Thursday, October 28, 2004

Why Did He Come?

Why Did He Come?
by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Wherever you go in the Torah community everyone is asking the same question. So many people are scratching their heads, trying to come up with a smart answer. The question of the day is “Why did he come?” People are trying to figure it out, but are unsatisfied with the explanations.

Since we are a newspaper people think that we must be privy to inside information which we won’t share with just anyone, but if they’d call and ask nicely maybe we would tell them. “Come on; tell me the truth, why did he come…”

There must be an agenda; there must be some reason for his trip other than the reason given. What is it? They are busily trying to figure it out, but can’t.

Some wonder if he came to raise money. If so, who is the money for? There must be a good reason for his coming, they just can’t figure out precisely what it is.

Well, here it is. Here is the inside story: Rav Aron Leib Shteinman, 91 year-old senior Rosh Yeshiva arrived last week on these shores for a two week visit, in order to give chizuk to the Torah community.

A man who has lived his entire life engrossed in Torah, far from the headlines, was propelled after the passing of Rav Elazar Shach into a leadership position.

A man who seeks no earthly pleasures for himself, eats the most meager amounts of food and sits on chairs without backs. A man who literally spends all his time learning Torah and providing guidance for his followers.

A man, who rarely ventured out of Bnei Brak until a couple of years ago, undertakes such a strenuous trip and people are trying to figure out his agenda.

His agenda is to strengthen Torah; his agenda is to support people who are learning Torah; his agenda is to support people who lead a Torah lifestyle.

But we have become so cynical and jaded; we have become so negative that we are sure there must be a hidden agenda. Someone must be making money; there has to be an ulterior motive.

Our vision has become so skewed that anyone who is given siayta d’shamya to accomplish things with his life; anyone who uses his G-d-given talents for the greater good is immediately suspect. It can’t be that he, or she, is doing it because they want to help people; it can’t be they are doing it because they care; it must be that they are looking for kavod, or power, or money.

It’s one thing when we harbor such suspicions about our colleagues and average rank- and-file people. But it is a totally different story when we think that way about a person who can be compared to a Malach.

If you just look at him, you get chizuk. If you just hear him speak, you get chizuk. If you just speak to him for a couple of minutes, you get even more chizuk.

Is there anything more inspiring than to look at him and realize that here is a man who at the age of 91, picked himself up and left his home for a two-week trip to strange cities, in order to inspire fellow Jews? Is there anything more inspiring than to realize that there really are people who do things without an agenda? Is it not inspiring to recognize that here in front of me is a man who is an Eved Hashem, who came all the way here to inspire me?

When you look at him and consider the fact that he is oblivious to the hubbub surrounding him; when you realize that despite the headlines announcing his visit, he himself will never come across his picture in the newspaper, you start thinking that it really is possible to be a good and modest person. It really is possible to be a good and ehrliche Jew. It really is possible to sit in your corner and learn Torah all day. It really is possible to live a life without luxuries and be content. It really is possible to never fight with anyone, it really is possible to never trample on anyone’s feelings and still get ahead in this world.

When you look at him, talk to him and hear him speak, you realize that he has no ulterior motive; you see that he has no agenda other than to be Mekadeish Sheim Hashem and to spur people on to do good.

It may well be that this is reason enough for him to spend time in our midst, so that we are reminded that it is possible to attain such maalos. By his very being, by his every action we can learn so many lessons.

My grandfather, Rav Leizer Levin zt”l was a talmid of the Chofetz Chaim. There is some dispute over what the Chofetz Chaim looked like and if he indeed bore any resemblance to the popular, widely distributed picture of him. I once asked my grandfather what his Rebbe looked like, meaning, did he look like the picture? It was many years ago, I was very young, my language skills were poor and he didn’t understand that I was asking about that picture. It is fine because his answer was a great lesson.

I still remember his grandfatherly words as he gently held my hand, patted my cheek and said, “Az men hut nit gevoost hut ehr oisgenzen vi ah pashuter yid oohn men hut gurnit gekent zehn; Uber ahz men hut gevoost, hut men gekent zehn alles. “If you didn’t know who he was, he looked to you like a simple Jew, but if you knew who he was, then you were able to see that every action he did was special.”

Those words rang in my ears this past Friday. I was allowed into the small guest house where Rav Aron Leib was staying, to ask him some sheilos. I walked in behind him and as he passed by the small kitchen, I noticed that he stopped to look at the six small Israeli lachmaniot bread rolls on the kitchen table. He turned to his attendant and asked what they were for and the answer came back that they were for “Lechem Mishna heint by nacht.”

The aged Rosh yeshiva who has thousands buzzing about him wherever he turns in this country, turned to the attendant and asked, “Uber vos darft men azoi fil?” The attendant answered that they were in case others would join them for the meal.

They moved on into the next room, where another man approached the Rosh Yeshiva to ask about something that baffled him. When the Rosh Yeshiva was visiting the Skverer Rebbe, a bowl of fruit was set before him on the Rebbe’s table, and as is customary, the Rosh Yeshiva was asked to make a brocha. He made a Ha’eitz and, to the surprise of those observing him, ate only half of a grape. What was the reason for this, the man wanted to know.

The Rosh Yeshiva answered that a grape is a beriah, and eating a whole grape creates a problem with a brocha achrona. So he only ate half of the grape.

The conversations were simple and straightforward, not meant to impress anyone. They were beautiful in their simplicity. He really was wondering why they need so many lachmaniot. He had a bowl full of mouth-watering fruit set in front of him and all he ate was half a grape.

“Az men hut nit gevoost hut ehr oisgenzen vi ah pashuter yid oohn men hut gurnit gekent zehn; Uber ahz men hut gevoost, hut men gekent zehn alles.”

And I thought to myself, why did the Rosh Yeshiva come? He came to show us that it is possible to lead a life a pashtus, of prishus, of Kedusha, and of Shalom. To demonstrate the power of these values to command the respect and allegiance of tens of thousands of Jews.

The person who had thousands line the streets to welcome him here is wondering why he needs 6 lachmaniot. A person who has no desire to eat more than half a grape, has so much to teach us without even saying a word.

So why, really, did he come? He really came for the same reason the Chofetz Chaim wrote that were he able to do so, he would fly to save Jewish children. He really came because people visit him in his humble apartment in a nondescript building in Bnei Brak where they see him seated on a stool at his old table, poring over piles of Seforim in a room that has not been painted since he moved there decades ago. These people tell him that he can be mechazeik the Jews of America.

He really came because he takes the words of the Chofetz Chaim literally. He really came because he believes the petitioners who think that we can all benefit from being in the Daled Amos of a person who has as little benefit from this world as is humanly possible.

He really came because he cares about us. He really came because he says that if the Ribono Shel Olam kept him alive for 91 years and gave him the required strength, he has an obligation to reach out and strengthen the Ribono Shel Olam’s children. He really came because just as he constantly prods Lev L’Achim to accomplish more, he pushes himself to do more.

And then we sit around in our cushioned chairs, eating steak and freedom fries, wondering about his hidden agenda. We try to figure out what’s in it for him.

In this week’s parsha we read of the Malachim who came to visit Avrohom and to destroy Sedom. Upon visiting Lot and leading him and his family to safety, they warned them “Ahl Tabit Acharecha,” commonly translated as a command to Lot’s family not to look back at Sedom. The Posuk recounts that Lot’s wife didn’t obey them, “Vatabeit Ishto M’Acharav Vatehi Netziv Melach,” commonly translated to mean that Lot’s wife looked behind and became a pillar of salt.

Perhaps we can understand these events a little more deeply. The word “Habeit” doesn’t just mean to look, “Liros” means to see, Habeit means to look deeper and to perceive and understand. We say to Hakadosh Boruch Hu “Habeit Mishamayim Ur’eih.”

The Malachim were telling Lot and his family that they were unworthy of understanding what the Malachim were doing and why they were doing it. It’s not something you can understand, it’s not something people on your level have any business trying to grasp, for you never will be able to. That was the message to Lot and his family.

Lot’s wife refused to obey; she turned around to examine and figure it all out—and was duly punished. Lot and his daughters followed the admonition of the angels, and as soon as it was over, they went right back to their evil ways. They proved the Malachim’s point, that they were unworthy of comprehending the actions of those sent on a Divine mission. Even after witnessing the fate which befell their landsleit, they reverted to their old ways at the first opportunity.

So too, when we are privileged to have a Malach in our midst, we have no business sitting around trying to figure out his actions as if he were a simple Basar Vadom. We are admonished “Ahl Tabit,” stand back, look at him, learn from him, but don’t try to apply your cynical thought process to analyze his moves. If you follow the admonition you will be saved. You will be given a fresh opportunity for a new beginning and hopefully fare better than that refugee family from Sedom.

And one more thing: When the Malachim arrived in Sedom they were greeted with protest by blinded Baalei Ta’avoh. Even Lot with his warped sense of justice understood that was improper.

And yes, it does bear saying, and yes, we do have an obligation to spit such miscreants and their supporters out of our midst: there were some who protested at least one of the Rosh Yeshiva’s public gatherings. Their antics diminish him not one whit. Rather, it diminishes and disgraces us that we have such base people in our midst and we tolerate them.

May we be Zoche to go in his ways; to try to emulate him, to abhor evil and machlokes; and to avoid kavod and ta’avos olam hazeh; to sit and learn and learn; to be marbeh k’vod shomayim; to do good without ulterior motives.

May all who stood and waited patiently to greet and see Rav Shteinman be zocheh to be makabeil pnei Eliyahu Hanavi Mevaser Tov bimheirah biyomeinu, along with all of Klal Yisroel. Amen.


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