Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Coin of Chevron

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

This week, we learn of the zenith that man reached when the Bnei Yisroel were given the Torah at Har Sinai. The moments at Sinai were the culmination of the world’s creation, as Chazal derive from the word bereishis, with which the Torah begins. They say, “Bereishis, bishvil Yisroel shenikreu reishis, bishvil haTorah shenikrais reishis.”

The Gemara (Avodah Zorah 9a) states that from the time of the world’s creation, there were 2,000 years of emptiness before the Torah was removed from its place On High and given to the Bnei Yisroel at Sinai. The Gemara (Shabbos 88a) teaches that Hakadosh Boruch Hu made a condition with the creatures of creation that if the Jewish people would accept the Torah, He would permit the world to remain in existence, but if they would refuse the Torah, Hashem would destroy the world.

The essence of creation, and the existence of the world as we know it, is kabbolas haTorah. As long as we remain accepting of the Torah, the world can exist. If we would let go of the Torah, the world would cease to exist. It is a constant equivalency.

I always knew that, but this week I learned a new twist to this concept.

One of the many gifts that Hashem has given me is that I have developed a closeness over the years with Rav Dovid Cohen, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Chevron in Yerushalayim.

Every time I am in Eretz Yisroel, I visit him and merit that we discuss matters of Torah and hashkofah. This week he is visiting the United States, delivering shmuessen and shiurim in various yeshivos in the New York area and a major address at the Dirshu Siyum Hashas Sunday night.

We were speaking on Sunday morning, and he told me that he wants people to know that while the other reasons he came to the United States are important, to him the most important component of his visit is to help Yeshivas Chevron.

In the United States, everyone knows of the large role of the yeshivos of Mir and Brisk, also Ponovezh, but few know and appreciate the large role that Chevron plays in teaching and spreading Torah.

The rosh yeshiva recounted that Rav Nochum Partzovitz, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Mir, would say that the mesirus haTorah at Har Sinai continues today in the yeshivos. Rav Dovid said that every day, when he enters the great bais medrash of Yeshivas Chevron, “I see 1,500 bochurim happily engaged in the study of Torah. I hear the kol Torah. I feel the joy and I see the realization of what Rav Nochum said. I see the mesirus haTorah at Har Sinai continuing in the Chevroner bais medrash.

“The Chevron Yeshiva is like no other,” he explained. “Chevron is the only yeshiva that carries the direct uninterrupted mesorah from its founding in Slabodka by the Alter 139 years ago through today.”

Slabodka, the mother of yeshivos, was founded in 1881 by the Alter of Slabodka. Most of the yeshivos that followed were founded and led by students of the Alter of Slabodka. The derech hayeshivos, down to the style of davening, is from Slabodka. But the only yeshiva with a direct chain leading back to the Alter and his progeny, uninterrupted by war, is Chevron.

Where Will They See It?

Listen to Rav Eliyohu Eliezer Dessler mourn the churban of the yeshivos during World War II (Michtov M’Eliyohu, Volume 1, page 70): “My dear children, give me your hearts and listen well to what I say. Our generation is different than others, for it is one of destruction. No, we cannot appreciate or comprehend the wealth that we had that was destroyed and is gone.

“The memories are still fresh, but they fade with time, and presently we have nothing. We are empty.

“The spiritual wealth, the air of the yeshivos, the ambition for greatness and truth, the lomdus, the yiras Shomayim, the loving connection each one felt for the other, these are all gone and not with us anymore… The Shechinah has departed from amongst us; our children will not see it in us. And if we will tell them of what was, of what we saw and what we lived, to them it will be only a story and not reality.

“We saw the Shechinah in the hearts of the holy people, but where will they see it?”

Bastion of Greatness

The yeshivos were the lifeblood of our people, the home of the Shechinah, of the holy Torah scholars, of those who spread and taught Torah and mussar, and then it was all destroyed and went up in smoke. That impacted all the yeshivos, except Slabodka, which was transplanted to Chevron and from there to Yerushalayim. From there, the kedusha never departed, the holy ones never left the bais medrash, the Shechinah remained there, and the mesirus haTorah of Sinai took place there uninterrupted from 1881 until this very day.

What is so special about Chevron?

Listen as Rav Yitzchok Hutner depicts the experience of a bochur in Chevron, (Pachad Yitzchok, Michtovim, 166):

“If there was a coin that would symbolize the greatness of Yeshivas Chevron, on one side there would be engraved an image of toiling in Torah and aliyah, caring for - and concentrating for - itself. On the other side there would be an image of light with rays of warmth shining forth in a wide circle encompassing the near and the far.

“At the inception of the yeshiva in Chevron, two main characteristics formed its existence: the freshness and vivaciousness of the heart and the stretching of muscles in the pursuit of Torah and yirah. These two characteristics merged into one flow.

“It is hard to say which attribute is the father and which is the child. Is it joy brought on by being engaged in the holy work or are the holy efforts enabled by being in a state of joy? In truth it was both, simcha brought on by avodah and avodah brought on by simcha, with the crown of the nobility of talmidei chachomim glittering upon them.

“Added to that is the spirit of Eretz Yisroel, which brings forth extra blessings upon the efforts of the students, allowing each one to attain, according to his own abilities, to unanticipated levels.

“Everyone in Chevron knew that the days spent here developed his personality, and that created the idyllic spirit that hovered in the air and created the atmosphere in this factory which creates great men. This is how the simcha and intense avodah were raised to the level of creating a great person.

“And this brings us to the second side of the coin: the appearance of the freshness of youthful energy, combined with intelligence and talent, internal pressure to grow, and the song of exalted youth, when they are totally dedicated to Torah, creates a live portrait of the supreme greatness of Torah.

“This precious individual – the student of Chevron - sharpens hearts and impresses other hearts. These hearts combine and gather around a great circle of dedicated friends who clutch the corners of the mizbei’ach, so they can be warmed by the flames that burn on the holy altar.

“Even those who were distant would direct their hearts and bring upon themselves the light that shone from Chevron.

“It was impossible for anyone who encountered this reality to refrain from taking a step towards greatness. Even for those who only merited a fleeting brush with this live performance of Torah majesty, it was impossible for them to continue on without being inspired by the honor and glory of Torah…”

That greatness continues until this very day within the halls of Yeshivas Chevron. The greatness and majesty of Torah are evident there. The sounds of sweetness and joy rise to a crescendo as bochurim, energized by their inner drive to rise and excel, engage themselves and each other in the pursuit of growth in Torah.

The great rosh yeshiva sits among them, providing guidance and direction, demonstrating through his actions and knowledge the superior heights to which man can reach if he dedicates himself to clinging to Torah.

The rosh yeshiva says, “The mesirus haTorah of Har Sinai is real in Chevron. I feel it every day. I welcome everyone to come visit our yeshiva. Come see 1,500 future leaders of Klal Yisroel as they fight to grasp every word of Hashem’s Torah.”

With Every Step

Slabodka is famed for the gadlus ha’adam that the Alter excelled in bringing out in his talmidim. Every talmid was treated differently and nurtured according to his individual talents and nature, guided to realize his fullest potential for greatness. Slabodka also stood for romemus, exalted loftiness, brought on by dedication to Torah, to chaveirim, to mussar, and to kiyum hamitzvos.

The students of the legendary master stood out not only in their greatness in Torah and kiyum hamitzvos, but also in the way they carried themselves, the way they spoke to other people, and the way they performed mitzvos and maasim tovim. They carried themselves with pride, they acted with dignity, and they lived with an inner joy and satisfaction on high levels of dedication to Hashem and his Torah. With every step taken and every word uttered, they were mekadeish sheim Shomayim and added to the world’s kedusha.

Who are we? What do we stand for? What defines us? Most of us don’t usually think of such heady questions, but if we are serious about our Yiddishkeit and why we are in this world, we do have to be able to readily answer them. Talmidim of Slabodka and the other yeshivos were always able to do so. They knew why they were here and lived their lives in that spirit. It is incumbent upon us to work upon ourselves to reach that level and comport ourselves as people who understand our role, obligation and mission.

And while we are discussing our obligations and our missions, it is a good time to remember that we must never compromise. Torah must remain supreme and its support uncorrupted by expedience. There is enough money in our world to support all the Torah institutions without compromising on principles and halacha. We must remain ever-vigilant and cognizant of our actions and their repercussions.  

A Living Commitment

After my conversation with Rav Dovid Cohen, I left to participate in the cheder feerin of my grandson, who had just recently had his upsherin. It was heartwarming to watch how Rav Chaim Dovid Birnhak, the primary rebbi at Yeshiva K’tana of Lakewood, masterfully welcomed little Eli into the world of Torah.

I was overcome by the love and dedication he displayed as he went through each one of the Alef-Bais letters with the little boy he had never met. He lovingly held the “chosson” on his lap as he spoke of the sweetness of Torah and placed honey on the letters alef, mem and sof. While keeping the attention of the class, he made learning so geshmak for the future talmid chochom that he was ready to leave his morah and go to learn in the rebbi’s class every day.

The mesirus haTorah of Har Sinai that is alive in the bais medrash of Yeshivas Chevron is also tangible in the primary classroom of Yeshiva K’tana of Lakewood and in every bais medrash and classroom where rabbeim and talmidim dedicate themselves to knowing why they were created and what their mission is.

That same mesirus and kabbolas haTorah are present in the hearts of good Yidden who follow their mesorah and expend their efforts to grow in Torah and kiyum hamitzvos. Let us dedicate ourselves to be among those who feel a renewed transmission of and commitment to Torah every day.

Wednesday, February 05, 2020


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz 

How many times do you hear people discussing something and exclaim, “That’s insane.” The truth is we are living in insane times. So much of what goes on really is insane.

Let’s take a look at the news. As soon as President Donald Trump was sworn in, the Washington Post called for his impeachment. Impeachment? He just got into office. He didn’t even do anything yet. How could he be impeached and on what basis? It didn’t matter.

The Democrats were sure that Hillary Clinton would be elected president, putting them in charge of Congress and the White House. They saw the continuation of their control, power and everything that comes with it. And then, in one fell swoop, it all collapsed. The non-politician, who didn’t play by the rules and campaigned on an anti-incumbent platform, had won against all odds. They had to stop him in his tracks and not permit him to carry out his plans. They would make sure he would fail.

They voted against everything he wanted, but he succeeded anyway. Not only did he succeed, but he did so on an historic level. He got the economy moving well. More people have jobs now than ever before. The economy is chugging along at a pace that Obama and the Democrats had said would be impossible.

Trump signed a trade deal with China, something that everyone said would never happen; he renegotiated the hated NAFTA trade deal with Mexico and Canada and got a new deal approved. The stock market is at historic highs.

For practical purposes, Trump ended ISIS. He killed the head of ISIS as well as the head of the Iranian terror corps. He recognized Yerushalayim as the capital of Israel and approved the annexation of the Golan. He set forth a realistic peace plan for the Mideast. At each one of these junctures, none of the predicted rioting and violence broke out.

His adversaries tried taking him down, claiming that he had colluded with Russia. The Democrats attempted to fabricate other scandals. Nothing worked. Nothing stuck. They appointed a special prosecutor and he came up empty. Not only that, but after being promoted as the most capable person for the position, the special prosecutor showed himself to be way past his prime.

The Impeachment Circus

Finally, they hit on a telephone call the president had with the president of Ukraine and thought they had caught him red-handed. With time running out and the election approaching, they took their chances and decided to impeach the president based on second-hand information conjured up by a so-called whistleblower. A transparent ruse, but they were desperate.

The president called their bluff and released the transcript of that conversation, which showed that he had done nothing wrong. Yet the die had been cast, and the Democrats rolled out their impeachment hearings in Congress.

Impeachment’s main cheerleader proved himself to be a serial liar when the transcript he presented of the president’s conversation with the Ukrainian president was shown to be as bogus as his previous claim that he had proof that Trump colluded with Russia to get elected. Equally phony, as it turned out, was his claim that he and his staff had never met with the whistleblower, and he didn’t know who he was.

After holding a biased investigation and rushed hearing, Congress voted to impeach the president, even though they knew that the Senate would exonerate him. It was an insane waste of time and energy and showed Congress to be a partisan group beholden to the progressive wing of the party and unable to thoroughly analyze an issue and its ramifications.

The circus moved to the Senate and the charade continued, but the Republicans hold the majority in the Senate, so the charade was kept to a minimum. After both sides presented their cases, the president was exonerated and allowed to continue in office, while the corrupt Joe Biden continued bumbling his way through Iowa.

Historic Peace Plan Wins Unprecedented Support

Meanwhile, the president continued to perform in office on behalf of the country and hotspots around the world. Putting impeachment behind him, even before it was over, he flew off to Davos to highlight the country’s booming economy. Last week, he rolled out his long-awaited Mideast peace plan.

Every president has tried to force peace on Israel, and it hasn’t worked. This president fashioned a plan based upon what is just and correct, working with Binyomin Netanyahu as well as Arab states, who over time have come to accept Israel’s existence and work with the Jewish state they had previously fought.

Since 1967, much has changed. The United States doesn’t need Arab oil anymore. Arab states are fearful of Iran and its intentions, and the Palestinians have done nothing to improve their lot, spurning every effort to assist them.

You would think that Democrats and Republicans would support the plan, which offers a realistic blueprint for giving the Palestinians a whole lot more than they deserve, while satisfying Israel’s security needs and historic connection to the land.

Yet, because we live in insane times, Joe Biden, whom liberal Jews view as a dear friend, said that the plan is a “political stunt that could … set back peace.” The responses from other Democrat candidates for president proved just as disappointing. Senator Warren is very upset that the plan is a “rubber stamp for annexation” that “offers no chance for a real Palestinian state.” Bernie Sanders says that it “will only perpetuate the conflict.”

Everyone else saw the virtues of the plan. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Qatar and Oman all recognized the historic possibilities of Trump’s proposal. Everyone except Iran and Turkey and those beholden to them, has supported the plan. Even the Europeans, no great lovers of Israel, came out in favor, some more than others.

Everyone realizes that the Trump plan will set the new bar when dealing with America, unless something should happen and President Trump does not win re-election.

The world realizes that Israel seeks peace and the Palestinians have only one interest: to obliterate Israel. Everyone has had enough of their shenanigans, terror, and ineptitude. The Sunni Arabs and the West want the issue to go away already, so they can work together with each other to neutralize Iran. It’s insane that only the American and Israeli left don’t get it and are rallying for the poor Palestinians.

A Solution from the Wise Men of Chelm

What else is insane?

If you have traveled on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway - and who hasn’t? - you know that this vital New York City artery is in dire need of repair and expansion. The highway simply can’t hold all the traffic of the people in the expanding city. The BQE can’t handle three times the amount of traffic it was built to accommodate.

The mayor appointed a committee to come up with a rescue plan for the road. They came back with a recommendation to cut out two lanes and make the highway two lanes in each direction instead of three. This will make it harder for people to get around in cars and force them to find alternative means of transportation. As if, in a city of millions of people, with millions more passing through, removing the ability to get around will help the people and the city.

What could be more insane, more counterproductive? And when New York City’s population starts shrinking and people stop coming in to shop and to do business, they will appoint another commission to figure out why.

And do you know what else is insane? Paroh.

Moshe appeared repeatedly before Paroh and warned him that if he didn’t free the Jewish people, he would be struck by supernatural occurrences brought about by the G-d of the Jews. The makkah came, Paroh and his nation suffered, and he said that he would let them go. Then, as soon as the makkah passed, Paroh returned to his stubborn ways.

We look at Paroh and laugh at his stupidity. It was so obvious that if he would acquiesce to the will of Hashem, he and his country would be freed of the afflictions and they would be allowed to return to living normal lives. How can it be that Paroh and his nation failed to recognize that?

The Ramban (Shemos 14:4) writes that the biggest of all the nissim that transpired with Paroh was that he and his army chased after the Bnei Yisroel at the Yam Suf, even after seeing that the sea opened for them. How insane it is that even though they saw the sea split supernaturally to allow the Jews a path of escape, they charged in after them full force, convinced that they would defeat the Jews and their G-d.

It is easy for us to read the pesukim and mock Paroh and his people that they were too senseless to recognize that what befell them was from Hashem, and to finally acquiesce to Hashem’s request. But if we take an honest look at ourselves, we have to admit we quite often behave the same way as the insane Mitzriyim.

Hakadosh Boruch Hu created us and sustains us and provided us with the Torah to guide us. As the Ramban writes at the end of last week’s parsha (13:16), the foundation of our belief is to know that those who follow Hashem’s guidance are blessed and those who don’t, suffer the consequences.

Hashem causes things to befall us so that we recognize that we aren’t following His ways and need to rectify our actions. When a person gets sick or has other problems, they are messages from Hashem, communicating our need to do teshuvah, no different than the messages Paroh received.

Too often, however, we are like Paroh and attribute what happens to teva, nature. If there is a hurricane and it damages our property and causes us losses, we don’t get the message. Instead, we say that too much warm water rose from the ocean and collided with cooler air. We forget that everything that happens to us is by Divine design for a reason. Nothing is haphazard. Nothing happens by itself, not even the coronavirus.

Understanding Shomayim Language

There was a Jewish merchant from China whose travels led him to Europe to seek out new avenues of distribution and sources of goods. Before heading home, he made a detour to the hamlet of Radin to seek a brocha from the Chofetz Chaim. He introduced himself to the Chofetz Chaim.

Foon vanet kumt a Yid?” asked the Chofetz Chaim.

“I am from China,” the man told him.

Vos hert zach in China?”

“It’s very difficult there,” said the man. “There is no proper chinuch. There is no shechitah. It is very hard to keep Shabbos.”

“It is a tzoras rabim,” responded the Chofetz Chaim. “In many countries around the globe, Jews are experiencing the same problems. I published a sefer for them. It’s called ‘Nidchei Yisroel.’ Please take some seforim with you and distribute them in China. The sefer teaches how to maintain your Yiddishkeit in difficult surroundings.”

The Chofetz Chaim paused. “What else is doing in China?” he asked.

The man discussed the state of the Jews there, not sure what else to add. He told the Chofetz Chaim that he had been away from his country for several weeks.

Before you left,” asked the tzaddik, “what were people there speaking about? What were they writing about in the newspapers?”

The visitor thought for a moment, suddenly recalling an incident that had been widely covered by the newspapers back home. He shared the account with the Chofetz Chaim.

“The Chinese government built a huge dam, making available a tremendous amount of land for agriculture,” said the man. “But the dam was built very sloppily and could not withstand the awesome power of all the water it had backed up. The dam collapsed and flooded a very large area. 100,000 people died.”

The Chofetz Chaim was visibly shaken and became emotional.

Oy vey. Oy vey. The middas hadin is running rampant! It has reached as far as China,” he said.

The man was perplexed.

“Can I ask the rebbe a question?” he queried. “Why is it that when I told you about the matzav of the Jews in China, you accepted it without much emotion, but when I told you about the Chinese people, you cried bitter tears?”

“During your European trip, were you in Warsaw?” asked the Chofetz Chaim of his visitor.

“Yes,” the man replied.

“How many Jews live there and what percentage of the population are they?” asked the Chofetz Chaim.

“There are about 300,000 Jews out of a population of a little over one million,” said the man.

“If a man stands on a soap box on a street corner delivering a speech in Yiddish, who is he addressing?” questioned the Chofetz Chaim.

“The Jews who are passing by, of course,” responded the man. “Why are you asking?”

“But you yourself said that they are but a minority in the city, correct?”

“Sure,” said the man, still confused. “But the goyim don’t understand Yiddish, so if someone is speaking in Yiddish, he must be addressing the Jewish passersby and not the gentiles.”

“Exactly,” replied the Chofetz Chaim. “The same is true with the dam that burst in China. When the water was unleashed to kill 100,000 people, that was the language of Heaven. It was a warning from Hashem. But the Chinese don’t understand ‘Shomayim language.’ We do. The Jews are the ones who cry out on the Yomim Noraim, ‘Mi bamayim.’ We understand that when such occurrences take place, they are meant to send us a message. But how are we, in Radin, to know about what happened? That’s why Hashem sent you here. He sent you to tell us what took place and for us to hear the Heavenly speech.”

Hashem is patient and loving, and sends us one message after the other as he waits for us to turn to him in tefillah and teshuvah. Let us not be insane. Let us get the message. Remember from where we come and the source of everything so that we can improve and better ourselves, and merit all the brachos reserved for those who follow Hashem’s Torah.

Let’s not get into a rut. Let us not fall prey to personal and communal makkos. Let us always be alert and on guard to recognize what is going on around us and remember that “hakol bishvil Yisroel.”

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Historic Times

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz 

Put aside politics, religion and your personal thoughts about the State of Israel. Something monumental took place last week in Yerushalayim. Over fifty heads of state gathered in Yerushalayim to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

In a world where parlor meetings are termed historic, this was something that was really significant and momentous. And we should sit up and take notice. At a time when people are consumed with touting the supposed increasing anti-Semitism around us, people who decide the fates of countries and hundreds of millions of people came together in the Jewish state that didn’t exist 75 years ago to declare that they will do what they can to ensure that Jews are not targeted for complete destruction ever again.

No, it is not up to them, but to hear them say it is a dramatic, remarkable change.

It is historic, indeed.

In the context of history, 75 years is an infinitesimal dot. In a book, it’s one sentence. In a calendar, it is the flip of a page. To have the leaders of the world gather in the capital of the Jewish nation so soon after the world stood by as millions of our brothers and sisters were systematically murdered in the most degrading way, is to have come a long way in a short time.

Nowadays, especially with the partisan impeachment of an American president underway, we tend to ignore what politicians say, or, at best, we take their words with several grains of salt. Often, they don’t believe what they say. They merely mouth the words and give expression to what was written by a lonely speechwriter in a stuffy, windowless back room.

That may be true, but if Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, comes to Yerushalayim with a rabbinic friend and speaks against anti-Semitism just a few years after the fall of the Iron Curtain which cut off millions of Jews from their religion, that is historic.

‘I Cannot Forgive’

If a 7-½-year-orphaned boy, prisoner number 117030, locked in a concentration camp, can stand in front of world leaders 75 years later and proclaim, “I cannot forgive and I cannot forget [what was done to me]. What I remember is that I am the 38th generation of a rabbinic dynasty; I remember that I am a Jew,” and those words trigger applause, that is historic.

We need to know that we live in historic times, free to rebuild what was destroyed in the past century and the preceding centuries, free to hop aboard an airplane and walk the streets of Eretz Yisroel and daven in the holiest places. It is historic and we should appreciate it. We have come a long way and can hear the footsteps of Moshiach approaching.

We are an eternal people, with a long history. For thousands of years, the nations of the world have been trying to destroy us, and despite all their best efforts, we are here, thriving and flourishing. We study Parshas Bo this week and note that the pesukim and narratives of this parsha encompass many of the words and stories intrinsic to our faith, as well as special guidance in being mechaneich one’s children.

On the night of the Pesach Seder, every father is charged with imparting to the next generation the eternal messages and lessons that emanate from our experiences in Mitzrayim and our deliverance from bondage. In the process of retelling, we relate the lessons of sippur yetzias Mitzrayim to our children and ourselves, as we try to remain true to our calling in today’s golus.

The Ramban famously teaches that Parshas Bo is the guidebook of emunas Yisroel, which is the foundation of our belief throughout the ages. Interestingly, besides for Yetzias Mitzrayim being the bedrock of our faith, within the account of Yetzias Mitzrayim we find important chinuch lessons and timeless truths about how to maximize the potential of every Jewish child.

Divine Wisdom On Reaching Every Child

It is in regard to the mitzvah of sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim that the Torah charges each father to be a mechaneich, invested with a sacred task of inspiring his children. The Rambam (Hilchos Chometz Umatzoh 7:2) writes that it is incumbent upon fathers to teach children about Yetzias Mitzrayim, and a father should teach his children according to each child’s level.

Several pesukim in the parsha discuss how to teach our children about the importance of Yetzias Mitzrayim and its connection to the mitzvos we observe on Pesach.

The Torah discusses diverse questions that various types of children may pose. A different response is suggested for each type of child. Rashi quotes the Mechilta and the Yerushalmi in Pesachim that state, “Dibrah Torah keneged arba’ah bonim.” The Baal Haggadah says, “Keneged arba’ah bonim dibrah Torah,” the Torah speaks about four different types of sons who question our Pesach observances. There is the wise, the wicked, the ignorant, and the one who is so simple that he cannot even express his questions.

It is interesting to note that the Haggadah introduces this concept by stating, “Boruch haMakom boruch hu, boruch shenosan Torah le’amo Yisroel.” Hashem is to be praised for giving us the Torah - “keneged arbaah bonim dibrah Torah.” We praise Hashem for giving us the Torah, which speaks - and is relevant - to different types of children and people.

While every father wants to be blessed with smart, knowledgeable, well-behaved children, they unfortunately don’t always turn out that way. The Torah provides the language with which to reach each and every type of child, including the challenging ones. As frustrated as a father must feel at times, he doesn’t have the option of ignoring or speaking roughly to such a child. 

Every person is born with the potential for greatness. Should he unfortunately be detoured from his mission, we never abandon him. The Torah requires us to reach out to him and respond to his queries in a language he can understand.

Every talmid has the potential to become a gadol b’Yisroel if properly nurtured and allowed to develop. There are many stories of boys who were considered average in their youth and developed into famed gedolim. Sometimes it was a rebbi who took an interest in them and reached deep into their untapped greatness. Other times, a student’s stubborn dedication to learning allowed the intelligence to develop.

This is profound meaning in the posuk in Mishlei that states, “Chanoch lanaar al pi darko.” The premise of that advice is that every child has a unique derech. There is a distinct path to the heart of every child. When the appropriate language and approach are used, there is no one who cannot be reached.

In this week’s parsha, we are reminded that the Torah speaks to every person. We have to heed that message and seek to speak to every Jew in every period in a way that he can understand and accept.

When we speak of the Holocaust, we must bear in mind Yetzias Mitzrayim. When we teach the next generation about the Nazis, we think of Amaleik three thousand years later.

We seek methods to reach our children, to reach the youth of today. The Torah speaks of arba’ah bonim, four sons, and also offers four expressions, arba leshonos, of geulah. Perhaps this is a hint that in order to bring about the ultimate geulah, we have to use language that is appropriate for every type of child.

If we only speak in one lashon, we will not succeed in reaching everyone which in turn will thwart our efforts to bring about the geulah. The geulah is dependent upon everyone’s belief in Hashem and devotion to the mitzvos of the Torah.

Golus Mitzrayim was preordained to last 400 years starting from the birth of Yitzchok. When that time period concluded, the geulah arrived, despite the state of the Jewish people at that time. Golus Edom, in which we now find ourselves, has no known expiration date. The redemption depends on us, our dedication to Torah, our emunah and bitachon, and, mostly, our teshuvah.

It is only when Klal Yisroel does teshuvah that Hashem will bring us Moshiach and the geulah.

The yeitzer hora is a crafty enemy. Because he understands our motivations, he is able to outsmart us. For us to perceive the plainly evident truth is an epic struggle, for he shades and colors the way we understand what is happening around us and goads us to react in ways that harm us.

He uses words and ideas that paint negative actions as positive ones and causes us to view positive accomplishments with negativity and cynicism. He tells us that [not] all who wander are lost and endeavors to remove our focus from the goal. But that doesn’t work for us as a people. If we want to reach those who have questions and prevent them from going OTD, we have to be open and honest. We have to learn how to address our own issues using real solutions and honest ideas, not being content with noise or soundbites. What we need is practical direction, not grandstanding for the glory of the moment or fanciful thinking that has no application to reality.

Beyond Cliches

Having world leaders come together to give speeches about anti-Semitism may be historic and sound comforting, but a few good speeches alone never changed anything. Change requires clearly thought-through approaches, implemented with hard work and effort.

Much the same, seeking to be mechaneich children with clichés, stale arguments and outdated methods cause them to be turned off.

A mechaneich traveled from Yerushalayim to Bnei Brak to consult with the Chazon Ish on chinuch matters. Before he had a chance to begin speaking, the Chazon Ish turned to him and said, “I see on your face that you are not happy. You need to know that it is impossible to reach children without simcha. It is simply not possible.”

A young boy sat with his father in Auschwitz reciting what they could remember of the Haggadah on the Seder night. As they found themselves in the world’s most dismal corner during the darkest of times, their minds were elsewhere.

The father and son, shuddering from hunger, fright and exhaustion, held their Seder in Auschwitz. As they attempted to recall the memories of Sedorim in years past, at home, with the festive atmosphere, beautiful faces of family gathered around the decorated table, the emaciated boy with his scarecrow of a father commemorated the redemption of their forefathers.

The boy asked the four questions of the Mah Nishtanah and, when he was done, there was a fifth.

Tatte leben ich vil dir fregin… I have one more question. Will we be alive next year, me and you, so that I can ask you the questions again?”

The father turned to the boy and said, “My son, we don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Neither of us knows what our fate is. But one thing I know: Whether or not we will live until next Pesach, you can be sure that next year there will be boys all around the world asking their fathers the Mah Nishtanah.”

Our history continues, stretching back to the days of Mitzrayim, fathers relating to children and looking to the past and the future. Every day, we say Krias Shema in the morning, when we awake and begin the day, and again in the evening, when we go to bed at the close of the day. We are then reminded of Yetzias Mitzrayim. This reinforces the concept that despite all the threats we face from the nations of the world in every age, Hakadosh Boruch Hu inevitably protects us from them and ensures our survival.

The nations come and go, rise and fall. Their actions and speeches resonate and then dissipate, but as long as we continue studying Parshas Bo and transmitting its messages to our children, we shall survive and thrive until the coming of Moshiach speedily in our day.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

What’s Doing?

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Va’eira, which we lain this week, is the second parsha in the seder of geulah. Although Shemos, Va’eira and Bo are separately named parshiyos, together they tell the remarkable story leading to our nation’s redemption from slavery.

Moshe Rabbeinu appears before the Bnei Yisroel and attempts to shine rays of hope about the future upon them. He promises that after hundreds of years of servitude, the Jewish nation would be redeemed. And guess what happened? Nobody cared to listen to him. The posuk (6:9) reports, sadly and hauntingly, “Velo shomu el Moshe mikotzer ruach umei’avodah kashah.”

Just try to imagine the scene. Moshe Rabbeinu was tending to his flock in the wilderness as he had been doing for many years, ever since he escaped from Mitzrayim. Suddenly, he beheld the extraordinary sight of a bush aflame. He stopped what he was doing to consider what was taking place in front of him, as he wondered how it could be that the fire was burning but the bush wasn’t being consumed.

Like his ancestor, Avrohom Avinu, who studied the world and concluded that it could not have come into being by itself, as the Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 39:1) relates, Moshe perceived that the Creator was announcing His Presence. He recognized that this was a defining moment in his life.

While Moshe was standing at the bush, the Ribbono Shel Olam addressed him, stating that he has been selected for a lofty mission, with a mandate to save His people.

Moshe asks for assurance. “What Name shall I tell them?” he says.

Hashem revealed Himself using the name of “Ehkeh asher Ehkeh - I will be with them through this golus and all the subsequent travails and hard times.”

Moshe was fresh off experiencing the revelation of the Creator of heaven and earth, who had decreed that the children of the avos, Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov, to whom He had previously appeared, would be enslaved in a strange land and eventually freed.

No doubt exultant after his long conversation with Hashem and bearing the knowledge that the painful enslavement would soon end, Moshe went to share the good news with his brothers and sisters who had been suffering for as long as anyone could remember.

He appeared to them and said the five most glorious expressions of geulah, the very words they had been waiting to hear their entire lives and we celebrate until today at the Pesach seder: vehotzeisi, vehitzalti, vegoalti, velokachti and veheiveisi.

Tragically, almost unbelievably, the enslaved heirs of the avos to whom Hashem had previously appeared didn’t listen.

“Velo shomu el Moshe mikotzer ruach umei’avodah kashah.”

They didn’t listen. They couldn’t listen. They didn’t have the keilim with which to listen. They were incapable of hearing the words that would have transformed everything for them. They failed to digest the message promising hope for a better tomorrow.

Like every posuk in the Torah, this posuk is recorded for posterity to instruct and guide us. The words and their lessons remain relevant for eternity. We must always be ready to hear words of hope and positivity.

We live in a state of constant anticipation, always awaiting good news. Like the Chofetz Chaim, with his special kappota ready for Moshiach’s imminent arrival, we all carry a sense of expectancy, viewing the events around us through eyes that look beyond them, our ears listening for the footsteps of our go’el.

The situation in our world is bleak, to be sure. Suddenly, it has once again become acceptable to be anti-Semitic. Each day, it seems, there is graffiti in some other supposed safe place, reminding us that we are in golus. Tiny Eretz Yisroel is being targeted by despots and crazies. The Torah community has its own problems and is being targeted by secularists, who quietly prepare to take the reins of power from Binyomin Netanyahu and consolidate power without him or his religious and right-wing allies.

We hear angry words and threats from Iran, but we see past them, as we wonder if this is yet another step in preparing the world for the final redemption.

The sun shines brightly, though at times its rays are concealed by clouds. We have the ability to see beyond the clouds to the light and warmth of the sun.

Few things are more disturbing than encountering bitter people. They are surrounded by opportunity and blessing, yet they insist on concentrating on the negatives. Such people remain locked in by the inability to see beyond the negativity that envelopes them. They are unable to see past the darkness to better days.

Two people meet and one says to the other, “Shalom Aleichem. What’s doing?” Chances are that if there is nothing sad or negative to report on, the other fellow replies, “Nothing.” If there isn’t a good fight to discuss or a silly comment someone made, or a death, or some other calamity, then nothing is doing.

Why is that? There is so much good in our world, so many good things going on, yet that doesn’t seem worth discussing. There is much to be happy about and proud of, yet too many are consumed by the negative, concentrating on the bad news and failing to see the entire picture.

We forget that we are blessed to live in a land of plenty, which provides for the poor and those unable to make ends meet. Nobody goes to bed hungry, everybody has a warm place to be.

We just experienced dozens of siyumim of Shas around the world. Wherever there is a kehillah of Jews, there was a Siyum Hashas, with almost total communal participation. Everyone joined together with achdus to celebrate the achievement. That’s a good thing. Look at the good. Don’t look to take potshots.

There are so many people, yeshivos, schools and organizations doing good things. There are so many generous people supporting them. Look at the good and rejoice in it.

Fresh off the Holocaust, which almost decimated our people, we have reestablished ourselves and now flourish in cities and towns across the globe. The waves of assimilation that plagued first-generation religious Americans are non-existent. We can basically do what we want, where we want, and no one bothers us.

Why the negativity? Why the harping on what is wrong without appreciating the good?

The process of learning Torah and avodas hamussar is meant to train us to see the tov. We are to acquire an ayin tovah that allows us to discern the good in what we do have and to appreciate the fortune that abounds, if only we were ready to look a little deeper. In order to be good Jews, we have to be happy with the present and positive about the future. If we aren’t, it is an indication of how much we are lacking in the study of Torah and mussar.

Torah and mussar keep the person who studies them active, optimistic, energetic and positive. It shapes an individual into a mentch, a person who respects others and is worthy of respect himself.

The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh (6:9) explains that the reason the Jews in Mitzrayim were not able to listen to the words of Moshe was because they were not bnei Torah. Torah broadens a person’s heart, he says. Had they been bnei Torah, they would have been receptive to Moshe’s message. We, who have been granted the gift of Torah, have no excuse for not being open to hearing the words of the Moshe Rabbeinus of our generation and those who seek to improve our lots and help us prepare ourselves for the geulah.

Every week, there are dinners, parlor meetings and receptions for yeshivos, shuls and mosdos of tzedakah and chesed. People open their wallets and help each other.

We must ensure that we don’t fall into the category of “velo shomu el Moshe,” those who aren’t able to accept good news. Let us not grow so despondent about our situation that we can’t hear and see the good that is prevalent.

We need to be positive and open to hearing the words and teachings of the Moshes of the generation. Our emunah must be such that it allows us to believe, accept and work on messages that seek our improvement and promise to bring us closer to geulah.

We are currently in the last stages of the final golus. The three earlier exiles were caused by the sins of avodah zarah, gilui arayos and shefichas domim. The current golus is caused by lashon hara and sinas chinom.

In order to merit the geulah, we have to uproot those sins and remove them from our midst. Ridding our people of them is increasingly difficult, but since it is a prerequisite to getting us to the place where we belong, we need to work to rid division and derision from our people.

Despite the emphasis placed on rectifying them, they linger, seemingly ever present. There are so many programs and projects designed to rectify us, but we remain divided and gossipy nonetheless.

Rav Tzadok Hakohein says (Pri Tzaddik, Rosh Chodesh Nissan) that Moshe Rabbeinu explained to Hashem that appealing to Paroh would be of no use. “Aich yishmo’eini Paroh,” Paroh would not listen, he said, because “va’ani aral sefosoyim.”

Although Hashem, who is “som peh l’adam,” assured Moshe Rabbeinu that He would repair his speech defect and Paroh would accept what he says, Moshe explained his reticence in approaching Paroh, because “va’ani aral sefosoyim,” referring to the orlah, which refers to the yeitzer hara. Moshe complained that the yeitzer hara was blocking his voice from being heard and accepted.

Moshe was the messenger of the Bnei Yisroel and derived his energy from them. As long as they were sinful, he was not able to speak on their behalf. His sefosayim were covered by orlah, so to speak. But when the Bnei Yisroel did teshuvah, returned to the study of Torah, and renewed their faith in Hashem, Moshe was able to speak to Paroh on their behalf.

The Arizal taught that the name of the chag of Pesach hints to the gift of speech, as it can be pronounced as peh soch, which literally translates as the mouth speaks.

We must be careful not to become overwhelmed by the tumah of our surroundings. We must not let the areilus overtake us, but always remember to live Yiddishe lives of kedusha and taharah, dedicated to dikduk b’lashon, kiyum hamitzvos and limud haTorah.

Areilus hardens our souls and causes us to engage in lashon hora and sinas chinom, which subvert the heart of man and cause so much negativity, machlokes and hatred. We must reinforce our emunah that we have the ability to bring about the geulah if we conduct ourselves in a way that allows Moshe to speak and permits us to hear his message.

What’s doing? Great things are happening. What’s happening? Great stuff!

Every day we get a little better.

Every day our people are improving. There is more Torah, more achdus, and more tzedakah.

Every day, there are more zechuyos to get us – and keep us – on track to be mekabeil pnei Moshiach tzidkeinu.