whose dedication to Torah and mitzvos knows no bounds, davening in shuls with standing room only and walking on streets packed with gleeful children. There is no better feeling in the world.

It all comes to an end when the taxi arrives and beeps its horn, beckoning us to load up the vehicle for our ride to the airport and flight home. The driver regales us with his tips on life and tells us how he brings his children to Rechov Sorotzkin on Chol Hamoed. He shows them how the children there behave and care for each other, and he hopes they absorb the message.

Before we know it, we are back in Newark, after a week of inspiration and invigoration, ready to adapt once again to life in the golus of America.

I go through the mail that has piled up in our absence. A small envelope attracts my attention. I open it. It holds a small pamphlet of Rav Moshe Shapiro’s philosophy on outreach. He speaks of how Jews always cared for one another and sought to help suffering brethren around the world, spiritually and physically.

He speaks of Israelis who have gone to live in America and says, “Every day a train leaves Los Angeles and heads for Auschwitz.”

It’s not only Israelis and not only from Los Angeles. It is painful to add that trains leave from every American city, carrying many thousands of Jews. In the days of a physical holocaust, people rose to do what they could to save as many as possible. Today, the drive to help lost Jews survive has lost its steam. Is it that we don’t care? Maybe we feel that they are so far gone that efforts to save them are futile. Who knows? The result is tragic.

Rav Shapiro promised that anyone who gets involved and seeks to reverse the trend “will be so high in Gan Eden that nobody will even be able to see him.”

Shavuos reminds us of the arvus that exists between Jews. That we are responsible for one another. It is one of the basics of the Torah, which was accepted k’ish echod b’lev echod, in binding unity.

As we move on from the Yom Tov, let us work on restoring that brotherhood, on doing things that will have a permanent effect, bringing people together, making the world a better place, and bringing the geulah closer, so that very soon, we will all be walking along the road of our forefathers and up the steps to the Har Habayis, bimeheirah beyomeinu. Amein.


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Undeterred

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

In the Torah, there are several references to mountains that are central to our history. We are introduced to Har Hamoriah, when Avrohom Avinu approached it to offer his son, Yitzchok, as a korban
On that mountain, malochim appeared to Avrohom and Yitzchok. On that mountain, Yaakov Avinu experienced kedusha and received tremendous brachos. On the mountain, the Bais Hamikdosh was built.
The mountain that hosted much holiness also had its share of tragedy. Though it beheld so much kedusha, during the period of churban its kedusha was defiled and tumah found a home there.
The Torah writes about Har Gerizim and Har Eivol, mountains near Sh’chem. On one, eternal brachos were delivered. On the other, eternal damnations rang out for those who don’t follow the Torah. One mountain was covered with greenery. The other was desolate and barren. They remain so until today. 
In Nach, we learn of the peak on which Eliyohu Hanovi faced off against the nevi’ei habaal.
Most central to who we are is Har Sinai. Though small as far as mountains are concerned, its summit towers over the landscape of Jewish history. On Shavuos, we are reminded of the mountain as we conjure up the image of millions camped around its perimeter, experiencing tangible awe. They had traveled for forty-five days, following Moshe Rabbeinu through a hot, dusty desert to get there. 
Journeying on a trek that began at creation, the nation headed towards its destiny. Bereishis - bishvil haTorah shenikra reishis.
There was thunder and lightning. The sound of a shofar boomed, growing increasingly louder. Smoke rose from the mountain, which sat under a heavy cloud. The Divine Voice resonated throughout the universe, shaking the earth’s foundations. The Bnei Yisroel were fearful. They watched as their leader ascended the mountain and disappeared inside the arofel, foggy clouds. 
As we study the story of Moshe Rabbeinu on Har Sinai, we recognize that to reach supreme holiness, we often have to make our way through fog. We have to ensure that we persevere and do not become deterred when enveloped by darkness.
Wherever there is kedusha, there is tumah seeking to break through and destroy it. The more we build and the larger we grow, the more the forces of tumah seek to seep in and spread their poison.
Throughout the ages, inspired people yearned to raise and purify themselves, so that they would not be weighed down by fog, smoke and loud noises that surrounded them. They courageously pressed forward towards kedusha
Ever since Har Sinai, Jews have been confronted by darkness and fog. The urge is to shirk from the challenge and retreat. But just as Moshe did as he entered the arofel atop the mountain, people who are drawn towards kedusha and taharah understand that they must advance undeterred by the tishtush hamochin that affects others. 
The Brisker Rov was the mesader kiddushin at a wedding. Standing under the chupah, it was time for the chosson to place the ring on the kallah’s finger and pronounce her his wife. As the young man attempted to place the ring on her finger, he was so nervous that he was shaking and dropped the ring. 
His father bent down, picked up the ring from the floor, and returned it to the chosson. Once again, the chosson’s hand was shaking so much as he tried to place the ring on his kallah’s finger that it fell to the ground. His father picked it up and returned it to him.
The nervous chosson made a third attempt at placing the ring on the girl’s finger. The seemingly simple task escaped him once again and the ring dropped to the ground. This time, people began murmuring. Someone turned to the Rov and said, “This seems like a sign that they should not be getting married. Perhaps the whole thing should just be called off.” 
The Rov shook his head. “This is a sign,” he said, “that the couple was meant to marry now and not three minutes earlier.” 
Upon hearing that, the boy calmed down. His father handed him the ring, he placed it on the kallah’s finger, and he said, “Harei at mekudeshes li… kedas Moshe v’Yisroel.”
Many times, the future looks bleak and we see signs from heaven pointing this way and that. We must always remain focused on our goal and not permit anything to deter us. We don’t look at setbacks as signs of defeat. We see them as challenges that we must overcome.
The study of Torah is difficult, and many times, while learning, we feel as if we are in arofel, lost in a fog of misunderstanding. We can’t follow the back and forth of the Gemara or don’t get the kushya or teretz of Tosafos. We say that the sugya is too difficult for us to comprehend. We just want to close the Gemara and find something easier to do.
We must remember that this is the way of the Torah. It doesn’t come easy, but we immerse ourselves in it anyway, and after much work, we begin to understand it and appreciate its beauty and brilliance. 
Rav Shmuel Auerbach told a story he heard from a witness, ish mipi ish. One of the holy tzaddikim of Yerushalayim had a kemei’a that he would lend to people in need of a yeshuah. The Kabbalistic document was written by the Taz, author of the Turei Zohov on Shulchan Aruch. The kemei’a was especially powerful and many people who used it saw their issues resolved. 
The owner of the kemei’a was very curious as to what was written on the concealed piece of parchment that beheld such power. Though an amulet generally loses its powers when opened, he reasoned that he could copy the secret names of Hashem and malochim written on it onto a new parchment and preserve the ability to help people in dire straits.
Upon opening the antique sacred text, the man was astonished to see that it didn’t bear holy names or names of ministering angels. Instead, in the handwriting of the Taz was one line that read: “Dear Creator of the world, please bring salvation and blessings to the person wearing this amulet in the merit of my deep toil to understand the words of Tosafos in Chulin on daf 96.”
This is the power of Torah. This is the reward for diligence in understanding the words of a Tosafos.
The Torah gives life to those who struggle through the arofel to understand and grasp its holy words and messages. The strength it grants its adherents is eternal. But we must exercise patience, discipline and intelligence to attain a proper understanding of Torah. We must not quit and surrender.
In Nach (Shmuel I, perek 13) we read that shortly after Shaul was appointed king, the Pelishtim gathered to battle Am Yisroel. The Jews hid in caves and pits, while Shaul and his small army prepared for the battle. Shmuel Hanovi had told Shaul to wait for him to come and offer korbanos - an olah and a shelomim - prior to going to war.
The people grew testy and began leaving Shaul. Under increasing pressure, Shaul Hamelech decided to offer the korbanos himself and not wait for Shmuel. He brought the olah and then Shmuel came. The novi admonished the king for not waiting for him to bring the korbanos as Hashem had wished. Shmuel informed Shaul that because he did not follow the word of Hashem, his reign, which was destined to last forever, would soon end.
There is nothing as blinding and fearful as the fog of war, but because Shaul feared that he would fail if he would follow the command of the novi, he was punished and soon vanquished from his rule. 
Threatened by forces of nature, deserted by man, with everything seemingly stacked against us, if we remain loyal and do not succumb to the temptation of veering from the commands of Hashem, we will be blessed with success and eternal blessings.
The first Jews to receive the Torah had their own arofel, servitude in Mitzrayim, sinking to the lowest levels of tumah. Their faith sustained them as they followed Moshe out of the country through the Yam Suf. Within 49 days, they prepared themselves to receive the Torah at Har Sinai. They fought their way through the fog of Mitzrayim’s tumah and raised themselves to the highest levels man can attain.
On Shavuos, we read Megillas Rus, the tale of Na’ami and her daughter-in-law, Rus. Two courageous women survived tragedy and lifted themselves through their personal arofel to give birth to the progenitor of Dovid Hamelech and Moshiach. Rus Hamoaviah rose from the depravity of her native land and became a dedicated giyores. Nothing was able to deter her from remaining loyal to Torah and the Jewish people. She endured poverty and loneliness as she pursued her chosen path. She was rewarded with royal offspring and eternal blessings. We all await the arrival of her descendant, the ultimate redeemer.
Rus had many reasons to return to Moav and the wealth she had left behind when marrying into Elimelech’s family, yet she so eloquently cast her lot with the Jewish people. Her story encourages us to persevere in our times of hardship. Her story is yet another demonstration that those who follow the path of Hashem and cleave to Torah and mitzvos, determined to prevail, will flourish and thrive.
Rather than stepping away, she moved forward. Instead of succumbing to what seemed to be insurmountable deterrents, she showed us that fidelity to Torah is always preferable to any alternative. We must also never quit, no matter the difficulties we encounter in the observance or study of Torah.
When Hashem appeared to the Bnei Yisroel and offered them the Torah, they responded in unison, “Na’aseh venishma - We will do and we will hear whatever you tell us.” The response was so praiseworthy that the Gemara in Maseches Shabbos (88a) relates that following their response, malochim placed two crowns on the head of each Jew, one for na’aseh and one for nishma. A bas kol rang out, proclaiming, “Who taught my children this secret?” 
Many question what was so extraordinary about na’aseh venishma that it engendered such a dramatic response. Perhaps we can explain that by responding in this way, they were declaring, “Na’aseh, we will act according to the dictates of the Torah and follow its commands. Venishma, and we will accomplish through dedicating ourselves to the study of Torah. No difficulty will stop us from working as hard as we can to understand the words of the Torah. We will not get lost or deterred in the arofel.
Na’aseh venishma. We have been reciting that pledge for thousands of years. Wherever we are, whatever language we speak, irrespective of geographical distance from major Jewish centers, of the ravages of the exile, of golus, churban and pogroms, we all proclaim together, “Na’aseh venishma.”
Those words are what set us apart and have kept us through the ages. We have been guarded by the Torah and our fidelity to it and what it demands of us. The other nations of the world throughout our history are all gone. We are here because of those two words that guide and define us. 
On the Yom Tov of Kabbolas HaTorah, we are regifted the Torah and proclaim, “Na’aseh venishma,” yet again. We focus on the positive, we remain mindful of our objective and mission, and we rededicate ourselves to fulfilling it, this day and every day.
My uncle, Rav Avrohom Chaim Levin, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Telz, shared an incident at a Torah Umesorah convention. He recalled a sad period in Telz when something happened that provoked the ire of the rosh yeshiva, Rav Elya Meir Bloch. Rav Elya Meir addressed the yeshiva. As he began, the bochurim were expecting a severe lecture about the depths to which some had sunk. Rav Elya Meir told them something else entirely. “We know how low a person can fall,” he said, “but now we shall focus on how high man can soar.”
With a classic mussar message of gadlus ha’odom, he delivered a shmuess about the potential to grow, helping the talmidim realize the heights they could reach.
Rav Levin concluded by telling the gathered mechanchim not to limit their focus on protecting their talmidim from the darkness. “We also have to inspire them to rise above it,” he clamored.
We are a great people. The fire of Torah has the ability to glow in our souls, incinerating the tumah that seeks to envelop us, and light our path through the darkness. We each have a spark waiting to be kindled, so that we will have the motivation and strength to walk through the arofel, as kedoshim, reaching for the Heavens.
Have a good Yom Tov.


והחי יתן אל לבו

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Who can remember a week such as the one that just passed? Who can ponder the loss of so many good people and not recognize that they cannot go on living their lives as they have been?

On Wednesday, Moshe Reich was in Tzefas preparing for Lag Ba’omer, joyfully hosting many people in his home on a centuries-old narrow cobblestone street, when his soul returned to its Maker. A prominent Klausenberger chosid and close friend of Arye Deri, he was well known for his engaging personality, askanus, and acts of tzedakah v’chesed. Shock spread throughout Israel and around the world.

On Thursday, Mendy Klein was in Cleveland, outside of the Hebrew Academy, a major focus of his life and philanthropy. He collapsed and was gone, a giant cut down in his prime. The shock was overwhelming as word spread across the Torah world. The reaction was similar everywhere: “Mendy Klein? What? I can’t believe it.” The energetic, life-giving supporter of Torah, yeshivos, schools, needy people, victims of abuse, and so much else had died. The man who ran away from attention and honor during his lifetime was praised and mourned following his tragic petirah.

Rav Shaul Shatzkes, who suffered a stroke a few months ago, never recovered and passed away on Thursday. He was a tremendous talmid chochom, baal kishron and marbitz Torah. He was a sheim dovor in Lakewood, where he lived and dedicated his life to Torah.

Rav Nochum Eisenstein, who served as a rov in Detroit and Lakewood, and had also been rosh kollel in the Boston Kollel, succumbed to an illness he had suffered from for years. A unique marbitz Torah, mechaber seforim and posek, he taught, led and inspired many people. Before his illness, he authored a weekly Torah column in the Yated. A relatively young person, he was also niftar on Thursday.

Rabbi Bernard Weinberger was a phenomenal darshan, talmid chochom, and author of multiple seforim. Blessed with an engaging personality, he was also an intellectual and a leader in the field of rabbonus, serving as the longtime rov of Young Israel of Williamsburg. In his eighties, he passed away last week as well.

Accomplished, successful, and well-known leaders, each one in their own way, they paved a Torah way through the turmoil of golus, leaving behind legacies of greatness for future generations. Their passing sends us a message regarding the fragility of life and a warning to maximize the time we have.

Recognizing the value of life helps us overcome temptation, negate frivolity, and realize the important things in life. It reminds us to love our family and friends and let them know it. A person who knows the meter is running seeks to do good and spread goodness, making the world a better place. There is no time for pettiness; strife, hate and division have no place in the heart and mind of a person who knows that tomorrow he may be described in the past tense, rl.

We currently find ourselves in the Sefirah period, when we seek to improve ourselves as we ascend daily towards the goal of receiving the Creator’s Torah. Each day, we seek another form of improvement, another way to improve our character and become a better person.

An older man had a story to tell: “I came to Eretz Yisroel during the Second World War and brought several gold bars with me. I was looking for a place to invest my gold.

“One day, I found myself on a street, known today as Rechov Chazon Ish, at the corner of Rechov Harav Dessler, and I saw the Chazon Ish taking a walk there. Since I had heard that he gave brachos and advice to people, I approached him and asked him how to invest my gold.

“He lifted his cane and pointed towards an empty hill. He said to me, ‘Reb Yaakov Halpern is going to be selling lots there. Take your gold and use it all to buy as many lots as you can afford.’

“I didn’t really know much about him and didn’t know that he was a gadol hador. I was angry at his suggestion. When he said that to me, I thought to myself, ‘What? He’s telling me to throw my gold into the sea? Into an empty desert hill?

“Out of respect, I was quiet. I said, ‘Thank you,’ and left.

“Halperin sold those lots for pennies. I took my gold and made various investments and never saw much of a return. If only I had listened to that old man, I would have become a multi-millionaire.

Oy, if only I had grabbed those lots.”

The man told his story to Rav Nosson Einfeld, of Kollel Chazon Ish, who repeated the tale of woe to the well-known maggid, Rav Reuvein Karelenstein.

Shortly thereafter, the maggid addressed a crowd, and this is what he said:

The Rambam writes in Hilchos Teshuvah (3:4), “Even though the obligation to blow a shofar on Rosh Hashanah is given in the Torah with no reason, there is a hint, namely the posuk which states, ‘Awake you who sleep from your slumber, and those who doze off from your sleep, search your ways, return with teshuvah and remember your Creator.’ This refers to people who forget the truth and get caught up with the frivolities of the time, stumbling through their lives with silliness and emptiness, which are of no help and bring no salvation.”

The man’s story portrays the words of the Rambam. All around us here in this world are properties being sold for pennies, and each one can earn us worlds of payoffs. With a simple nice word, we can earn “shai olamos,” 310 worlds. We can grab worlds at such low prices. Every mitzvah, every word of Torah, every charitable act, yields fortunes.

That is the call of the shofar. As the Rambam says, “People forget the truth and get caught up with the frivolities of the time.”

At a time like this, when we lost people who didn’t get sidetracked but made eternal investments in this world, we need to follow their example. Think of how many people they influenced, how many they helped, and how they changed this world and made it a much better place. And now think about yourself and what you are doing.

Their deaths should wake us from our slumber and shake us from our fantasies of immortality.

In this week’s parsha, the Torah commands (Vayikra 25:8-9), “Vesofarta lecha sheva shabbsos shonim… Teisha v’arbo’im shana… veha’avarta shofar teruah… And you shall count for yourself seven shmittos, which are forty-nine years, and the fiftieth year shall be Yovel and you shall blow the shofar in the seventh month.”

The Shela explains the connection of various pesukim in the previous and current parshiyos. He says that the seven-year cycle of Shmittah is akin to the seven days of creation. Then comes the fiftieth year and the shofar is blown to awaken and remind a person that his existence in this world is temporary.

He cites the posuk of Ki bayom hazeh yechaper” (Vayikra 16:30) and explains that in years past, the custom was that when there was a death in the community, the shofar was blown, as it is on Yom Kippur. Just as Yom Kippur is a day of forgiveness, so does death cause forgiveness for those who repent. “Veshavtem ish el achuzaso,” and the spirit shall return to Hashem.

He concludes that a person must therefore always view himself as a temporary resident of this world, as the posuk (ibid. 25:23) states, “Ki geirim vesoshavim atem imodi.” We should live here as transitory residents so that we shall reside with Hashem in perpetuity. And this is the reason land is not sold in perpetuity, as the posuk says, “Veha’aretz lo simocher l’tzmisus” (ibid.).

“We shall not be like the puerile people who are enthralled with their wealth, property and homes. Rather, we should use what Hashem has given us for ruchniyus, and then “viyishavtem al ha’aretz lavetach.” As the Torah discusses in Parshas Bechukosai, “Im bechukosai teileichu, if you follow the commands of Hashem, you will be richly rewarded.”

The shock that followed the passing of Mendy Klein z”l should remain with us and not wear off. We should remember our thoughts when we heard the shocking news and perpetuate them through understanding the words of the Shela. Doing so will be a zechus for him and bring us brachos and nitzchiyus. For a giant in charity as he was, comes along infrequently. It takes not only great wealth, but also the understanding that we are but geirim here, with the task of doing what we can to enhance the lives of others and supporting causes of Torah. Mr. Klein excelled in that, and he did it all quietly and behind the scenes. Nobody knew but him, the recipient and Hashem. Now he is in the “olam shekulo tov,” with Hashem, lonetzach.

Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, the Beis Haleivi was married to a woman who hailed from a family of Slonimer chasssidim. Once, when he was living in the home of his in-laws as was common in the time, the rebbe, Rav Moshe of Kobrin came into the room in which Rav Yoseph Dov learned. He was studying the later chapters of Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim.

The rebbe asked the young Litvishe gaon, “And what is with the first siman of Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, do you observe that?” The man who would grow up to be the world-famed Beis Haleivi and forebear of the famed Brisker family, responded that he worked on that halacha, namely of “Shivisi Hashem lenegdi somid,” fifteen times a day.

This week I visited the Sadigerrer Rebbe together with Rav Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin, he turned to us and said every generation has its nisyonos which weren’t prevalent in previous generations. In our day, he said, there is a plague in emunah and bitachon, frum people don’t know the basics of belief. “This is what leads to the terrible problem of “noshrim,” people going off the derech. We cannot ignore what is going on.

 “It is your obligation to appeal to people and educate them what emunah means, what bitachon means, what the mitzvos are all about and why we observe them,” he told us.

At a time like this when people seek zechuyos and sources of merit, let us resolve to follow in the ways of the niftorim. We should also find time to study and review Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim and seforim such as Chovos Halevavos and the many others which give meaning and value to our lives so that we can become better Jews and better people.

Emunah and bitachon makes our lives more wholesome and increases our happiness, self-worth, and ability to get with others, but more importantly, it brings us closer to Hashem and the geulah we all await.