Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Food of Faith and Freedom

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

As we approach one of the many peaks of the Seder, we raise the matzah and recite Ha Lachma Anya, opening the Maggid section. Speaking in unfamiliar Aramaic, we begin by stating that the matzah we are about to eat is the same matzah as our forefathers ate in Mitzrayim.

We continue with a seemingly unconnected invitation to poor people to join our meal. We conclude with the declaration that this year we are here, in golus, but next year we will be in Eretz Yisroel. Now we are enslaved, but in the coming year we will be free.

Why does this series of statements open the discussion about Yetzias Mitzrayim? What is the connection between these sentences? Why do we hold up the matzah?

Repeatedly, the Torah refers to the Yom Tov of Pesach as Chag Hamatzos. In davening and Kiddush, we also refer to the Yom Tov as Yom Chag Hamatzos. Why is matzah the symbol of Pesach?

The first time the Bnei Yisroel ate matzah was as they left Mitzrayim. Writing about that time, the Yalkut Shimoni in Parshas Beshalach says, “Lo nigalu Yisroel ela b’zechus emunah, shene’emar, ‘Vaya’amein ha’am.’” The Jews were redeemed from Mitzrayim because of their deep belief in Hashem.

However, that statement apparently contradicts the Chazal that says the Jews and the Mitzrim were basically on the same low spiritual level at the time of Yetzias Mitzrayim. If so, how can we then say that they were taken out of Mitzrayim because of their emunah in Hashem?

The Zohar refers to matzah as “michla demehemnusah,” food of emunah. We can understand that to mean that upon eating the matzah while leaving Mitzrayim, the Bnei Yisroel were infused with emunah, and through that emunah, they merited the geulah.

An explanation of the power of matzah appears in the Sefer Afikei Mayim, based on the shiurim of Rav Moshe Shapiro, who elucidates the often-discussed idea that matzah is a tikkun for the cheit of Adam Harishon.

We can understand the connection through a Gemara (Brachos 40a) that cites the opinion of Rabi Yehuda who explains that the Eitz Hadaas from which Adam ate was wheat. The Gemara explains that we see that wheat is connected to daas, because a child cannot call his father or mother until he tastes wheat. When we partook of the matzah at the time of Yetzias Mitzrayim, our daas was enhanced and we gained the ability to connect to Hashem on a higher level.

The idea that those who believe in Hashem and place their faith in him see salvation is presented in pesukim, Chazal, Rishonim and Acharonim. It is the way we should lead our lives if we wish to merit success in all we do.

The Ramban (Emunah Ubitachon 1) points out that the posuk in Tehillim (37:3) states, “Betach baHashem va’asei tov - Have faith in Hashem and do good,” instead of stating, “Do good and trust in Hashem.” This is because bitachon is not dependent on a person’s good actions.

The Brisker Rov expressed a similar idea. The posuk (Tehillim 33:21) states, “Ki vo yismach libeinu ki vesheim kadsho botochnu yehi chasdecha Hashem aleinu ka’asher yichalnu loch.” The Rov read it to be saying that the amount of faith we have in Hashem is the degree to which Hashem will deal with us mercifully.

Rabbeinu Bachya writes explicitly (Kad Vekemach, Bitachon) that it was in merit of their belief that the Jews were redeemed from Mitzrayim. He cites the posuk in Tehillim (22:6) of “Eilecha zo’aku venimlotu,” and says that the reason they were saved was because “becha votchu velo voshu,” they believed.

The Meshech Chochmah, on the posuk of “Ushemartem es hamatzos” (Shemos 12:17), writes that when the Bnei Yisroel will be shomer the matzos (and other mitzvos of Nissan), Hashem will be shomer the night of the Seder to redeem them.

Rabbeinu Yonah writes in Mishlei (3:26) that a person who trusts in Hashem is saved from a tzarah even if he deserved the tzarah. A person’s bitachon prevents the problem from afflicting him. As the Yalkut says in Tehillim (32), “even a rasha who has bitachon is surrounded by chesed.”

The Chofetz Chaim (Sheim Olam, Nefutzos Yisroel 9) quotes the Vilna Gaon who said that bitachon is not dependent upon a person’s zechuyos. Even a person who is not properly observant but maintains strong belief is protected by his bitachon and Hashem acts charitably with him.

Bitachon is not something that is reserved only for big tzaddikim. Any one of us, no matter our level, can have perfect emunah and bitachon. When faced with a problem, when it appears as if life is being tough with us, we all have the ability to be boteiach in Hashem and be helped.

Matzah is the symbol of Pesach because it encompasses all the messages of the Seder. As we consider and contemplate the exalted moment when our forefathers left Mitzrayim, we eat the very same matzah, unchanged in formula and taste, at the very moment they did, on the same night, year after year, century after century, going back all the way to the day our nation was founded. With this matzah, we became a nation. We gave up avodah zora, left the shibbud Mitzrayim, and emerged as bnei chorin.

This is as prescribed by the Rambam, who states (Hilchos Chometz Umatzah 7:1), “There is a positive commandment to discuss the miracles that were performed for our forefathers in Mitzrayim on the evening of the 15th of Nissan, as the posuk says, ‘Zachor, remember the day you left Mitzrayim…,’ and the posuk states, ‘Vehigadeta livincha,’ to tell your children on that night, meaning the night on which matzah and maror are placed before you.”

The Ramban at the end of Parshas Bo discusses the centrality of sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim to Jewish belief: “Because Hashem does not perform public miracles in each generation for scoffers to witness, He commanded us that we should make memorials for what we saw and tell our children what transpired so that they will know and pass along to their children the great miracles that were performed on our behalf. This is why so many mitzvos are zeicher l’Yetzias Mitzrayim, in commemoration of our redemption from Mitzrayim, so that future generations will remember what Hashem did for us then.

“And just as Hashem publicly performed miracles for the Jews in Mitzrayim, so does He perform miracles for us every day of our lives. Those who observe the mitzvos are rewarded, and those who do not are punished.”

This is the foundation of Jewish belief and what we refer to as Hashgocha Protis. When we sit at the Seder and retell the stories of the many miracles that took place at that time, we increase our emunah and bitachon, and that engenders more zechuyos for us. This is another indication and explanation of the statement of the Zohar that matzah is michla demehemnusah, the food of faith.

With this in mind, we can explain why we begin the Seder by saying, “Ha lachma anya di achalu avhasana b’ara d’Mitzrayim.” We proclaim that this is the bread that our forefathers ate in Mitzrayim when they were still poor and lacking in their observance of mitzvos, as well as in their emunah and bitachon in Hashem. Upon eating the matzah, they were strengthened in their emunah and belief in Hashem and thus merited redemption from slavery.

Thus, we advise people who are lacking in faith, “Kol ditzrich yeisei veyeichol. Join us and partake of the matzah, michla demehemnusah. Doing so will infuse you with faith.” Then we can say, “Hoshata hocha leshana haba’ah b’ara d’Yisroel.” Those who are still needy and lacking in their faith will, by eating the matzah, become strengthened in emunah and bitachon and worthy of the geulah sheleimah bekarov. “Hoshata avdi leshana haba’ah bnei chorin.” Before partaking of the matzah and discussing the exit from Mitzrayim, we are slaves to our desires. After the matzah and reliving the geulah experience, we become free.

The Gemara in Maseches Brachos (17a) relates that Klal Yisroel tells Hashem, “Galui veyodua lefonecha sheretzoneinu laasos es retzonecha. Umi me’akeiv? Se’or sheba’isa. We wish to fulfill Your will, but the se’or sheba’isa prevents us.” Rashi explains that se’or sheba’isa is the yeitzer hora, which ferments us as yeast ferments dough.

Matzah is lechem geulim because it is baked without chimutz, without se’or. One who subjugates his yeitzer hora is a ga’ul. He is redeemed and free. Thus, Chazal state, “Ein lecha ben chorin ela mi she’oseik baTorah.” The free man is occupied with Torah, for he has conquered his yeitzer hora.

The original matzah didn’t rise because, as we say in the Haggadah, “Lo hispik lehachmitz ad sheniglah aleihem Melech Malchei Hamelochim uge’olom.” Hashem redeemed the Jewish people from Mitzrayim suddenly, before the dough they were baking for their trip was able to rise, and thus they were left with matzah.

Matzah symbolizes freedom, because it came into existence amidst the great urgency with which Hashem hurried His people out of Mitzrayim. The cause - Jewish nationhood - didn’t allow for the bread to reach completion. It didn’t allow for se’or and chimutz. Bread of freedom and a life of freedom are brought about by the same process: removal of se’or and chimutz. A person cleanses his soul of sin by being preoccupied with serving Hashem and studying Torah instead of feeding temptations. Doing so helps man break free from the various burdens and obligations life places upon him.

We open our Seder with the statement that the night - the entire Yom Tov, in fact - is about the matzah, the food of freedom. The first phrase tells us that it was “eaten when we left Mitzrayim,” in reference to our being rushed out. It was baked without the se’or sheba’isah.

We address the ditzrich, turning to those who are lacking in life and service to Hashem. “Join us!” we say. “Eat and learn from the matzah, and you will also be blessed and free along with us and all those who enjoy the blessings of Pesach. You will be impoverished no more.”

We continue by acknowledging that while we are now unable to bring the Korban Pesach, if we have indeed internalized the message of the matzah, we will be able to offer Pesochim and Zevochim next year in Eretz Yisroel.

Finally, we acknowledge that now we are still enslaved. The se’or sheba’isah interferes with our lives. We have been unable to expel it from our souls. We affirm our commitment to examining the message, studying the lessons of “Ha Lachma Anya.” Even though we are now captive to the yeitzer hora, we resolve that by next year, we will be free of its domination over us. We remind ourselves that the matzah is lechem geulim. Not only is it the bread of the free, but it helps those enslaved to gain their freedom.

Simple, unconstrained, and as free as the matzah.

Fortunate is he who doesn’t require suffering or challenges to be reminded of his essence but is able to see it clearly in good times as well.

With this insight into matzah and its message, we can begin to celebrate, starting with genus and marching our way on to geulah, a journey from Ha Lachma Anya through Afikoman.

After partaking of the Afikoman matzah, we are forbidden to eat anything, for we must keep that message fresh on our palates. We must not forget what we have learned and experienced on this night.

The matzah has seen us in times of strength and apparent weakness, but always with faith in Hashem and our future. Always with the knowledge that come what may, we are the am hanivchor, chosen, blessed and free.

We cherish the taste of matzah. We eat it and become transformed. We become strengthened in our belief and become worthy of geulah. With our newfound emunah and bitachon, we are capable of transcending limitations imposed by the se’or sheba’isah and the challenges of golus.

No matter what ails and confounds us, and regardless of the difficulties we have in our daily lives, we remain steadfast in our faith in Hashem, acting as bnei chorin.

Pesach is the Yom Tov of emunah. Let us learn its lessons, observe its mitzvos, partake in its matzah, and merit personal and communal geulah.

Leshanah haba’ah bnei chorin be’ara d’Yisroel.

 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

How Much is a Matzoh Worth?

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

How many advertisements have you seen that claim to “make your Pesach easier this year”? How often have you heard people complaining about the price of matzoh?

Every time I hear or see such kvetching, I’d like to remind the person, who likely doesn’t know any better, that it wasn’t too long ago that Jews paid for matzoh with their lives or blood, and how thankful we should be that we live in a time when Jews are free to hold a Seder, drink wine, and eat as much matzoh as they want.

Rather than complaining, we should be thankful. Instead of seeing Yom Tov as a difficult period, we should be thankful for the opportunity to have a break from the mundane and live on a higher plane, becoming closer to Hashem, raising our levels of kedusha, and living - at least for a few days - on a more sanctified level.

Not wanting to sound sanctimonious, I usually don’t respond when such comments are offered. I know that whatever I say will sound trite and I will be accused of being uncompassionate.

The next time someone complains about the expenses and “difficulties” of Yom Tov, think of this story related by Rav Yaakov Galinsky as told to him by Rav Yitzchok Shlomo Ungar, who served as rov of K’hal Chug Chasam Sofer in Bnei Brak.

Hungarian Jewry was virtually the last to fall into the evil grip of the Nazis. During the last year of World War II, as the German army faced multiple defeats on the battlegrounds of Europe, they tightened their vice on Hungary. One million Hungarian Jews were herded into ghettos. Two months later, they were shipped off to death camps to be annihilated.

The protagonist of this story was one of those Jews. He arrived at the camp with his wife and children. They were sent straight to the gas chambers, while he was declared fit for work, tattooed with a number, and granted life. His bunkmate was a rebbishe ainikel who used every available moment to learn Torah. He would constantly offer chizuk to our friend and others in the block.

One day, the bunkmate whispered to him that Pesach was coming. There was no shortage of marror, he said, but he wondered how they would be able to observe the mitzvah of eating a kezayis of matzoh.

Our friend discovered where wheat was stored for the camp. Anybody caught taking anything faced being shot dead on the spot, but the rebbishe kind told our friend that he should be prepared to risk his life for the mitzvah. He began gathering a few wheat kernels at a time and hiding them until he had enough to make flour for two kezaisim of matzoh. One day, he found two stones and used them to grind the kernels into flour. He heated a piece of metal, added water to the flour, and baked the mixture on the white-hot piece of metal.

He produced a fist-sized matzoh, thick enough for two kezeisim, one for him and one for his friend. He hid the prize under his shirt and held his arm close to his body to keep the matzoh from falling. If he’d get caught, he’d be dead in an instant. He got past one check, but at the entrance to his block stood a Nazi, who saw that one arm was held stiffly. He pulled the arm of the hapless man and the treasure fell to the floor.

The accursed Nazi beat the man until he fainted and fell to the floor atop his matzoh. The Nazi continued stomping on him until he found another Jew to torture. The man came to, gathered as many of the crumbs and pieces of the matzoh as he could, and dragged himself to his cot, where he fainted again.

His friend found him there and waited for him to awaken. When he did, with a wide smile upon his beaten face, he told his friend what had happened. He then opened his hand to reveal his treasure, a kezayis of matzoh.

And that was when the dispute broke out.

His friend begged, “Please, let me have the matzoh. I never missed having matzoh at the Seder.”

He answered, “No way. It’s my matzoh. I almost gave my life for it. I was beaten to a pulp and fainted a couple of times. I’m not giving it up.”

And so it went, back and forth, in that awful bunk of the death camp.

“Please. I will recite for you the whole Haggadah from memory, and also the entire Shir Hashirim. You can repeat after me word by word. Just let me have the matzoh.”

“No.”

“I’ll give you my whole Olam Haba for that kezayis. I lost my wife. I lost my children. I lost everything. Please, let me have the matzoh.

“I also lost everything. But the matzoh is mine and I am not giving it up.”

Finally, our friend, the one who is retelling the story, could take it no more and gave up. He allowed his bunkmate to eat the matzoh and say the Haggadah, but the reward for the mitzvah was to accrue to him. They cried and laughed together, doing their best to relive the deliverance from Mitzrayim, and they prayed, “Leshonah haba’ah b’Yerushalayim,” with all their hearts.

The next day, they both went out on their work detail. The rebbishe einikel began davening to himself. He got as far as Hallel and then collapsed and fell to the ground. He stood up and tried to walk, calling out the brocha, “Asher kideshanu bemitzvosav.” A Nazi bullet hit him just then. Hashem yikom damo.

The other man lived. After the war, he moved to Israel, established a new family, and became a member of the Chug Chasam Sofer kehillah.

All this he tells to Rav Ungar by way of introduction to his question.

Then he tells the rest of the story.

“Last night, that man came to me in a dream. He was dressed in white and his face was as bright as the morning sky. He said to me, ‘Do you remember when you let me eat the matzoh on the condition that you get the s’char? I came to ask you to please let me have the reward for that mitzvah. I received s’char for all the mitzvos I performed, except that one. It is the only mitzvah for which I received no reward. Please. I beg you to let me have the reward for that mitzvah.’

“In the dream, I responded to him. I reminded him that it was my matzoh. ‘I had risked my life for it. I gathered the kernels. I ground them. I baked them. I snuck it into the camp. Each step could have gotten me killed. I was beaten for it. I could have died on the spot. You begged. You cried. I gave you the act of performing the mitzvah. At least I should get the s’char.’

“He knew I was right. He agreed. But he reminded me that he was the one who kept track of the calendar. It was he who knew that Yom Tov was days away. He was the one who had prompted me to bake the matzoh. He recited the Haggadah with me. And now he came down to this world from on high to ask for the reward for that mitzvah. It was that important to him.

“I turned him down. His face became extremely sad. He was very upset. And then he disappeared.

“With that, I woke up. My heart and mind were racing. What was I supposed to tell him? It was my mitzvah. I should get the reward. But how can I say no to a holy neshomah? How can I turn down the wish of a dead man?”

He asked Rav Ungar what he should do. Should he let the martyred man have the reward for the mitzvah of matzoh or should he keep it for himself?

Rav Ungar told the man that this wasn’t a question for a rov. It was a question for a rebbe. He sent him to the Machnovke Rebbe and asked him to please return and share the response he receives.

He returned the next day and told Rav Ungar what happened by the rebbe. He found out that the rebbe saw people in the evenings and waited with bated breath at the rebbe’s door until he was able to enter. Then he told his story.

The rebbe told him that by right, he should give the reward to the other man.

“By right?” he exclaimed. “By right it belongs to me! My question is whether I should go beyond what is right and give it to him anyway.”

“No,” the rebbe responded. “You need to understand. Every day, you put on tallis and tefillin. You daven three times a day and make 100 brachos daily. There’s Shabbos and Yom Tov and so many other mitzvos that you perform. You have children who you were mechaneich to perform mitzvos, and thus you share in the reward for what they do. It is only fair that you be mevater and let the man have the reward for that mitzvah.”

The man conceded.

“Okay,” he muttered, “if the rebbe feels that I have to give him the reward, I will.”

“No, not like that,” the rebbe said. “You have to mean it. You have to do it b‘lev sholeim.”

The rebbe took a ring of keys from his pocket and gave them to the survivor.

“Here. This key opens the door to the bais medrash. There is nobody there. Go inside. With this key, open the aron kodesh. Stick your head in there. Pour out your heart to Hashem. Tell Him how you got to know the other man. Tell Him of your friendly relationship. Tell Him of the chizuk he gave you in that awful place. Tell Hashem that he gave you the idea to obtain matzoh there.

“Tell Hashem what it was like that Seder night, the last night of that man’s life. And when you are done, tell Hashem that b’lev sholeim you are mevater on the s’char for the mitzvah performed that night, and you surrender it to the other man, in order to give his neshomah a nachas ruach in the olam ha’elyon. When you are done, lock up and return to me.”

The man did as the rebbe had told him. He recounted the whole experience in the camp. It took everything out of him. He could barely drag his legs away from the aron kodesh. He locked the bais medrash, but didn’t have the strength to return to the rebbe. He was drained. He gave the keys to the gabbai and asked him to tell the rebbe that he would return the next day.

He went home, collapsed into bed, and fell asleep. His friend came to him in a dream once again. With a shining face and bright countenance, he said, “Thank you,” and was gone.

The next morning, the man went to daven in the minyan of the rebbe. After davening, he went over to the rebbe and told him what happened. The rebbe was not surprised. He shared with the man a message that he remembered for the rest of his life and that we should take to heart, particularly in this period leading up to Yom Tov. This is what he said:

“Think about it. Your friend was a rebbishe kind. He grew up in a home of Torah and yiras Shomayim. There is no doubt that he performed many mitzvos. To top it off, he merited to die al kiddush Hashem. Even if Heaven would have had any complaints against him, they would have been erased. So he was a person who had only mitzvos and no aveiros, which is why Chazal say that in Gan Eden nobody can come close to people who were killed al kiddush Hashem. They are in the most exalted place.

“Yet, it was worth it for him to leave the bliss of basking in the glow of the Shechinah to come down here, to come like a beggar, and plead with you to give him the reward of just one more mitzvah. Think about what that tells you regarding the value of a single mitzvah.

“And here we are, with the opportunity everywhere to pick up mitzvos, and we don’t run after them. Every parsha of the Torah, every Mishnah and every page of Gemara contains so many mitzvos, yet we lackadaisically waste time.

“Every time we help someone, when we just say a nice word to someone, we get another mitzvah, yet we ignore other people. Think about it.”

The man returned to Rav Ungar and told him all that happened and what the rebbe said.

There are so many teachings of Chazal about the value of a mitzvah. There are so many lessons we have come across in our lifetimes about the reward that awaits those who fulfill Hashem’s commandments, but rather than engage in a discussion of them as we usually do in this space, I thought to try something else and instead, transcribed this story.

How can we not be moved by it? Who can complain about the price of a kezayis of matzoh after reading this? Who cannot feel proud to be a Jew? Who cannot be excited that Pesach - the Yom Tov of cheirus, daled kosos, Mah Nishtanah and matzoh - is almost here?

Let us get our priorities straight and enjoy and appreciate all we have been blessed with.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Potential, Unity and Renewal

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz


One of the greatest Chassidic rebbes was the Izhbitzer. One of his followers was Reb Dovid of Lokov, an elderly chossid, who had known the Chozeh of Lublin and the Yid Hakadosh of Peshischa. He had frequented the courts of Kotzk and Peshischa before making his way to the Izhbitzer.

One day, as the elderly chossid was walking in Izhbitz, a young boy bumped into him. Reb Dovid turned to the precocious boy and admonished him, “Derech eretz, mein kind. Show some respect.”

The boy, a grandson of the Izhbitzer Rebbe, would grow up to be the Radziner Rebbe. He responded to the man he had bumped into, “Farvos? Why do I need to have respect for you?”

“Because I knew the Chozeh,” the elderly Reb Dovid responded.

“So what? I am a grandson of the rebbe,” the boy replied.

“How can you compare the two?” the man demanded.

“My grandfather is greater than the Chozeh!” the lad said.

That was enough for Reb Dovid, who would have no more of the insolence and smacked the boy right across his face.

The boy ran to his grandfather, crying. “Zaide, Reb Dovid hit me.”

“Why did he do that? He must have had a good reason.”

“Because I told him that you are greater than the Chozeh of Lublin. Did I not say the truth, grandfather?”

The holy Izhbitzer wiped the tears off the cheeks of his bewildered grandson. “Go back to Reb Dovid and say that I told you to tell him that it is true that there is no comparison between the Chozeh and me. But there is a difference: The Chozeh reached as high as he will reach. He can never attain more greatness, for he has passed away. I am alive. I can rise. I can grow. It is possible for me to reach the heavens in greatness.”

Life is all about potential. As long as we are alive and ambitious, we can improve. There is no imposed limit to how much we can achieve. The only thing that holds us back is ourselves and our self-imposed limitations.

We can grow to be as great as the Izhbitzer and the Chozeh if we maintain a pure heart and devote ourselves to the service of Hashem. We can become great if we control ourselves from sinning, remain humble, embrace goodness and good people, daven well, learn with diligence, and refrain from sin, pettiness and machlokes.

We all know that we have an inclination that seeks to entrap us in silliness and actions that provide momentary pleasure. We need to smack down the yeitzer hora and not permit him to gain a foothold in our hearts, souls and minds. We must allow ourselves to be guided by the yeitzer tov, doing good and being good.

Chazal’s declaration that “Ein adam choteh elah im kein nichnas bo ruach shtus” conveys that since every person understands that succeeding in life involves becoming more connected with Hashem, we seek to do mitzvos, study Torah, and be kind and caring. Knowing that aveiros distance us from Hashem, the only way we commit them is when a ruach shtus enters our mind and causes us to act in a way that will harm us and draw us away from Hashem.

The Sefer Hachinuch (95) writes that this is the reason for korbanos. The bodies of man and animal are quite similar, except that man was given intelligence and a soul; animal was not. When man sins he takes leave of his intelligence, he is essentially like an animal. Therefore, when he repents, he brings an animal to the choicest location and it is totally consumed and forgotten. This reminds him that a body without intelligence is doomed to be destroyed and erased. He remembers that he was given a body plus intellect and a soul, and he repents for his misdeed, resolving that he would not permit his intellect to give way to a ruach shtus again.

Our mission in life is to bring ourselves closer to Hashem. Every mitzvah that we perform, every word of Torah that we study, every time we do chesed, and every time we love another Jew, we are firmer in Hashem’s embrace. However, when we do an aveirah, we distance ourselves from Hashem. Aveiros create walls that separate us from Hashem. Being divisive and spreading machlokes and peirud between people in this world causes Jews to separate from each other and from Hashem.

Seder Vayikra is all about korbanos. The parsha begins this week with an introduction to the concept of Jews offering animal sacrifices to Hashem to atone for their sins. The posuk (Vayikra 1:2) states, “Adam ki yakriv mikem korban laShem,” using the word adam, instead of the usual ish, to denote man. Many reasons are offered for this.

Perhaps we can say that adam refers to the potential of man. Adam Harishon was given that name to signify that he was created from the ground, adamah. Though he had the lowliest physical beginning, he has the potential to rise to the heavens and become a spiritual being, immersed in Torah and avodah.

When a person commits an aveirah, he sinks from whatever level he has attained and becomes closer to the earth from where he began. But he has the ability to erase what he has done and resume his spiritual connection on his way to realizing his potential for greatness. A korban along with viduy and charotah returns him to the path that he was born to climb. The path of the Izhbitzer.

Perhaps we can offer a deeper explanation. Rav Chaim Vital writes cryptically in the Kisvei Arizal on Parshas Kedoshim, in explaining the mitzvah of “ve’ahavta lerei’acha kamocha,” that the concept that all of Am Yisroel are “areivim zeh lozeh” is based upon the idea that “kol Yisroel sod guf echod shel nishmas Adam Harishon.”

He says that this is the reason the Arizal would say viduy for the sins of other people, because all members of the Jewish nation are really one.

The words of the Arizal can be understood as such: Adam carried within himself the future neshamos of Klal Yisroel, and thus every Jew is a limb of one large body and we are all interconnected (Derech Mitzvosecha). The optimum behavior of Klal Yisroel is when we all recognize that we are parts of one whole, acting with unity and achdus, and caring for each other. This lies behind the command that we should love each other.

Therefore, before he davened, the Arizal would recite viduy for disparate parts of the Jewish body to bring everyone together. For just as if a korban is blemished and incomplete it cannot be offered to Hashem, so too, if the person who is bringing the korban is blemished, he is not worthy for the korban to forgive him for his sin.

It is for that reason that the Arizal instituted that prior to davening, a person should accept upon himself the mitzvas asei of “v’ohavta lerei’acha kamocha.” A person who hates another Jew, or despises him or her, is a baal mum, for he prevents himself from being connected with the entire body of Klal Yisroel.

We know that tefillah is in the place of korbanos. Thus, just as a person’s korbanos are not accepted if they are found lacking, the same applies to his prayers.

It is for this reason that the Torah uses the appellation “Adam” when discussing the bringing of korbanos. It is to remind us that Adam Harishon embodied all the neshamos of Klal Yisroel, and if we wish to be forgiven and accepted by Hashem, we must acknowledge that since we are all interconnected, if even one person is left out, the person who is bringing the korban and saying viduy will fail in his bid of seeking penitence.

Adam ki yakriv mikem.” The person who is bringing the korban must acknowledge that he is a part of “mikem,” the entire klal. Just as Adam encompassed all the neshamos of Klal Yisroel, the makriv must be connected to all the neshamos b’achdus.

When we read Parshas Hachodesh this Shabbos, let us bear in mind the explanation offered by the Sefas Emes to the wording of the posuk, “Hachodesh hazeh lochem,” which literally means this month is for you. Although in this posuk the word “hachodesh” means month, it also contains a connotation for renewal, as in hischadshus.

The posuk is admonishing us that the ability to be rejuvenated is up to us. At times we may fall or slip, but we don’t have to stay down. We each have the ability to pick ourselves up, to rise, and realize our potential.

Let’s do it!

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Time to Build

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Vayakhel and Pekudei conclude the five parshiyos that discuss the construction of the Mishkon.

The Mishkon was constructed over a period of a few months. The project required hundreds of workers and large amounts of material. To facilitate the construction, there was a large fundraising campaign, in which everyone participated. When the Mishkon was completed, a festivity ensued.

Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky points out that for all that effort, the Mishkon was originally intended to stand for a short period of time. The Bnei Yisroel left Mitzrayim on Pesach and were to travel through the Sinai desert and then enter Eretz Yisroel, a short trek. It was the chet hameraglim that caused the Jews to wander in the desert for an extra thirty-nine years. Why, then, was so much effort and expense invested in constructing such a temporary edifice?

After experiencing the joy of Purim and being reminded of our obligation to eradicate Amaleik, we can understand the necessity of the expenditure of time and effort for a building that would last but a few months. Throughout the generations, Amaleik has mocked us, as he seeks to sow doubt about Hashem’s Presence in our lives. Purim celebrates our victory over Haman, the embodiment of Amaleik in his time, and demonstrates for us that we can overcome evil if we unite and raise our level of commitment to Torah and mitzvos.

On Purim, we are b’simcha and seek to be mesameiach others. We meet new people, make new friends, and reconnect with old ones. We are introduced to worthy causes and recruit others to causes we believe in.

We gain an appreciation for what can be accomplished in one day. And then, even after the sun goes down, music plays and people continue to celebrate the miracles and messages of Purim.

We learned last week in Parshas Ki Sisa how the Jews sinned with the Eigel Hazohov. Misled by the Soton, they feared that Moshe Rabbeinu would not return and fashioned a golden image to replace him. The people desired leadership and a Divine relationship, but they were misguided. Following their teshuvah, they were granted their wish, along with the directions of how to construct a place among them where Hashem could be found.

Although the Mishkon would be temporary, its effect would be eternal. While it was meant to last for several months, it represented the ideal that every day could be spent in the presence of Hashem. No day, or even part of it, should be taken for granted or wasted. Every minute is precious and can generate greatness.

Klal Yisroel, newly-cleansed from the chet ha’Eigel and desirous of a proper relationship with Hashem, appreciated the opportunity to construct a dirah batachtonim. They understood that building the Mishkon, and contributing to its construction, was teshuvah for their sin and immediately responded to the appeals. They engaged in a labor of love, determined to begin again. It did not matter that the Mishkon was to be temporary, for they would take advantage of the opportunity to become closer to Hashem and in that zechus enter Eretz Yisroel and build the permanent Bais Hamikdosh.

Alas, that was not meant to be. They sinned again, this time with the meraglim, and didn’t merit entering Eretz Yisroel. Today we suffer from the absence of the Beis Hamikdosh due to internecine hatred and battles.

A story is told about a king who announced his intention to visit a certain town. The locals were excited to finally meet their beloved monarch, and spent weeks cleaning the town and decorating the streets. A special tax was levied on the townspeople and a beautiful gift was purchased for the king.

The great day arrived. Men, women and children lined the streets, waiting for the king’s entourage to appear. After a while, it was visible on the horizon. Everyone craned their necks and saw the magnificent horse-drawn carriage as it made its way toward them.

Finally, the king himself, a tall, handsome man with royal bearing, appeared. He stepped out of the carriage and waved to the people. A special delegation, led by the mayor and local dignitaries, came forth and presented him with the gift.

The king smiled and held up his hand. “I appreciate the gift,” he said, “and in return I am giving this town a year with no taxes. In addition, I will send money to build new roads and a few parks.”

The grateful crowd, overcome with emotion and gratitude, burst into applause. The king beamed at his people and continued on to the next town, leaving behind assurances of relief and assistance.

The next week, a golden carriage pulled up to the town square. Out stepped an impressive looking man, surrounded by guards. There was no delegation to greet him and no crowds lining the streets.

The irate man claimed to be the king. He was aghast that there was no welcoming ceremony for him. The mayor was summoned and hurried to the square to explain to the guest that the king had come the week before. The new visitor explained that he was the king and that the person who had visited must have been an imposter who had taken advantage of the impending royal visit.

The mayor apologized profusely, describing to the king the expensive gift, the parades, and the cheering of the week before. The king was incensed over the insult and issued an edict raising property taxes for the town. Anybody who couldn’t pay would be thrown into jail and charged with treason for dishonoring the king’s wishes.

A local wise man approached and begged for permission to speak. “Honored king,” he said, “last week, an impostor came to town. We gave him an expensive gift and we all came forth to show respect, but we thought it was you. That gift, that parade, that reception, they were all for you, even though you didn’t see them, and they all reflected our feelings for you. Please accept that what we did was our expression of how we feel toward you.”

The king was calmed, as he recognized the truth of the wise man’s words. He offered to give the people a chance to build a monument to him and promised to return for the unvailing ceremony after its completion.

Our forefathers attributed Divine abilities to the golden calf they had fashioned from their own jewelry. Alas, they erred and served an imposter.

The binyan haMishkon presented them with an opportunity to welcome the real King. Newly pardoned, they were given a second chance. The King was coming and they were charged with making the preparations for His arrival.

This time, there would be no mistakes. They labored in joy, thrilled at the opportunity to welcome their beloved and revered King. They understood that even a short period of hashro’as haShechinah was worth everything.

On Purim, we sensed and felt the points of light and holiness that define us. We wished that we could keep those embers aflame longer and merit more of the joy and fulfillment we felt on that one day.

On Purim, we dress differently, as virtual masks cover our faces. When Purim is over and we go back to our regular dress, we find ourselves freshly invigorated with a renewed sense of the abilities we each carry within us.

On Purim, people shlepped with their children from rebbi to rebbi and teacher to teacher, with one eye on the road and the other on their watch. There was so much to accomplish in just a few hours. Yet, special simcha permeated the day.

We should seek to maintain the sense of the opportunities we associate with Purim, the chance to do good, to increase and spread happiness and kedushah. We need to recognize that not only Purim, but every day, is a gift from Hashem and worthy of expending the effort to construct a Mishkon, a place for Hashem, in our hearts. Every day presents new opportunities to grow, learn and achieve greatness.

On Purim, we energetically performed the mitzvos hayom, giving as much as we thought we could, and then, when we thought we were done, we gave a little more. We must learn to stretch our spiritual reserves every day. When we have pushed ourselves to our maximum ability, we will merit the eternal blessings promised to the eternal people. The amount we accomplish from the time we think we have no strength left until we are really depleted is the difference between greatness and also-rans.

The Chazon Ish would learn daily until he only had enough strength remaining to place a pillow under his head. Stories are told and retold of gedolim who would sit at their Gemaros with their feet in buckets of cold water to keep them awake. Last week, we learned that Rav Shmuel Auerbach would learn nightly in the bais medrash until he fell asleep over his seforim.

Greatness means never saying, “What good is it? It’s only for a few minutes, a few days, or a few months.” Greatness means utilizing every opportunity and moment to gain knowledge and grow.

Purim is a day when we put everything else aside and spend our time in revelry and high spirits. To do this, we mask a part of our lives, the things that are disappointing or painful. We subjugate the somber tendencies to the mitzvos of simcha and mishteh. For people who can accomplish this feat, simcha shines from them with a new radiance.

Perhaps, the influence of yayin helps some gain a new perspective on life. They realize that, for at least one day, they can set aside the pressures that sap their attention and energy. And so they smile.

When Purim has ended, we find that we have a new look and a new face. We have a new perspective. You had a great Purim when you are able to maintain that fresh perspective after the yayin has worn off and after the last mishloach manos has been eaten. Keep your priorities straight. Look for the good. Concentrate on the positive.

Sometimes, we need to be reminded to have faith in our convictions. We must have the moral courage to stand up for what we believe. A winner does not bend his beliefs to conform to popular ideas, even if not bending makes him appear to be a loser. The real loser is the one who has no courage, twists with the wind, and has no core beliefs that he is ready to fight and sacrifice for.

Rather than fall prey to apathy, fatalism or self-serving causes, let us remain idealistic, dedicated to the ideals and values of the Torah. Let us remember that elections, political intrigue and world events are veils masking the work of Hashgochah.

The posuk states, “Vayavou kol ish asher nesao libo” (35:21). Every man “whose heart lifted him” came to work on the construction of the Mishkon.

The Ramban writes that none of the people who worked on building the Mishkon had learned that trade, nor did they have any previous experience. Those who built the Mishkon were the people who responded to the call of Hashem. Nosom libom, their hearts lifted them up. They were consumed with the desire to fulfill the wish of Hashem. They didn’t say that they weren’t trained for anything that the Mishkon required. They didn’t say that the work was too difficult. They didn’t say, “Leave it for someone better to do.” The Mishkon was built by men of greatness who ignored their shortcomings and pushed themselves to do what they didn’t know they could, to serve Hashem.

They achieved greatness. They brought the Shechinah here. They received the brochah of “Viyhi noam and the Mishkon lasted much longer than anyone thought it would. In fact, the Mishkon was never destroyed. It lies in hiding, waiting for the day when we can all join together and summon the inner strength we possess to put aside all differences and work together to reestablish a dirah laHashem batachtonim with the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu.

Purim is a day of chizuk that resonates in our age. As the story of Megillas Esther progressed, there was no obvious Yad Hashem involved. The people of Shushan read the newspaper and scrolled the news - pun intended - and noted the comings and goings of the various ministers and King Achashveirosh. There was lots of palace intrigue as well, but no one attached any of it to the decree against the Jews.

It was only in hindsight that the people were able to trace everything that transpired and recognize that Hashem had been pulling the strings all along.

In our day, we see things happening that make no sense to us. This president was given no chance at winning the election and he swept the Electoral College into power.

The Israeli prime minister is one of the most respected world leaders. He leads and lectures on vital matters that affect the entire world, yet he is going through the grinder at home. Though he has no obvious replacement, many wonder how much longer he will be able to remain in office. Why go through a mess like this now? Nobody knows.

We see the evil emanating from Iran and North Korea as the world remains silent. We see people starving in Venezuela, turmoil in Germany, and Muslims sweeping across Europe. Nobody does anything about any of this, and nobody seems to even care. Why? Nobody knows.

In our communities and lives, there are ups and downs, occurrences we understand and appreciate and many others that seem to defy logic.

Purim recharges us and reminds us that we are children of Hashem who know that every move here is carried out by Him up there. There is no depression and despondency when we recognize and testify that the Borei is manhig.

Thus, we bring joy to ourselves and salvation to the world. For just as the Mishkon was a reward for the Jews repenting after mistakenly thinking the Eigel would lead them (Rashi 38:21), the realization of the truth in our day and placing our complete faith in Hashem will enable the Bais Hamikdosh to be built and bring about our redemption.

What is stopping us?

Chazak chazak venischazeik.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Warmed on the Inside


Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
This week’s parsha opens with the commandment of counting the Jewish people following the sin of the Eigel (Rashi). They were not to be individually counted, but rather each person donated a half-shekel coin to the Mishkon and the coins were counted.

The posuk states that by conducting the census in this way, the act of counting would not bring on a plague, and each person’s donated coin would help forgive him for his sins.

Many commentators discuss what it is about the census of Jews that causes a plague. Why does each person give a half-shekel and how does that bring about forgiveness?

A simple explanation is that when all Jews are counted equally, it demonstrates that one Jew is as important as the next, and no one should ever feel that they have sunk too far for redemption. A rough upbringing, a tough divorce, or so many of the difficulties we deal with in life can drive a distraught person from Yiddishkeit. The census shows that although they hit a rough patch and veered off, they are still Jews who are loved by Hashem, and their return is eagerly awaited.

Rav Tzadok of Lublin writes (Tzidkas Hatzadik 154) that just as a person is obligated to believe in Hashem, a person is obligated to believe in himself. No one should ever give up on themselves and feel that all hope is lost and they are too far gone. In whatever position a person finds themselves they posses the abilities to clamber back up and excel once again. Everyone counts.

The Alshich quotes Rav Shlomo Alkabetz, author of Lecha Dodi and the classic sefer Manos Levi on Megillas Esther, who says that each person contributes a half-shekel to demonstrate that every individual on their own is not whole. We only become complete and worthy of being counted as a member of Klal Yisroel when we live b’achdus with our brethren. If we are aloof, apathetic and alone, we don’t count, so to speak.

Rav Yitzchok Eizik Chover explains that the counting was not to determine how many separate people there were and to add the number, but rather to bring the people together and count them all as one unit.

Additionally, the posuk states, “He’oshir lo yarbeh, vehadal lo yamit,” the rich man should not give more than a half-shekel and the poor man should not give less. The census is conducted to remind the Jewish people to rectify the sin that causes the Shechinah to be removed from among them, namely machlokes and peirud.

At the root of every machlokes is ga’avah, when one person feels that he is better than the other. For example, the rich man looks down at the poor one and says that his success is proof that he is more righteous and a better person. The poor man says that he is the bigger tzaddik and it is because of his righteousness that Hashem punishes him severely for his few minor sins. Each one feels himself superior to the other. Such feelings lead to squabbles among Jews and the departure of the Shechinah.

Therefore, the Torah calls for everyone to contribute the same small amount to signify that nobody knows their value in the eyes of Hashem and they view each other as equals. This leads to forgiveness of sins through the census, for the feelings of equality remove sinas chinom and machlokes and lead to achdus. When there is achdus among the Jewish people, the Shechinah returns.

Rav Chover adds that when there is achdus among Jews, they are able to help each other improve. When people despise each other, they cannot offer reproach or help. When two people are squabbling and one of them sees the other doing something wrong, he smiles, fantasizing about how he can spread virally what he saw and cause the person much pain and anguish. Even were he to reprimand the person who did wrong, the person wouldn’t accept the tochacha and suggestions for improvement, because he would feel that the other person is mocking him and seeking his downfall.

If we cannot be mochiach each other, then people won’t improve, and we will stray further and continue to act foolishly.

Mordechai HaYehudi was a champion of achdus and searched for ways to bring the Jewish people together to counter Haman. As a grandson of Amaleik, his ability to destroy the Jews would only be effective if the Jews remained divided. He enacted decrees and sought to scare and divide them further, but because Mordechai rose up to bring the Jews together, Haman failed.

The posuk at the end of Megillas Esther recounts that upon the conclusion of the Jewish victory over Haman, many people converted to Judaism: “Verabim mei’amei ha’aretz misyahadim, ki nofal pachad haYehudim aleihem.” They converted, the posuk tells us, because they feared the Jews.

The sefer Manos Levi remarks that despite the severity of Haman’s evil decree, there is no record that any Jews converted to spare themselves. Perhaps we can answer that this was because Mordechai brought the Jews together. He was thus able to be mochiach them and strengthen their faith in an ultimate triumph. Through the achdus he engendered, they were able to accept his mussar and repented for what they had done wrong. With their spiritual rise and restored faith, they fasted and prayed and Hashem heard their tefillos.

We are reminded of the crucial need for achdus as we lain the Megillah and engage in the mitzvos hayom, all of which seem intended to remind us to increase our brotherhood and love for each other. Every yom tov, the influences of the time of the original miracle for which the yom tov was proclaimed are present once again. On Purim, our ability to set aside differences to be able to merit geulah is real. Let us take advantage of the opportunity.

A story is told about Rav Shmuel Munkez, who sought to travel to visit his rebbe, Rav Shnuer Zalman of Liadi. He was poor and unable to afford the trip, so he made his way to the local market and searched for a merchant who would be traveling to Liadi and willing to let him hop along. He found a whiskey merchant who was headed to Liadi and agreed to give him a ride, with a hitch. He told the chossid that he wouldn’t be able to sit in the heated front carriage because of lack of space. He would gladly take him, but he would have to ride with the whiskey barrels in the unheated baggage section. Happy to have found a ride to his rebbe, Rabbi Munkez agreed.

The longer they traveled, the colder he became. It was a stiff Russian winter night, and after a few hours, the passenger felt as if he was going to freeze to death. He got out from between the barrels and went to the merchant in the warm carriage and shared his predicament. The generous merchant shared his cup with him and told the freezing man that he could open the spigot of one of the barrels and drink some of the whiskey. That would surely warm him. The chossid drank enough to warm himself and felt as if his life had returned to him.

When they arrived in Liadi, the chossid headed straight to the Alter Rebbe. They shook hands, he said shalom aleichem, and the rebbe answered aleichem shalom. And with that, the man told the rebbe that he was heading back home.

The rebbe understood that it was with difficulty that the man had traveled so far, and wondered why upon arriving all he wanted to do was turn around and go home.

The chossid responded that he had come to hear messages of Torah that would enable him to conduct himself properly. He told the rebbe that as he traveled to see him, he learned a lesson applicable to him and worth the trip. He told of how he suffered from bitter cold as he quivered among the whiskey barrels. It was only after he opened one of the barrels and drank from it that its liquid went through his body and totally warmed him.

He said that from this he learned that it is not sufficient to be among great men – tzaddikim and kedoshim - as you can still freeze to death. To be warmed by them, a person has to work to get the light of tzidkus and Torah into himself.

“I am returning home to work on that,” the chossid said, “and I shall return when I feel that I have accomplished in that regard.”

Purim is here, with its great lessons and hashpa’os. It is not enough to sit among the whiskey bottles. It is not enough to drink from the bottles. We must work on ourselves to ensure that the influences of the mitzvos of the day work their way through our innards and warm our souls on this special day, ensuring that the warmth lingers within us as we go forward.