Wednesday, November 13, 2019

A Great People

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

As we continue studying Seder Bereishis, we learn more of the immense stature of the avos. Parshas Vayeira is replete with stories from the life of Avrohom Avinu, one of the greatest people to ever walk this earth. From his devotion to the mitzvah of hachnosas orchim to the way he dealt with the nisayon of the Akeidah, every nuance of his demeanor, speech and actions personified the values he sought to instill in his descendants, continuing to guide and inspire us to this day.

Maaseh avos siman labonim.” The actions of the fathers guide their children, as they point out the path to perfection in this world.

Some of the stories seem plausible only in relation to someone of Avrohom Avinu’s caliber. We wonder if we are really expected to reach the levels of chesed and kedusha that he attained. Yet, if the Torah recorded these spiritual milestones, it was unquestionably for our edification.

We cannot say that we are not on the level of Avrohom and cannot be expected to act as he did. The Torah records his actions to show us that we can all achieve greatness if we cared as much as Avrohom did. The people all around him were dopey idol worshippers. Sedom was an influential metropolis, where deviancy and selfishness were rewarded.

Avrohom stood out, self-made and selfless. He educated masses and wrote books to spread the notion of a merciful G-d. His life’s mission was to spread goodness throughout the world, and upon the birth of his son, he worked to ensure that Yitzchok would follow in his ways.

I just completed shivah following the passing of my father, whose life’s mission was to pass on to his children the traditions of his parents and see to it that we excel in Torah and mitzvos.

In his sefer on Chumash, my father writes concerning what transpired as Avrohom and Yitzchok set out to fulfill Hashem’s commandment to Avrohom to offer Yitzchok as a korban. As they approached Har Hamoriah, the posuk says, “Vayar es hamakom meirachok.” Avrohom recognized from afar that this was the appointed place. He asked Yitzchok what he saw up ahead and he also recognized the holiness of the mountain. He asked his assistants and they didn’t see anything.

Before offering Yitzchok as a korban, Avrohom wanted to ensure that he properly trained him and brought him up well. “My son, do you see what I see? Do you see the kedusha? Do you perceive what is up ahead? Do you have the same vision that I have?” If so, Avrohom could be satisfied that he had fulfilled his obligation in raising a son who appreciated holiness and could recognize it even from afar. He was able to recognize on his own that Har Hamoriah was his goal.

When he saw that he had successfully inculcated this into his son, Avrohom was then able to continue on together with him to fulfill Hashem’s commandment on Har Hamoriah.

We, too, in our day, must recognize that our primary obligation is to raise our children in the traditions of our forefathers. We must teach them about Torah and holiness and their importance in our lives until the children are able, on their own, to recognize what is holy and what is profane. They will then be able to separate the two and concentrate on reaching and attaining the points of holiness.

We must provide our children with the intelligence and vision to live lives of kedusha.

And it works both ways. The children are also obligated to follow the teachings of their parents and act the way they did. This is clearly stated in the Tana Devei Eliyohu (25), which says, “Kol echod m’Yisroel chayov lomar mosai yagiu maasai lemaasei avosai.” Every Jewish person is obligated to work to attain the level where their actions are on the level of their forefathers, Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov.

This is the greatness of our people and what separates us from others, guaranteeing that our traditions and passion for kindness live on.

The parshiyos of Bereishis are intended for us to be inspired by Avrohom’s example and for us to work to train ourselves to do chesed until it becomes second nature. We study these parshiyos and note that we are expected to judge people favorably and to deal forthrightly, honestly and charitably with everyone, no matter who they are and whether we agree with their actions and philosophies.

All too often, we refrain from helping others because they are from a different camp; they were brought up differently than we were and serve Hashem differently than we do. We divide people into groups and label them. Studying this week’s parsha should demonstrate to us that this is not the way of our fathers and forefathers. Just because we disagree with someone does not mean that we cannot help them.

It is interesting to note that Avrohom Avinu interrupted his conversation with Hashem to help three strangers. He davened on behalf of the evil city of Sedom, but went ahead with the Akeidah, because Hashem had so commanded. The mitzvos of Hashem must be followed, whether we understand them or not. Avrohom felt that the mitzvah of chesed obligated him to help everyone.

Many of us rationalize. We see ourselves as big tzaddikim. But when it comes to performing mitzvos that are more difficult or expensive than others, we find excuses not to perform them or we do them on a minimal level. Those who act that way should not consider themselves as worthy heirs to Avrohom Avinu.

We should start by performing simple courtesies for each other and everyone with whom we come in contact. Letting people out of their driveways and parking spots and permitting them to make a left turn cost us mere seconds. It pains me each time I see pqeople rush with their cars to close the gap with the car ahead so that the poor trapped person shouldn’t even think of trying to get out. It is almost as if we act like people of Sedom, yet we consider ourselves as worthy heirs to Avrohom’s tradition.

Speaking of rationalization and justification of acting differently than Avrohom, many ask why we make a big deal of Avrohom following Hashem’s command to offer his beloved son at the Akeidah. Once Hashem issues a command, there is no way that anyone can ignore His order.

Rav Elozor Menachem Man Shach, whose yahrtzeit falls this week, answers that the only prophet to whom Hashem appeared b’aspaklarya hame’irah was Moshe Rabbeinu. Moshe was told exactly what Hashem wanted him to do. All other nevi’im saw their prophecy in a dream and in a parable.

When Hakadosh Boruch Hu appeared to Avrohom and told him regarding Yitzchok, “Vehaaleihu shom l’olah,” Avrohom would have been justified in interpreting the command in numerous ways, none of them involving the death of Yitzchok.

After all, Hashem had promised Avrohom that his name would live on through his son Yitzchok. It would have been perfectly reasonable to assume that Hashem had something else in mind and that “vehaaleihu” didn’t mean to sacrifice his beloved son, but rather to raise him.

But Avrohom analyzed Hashem’s words as though they were referring to someone other than his son, and he reached the conclusion that Hashem wanted Yitzchok for a korban.

There is always the urge to wiggle out of doing good things. Too often, we look for a way to get ourselves off the hook of having to perform a chesed that was dropped in our lap. We say, “It’s not for me to do. I don’t have a big enough car. I don’t have enough strength. They don’t need my money; they only need my advice.” If we are asked to make a phone call to raise money for a needy person, we procrastinate and offer excuses as to why we are the wrong person to make the call.

Not so Avrohom. He didn’t make any excuses. He didn’t look for a way out. Every Jew was his brother. He taxed himself to the utmost to understand the word of Hashem and then ran to fulfill it.

When we have a mitzvah to do, when we have obligations, we shouldn’t seek the easy way out. We shouldn’t look for excuses to shirk our duty. We should seek to carry it out to the fullest, with all hiddurim, exactly as Avrohom would have done.

The posuk states, “Vayashkeim Avrohom baboker… And Avrohom awoke the morning of the Akeidah and set out to find the appointed place.” Many explain that the posuk is teaching us the greatness of Avrohom. Even though he was going to sacrifice his son, he awoke at the crack of dawn to fulfill the word of Hashem.

The Brisker Rov says that it is natural that a person who is going to fulfill the word of Hashem would wake up early to perform the action without delay. He says that the lesson of the posuk is that Avrohom was able to sleep the night before setting out to shecht Yitzchok. Even though he knew that he was going to kill his beloved son in whom all his dreams for the future were invested, he was able to sleep peacefully.

He who is sure of himself, without doubting or questioning the ways of Hashem, serves with complete faith and sleeps very comfortably at night. One who deals honestly with his fellow man; one who hears the pleas of the hungry, the desolate and the poor; one who rises to every occasion and doesn’t turn a deaf ear to the cries of the abused and afflicted; one whose life isn’t a string of excuses and half-truths, is a child of Avrohom Avinu and can sleep comfortably at night.

There are people of such nobility in every neighborhood. During the period following my father’s passing and throughout the week of shivah, we got to meet Monsey’s best. The people of Hatzolah, Chaverim, and the chevrah kadishah were there to help. Anonymous people dropped whatever it was that they were doing and ran to be of assistance. They are worthy heirs to Avrohom Avinu and bring pride to our people.

For a week, our family was dependent on the chassodim of others for so many things and we got to see the greatness of our people. As a nation, we have been through so much, yet the middos of our avos and imahos still drive and motivate enough of us that Avrohom can be proud of us.

May Hashem spare everyone from tzaar and tzaros, and may we never need the favors of others. But when we do, it is comforting to know that armies of gutteh Yidden stand by, ready to perform chasdei avos, and many are out there daily doing all the little and big things people need to keep their feet on the ground, their kids in school, and the heat running in the homes of people who can’t afford it. Is there another people as active in hachnosas kallah, bikur cholim and gemillus chassodim as we are?

In their merit, may we be zoche to the realization of “umeivi goel livnei veneihem.”

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Little Noachs

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

The end of Sukkos is one of the loneliest times of the year. As the decorations are peeled off and the sukkah is taken apart and put away, we feel exposed and removed from the comforting shelter in which we had been enveloped for more than a month.

From the first time we said “L’Dovid Hashem ori” during Elul, we were drawn into a sublime world. B’motzoei Menucha, we felt the tremors increasing, as we ushered in the days of Selichos. The week reached a crescendo as we stood in awe upon hearing the piercing cry of the shofar that filled our hearts.

We soaked in the “behimatzo of the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, using those propitious days to inch closer. Finally, we stood as angels dressed in white on Yom Kippur, emerging from Ne’ilah feeling reborn and reenergized.

Then we climbed the next rung, going from teshuvah to simcha, entering the sacred abode of the sukkah, betzilah dimehemnusah. We sang and ate, drank and celebrated, rejoicing with Hashem.

By the time Sukkos began, we felt that the barriers between us and Hashem had come down. Then Simchas Torah arrived and we felt one with the Torah and other Jews. We sang “Yisroel v’Oraisah V’Kudsha Brich Hu chad hu,” grasping the hands and shoulders of fellow Yidden and dancing, all of us equal, joyous and fulfilled, feeling the meaning and beauty of life.

And then, suddenly, it all ended and we were thrust out of that cloud of Yom Tov joy and sanctity back into the mundane world once again, with only echoes and happy memories to accompany us.

In the zemer of “Azameir Bishvochin,” authored by the Arizal and sung in Jewish homes on Friday evenings at the Shabbos meal, we say, “Yehei rava kamei d’sishrei al amei.” The words of the zemer contain great depth of meaning, hidden from many of us. Yodei Chein explains that the forementioned words are a request that the influences of Tishrei remain with us throughout the year.

We enter this new period with fresh enthusiasm and a desire to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the Torah whose completion we just celebrated. We seek to take the messages of Tishrei and what they represent with us on life’s road.

We began the Torah anew, studying Parshas Bereishis this past week. We studied the first posuk, “Bereishis bara Elokim - In the beginning, Hashem created heaven and earth,” and are confronted by the first Rashi in Chumash. He quotes Rabi Yitzchok, who posits that the Torah should have begun with the parsha of hachodesh hazeh lochem instead of the stories of creation and the lives of the avos and the Jews through avdus Mitzrayim. He says that the Torah begins with creation so that when the nations of the world question our ownership of Eretz Yisroel, we can answer them that Hashem created the world and decided that this land belongs to the Jews.

This is difficult to understand, for the vast majority of the nations of the world, as is evident, do not accept that answer, on many levels.

We may explain that the Torah begins with Bereishis to teach us that Hashem created the world for the Jews and for Torah, as Chazal say. Every Jew, upon setting out to navigate his way through Torah, is reminded that everything in Torah is Divine, as is everything that transpires in this world. Nothing happens by itself. It happens because the Creator wanted it to be that way.

Eretz Yisroel is the land of the Jewish people because Hakadosh Boruch Hu willed it so, and nothing the nations of the world say or do can change that fact. Everything that happens there is because Hashem decided that the behavior of the Jewish people there caused it through their observance – or lack of – of Torah and mitzvos.

We study that first posuk and are energized to note that our actions make a difference; that we were created for a purpose and our lives have meaning.

The parsha concludes that man lost his way and became engaged with evil. Hashem, kevayachol, regretted creating him and decided that He would wipe man off the face of the earth. There was one exception. A man named Noach found favor in the eyes of Hashem, as the posuk states, “V’Noach motza chein b’einei Hashem.”

Noach found favor, and although everyone else was slated for destruction, he stood out and would be spared, for he had “chein.” What was that special chein and what caused it?

Noach was unimpressed by the rest of the world. He studied the lessons of bereishis and they guided him. He knew the world was created for him. He knew that his life had meaning and value, and he knew that to maintain it, he needed to follow the wishes of the world’s Creator.

This week’s parsha provides us the opportunity to learn the lessons of Noach and his teivah, observing how one person’s behavior affected not only himself, but the entire world.

I once wrote that we are all little Noachs and some people didn’t understand what I meant and were critical of my description. But I still think that in essence, we are all little Noachs, seeking to stay afloat in a conflicted world, challenged by many issues, spiritual and physical. We need to make a living without succumbing to dishonesty, chicanery and disloyalty. We need to bring up a fine family of healthy, well-behaved, intelligent children in a world gone mad. We have untold pressures to contend with at all times and things to balance out. Yes, we are little Noachs trying to construct little personal teivahs to keep us afloat and straight and honest and good.

The posuk states, “Es HaElokim hishalech Noach - Noach walked with Hashem.” Perhaps we can understand this posuk to mean that Noach walked with Hashem because he had no one else to walk with. Noach was essentially all alone. He had no one other than Hashem. He had no one to converse with, so he spoke to Hashem.

For 120 years, Noach attempted to convince the people of his generation to right their ways, to no avail. He was unable to sway anyone to live a life of dignity, honor and respect.

We don’t know how great Noach would have been had he lived in a different period. All we know is what the Torah tells us about him. He was a tzaddik and a tomim, a righteous, upstanding person in a generation in which there were no others.

We study the parsha named for Noach and discern that it is possible to stand out. The entire world may be living deceitful, dishonest, immoral lives, and we can still hew to Hashem’s creed of kindness and goodness. We all have within ourselves the ability to remain bnei Torah despite where the world is holding, because we were created that way. If Hashem created the world and He formed the Torah and our people, then it stands to reason that whatever happens, we can remain loyal to Hashem and his Torah.

We learn this week’s parsha and observe that we don’t have to be influenced by those around us. We can be strong, honest and moral in a time of depravity. And if we do, we will find favor in the eyes of Hashem.

The significance of the teivah that Noach built is that in a generation of hedonism, immorality and wickedness, he was able to create an island for himself. This is a lesson that is relevant to us in today’s world.

While our physical situation at the present time is better than it was anywhere over the past 500 years, and Torah is being studied around the world on a scope greater than anyone can remember, there are dark clouds on the horizon and awful winds are blowing.

Enemies of Hashem, His Torah, and those who scrupulously follow His laws are using brawn and authority in a brazen attempt to stem the growth of the Torah community and starve it into submission. The Israeli president just handed the ability of forming a government to the leader of the party whose ticket to electoral victory was a vicious campaign against religious Jewry. In a flash, the vile politician who holds the balance of power went from a friend of the religious parties to a sworn enemy.

Leadership wanes, crises loom, solutions are lacking, fiction replaces truth, glossy veneers substitute for depth, and ignorance is more popular than brilliance. Amateurs seem to be in charge wherever you look, and we all pay for their mistakes and failures.

Spiritual threats abound. The air seems to have been poisoned and no one is able to find the proper antibodies. The culture of this country, which was founded on - and led by - religious values, has sunk to unprecedented lows. The assault on traditional family life is tangible. The deviation from the script of just a decade ago is very strong and is sweeping across the country.

Chazal say that had the people of Noach’s time followed his example and heeded his admonitions, the Torah could have been given in their day. (See Sefer Pri Tzaddik on this week’s parsha.) Instead of floodwaters, they could have had Torah, which is referred to as mayim. Instead of destruction, they could have had rebirth. Instead of desolation, they could have merited beneficence. Instead of kloloh, being cursed, they could have had brocha and been eternally blessed. Because they preferred to follow the path of their desires, they were punished with infamy, shame and violent death.

We look around and wonder what we can do to stay afloat in a sinking world. We look to Noach as one who can provide us with inspiration and serve as a guide to us, reminding us not to feel lonely and not to give up, despite the odds against us.

A young Israeli yeshiva bochur was having incredible difficulty understanding his learning. The bochur worked hard, but he found that he was never able to reach the same levels of comprehension as his friends. Feeling worthless, he fell into a deep depression.

His rebbi was pained by the talmid’s feelings of worthlessness, and as hard as he tried, he was unable to convince the boy that his life had value. He took the young man to speak to the Steipler Gaon, a leading gadol of the time. The boy shared his frustrations and grief. He described the difficulty he encountered in comprehending even the most basic ideas of the Gemara. The Steipler asked the bochur if there was any blatt Gemara that he felt he knew. “Yes,” said the boy. “The first blatt in Nedorim.”

“I promise you,” said the aged giant, whose every word was measured and who exuded truth, “that when you learn that daf in Nedorim, it is as important to Hashem as the chiddushim of an illui in Ponovezh or the star lamdan in Slabodka. He is listening to you.”

The young man was comforted as the Steipler repeated the assurance. The rebbi attested that from that point on, the bochur succeeded in yeshiva. Once he was assured that his life had meaning and that his work in Torah had value, he shot up.

The Steipler had given the boy a teivah of his own. He had taught him not to look at those around him. He taught him to look upwards. He taught the boy to walk and talk with his Creator.

This is the lesson we received from the sukkah and this is the lesson we are reminded of this week. We aren’t here to win friends or popularity contests. We are told that Noach, one of the less popular figures in his time, found chein in the eyes of Hashem.

Winter is fast approaching. We must prepare ourselves for the cold and the snow. Though we have left the comforting walls of the sukkah, we can still maintain its protection if we preserve the levels we reached over the past months of Elul and Tishrei. If we stand tall, we will be blessed with the fortitude to weather the impending storms and not be swept away by the mabul of a world devoid of character, conscience and integrity.

In our personal teivos constructed and reinforced with Torah, we can breathe purified, rarified air and contribute to the spiritual warming of the global community.

Bereishis, the world was created for us, for me and for you, whether we are brilliant or not. Every life has value; every person’s efforts are noted and rewarded.

There was a man I would always see in shul who would come consistently with his young sons. This was back in the pre-ArtScroll days. One day, I noticed that the man could not read Hebrew. He couldn’t daven. I noticed that his lips never moved. He would come to shul and look at the siddur, flipping the pages now and then, answering amein and yehei shmei rabbah. He came for the benefit of his children. He wanted them to learn, he wanted them to daven, and he wanted them to grow up to be ehrliche Yidden, so he would come to shul and make believe.

I pitied him, the poor guy, never given the benefit of knowing the Alef-Bais. And then I began to be jealous of him. He couldn’t daven through his lips, like everyone else. He davened from his heart. Every day - summer, winter, spring and fall, in the freezing cold and in the boiling hot, through the rain, snow, sleet and hail - this nice, fine man was in shul with his siddur.

I became convinced that Hashem waited for his arrival every day. Hashem heard his prayers, which emanated from a simple good heart. Who knows what he davened for? Good children for sure, parnossah no doubt, good health, peace in the world, Moshiach, and everything else that is important. Hashem heard those prayers, just as he did those of everyone else in that shul. Everyone counts.

How many of us break our heads learning something, going through a sugya, or a perek, a masechta, or a siman in Shulchan Aruch, only to forget it a few weeks later? We can begin to feel like that young boy whose life was changed by the Steipler. What worth is my learning if I can’t retain it?

A yungerman was learning Maseches Bava Kama, and as soon as he turned the page, he forgot what was on it. Rav Ovadiah Yosef was known for his ability to quote extemporaneously from all areas of Torah scholarship. The man went to him and asked him for his secret.

There is a famous Tosafos on page 77a of the masechta that fills 98% of the page. “Are you familiar with this Tosafos?” Rav Ovadiah asked the man before proceeding to recite it by heart. “Do you know why I can recite it perfectly from memory? It’s because I studied it 200 times! Now tell me, after doing that, is there any way I could not know it by heart?”

Rav Yosef had many detractors and was occupied at different stages of his life with different challenges. In his younger years, he was poor. Then he was involved with matters involving the rabbinate, and then with botei din, and then with politics. As he grew in Torah and became increasingly famous, he had more outside pressures and things clamoring for his time. But he continued to grow and remember, because he constructed for himself a teivah of Torah and dedicated his life to its study and observance, becoming blessed not only with unforgettable knowledge, but also with the dynamism, excellence, exuberance and leadership for which Rav Ovadiah earned international and eternal fame as a beacon of light.

The few, the proud and the strong take succor in the story of Noach and his teivah. They freely and bravely walk with Hashem, ignoring the calls of the masses who have lost their way in the fog of life. They remain faithful despite being unpopular, for they know that their dream will never die. Their hope springs eternal. They are the ones whose lives are filled with chein and they are the ones who find favor in the eyes of Hashem and mankind.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Chag Someiach!

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

The life of the Rambam reflects the experience of the Bnei Yisroel in golus. Born in Cordova, Spain, to a family that traced its lineage back to Dovid Hamelech, at the age of 13 he was forced to flee. Almaden Muslims, who captured his city, gave the Jews an ultimatum: Either adopt Islam, leave, or die. His family left Spain and set out on a long voyage, which ended in Fez, Morocco. Along the way, the Rambam composed his Peirush HaMishnayos.

Fez was also under Almaden rule, but since the Maimon family was counted as foreigners, they were not forced to convert. An incident that took place on Sukkos placed the Rambam’s life in jeopardy and forced him to be on the move once again.

On Sukkos, the Rambam was walking in the street with his lulav, esrog, haddasim and aravos. It was a strange sight, as most Jews feared the Muslims and did not express their religion in public, certainly not with any degree of pride. A minister’s henchman spotted him and asked why he was parading in the street like a crazed idiot with branches and a palm stick. The Rambam replied that those who throw stones are the crazy ones, not those who observe the commandments of He who created the world.

When told of the insult to Islam, whose custom was to throw stones at the cave considered holy in Mecca, the minister decided that the Rambam should be arrested and killed. The Rambam fled and found room on a ship headed to Eretz Yisroel. There was hunger and desolation in the holy land, so he left and ended up in Egypt, where he flourished.

Sukkos is a Yom Tov that celebrates many things, among them how Hashem protects us in golus. It also hints to the eventual geulah. This is perhaps why it is said (Tur 417) that the chag of Sukkos is connected to Yaakov Avinu. He is the father associated with golus, as he left home to escape the clutches of his brother Eisov and later in life followed his son Yosef into exile in Mitzrayim. Despite all the hardships he endured, Yaakov was appreciative to Hashem for everything, as Chazal say (Medrash at the end of Parshas Vo’eschanon): “The posuk states, ‘Ve’ahavta eis Hashem Elokecha bechol levovecha uvechol nafshecha uvechol me’odecha.’ Avrohom loved Hashem with his whole heart, and Yitzchok loved Hashem with his whole soul, for he was prepared to die at the Akediah. Bechol me’odecha refers to Yaakov, who thanked Hashem for all, for the good and for the bad.”

Yaakov showed us the way to endure when we are not in our own home, but are exiled among strangers. Our ability to survive in all the temporary dwelling places in which we have found ourselves throughout the ages was instilled in us by Yaakov.

The sukkah reminds us that we are in golus, awaiting redemption. This can be inferred from the posuk (Vayikra 23:42-43) that explains that the reason we were commanded to live in the sukkah on Sukkos is “so that your generations will know that I placed the Jewish people to live in sukkos when I took them out of Mitzrayim.”

According to Rabi Akiva (Sukkah 11b), just as they dwelled in sukkos when they traveled in the desert to Eretz Yisroel, so too, as we are slowly making our way to the geulah, we commemorate what Hashem did for us back then.

Rabi Eliezer argues with Rabi Akiva and posits that the posuk (ibid.) refers to the Ananei Hakavod that hovered over the Jewish people in the desert, providing them protection. The sukkah reminds us of the time we merited the Divine protection engendered by the Shechinah traveling along with us. The reminder serves to inspire us to bring ourselves once again to the level of meriting the Shechinah being amongst us.

The Yom Tov of Sukkos is a most appropriate time for this remembrance, because, at this time, following Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, when we have repented and are cleansed of our sins and have rectified our middos ra’os, we are in a preparatory state of redemption.

The geulah cannot come as long as there is division between Jews and as long as we speak lashon hora, which is an outgrowth of sinas chinom, the original cause of the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh.

However, apparently, lashon hora is so endemic to us that it can only be eradicated by Hashem himself. It’s not me who says that. It is a Medrash at the end of Parshas Ki Seitzei.Hakadosh Boruch Hu says, ‘Because you have amongst you people who speak lashon hora, I removed My Shechinah from among you, but le’osid lavo, when I will remove the yeitzer hora from you, I will return my Shechinah among you.’”

The Medrash seems to be saying that the churban was caused by lashon hora and the Bais Hamikdosh cannot be rebuilt until we are free from lashon hora. The urge to engage in lashon hora is so great that it will take a Divine act to remove the scourge from us.

However, it would seem that following Yom Kippur, we can be on a level akin to the time when Hashem will remove the yeitzer hora altogether. It is therefore now that we construct small homes reminiscent of the Ananei Hakavod, Hashem’s Shechinah, which protected us in the desert after we left Mitzrayim.

We are saying, in essence, that we hope to be able to maintain the level we reached on Yom Kippur and merit not only sitting in the shadow of Hashem’s greatness, b’tzeilah demeheimnusah, during Sukkos, but permanently as well.

With this, we can also understand the teaching of the Vilna Gaon (Likkutei HaGra M’Vilna, Sukkos, 425) that the sukkah is meant to subjugate the yeitzer hora for lashon hora. Since we have attained a high level through the erasure of our sins and bad traits, and we sit under the s’chach, which reminds us of the Ananei Hakavod, we ponder our fate in the sukkah, which is connected to Yaakov, the father most closely associated with golus, and recognize that if we continue to refrain from lashon hora, we can bring about the ultimate redemption and the arrival of Moshiach.

With this we can also understand why when we leave the sukkah at the culmination of yom tov we recite a short prayer, something we do not do when completing any other mitzvah. We say, “Just as I properly performed and dwelled in this sukkah, so too I should merit to sit in the sukkah of the Levioson,” [at the time of Moshiach]. We are saying, that since the way we observed this mitzvah of sukkah, by refraining from lashon hora, demonstrates that we are worthy of redemption, we ask that we merit the arrival of Moshiach and the final redemption.

It was Pesach in the Kovno Ghetto and there was no matzah. A starving bochur approached the Dvar Avrohom, the senior rabbinic figure in the ghetto, and asked him if he could eat bread, since there was no matzah. The rov asked the boy in which yeshiva he had been learning before he found himself with thousands of others in that awful place. He told him that he was a student in the yeshiva in Vilkomir.

The Dvar Avrohom told the hungry bochur, “If you were someone else, I would tell you that you could eat bread, but since you are a talmid of Vilkomir, you are on a higher level and you should be moser nefesh not to eat bread on Pesach.”

We are not the same people we were a month ago. Starting in the weeks of Elul and continuing with Rosh Hashanah, the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah and Yom Kippur, we have been working to perfect our middos and rid ourselves of sin and things that hold us down. We have been seeking mitzvos to perform to help save ourselves and the world, as the Rambam admonishes us to do (Hilchos Teshuvah 3:4), and we have been growing and becoming better and holier people.

Then Sukkos comes and we are energized by our forefather Yaakov and by the ananim that hover above us as they did in the desert, when we were headed to geulah. We proudly observe all the mitzvos of the chag, with an all-encompassing simcha, as the posuk commands us.

What better time is there for Hakadosh Boruch Hu to see that we have done the best we can and merit at this time that He remove the yeitzer hora of lashon hora from us and bring the geulah sheleimah bekarov.

Wherever Jews have been, whether it was the Sinai desert, Yerushalayim in the shadows of the Bais Hamikdosh, Bavel, Rome, Spain, Morocco, Eastern and Western Europe, and everywhere in the world where we have resided since we were evicted from our home, we have sat for seven days in green-roofed wooden huts. Jews throughout the ages have carried the same exact daled minim that we do, with abundant pride and joy.

Let us not think that we live in times that are worse than those our brethren have lived in. Let us appreciate the gifts we have and be thankful that we live in a time when we can proudly walk in the street with our daled minim, and we can safely erect sukkos without fear that the municipality or neighbors will take them down. Let us suburbanites be thankful that we can have our own private sukkah and don’t have to shlep with our dishes and food up and down flights of stairs.

Let’s be thankful that our children can grow up in a time of minimal anti-Semitism, when observance of mitzvos is a natural thing to do and they don’t stick out as some vestige of a time gone by.

Sukkos is a time of happiness, brought on by being appreciative and accepting, as was our forefather Yaakov, who thanked Hashem for everything that befell him in his turbulent life. Because of that, he was able to be productive and holy, giving birth to the twelve shevotim. Because he didn’t get down when things didn’t seem right or fair, he merited being our father and the father of our nation. His son was lost, his beloved wife died young, he was often far from home and hounded, he was cold at night and sweltered by day, but he thanked Hashem for it all.

So should we!

Have a great Yom Tov. Chag someiach!

Thursday, September 26, 2019


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

It became a joke, but many years ago, when Hillary Clinton was still thought to be a somebody, she met Russian President Vladimir Putin and gave him a present. It was a cheap plastic reset button, meant to symbolize that she and her then boss Barack Obama were going to reset America’s relationship with its old nemesis. Of course, as with much else that she and Obama attempted, nothing happened.

Rosh Hashanah is our reset button, and a whole lot more. On this day, Hakadosh Boruch Hu examines everyone and every creature and decides what type of year they will have. We have the ability to do teshuvah and reset ourselves and our actions and the way we have conducted ourselves throughout the year.

The word teshuvah has at its root “shov,” commonly understood as to return. When we do teshuvah, we return to our pre-sin state and are able to connect with Hashem because the aveiros that cause separation to be formed between us and Him are erased. “Shov” has a second meaning. It also means to leave, as in the posuk which states, “Shavtem mei’acharei Hashem” (Bamidbar 14:43).

Undertaking proper teshuvah involves both definitions. We must leave behind our improper acts and also seek to return to the way we were before we sinned. Hashem then forgives us and erases the aveirah from us, as if we had never done it (Bais Elokim, Shaar Hateshuvah, 1). Therefore, we can once again reach our pre-sin level and are able reconnect with Hashem and be blessed for the coming year.

Rosh Hashanah represents a new beginning, affording us the opportunity to clean our slate - and ­neshamos - and start over again. But we have to address it from both ends.

The Rambam, in discussing the process of the judgment on the Yom Hadin, writes (Hilchos Teshuvah 3:3) that “a beinoni who has an equal number of aveiros and mitzvos does not receive the final judgment on Rosh Hashanah. Rather, it is postponed until Yom Kippur. If he has done teshuvah, he is sealed for life. If not, he is sealed for death.”

Rav Itzele Peterburger asks that since a beinoni is a person who has an equal number of mitzvos and aveiros, why is his din sealed for death if he doesn’t do teshuvah? It should be sufficient if he just performs a mitzvah and thus tips the scales in his favor.

Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach explains that since Rosh Hashanah resets everything, we cannot change our cheshbon by adding mitzvos; it is too late, as the time has passed. The only way to change our fate and balance sheet is by doing teshuvah and removing the sin from our ledger.

This gives us a new understanding of the gift of teshuvah and the chiddush it represents. In Hashem’s kindness, He allows us to go back and reverse what we have done in the past, even though the ledger book has been closed on that year and a new book is open. We need to take advantage of the gift so that we can be judged for life and a good year.

The window of opportunity began in Elul, the chodesh harachamim, when Hashem is closer to us, as gleaned from the roshei teivos of the posuk (Shir Hashirim 6:3), “Ani leDodi veDodi li,” loosely translated to mean that when I bring myself closer to Hashem, He will come closer to me.

Ever since Moshe Rabbeinu ascended Har Sinai on Rosh Chodesh Elul to daven on behalf of the Bnei Yisroel after they sinned with the Eigel, and returned to earth forty days later on Yom Kippur, every year those forty days are charged with the ability to help Jews repent and become closer to Hashem. “Dirshu Hashem behimatzo, kera’uhu behiyoso karov.” Now, when Hashem is closer to us, we should seek Him out and call out to Him, for He will answer.

We stand before Him on Rosh Hashanah, blow the shofar, and proclaim, “Hayom haras olam. Today is the day on which the world was created. Hayom yaamid bamishpot kol yetzurei olamim. Today, the forces of creation are strongly evident, as You judge all Your creatures and decide what type of year they will have.”

The day of Rosh Hashanah marks a new beginning for the world and for its inhabitants.

The new beginning can be seen as a source of comfort, for it indicates that if the past year wasn’t a good one for us, the coming year can see total improvement. Thus, we stand before our Maker on Rosh Hashanah and seek to do teshuvah, returning ourselves to when things were better for us. We are not stuck in our ways. There is no bas kol that proclaims that we are losers. We can all pick ourselves up out of the rut we are stuck in and make something of ourselves. We can walk a new path if we press the reset button.

Rosh Hashanah precedes Yom Kippur because it is the day when we begin anew. The new beginning gives us the confidence to undertake teshuvah and make ourselves great again.

A man who was removed from the beauty of Torah for much of his life merited a son who was drawn to Torah and became a baal teshuvah. Although the man had never learned a word of Torah in his life, when he retired, he decided that he wanted to learn about his religion, the one his son now adhered to. His son thought that it would be a futile effort. “It’s too complicated for you,” he said. Since this was before ArtScroll, he told him that the Gemara is written in a strange language, “one that you cannot read and do not understand. Forget it, dad. It’s not for you.”

But the man was insistent, so they began to learn. Each day, they painstakingly studied, moving at a snail’s pace, one word after another, one concept and then a second concept. This went on for months. Finally, after one year of study, they completed a whole page. The man was so excited, he wanted to make a siyum. The son wasn’t so sure that a celebration was in order for only finishing one page of Gemara. Residents of the Manhattan’s Lower East Side, they agreed to ask Rav Moshe Feinstein. After all, Rav Moshe was said to have completed Shas 300 times. Who was a better expert than him as to what qualifies for a siyum?

Rav Moshe agreed with the father that finishing even one page is cause for celebration. Not only that, but he said that he would join the father and son for the siyum. The festive party was held and Rav Moshe participated. That night, the man died in his sleep. The next day, at the levayah, Rav Moshe spoke. He said, “Yeish koneh olamo b’daf echod. It is possible for a person to earn Olam Haba by studying just one page of Gemara as this man did.”

By dedicating himself to the study of Torah, this man repented for a life of darkness. He turned himself around and had a new beginning, and although his life was short, he had earned for himself a share in the World to Come.

We should never give up. We must never think that we are too far gone or that teshuvah is too difficult an undertaking for us. Every person can do teshuvah. Every person can start over and earn for themselves eternal reward.

Every little bit helps and makes a difference. Once, when Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach was hospitalized, one particular nurse gave him special attention and care. He felt obligated to her and wanted to repay her for the kindness she bestowed upon him. She was a smoker, and before he left the hospital, he sat with the woman for fifteen minutes and explained to her the dangers of smoking and its ill effects. He told her that since she took such good care of him, he felt obligated to repay her in some way, and if she would stop smoking, that would be his reward.

He later explained that the woman was not shomeres Shabbos. If he would have asked her not to smoke on Shabbos, she would not listen, but if he could convince her to stop smoking altogether, he would be preventing her from smoking on Shabbos, and with that he would have repaid her favor.

We begin with small things and they add up. We cleanse ourselves one aveirah at a time, and by the time Yom Kippur arrives, we have become completely cleansed and have begun anew. Everyone can change. We can all change who we are and what we are doing that is incorrect and improper. There is nothing that is too difficult. It is just a question of attitude and approach.

In the shofar’s plaintive wail, we hear echoes of the blasts that were sounded at Har Sinai, when Klal Yisroel was formed into the nation of Hakadosh Boruch Hu. The shofar then proclaimed a new beginning. The shofar proclaimed that the world had reached its destiny and the purpose for its formation. There was a new beginning then, and there is a new beginning every year as the shofar is sounded on Rosh Hashanah. It reminds us of the hope and promise that lay in the future for those who put everything erroneous in the past. We start again with a new lease on life and a new look at what is important and what our goals should be. No longer are we encumbered by the swirling tensions of the physical world in which we work so hard to keep up socially and financially. We appreciate the gifts Hashem has granted us as we seek to maintain the newly-cemented connection with Him throughout the year.

So, of course we are joyous on Rosh Hashanah. With a new beginning and a new focus, we celebrate the renewed relationship with our Creator, who feeds and cares for us. Absent our chato’im, our faith that the world was created by Hashem, who cares for every living thing, is reinforced, and we are satiated by the knowledge that what happens to us and the world is not by happenstance or haphazard, but rather by Divine design. We recognize that now that we are closer to Hashem, if we reach out to Him through tefillah, He will definitely answer us. Even though things seemed dark to us previously, now that the mechitzah of sin that separated us from Hashem has been removed, we see things in a different light and know that the future holds only good for us.

The Gemara states (Rosh Hashanah 18a), “Rebi Meir says that if two people are sick with the same disease, and if two people are judged by a court for the same offense under the same circumstances, if one is healed and the other isn’t, or if one is found guilty and the other is not, why is that? It is because one davened and was answered and the other davened and was not answered. [Why was one answered and not the other? Is it not true that everyone who reaches out to Hashem in tefillah is answered?] The one who was answered davened a tefillah sheleimah, while the one who wasn’t answered didn’t.” Rashi explains that the definition of “tefillah sheleimah” is that one davened with kavonah.

We see from this Gemara that anyone who davens with kavonah can expect to be answered by Hashem.

Rav Yaakov Galinsky spoke at a family simcha. He discussed the period during the Second World War when he was sent to the Siberian gulag under a twenty-five-year sentence of hard labor. When he entered the camp, the commander let him know that the front gate only worked one way. “Nobody leaves here alive,” he told his inmates with a snicker.

Rav Galinky reminisced that while he was in that awful place, he would daven to live, and that if he would die, at least he should merit a Jewish burial.

“Little did I know that I would live to get out of that place and come to Eretz Yisroel, head a network of kollelim, and father a family of dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” he said. “This is the meaning of the posuk (Tehillim 22:2) where we pray and say, ‘Rachok m’yishu’osi divrei sha’agosi - My tefillos are far removed from my salvation.’ A person prays for a morsel of bread, for a decent burial, and Hashem answers the tefillah in ways we can never fathom.”

We think we know what is good for us and we pour out our hearts to Hashem, begging that He accept our tefillos and reward us. But we are short-sighted and simple. We don’t know what is good. We don’t know what can lie ahead in our future or the good that is destined for us.

So we do teshuvah and bring ourselves closer to Hashem. We say that we have now gone through the month of Elul and are entering the Yom Hadin and the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah. We are analyzing our behavior from throughout the past year and attempting to do teshuvah for the times we acted improperly when dealing with other people and in following the halachos of the Torah.

We proclaim that we want to return to the way we were before we sinned, before we adopted negative middos and bad habits. Hashem, we want to return to Your embrace, firm in the knowledge that it is You who created this world and guides every part of it and everything in it, and that You await us and our tefillos so that You can grant us a blessed, happy, healthy and successful year, as only You can.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Be Happy

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

This week’s parsha is replete with many blessings for those who follow the Torah. However, it also contains many klalos. Those who stray from the path will end up regretting their actions, as the enormity of the Tochacha will befall them. Regrettably, as we review the pesukim, we recognize much of the history of the Jews in golus.

This week’s election in Eretz Yisroel struck fear in the hearts of many, as several parties campaigned openly against the religious community and appealed for voters by promising that they would get the religious people out of the way. With Iran looming in the background, border states Syria and Lebanon teeming with terrorists aiming to destroy Israel, Gaza inflamed and ready to boil over any day, and the general issues of economic policy and the West Bank that usually come up in any election, you would think that the political parties would have much to debate and discuss. But you would be wrong, because the only thing being discussed was how Jewish the Jewish country should be.

A spokesman for the right-wing Yamina party summed it up, saying, “They are on a hate campaign against anything that has a Jewish aroma to it.”

Now is not the time to debate what led to this hatred for everything Jewish, but it is something that we must recognize and repair. All the kiruv organizations and all the religious and right-wing parties and Binyomin Netanyahu spent the past few weeks spinning their wheels, trying to convince regular Israelis that the religious community is not as terrible as it has been portrayed, and that they should vote for the parties and man who will maintain a strong Israel and respect religion and Israel’s basic foundations as a Jewish state.

Perhaps because the religious and secular communities do not live together, our people can be forgiven for thinking that there is more cohesion and interest in Judaism than there actually is, but many of the tag lines thrown out by the likes of Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid and Avigdor Lieberman strike fear in our hearts as we study parshiyos such as this week’s.

After all that our people have been through, personally and as a country over the past seven decades, we would imagine that there would be more of a connection to Torah, to mesorah, to tradition and to Jewish feeling. At times, our public behavior has been lacking, and that definitely should be rectified, but the hatred expressed during this campaign goes deeper than that and is indicative of an infectious rot, indicating a need for broader education and outreach. We dare not sit idly by as a war rages against the concepts of Shabbos and Yahadus that have defined our people throughout the millennia.

Let us daven that when the dust settles, cooler heads will prevail and bridges will be built and traversed, enabling our people to live in the Promised Land without the steady fear that currently envelops them. Let us daven that never again will Torah be under attack as it is now.

That is on a communal level, but on a personal level, as we study the parsha, we come across the posuk (Devorim 28:47) which states that a cause of punishment is “tachas asher lo ovadeta es Hashem Elokecha besimcha uvetuv leivov meirov kol - because you didn’t serve Hashem, your G-d, with happiness and goodness of heart when everything was plentiful.”

It would appear that the Tochacha is brought about because people don’t perform the mitzvos joyfully. In fact, it is deeper than that. As we go through the day, we must think of Hakadosh Boruch Hu and what He wants us to be doing at that time. Our obligation is not only to be happy when performing a mitzvah as we appreciate the gift of following the Torah and obeying Hashem’s word. There is no joy as great as being blessed to be able to live the meaningful, fulfilling and productive life of a shomer Torah umitzvos.

When a person lacks joy, it indicates a latent sadness brought on by an absence of satisfaction with what that person is doing. Someone who is unhappy while performing mitzvos and as he goes about his everyday avodas Hashem doesn’t grasp the greatness of what he is doing and is unaware of what he accomplishes when he performs a mitzvah. For that, he is punished.

At the beginning of the parsha, after discussing the concept of bikkurim and the offering of first fruits, the posuk (Devorim 26:11) says, “And you should be happy with all the good Hashem has given you and your family…” When a person appreciates the goodness that has been bestowed upon him, it is natural that he will be happy.

Those who are blessed “bechol hatov” and don’t appreciate the source of the blessing are unhappy souls, as the posuk of “tachas asher lo avodeta” indicates. They have everything they need and more, yet they are morose, for they don’t appreciate that the source of their blessing is Hashem. If they would believe that what they have is from the source of all good, the Creator of heaven and earth, they would find satisfaction in knowing that He who provides for every living creature in the world decided to bless them with the possessions they have. They would appreciate what they have and be thankful for it.

People who think that they have earned everything they possess by dint of their brilliance and hard work will never have enough. They will always want more. They are never satisfied. Since the reason they have what they do is because of what they have done, when they see that others have more than they do, it indicates a problem with their actions and their intelligence and what they did. They feel incomplete and weak, and are upset with themselves that they haven’t achieved more.

These people are upset when they look at others who have more money, a larger house, and a fancier car. They are overcome by jealousy that they were not able to achieve what the other person did, because they think it is in their control.

If you realize that everything that you have is from Hashem and the amount of money you earn is decided on Rosh Hashanah, then you are satisfied with whatever Hashem gives you.

A believing person does not look at what others have, nor does he become jealous if they have more than him. A person who recognizes that he should be thankful for what he has is content and is oveid Hashem b’simcha.

Happiness is a central part of a productive life and a sign of a person who has perfected his middos of emunah and bitachon. Those who know that nothing that happens in their lives is happenstance do not become depressed when confronted by tragedy and sad occurrences.

Rav Mordechai Pogromansky represented the greatness of Lithuanian bnei Torah. Even when locked in the Kovno Ghetto, surrounded by death, destruction and deprivation, he never lost his calmness brought about by emunah and bitachon. He remained devoted to Torah and was a source of chizuk to those around him. With the Jews walled into a small, constantly patrolled area, he would tell those who would gather around him that he didn’t see the ever-present German beasts. “I don’t see Germans all around us. I see pesukim of the Torah [from the Tochacha] surrounding the ghetto.”

This Torah giant saw what was transpiring as the realization of the pesukim in this week’s parsha that we read quickly and quietly. He saw those words coming to life. He was able to remain calm, because he knew that all that was happening was, in essence, the realization of the verses. He didn’t see Germans. He didn’t fear Germans. He saw and feared Hashem. He knew that whatever was going to happen was preordained by the Ribono Shel Olam.

Bombs were falling, and devastation and hunger were his daily companions, yet, with depth, sensitivity and brilliance, he sensed the stark clarity of the pesukim of the Tochacha and the reality as expressed by the Torah. Everything around him was merely a reflection of that reality, a cause-and-effect built into creation by the Creator.

At every moment, he pondered what Hashem wanted of him at that time, how He wanted him to act and to conduct himself. At all times, he accepted Hashem’s will, for that is how a believer conducts himself.

A Jew is meant to be joyful. The Arizal told his close talmid that all the unprecedented Divine revelations that he received were a reward for performing mitzvos with tremendous joy.

Simcha is attained when there is shleimus, when something is complete. When doing a mitzvah excites a person and brings him to a state of ecstasy, that indicates that he has performed the mitzvah perfectly. Hence the joy.

A sense of calm and satisfaction permeated the Kelmer Yeshiva all year round. Rav Moshe Rosenstein, later of the Lomza Yeshiva, once described what he experienced when he arrived in Kelm for the first time as a yeshiva bochur.

“As soon as I entered, a bochur came over to me. He greeted me with a smile and a handshake. He asked me how I was and when I had arrived. He asked me if I had a place to eat and sleep and about my general welfare.

“He was so friendly to me and I was trying to place him. He had to be an old friend I didn’t recognize. A minute after our conversation concluded, another young man came over to me. He was another long lost friend I didn’t recognize. He smiled at me and was so happy to see me. He asked how I was doing, when I came, and if I had what I need. I assured him that all was well and moved along, embarrassed that I didn’t remember him.

“Then another boy came over, and then another one. By the time I was done, it seemed to me as if the whole yeshiva had welcomed me graciously, with smiles on their faces, as if they knew me. It took a while, but then I came to understand.”

Kelm meant treating every person with kindness, whether the talmidim knew him or not. Everyone created b’tzelem Elokim is worthy of respect and a smile.

In fact, there was a consensus in Kelm to greet people the same way even during the month of Elul and the period of the Yomim Noraim. The talmidim of the renowned mussar yeshiva were overwhelmed with preparing themselves for the Yom Hadin and did not engage in idle chatter during this somber time. Yet, even then, everyone was greeted joyously and with love, with a beaming face and a smile.

The chinuch we provide our children should also involve the joy of doing mitzvos. Too often, mitzvos come across to children as burdens and things they resent because of the harshness with which they are presented. If children are made to feel that the Torah and its commandments are grueling and stress-inducing, they will view them as a burden, and it will be difficult for them to accept them. When they mature, they may be tempted, chalilah, to rid themselves of the shackles placed upon them in their youth.

But if Yiddishkeit is invigorating and joyous, learning is exhilarating, and there is nothing as euphoric as Shabbos, then our youth will appreciate what they have and grow with it as they mature.

Shul should be a pleasant experience, with a meaningful davening among satisfied people happy to thank Hashem for His beneficence and ask for more. School should be cheerful and inviting. People don’t generally thrive or do well under punishing circumstances, with constant pressure and fatigue, or in places where the restrictions are overwhelming.

Perhaps there was a time when negativity and harshness were effective with children and adults, but those days have passed, as is evident by the many dropouts and at-risk youth. We have to bring back the everyday pride everyone felt about being a frum Jew and the merriment with which people were infused.

We all face challenges. The tendency to become saddened and overweighed by life’s burdens is understandable. But why lead a life of sorrow when, no matter how bad a person’s condition is, there is reason to smile and hope? There is always something to be happy about. Hashem created you and watches over you. It is He who has given you challenges, and it is He who will help you overcome them and succeed.

The courage to understand is the theme of Elul.

We read further in the parsha (28:1) that if we adhere to all the mitzvos we were commanded by Hashem and follow His word, we will merit to be ascendant over all the other nations.

It is interesting to note that this posuk is preceded by the one which states, “Arur asher lo yokim es divrei haTorah hazos - Cursed shall be the one who does not uphold [raise] the Torah.”

The Ramban cites the Yerushalmi in Sotah (7:4) that states that this curse is referring to people who are in a position to influence others to come closer to and support Torah but fail to do so. People who shirk that responsibility are included in this arur. Even if a person is a complete tzaddik, if he could draw people closer to the holiness and truth of Torah and doesn’t, he is included in the arur.

The Chofetz Chaim would repeat this Ramban and strengthen its message by quoting the Gemara in Shabbos (54), which says that one who has the ability to protest against wrongful actions of the people of his town and fails do so is punished as well. One who reproaches his fellows and causes them to return to proper behavior, thereby enhancing kevod Shomayim, is showered with the brachos in this week’s parsha that were delivered on Har Gerizim.

The Chofetz Chaim would conclude that to receive those brachos, each person should use his abilities for the causes of Torah. If Hashem blessed someone with money, he should use it to build yeshivos for the study of Torah. If he is blessed with oratory skills, he should use them to raise money for yeshivos and other Torah causes. He should speak out against practices that cause a weakening of our religion.

As the Yom Hadin approaches, we all seek zechuyos so that we will merit being inscribed in the book of tzaddikim.

As the world spins out of control and rogue nations gird themselves with weapons capable of causing colossal damage, we realize that there is no one we can depend on to protect us other than Hashem. We seek to be included with those the posuk refers to as “boruch, the blessed ones.”

Hashem created every person uniquely because it takes the varied capabilities possessed by different people to accomplish things and strengthen a nation. Let us all use the talents we have been blessed with to improve our situation and that of Klal Yisroel.

Let us always be kind and thoughtful, always considering other people, and treating everyone as a tzelem Elokim.

Let us act like mentchen wherever we are. For example, how about starting with improving our driving habits, so that powering a car in a frum area doesn’t become a stress test? Let’s obey common courtesies, such as letting people merge and make left turns and exit from parking lots and parking spaces.

Let us be ever vigilant in our behavior, remaining loyal to the Shulchan Aruch, our mesorah, and what we know is true and proper. Let us maintain the strength of character and purpose necessary to remain upstanding in a tipsy world.

Let us seek to bring the beauty and joy of Torah to our brethren who don’t yet feel welcome in the tent of Yahadus. Let us spread the wealth of Shabbos and mitzvos to the less fortunate who reside in a grayscale world. Let us show that with love, joy and a smile, we can expand the tent of the blessed ones.

May we earn the brachos for a year of success, good health, parnossah, happiness and shleimus.