With Valor and Faith
by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
This Shabbos is known as Shabbos Hagadol, the Great Shabbos. Unlike every other special day on our calendar that is commemorated on the date of the month upon which the original neis occurred, Shabbos Hagadol commemorates an event that took place on the Shabbos prior to the Pesach holiday but it is not celebrated on the date of Yud Nissan when it actually transpired.
The greatness of this Shabbos is the fact that the Jews in Mitzrayim were moser nefesh to tie the god of their persecutors to their beds. Sheep, the deity of Egypt, would be used as the sacrifice for the Korban Pesach four days later. The fact that Jews brought home sheep was not in itself a heroic act. They could have been bringing the sheep home to worship, or to feed and care for them. There was nothing inherent in the act of bringing home sheep that put the Jews’ lives at risk.
The act of mesirus nefesh was that although they were not specifically commanded to do so, the Bnei Yisroel didn’t shy away from staring their oppressors in the eye and telling them, “We are bringing home these sheep because we will be slaughtering them.” For all time, we celebrate their act of mesirus nefesh, and their fearless act consecrated this Shabbos for all time as Shabbos Hagadol, the Great Shabbos.
Shabbos is a remnant and hint of the olam hatikkun. During the week, we are subservient to our hosts in golus. We accept the curse of the sheishes yemei hamaaseh. We bow our heads and seek to overcome the prevalent darkness. On Shabbos, however, we are different.
Shabbos is ushered in with the rousing song, “Lo seivoshi velo sikolmi,” proclaiming, “Klal Yisroel, today let us not be embarrassed.” Together with our neshamah yeseirah, let us enjoy this day of mei’ein Olam Haba, which provides us with a taste of the superiority we will yet enjoy, when we will hold our heads high, when nivnesah ihr al tilah will be a reality.”
Therefore, it is on Shabbos that we commemorate what took place on the tenth day of Nissan, for the pride, confidence and courage of our forefathers are all represented by gifts associated with Shabbos.
It is on the Shabbos prior to Pesach that we celebrate the brave dedication of the soon-to-be freed people to Hashem’s commandment. They braved threats of torture and death to bring home the sheep and tie them to their beds. On this Shabbos, we are reminded of their bravery, and their emunah and bitachon, and we seek to learn from them and follow their example.
We know that hakol bishvil Yisroel, everything that occurs is, in some way, connected to us and our destiny and for us to learn from.
The mainstream media tells us so many stories. Each one has some relevance to Klal Yisroel.
Rav Simcha Bunim of Pshischa once commented that all the mitzvos of the Torah have one common theme: A person is commanded not to be a na’ar. We must have seichel, intelligence. His directive is especially appropriate when it comes to processing the messages we are fed.
As much as we don’t think that we are influenced by the narratives of the media, we still regularly get fooled. We like to think that the media doesn’t affect us, and that if we don’t read their publications, we are immune to their spin, but, unfortunately, that is not the case.
It never made any sense that a candidate such as Yitzchak Herzog, with Tzipi Livni at his side, could win election as prime minster of a beleaguered country. Yet, everyone believed the story that they were ascending while Binyamin Netanyahu was descending. That story was conceived and promoted by the left and their media allies who despise Netanyahu and his right-wing ideology and partners. The idea was to lull everyone into thinking that the left can’t be beat. It was timeless propaganda, meant to keep the right humble.
It was a lie.
This is a technique familiar to us in America, because the president’s handlers have honed it to perfection. They tried to implement in Israel what worked so well for them in America. They tried to influence the outcome of the Israeli election, but their plan failed and they and their candidates lost.
To win the election, Netanyahu didn’t get into the gutter with them. He didn’t react to their fallacious polls. Rather, he went back to his right-wing roots and strongly and proudly emphasized the principles that propelled him into leadership in the first place.
Binyamin Netanyahu is no tzaddik, not by any measure, and he is not our role model, but he is a very fitting protagonist for a moshol, whose lesson is so relevant to us.
The Israeli prime minister, no paragon of personal virtue, won an election by standing tall. If Hashgochah orchestrated that this storyline occur in the public sphere, and if the worldwide media and punditry are discussing and analyzing this unexpected victory, there must be a lesson in what transpired for all of us. Just as the Chofetz Chaim taught that there are lessons for us to learn from Chinese floods, the news from Eretz Yisroel also contains lessons for us.
In our own lives, we often play the game of being a politician, even if we aren’t running for public office. We look to be popular. We see which way the winds are blowing and get in line. We don’t want to appear to be losers. We don’t want to be on the losing team. We don’t want to be portrayed as out of touch, backward, or not with the program.
And sometimes, we let this negius make decisions for us, rather than having the courage to follow our convictions.
So, when we see things that we know are clearly wrong, we mute our responses. When we see things that are clearly contrary to all we stand for and the way we were brought up, we turn the other way. When we see the mesorah of our rabbeim corrupted, we remain silent. Why get involved? Why risk people saying that we are baalei machlokes? We have children to marry off and social obligations. We can’t say what we really think and what we know to be the truth.
Ultimately, however, that type of attitude results in loss.
Current realities and the age-old lessons of our mesorah have taught us otherwise. We need to absorb the lesson of this Shabbos and engage in personal mesirus nefesh to face evil with valor and faith, unafraid to express our position and defend it. All wickedness needs to triumph is for people of goodwill to remain silent. Our rabbeim and leaders stood up and risked all for the truth.
When Maran Rav Elozor Menachem Man Shach zt”l had something on his mind, he said it publicly, not fearing what people would say about him. If he knew he could make a difference, he did.
My rebbi, Rav Elya Svei zt”l, would say that Madison Square Garden could be filled with people who despised him. Yet, he proudly carried the torch of Torah and mesorah without checking the polls. May we merit siyata diShmaya to continue on the straight path he forged for us.
Let’s stop cowering. Let’s stop making cheshbonos. Let’s stand up to the falsifiers, the corruptors, the ones who veer from our traditions and disrespect the holy, and those who embrace the profane and bow to the dollar instead of the Torah.
Let’s be a mamleches kohanim vegoy kadosh.
The Rama writes in Siman Alef of Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim that we should never feel embarrassed by the people who mock us: “Velo yisbayeish mipnei bnei adam hamaligim olov ba’avodas Hashem Yisborach.”
The Mishnah Berurah hastens to explain that even in the service of Hashem, we should not employ the middah of azus, for it can influence our behavior in other areas. However, in the Biur Halacha, he states that this admonition of the Bais Yosef is only applicable when people mock one’s private observance of mitzvos, but when people rise up to effect changes in the Torah and its observance, it is a mitzvah to hate those people and to battle them, turning back their plans any way you can.
Of course, the first approach should always be a peaceful one, for the Torah is “derocheha darchei noam vechol nesivoseha shalom.” Even when we must give tochachah, it should be with intelligence and thoughtfulness.
Rav Chaim Leib Auerbach zt”l, father of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l, was once asked to what he attributed the fact that he merited such distinguished children. He answered that it was because he was once humiliated and he resolved to accept the scorn and never to respond.
My wife’s great-aunt, Henche Leiman a”h, passed away last week at the age of 100. One of her relatives asked her recently to what she attributes her arichus yomim. She thought a moment and responded, “Maybe it is because I never embarrassed anyone.”
The Torah way is one of sweetness and refinement. Yet, against that backdrop, the Torah personality never shies away from what’s right and true because of personal bashfulness.
Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l was once so upset that he felt ill and had to rest. He explained the cause of his anguish to his concerned family members.
“This morning, a man came to me with a story about a certain rov who, he claimed, is accepting money to give a hechsher on a certain product. Although he has mashgichim in the plant, he turns a blind eye to the improprieties taking place there and the food is, in fact, treif. The man told me that he intends to go to war against that rov and publicize his allegations. He asked me for my blessings for the holy war he is about to engage in. I know the rov, and I know the mashgichim, and I know that what the man is alleging is a lie. I told the man that he is a nogeia bedovor, because this product competes with a product that is under his own hechsher. I told him in very strong terms that it is a lie. I told him very forcefully that what he intends to do is wrong. And I told him that I would defend the other rov and expose the accuser for what he is.”
Rav Moshe continued: “Since then, I have had no peace. What I did was proper and it was the correct way to proceed, but in the process I offended a fellow Yid. The pain of that realization sent me to bed.”
This is the tightrope walked by gedolei Yisroel. Darchei noam. Emes.
Yes, at times we have to admonish people, but we should try to do it in a way that doesn’t cause shame and embarrassment, and if it does, we should not gloat over what we have done, as necessary as it may have been. We should be pained by what we had to do.
“Hochei’ach tochiach es amisecha velo sisa olov cheit,” the Torah says. The Rambam’s opinion (Hilchos Deios 6:7) is that this is a mitzvas asei to rebuke a person who is doing something wrong, fused with a lo sa’asei forbidding us to embarrass him while doing so. The Torah demands perfect harmony, combining courage with compassion.
When Rav Elozor Menachem Man Shach was well advanced in age and had very little contact with the outside world, two roshei yeshiva insisted that they must see him. In his weakened state, he sat at his desk as they entered the room. He was bent over with age and the accumulated tzaros of Klal Yisroel and could barely hold himself up as they spoke.
They told him of a boy they felt they had to expel from their yeshiva. They said that he was mechallel Shabbos in the dormitory and they could not have him around.
Rav Shach listened as they spoke and then asked two questions.
“Do you know his family’s financial situation?”
“No,” they answered.
“Do you know the matzav of shalom bayis between his parents?”
“No,” they said. “How do you expect us to know these things?”
Rav Shach pulled himself up in his chair, leaned on the desk and, with tears pouring down his cheeks, said to them, “Rodfim, leave my house. I don’t want to speak to you. You know nothing about what is going on in the boy’s life. You don’t know what is doing in his home. All you know is that you want to put him out on the street? Please leave.”
When we must admonish people who step out of line, we must be so careful addressing the issue.
But address it we must.
Perhaps we can suggest a deeper connection between two seemingly contradictory attributes of Torah, neimus and emes. People don’t appreciate being lectured. No one likes receiving mussar. However, if the one who offers the rebuke loves us, we are more open to it.
A mother tells her child, “Close your jacket. It’s cold outside,” and the child hears love. An unfamiliar passerby on the street offers the same suggestion and rarely is the advice appreciated.
Our great rabbeim loved their talmidim enough to be able to give them mussar. Our rabbeim are intimately familiar with the needs and wants of their talmidim, so the rebuke is threaded with love.
Rav Mendel Kaplan zt”l once traveled to a community, driving through the night and arriving at the local shul for Shacharis. He was exhausted. During Pesukei Dezimra, he remained seated during a time when the tzibbur rose. After Shacharis, a man went over to the guest and reminded him that halachah dictates that he should have stood up while saying Vayevorech Dovid.
Rav Mendel thanked him and remarked, “If you see a guest in shul, worry about where he’s eating breakfast, not whether he stood up during Vayevorech Dovid.”
Rav Mendel understood the power and potency of proper tochachah. He also knew that it can only be served up together with genuine ahavas Yisroel.
The Alter of Slabodka zt”l traveled to his rebbi and mentor, Rav Yisroel Salanter zt”l, to tell him that he planned on opening a yeshiva. “Rebbi, I want to open a yeshiva that will produce gedolei Torah. What should my role in the yeshiva be?”
Rav Yisroel turned to the man who is responsible for much of the Torah we have today and said, “Your task should be ‘lehachayos lev nidko’im, ulehachayos ruach shefolim.’” He told him that he should be there to offer support and build up the morale of the students. Bochurim need to be reminded of the heights they can reach. Don’t let them become depressed. Don’t let them digress from the missions. Make sure they recognize their abilities and feel good about themselves.
Tochachah and mussar need not make people feel small. If you want people to excel and to improve, admonish them with care and love. If you are positive, not negative, you will accomplish a whole lot more.
So, as Shabbos Hagadol approaches, we have to tap into the koach; pride and confidence to stand tall. The lesson of our forefathers who tied the sheep to their beds and then told the Mitzriyim of their plans, not seeking to curry favor with their overlords or conceal their intentions from them, should inspire us.
Mishchu ukechu. Before we move forward with the mitzvos hechog, we have to speak up and do our part to right wrongs. Proudly, with the courage of our convictions and beliefs, coupled with proper middos and seichel hayoshor, we cling to the Torah of our avos and defend what is right.
The mesirus nefesh unique to this Shabbos, of not being embarrassed of taking a stand and saying the truth because we are armed with emunah and bitachon, is what makes us a nation and ushers in Pesach.
On Shabbos Hagadol, we are reminded not be apathetic and not to do mitzvos quietly. The Bnei Yisroel volunteered to the Mitzriyim what they were doing with the sheep. We, as well, need to embrace our role to stand tall and proud for Torah, emes, yosher and nitzchiyus.